Weems Creek dredging hopes fade U.S. agency opposed

compromise to allow partial work sought

Deeper channel wanted

Officials fear damage to mucky stream bed where fish breed

July 15, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A year after they stood on a pier in the Weems Creek muck to persuade federal authorities to allow dredging, activists remain at a standoff with their opponents and are no closer to getting a channel in the waterway than they were then.

Nevertheless, Tom Filip, of the Army Corps of Engineers, is trying to organize a meeting in the next few weeks to broker a compromise that satisfies the Weems Creek Conservancy and other dredging proponents, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its supporters, who vehemently oppose any dredging.

He conceded there isn't much hope for a dredging permit, but said he wants "to see if there are some ideas floating out there that we haven't looked at" that might allow some dredging.

"I don't know if such a possibility exists," Filip said. "But I don't want to not look for it."

But Steve Carr, the Severn River Association president who is a leader among dredging advocates, said he sees no room for compromise.

Either the creek is dredged or it isn't, he reasoned. Yet he said he "certainly would attend" a meeting aimed at a compromise.

Robert L. Zepp, assistant supervisor of the Chesapeake Bay Field Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service, held out little hope for a compromise.

His agency opposes dredging because it would damage beds of underwater vegetation where insects live and fish breed.

"Shallow habitats are among the most productive we have," he said. His agency's recommendation weighs heavily in the Corps decision on whether to issue a permit.

Silt from the state's project to widen U.S. 50 near Annapolis and create a new interchange at Rowe Boulevard, the expansion of Annapolis Mall and nearby residential construction has filled Weems Creek so much that a once-navigable channel is mostly muck.

County and Annapolis officials proposed more than two years ago dredging a 650-foot-long path to restore a boating channel, but were turned down.

The county has put a $183,400 dredging project in this fiscal year's budget. The Army Corps of Engineers was considering a channel half that long, which wouldn't reach private piers where water is less than 2 feet deep.

Filip met with 20 creek advocates in May 1995 and said he would "try like crazy" to obtain the permit.

But federal environmental authorities say the creek is getting healthier and shouldn't be disturbed, angering nearby residents.

"Now that we waited long enough to have grasses growing, now we're not allowed to dredge -- even if the reason for waiting was that all the mud had stopped. It's a funny argument," said Geoff Thomas, one of four waterfront property owners affected.

Yet area residents are not united.

While many want improved boat access, Robert Pfefferkorn in Admiral Heights is among dredging opponents. He agrees the creek has gotten more shallow, but says silting is not as bad as the dredging advocates claim. And he complains that the wakes from increased boat traffic generated by dredging would harm the shoreline.

Dredging advocates, meanwhile, have offered to replant the creek with more significant vegetation or create a marsh in exchange for the permit.

But Filip said he doesn't see a man-made marsh as an even trade-off because more than half of submerged grasses planted by people die.

Yet the SRA's Carr remains unconvinced.

"Where were these people for a decade when it came to protecting Weems Creek?" Carr said.

Pub Date: 7/15/96

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