With Baltimore's hope of becoming an East Coast hub port now dashed, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest called on state officials yesterday to halt plans to dump mud dredged from shipping channels into the Chesapeake Bay.
In a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Gilchrest asked the state to delay plans for open-water dumping to further study its effect on the environment.
"In this time of shared sacrifice for the general protection and health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, when we are calling for changes in the way we farm, we fish, we build and we drive, it is not unreasonable to expect our state government to work a little harder and a little smarter to find a better way to protect both the port and the bay," Gilchrest wrote.
Maryland officials have selected an area of the bay, near the Eastern Shore and just north of the Bay Bridge, for dumping as much as 18 million cubic yards of mud and silt dredged from the bay's shipping channels. Open-water dumping in the area, called Site 104, is one of several disposal methods the state hopes to use for maintaining channel depth for the next 20 years.
Gilchrest's request to delay consideration of Site 104 came five days after two giant shipping lines, Sea-Land Service Inc. and Maersk Inc., eliminated the port of Baltimore from consideration for a hub terminal.
"The Maersk/Sea-Land decision takes some of the pressure off of the situation," said Gilchrest, a Republican who represents portions of the Eastern Shore. "It would now be a reasonable step by the state to yield to the serious environmental questions raised, as well as the overwhelming public concern and opposition by communities on both sides of the bay."
The state's 20-year dredging plan was written before the two shipping lines began their search, but the new business could have increased its importance. State officials had offered to build Maersk and Sea-Land a new facility at the Dundalk Marine Terminal, and would have had to dredge about 4 million cubic yards to deepen berths in the Patapsco River.
Still, a Glendening spokesman said the state's bay dredging plan is designed not for new business, but to maintain the 50-foot depth in Baltimore's main approach channels. The state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredge the channels almost year-round, removing silt that accumulates and decreases their depth.
"There's going to be more business interested in the port of Baltimore," said Ray Feldmann, Glendening's press secretary. "For us to accommodate that business, it's essential for us to have a 20-year disposal plan in place."
Today, all material dredged from the bay is dumped at Hart-Miller Islands, a man-made island in the bay south of Middle River. State officials hoped to open Site 104 for dumping as early as this fall.
Plans to dump at Site 104 have raised the ire of community groups concerned about the effect on shellfish, other wildlife and nutrient levels in the bay.
Gilchrest is seeking a federal study of open-water dumping that could be completed in two years or less, and asked Glendening to delay use of Site 104 until then.