Glendening shapes plan for dredging Aim is to blunt criticism of strategy derided as murky

'A lot of concern'

Agenda includes long-term disposal, federal assistance

March 18, 1996|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, hoping to offset doubts about his commitment to a comprehensive dredging strategy for the port of Baltimore, is expected this week to outline more specific plans about an Upper Bay containment site.

In addition, the governor hopes to announce that the Clinton administration will include federal funding to restore Poplar Island using dredge material and make it a national demonstration project for beneficial-use programs.

The Glendening administration wants the General Assembly to sign off on a comprehensive dredging strategy for the next 20 years. But the administration's plans particularly long-term solutions have been vague thus far, prompting criticism by political and business leaders.

"The governor really hasn't been listening to the port community," House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany Democrat, said last week. "The legislature had to take the lead on this one."

Two weeks ago, House of Delegate leaders introduced a resolution calling on the adminis- tration to identify two containment facility sites, north of the Bay Bridge, where dredge spoils could be deposited.

A hearing on that resolution is set for this morning in Annapolis, with top Glendening administration officials expected to elaborate on their dredging strategy.

"The governor recognizes that there is a lot of concern that we don't have a long-range strategy," said John W. Frece, a Glendening spokesman. "He hopes to demonstrate in more detail to the port community that we're intent on having a long-term solution to the dredging problem."

The administration is not, however, expected to identify specific sites today largely to avoid political opposition from community groups and lawmakers in the waning days of the 1996 legislature.

With 126 miles of shipping channels, the port of Baltimore's dredging needs are greater than any in the country. But, with the state's only major disposal site, Hart-Miller Island, rapidly filling up, dredging has been reduced in recent years to a bare minimum.

State officials have identified several short-term solutions to the dredging dilemma, including raising the dikes at Hart-Miller Island.

But maritime leaders have warned that, without a long-term dredging strategy, the port risks losing ships and cargo.

As part of their long-term strategy, port and business leaders had proposed to pump mud and silt taken from the bottom of shipping channels into an area of the Chesapeake Bay known as the Deep Trough. That practice strongly opposed by watermen and environmentalists and currently prohibited by state law is opposed by Governor Glendening.

In the meantime, the Glendening administration has been lobbying in Washington for federal funds to restore Poplar Island, a once-popular bay resort near Talbot County, using dredge material. The proposal has produced unusual support among port and environmental leaders, typically at loggerheads over dredge disposal sites.

But the price tag particularly long-term costs associated with transporting dredge material to Poplar Island could easily top $200 million. That has made federal funding even more critical.

Members of Maryland's bipartisan congressional delegation say they expect the Clinton administration to earmark money for Poplar Island in its budget, due to be released tomorrow. "We are confident that there will be money in the budget for Poplar Island," said Charlie Stek, projects director for Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes. Earlier this year, Mr. Sarbanes and fellow Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski sent President Clinton a letter asking for $10 million in 1996 and another $22 million in fiscal year 1997, Mr. Stek said.

Pub Date: 3/18/96

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