More dumping, perhaps more oysters Diverse groups cooperate to help Md. economy and bay

September 06, 1996|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

In a political trade-off to win support from environmentalists and watermen for the state's dredge-disposal efforts, Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday revealed plans to increase state spending by up to $18.5 million to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay's oyster population.

In exchange for the expenditures, bay interests have agreed to more open-water disposal of dredge spoil as a short-term solution to Maryland's growing dilemma about where to put the mud and silt scooped from its extensive shipping channels.

During a dockside news conference, Glendening said the state now plans to dump an additional 18 million cubic yards over the next nine years in the upper bay, preferably at a site just north of the Bay Bridge. In addition, the state intends to continue its open-water disposal at Poole's Island.

Historically, environmentalists and watermen have staunchly opposed so-called overboard dumping because it stirs up pollutants on the bay's bottom.

The agreement, however, reflects what many yesterday hailed as unprecedented cooperation by diverse groups to move forth with a comprehensive solution to avert the dredging problems that have created near-crisis situations in some ports such as New York.

"They really truly put a coalition together that two years ago would not have been possible," said Richard P. Hughes, president of the International Longshoremen Association's Local 953 and a longtime port leader.

"It's a package for a healthy economy and a healthy bay," he said.

With dredging now reduced to a bare minimum because of limited disposal sites, state officials warn that the port of Baltimore risks losing critical shipping business. Cargo activity at the port provides 18,000 jobs directly and generates $1.1 billion a year in personal income.

"This is an effort to balance the needs of the port and the needs of the bay," Glendening said at the news conference at Seagirt Marine Terminal that drew more than 75 business and labor leaders, government officials, watermen and environmentalists.

The deal calls for the Maryland Department of Transportation to contribute $1 million to the Department of Natural Resources' oyster reseeding program in fiscal 1997 and another $1 million to $3.5 million for the next five years, depending on the volume of dredge material placed in the open-water sites.

Glendening, however, reiterated his opposition to pumping dredge spoil into the so-called Deep Trough, a particularly deep trench in the bay floor.

In recent years, the state's oyster population has been severely depleted by over-harvesting and disease.

"It's a trade-off, a short-term concession," said Ann Pesiri Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a tri-state legislative advisory group. She added that the agreement is contingent on the state's continuing to move forward with plans for its long-term upper bay containment facility, similar to Hart-Miller Island, that is expected to hold 50 million to 100 million cubic yards of dredge spoil.

"Ultimately, we hope overboard disposal can be kept to a minimum or eliminated altogether," she said. "But, without the long-term options, we are opposed to overboard disposal."

Yesterday, Glendening provided more general details about four sites under consideration for that containment facility. And he said the state has reached an agreement with federal regulatory agencies to expedite the often tedious and lengthy permit approval for a site. Still, approval of a long-term containment site could take years.

State officials have tried to offset the traditionally negative images of dredge disposal by focusing on so-called beneficial-use projects. Symbolically, the news conference yesterday was held at Seagirt, the modern container terminal built during the early 1980s on a site filled with dredge spoil from the Fort McHenry Tunnel construction.

In addition to open-water disposal and the upper bay containment facility, the state's six-point dredging plan includes raising the dikes at the Hart-Miller Island containment facility and reactivating the CSX/Cox Creek containment site.

In addition, the plan calls for using clean dredge spoil to restore Poplar Island, a once popular Talbot County resort that has eroded to mud flats and tidal marshes. The Poplar Island plan, which is slated for federal funding, is expected to become the first large-scale beneficial-use project of its type in the nation.

Pub Date: 9/06/96

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