Harbor's burden shared in bill Md. Senate OKs plan to relieve Balto. Co. of some dredge dumping

Environment

February 14, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Hart-Miller Island and the residents of Baltimore County both have had their fill, a bill passed yesterday by the Maryland Senate declares.

The measure, watched closely by business leaders and community activists, says it's time for Maryland's other jurisdictions to start sharing the burden of storing the tons of gooey spoil from Baltimore's harbor bottom.

It would allow dumping to continue at the island off the mouths of the Middle and Back rivers -- aiding efforts to dredge the harbor's shipping channels. But it would cap the dumping once it reaches a height of 44 feet on the north cell or by 2010, whichever comes first.

"Everyone in Maryland has a stake in the port of Baltimore, no matter where they live," Sen. Norman R. Stone, a Dundalk Democrat, said. "Baltimore County has done our share, and now it's up to other areas to start to chip in."

For nearly 25 years, the island in the Chesapeake Bay has been used as a dredge disposal site -- under citizen protest and with instances of state government deceit.

The economic need to continue dredging mud and silt from shipping channels has outweighed community concerns. Officials say the port generates more than $2 billion in economic activity each year and 62,500 jobs.

To the state, the decision by the Maryland Board of Public Works last June to dump 30 million cubic yards of dredged waste material was simple: dredge or die as a competitive East Coast port.

And Hart-Miller was the quickest and cheapest choice as the Glendening administration considers other dumping sites such as Cox Creek in Anne Arundel County and Poplar Island off Talbot County.

David Chapin, assistant deputy secretary of the state Department of Transportation, said yesterday that the state is also studying at least five locations in the upper bay north of the Bay Bridge for artificial islands to dump spoils as well as open water placement locations off Kent County.

Cost and feasibility studies will take several years while Hart Miller reaches its legislated cap.

The current level of spoils on the north end of the island is $H already approaching 40 feet, officials said.

The bill, passed unanimously by the Senate and now in the House, also would mandate creation of a large wildlife habitat and passive recreational facility on the south cell of the 1,140-acre island, already a popular gathering spot for summer boaters. The level of the south cell cannot rise above 28 feet.

"My gut feeling is that this is wonderful," said Al Clasing, a leader of the Back River Neck Peninsula Community Association. "But we should continue to pay close attention to what the state does with Hart-Miller and that the letter of the law is followed."

Last June, the state announced another 30 million cubic yards of dredged waste material will be dumped at Hart-Miller, angering east side residents who have been told several times that other sites would be selected but never were.

"We're always careful about giving the state an opening because of the mistrust created by what went on in the past," said #F Thomas Kroen, chairman of Citizens Oversight Committee for Hart-Miller Island.

Among his concerns is that the outer dike stands at 44 feet while the interior would be less to avoid runoff into the bay.

"But this bill gives us what we're looking for," said Kroen. He said several senators and delegates filed Hart-Miller bills but withdrew them because they were not as focused as the bill passed yesterday.

"The county executive [C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger] pulled the delegation together and everyone threw their support behind it," Kroen said. "The harbor has to be dredged, but we in Baltimore County have paid our dues. Now other jurisdictions have to be developed as dump sites.

"Even though this is pretty solid, we've been burned so badly we're all going to watch how things develop with Hart-Miller," Kroen said.

Kroen was referring to a 1966 proposal from a consortium of citizens groups for using Hart-Miller exclusively as a recreational spot. The state never acted on the idea and instead used the island for a dump site.

On two occasions in the 1980s, then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer said the dumping would cease, but it continued.

On the House side, where a companion bill was introduced and is expected to pass, Del. John Arnick said his constituents seem satisfied with the Hart-Miller issue reaching closure.

The Dundalk Democrat said the bill "seems to satisfy everyone concerned. It was so important to make sure this was brought to some finality. The governor has a plan to take the spoils elsewhere and now they have to go someplace else."

Wayne Miskiewicz, president of the county Marine Trades Association, which represents 65 marinas, said the joke among boaters was that Hart-Miller would eventually "get up to 5,000 feet in the snow belt and the state could have opened a winter resort."

Now that the legislation has passed, Miskiewicz said, "the Port Administration has enough time to find an alternate dump site. This is a reasonable and logical end to a situation that, to many, seemed like it would drag out indefinitely."

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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