An idea that floats Baltimore County: Expediting marina expansion will promote economic growth.

February 17, 1996

THE GROWTH OF BOATING in Middle River is a welcome sign of economic development but also a sign of overcrowded waterways and ecological damage.

More powerful boats generate more noise and dangers. Growing traffic has churned up bottom grasses and eroded the shoreline.

The challenge is to balance the demand for boating recreation, and its significant economic potential, with environmental protection of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

New rules proposed by the county would expedite the process for controlled expansion of existing commercial marinas, with strict environmental requirements. They would allow a 15 percent expansion of existing boat slips (with a maximum increase of 25 slips). But they would bar future expansion for five years for those who use the streamlined review process.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger pledges that environmental protections will be observed. Marina expansions would not be allowed under the new process if they disturb wetlands and submerged vegetation, alter salinity or circulation patterns, harm shellfish beds or create excessive runoff.

This would allow the county to take advantage of this powerful tourist-recreation attraction, while regulating against overuse. Boating has an estimated annual value of $130 million a year for the eastside, with 33 commercial marinas renting slips that average more than $100 a month. Some 7,000 pleasure craft dock there, and hundreds more visit these waters from other harbors, adding to the economic impact.

With county plans to develop a small version of Harborplace at Dark Head Cove marina, near Martin State Airport, the expansion of marinas and boating facilities in the Middle River and Back River section will be necessary. It's a promising development of natural attractions that should well serve this long-neglected area of the county. As long as the county maintains promised environmental protections, this effort to cut the bureaucratic process for marina expansion is an idea that should float.

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