A site for spoil Shipping channels: Open bay disposal controversial, but necessary for port's success.

November 10, 1998

MAINTAINING shipping channels for the Port of Baltimore is essential to maintain the $3 billion annual business operation that benefits the entire state. The 126 miles of channels must be dredged to maintain the 50-foot depth for ships entering the port from the Chesapeake Bay.

The problem is always where to put the enormous quantities of dredged muck, or spoil. Opposition to depositing it anywhere is typically vehement. The exception is when the spoil can be used to restore islands for recreation, such as the current expansion of Poplar Island as a wildlife refuge.

The Maryland Port Administration plans to spread 18 million cubic yards of spoil over four miles of open water near Kent Island during the next nine years.

The material would be uncontaminated and would not significantly affect bay ecology, officials say. The state would spend up to $3 million a year on oyster replenishment at the site.

The project is expected to begin next year, if the awaited Army Corps of Engineers' environmental study shows no problems. Earlier studies conclude that open bay disposal is safe.

Opponents fear that the dumped material will damage vital underwater grasses, impair water quality and harm vulnerable fish species in the area, between Sandy Point State Park and Kent Island. But they do not offer constructive alternatives; many of them also oppose land disposal of spoil.

Unless serious environmental impact can be proven, the project should proceed.

The channels must be dredged, for the economic health of the port and state. Spreading the dredged mud and silt upon the waters over time is the best option available.

Pub Date: 11/10/98

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