Dredge or die Hart-Miller Island: State must use site to keep Port of Baltimore's channels open.

June 10, 1996

RESIDENTS of Southeast Baltimore County and recreational boaters feel betrayed. A decade ago, state officials said they would never again use Hart-Miller Island as a dumping ground for dredged material from Baltimore's shipping channel in the bay. But as dredging demands grew and possible disposal sites dwindled, port leaders saw their options evaporate. It was back to Hart-Miller, or watch the port slowly die.

Raising the dike of the containment cell on the north side of Hart-Miller Island to 44 feet will buy time -- 12 years' worth. Thirty million cubic yards of material can be dumped there. Combined with existing sites at Pooles Island and at Cox Creek, this should solve the port's immediate problem.

But what about future needs? Baltimore, with 126 miles of waterway, has the greatest dredging requirements in the country. Each year, 4 million cubic yards of material have to be scooped up and deposited somewhere to keep shipping channels open. Failure to find a permanent fix could cost Baltimore dearly as bigger cargo ships with deeper drafts are built.

We sympathize with those who are unhappy with the state's short-term answer. They had better prepare for more unpleasant news, though. The state could decide to raise the height of the south cell some day. It remains the cheapest way to get rid of channel muck.

Officials are now scouring the upper bay for future dump sites. They must report to the General Assembly by Sept. 1. Gov. Parris N. Glendening favors a hugely expensive project to restore Poplar Island with dredged material but, given the $300 million price tag, that seems far too expensive. A promising option, dumping material in the "deep trough" of the bay, is opposed by the governor and environmentalists in spite of tests that indicate it can be done without harm to marine life.

Maryland needs a long-term answer. For that reason, the governor should permit further testing of deep-trough dumping and any other options his experts suggest. All alternatives must be considered. The port, with 87,000 jobs and a $2 billion economic impact on the state, is vital. It must be strengthened. The best solution has to be found -- and implemented.

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