Disposal of dredge spoil debated Army studying site near Bay Bridge

September 18, 1998

STEVENSVILLE -- What do you do with the muck that must be dredged from the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay to keep shipping channels open?

It's a perennial question, and the latest solution, dumping it back in the bay at a site just north of the Bay Bridge predictably has its supporters and opponents.

The Army Corps of Engineers is studying whether to dump the dredge spoils at a 75-foot deep, four-mile long area know as Site 104.

Research done by the Corps and the Maryland Port Authority indicates that not only is placing dredge spoils there environmentally safe, it could actually improve conditions.

None of the dredge would come from channels in the Patapsco River or Baltimore's Inner Harbor, where spoils are contaminated with metals and other materials. Instead, it would come from other parts of the bay, with sediment qualities mirroring those already found in Site 104.

And officials said it could actually help slow brackish water from the bay from seeping into local aquifers.

Former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who once was chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission, described Site 104 as "a project that protects the bay as well as the port [of Baltimore]."

For years, the state has disposed of material dredged from shipping channels in waters around Poole's Island in the northern bay without harming the environment, said Judi Scioli, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority.

She characterizes the project as simply moving sediment from "one part of the bay to another."

View of opponents

But some government officials are not convinced dumping dredge spoils at Site 104 is the best idea.

U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, whose district includes the site and neighboring Kent Island, is looking for alternative sites, perhaps at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Delegate Wheeler Baker, a Queen Anne's Democrat, reluctantly supported the plan to allow the Corps to put 18 million cubic yards of dredge at Site 104, with a promise that some $18 million would be spent to help watermen with an oyster seeding program. Since then, he has reversed his position.

Dick Sossi, an opponent of the project who lives in Stevensville and is challenging Baker in this fall's election, equated it with "taking a giant wooden spoon and stirring up the bottom of the bay."

Both noted that while the material to be put at Site 104 is supposed to be 95 percent clean, they are concerned the other 5 percent could be contaminated.

Queen Anne's County Commissioner George O'Donnell said he is a lifelong opponent to open water dumping of dredge spoils. He believes the project would have a host of negative effects: hurting underwater vegetation, covering oyster beds, increasing the turbidity of the water which in turn can affect aquatic life.

If the shipping channels are filling in, he said, the sediment is ultimately coming from the land ` and land, preferably on the western shore, is where it should go if other alternative uses are not found.

O'Donnell fears the corps' mind is already made up. Public hearings, environmental complaints, and pleas from local officials have likely made little impact on what will be the final decision, he says.

'Crossing the t's'

"I think they're just crossing the t's and dotting the i's," said O'Donnell. "What alternatives are they studying?"

Although the corps' Internet site reads like an endorsement of using Site 104, Jeff McKee, an operations manager for the Baltimore district, said there won't be an opinion until the draft report is done in a few months.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who included the site in his original plans for getting rid of 110 million cubic yards of dredge over the next two decades, is officially mum on the subject. A spokesman says he will wait to see the corps' environmental impact statement in December before making up his mind.

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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