Test planned of bay spoil for farmland Proposal to dump mud on 500 acres in Kent dropped

'Talk to us in a year'

Dredging channels to Baltimore creates disposal problem

March 29, 1998|By CHRIS GUY | CHRIS GUY,SUN STAFF

TOLCHESTER BEACH -- A Baltimore company headed by two former state Cabinet members has dropped plans for dumping millions of cubic yards of Chesapeake Bay dredge spoil on 500 acres of Kent County farmland.

Instead, the company, hoping to allay the fears of opponents, plans to create a smaller test site this summer to demonstrate that crops can be grown on mud dredged from the state's shipping channels, said its president, Dr. Torrey C. Brown.

Brown is a former secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources. He started the environmental consulting business, Creative Environmental Solutions Inc., with former Maryland Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer and other partners nearly two years ago.

He said the new effort should avoid the strong local opposition that the large-scale proposal generated in Kent County last year. The company had envisioned a dump site 15 feet high covering nearly one square mile.

"We believe the concept is still very valid," said Brown, who would not say where the test site would be. "We believe this is something that can work, it's something that people can find acceptable and something that will save the state money."

Opponents such as Michael C. Waal, who organized his Tolchester Beach neighbors against the proposal that would have placed 15 million cubic yards of mud on two nearby farms, said residents of the Upper Shore are unlikely to accept dredge spoil.

"Right now, we have closure on this proposal," Waal said. "For the time being, they've decided not to pursue it, but we believe this is going to continue to be an issue."

Near Queenstown, scientists at the University of Maryland's Wye Research and Education Center are about to begin a study for the Maryland Port Administration to determine whether mixtures dredge materials and soils could be useful for agriculture.

"We felt that it was best to take a look at some possibilities on a small scale," said research associate Ken Staver. "I'm optimistic we can come up with some acceptable solutions, but I don't have any data. Talk to us in a year."

Too acidic for most crops

Delvin S. Fanning, a soil specialist at the University of Maryland, College Park for 34 years, is skeptical that most dredge material taken from the bay would be suitable for use on farmland.

The problem, he said, is that soil that has come into contact with seawater is too acidic for most crops. In addition, he said, runoff from dredge spoil could cause damage similar to that caused by acid rain, but worse.

"Dredge material has to be disposed of somewhere, " Fanning said. "I certainly don't oppose dredging, but disposal sites must be very carefully selected."

In an effort to keep the port of Baltimore healthy and to maintain or increase its 18,000 jobs and $1.1 billion income against competition from other East Coast shipping centers, the state must increase its dredging operation.

Dumping options

With more and more Chesapeake Bay muck being taken from shipping channels plied by larger and larger ships, the state is willing to consider a number of dumping options, including those presented by private companies. The state pays from $1.50 to $7 a cubic yard for disposal.

"We are always looking for sites, and we will consider reasonable options," said Trish Slawinski, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Port Administration.

"We had never received a proposal from CES [for the Kent County project], but it's my understanding they didn't go ahead."

To keep open the 126 miles of waterways feeding the port, state officials have developed a 25-year plan that includes such ideas as dumping dredge material in open waters, creating an island near the Bay Bridge and replenishing eroded islands such as Hart-Miller Island near Baltimore or Poplar Island in Talbot County.

An inland site in Anne Arundel County, the CSX-Cox Creek property, is to receive a half-million cubic yards of material beginning next year.

Bills defeated

Del. Mary Roe Walkup, a Republican who represents parts of Kent and Queen Anne's counties, introduced two bills in January aimed at restricting dredge spoil dumping on farmland and prohibiting the creation of man-made islands from the material.

Both measures were voted down by the House Environmental Matters Committee. The bill on man-made islands was defeated Wednesday.

Possible loss of farmland

Walkup said a major concern for many of her constituents is that large-scale dredge sites could increase the loss of agricultural land, a pattern that appears all but unstoppable throughout the state.

"Maryland is losing farmland at an alarming rate, and regardless of what people like Dr. Brown say about farming on this material, the data I have seen indicates otherwise," she said. "Dredge spoil has been a dismal failure at growing much of anything."

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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