Hatchery wary of quarry

Rocks: Opponents say the plan to dig a limestone pit threatens the spring that feeds the state trout farm.

June 12, 1999|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

BEAVER CREEK -- In a meadow at the base of South Mountain is the fish hatchery that supplies fish to all 123 of Maryland's trout streams, ponds and lakes.

Nearby residents and environmentalists say the hatchery and the spring that feeds it are threatened by plans to expand a limestone quarry pit a few hundred yards away.

Fed by a spring that provides 3,000 gallons of water a day at a constant 54 degrees, the Albert M. Powell Hatchery provides 400,000 or more rainbow trout a year for anglers from Muddy Creek, west of the Youghiogheny River, to Shad Landing Pond outside Pocomoke City.

H. B. Mellott Estates Inc., a Pennsylvania company that operates a huge quarry behind a tree line at the edge of the meadow and another across Route 66 from the hatchery, has applied to Washington County for a zoning change that would allow it to open a third pit on 79 adjoining acres.

Last month, the county planning commission recommended that the county commissioners approve the change, even though the county's senior planner and geologist said the proposal should be studied further.

Residents and conservationists, who see the commission's recommendation as tantamount to approval, are outraged.

"It's insane," said Roger Worthington, president of Friends of Beaver Creek, the stream that flows by the hatchery. "What they've done is approve a 300- to 400-foot hole in the ground that you can't fill up next to an unbelievably unique spring and fish hatchery that you can't replace."

There are other fish hatcheries in the state, but none that provide as many fish as the Powell Hatchery, and there is no way to replace it, said Robert Lunceford, head of the state Department of Natural Resources' freshwater fisheries program.

Without the Powell Hatchery, there would be no program for stocking trout streams in Maryland, he said.

Residents and others fear that blasting to loosen the underground limestone and draining ground water from a quarry could draw water from the spring, reducing its flow and destroying the hatchery.

Mellott's geologists have said the underground rock formations will protect the spring and have pointed out that their quarry has operated next to the hatchery for 32 years with no ill effects.

Paul G. H. Wolber, Maryland director of the Izaak Walton League of America, in a January letter to the county commissioners said there have been no catastrophes but there is "no guarantee there will be none in the future."

Chris Bedford, Maryland Sierra Club director, said, "If there's even a possibility of environmental damage, then you shouldn't do it."

John Urner, a lawyer for Mellott, said the company will not comment while the issue is pending before the county commissioners.

The site for the hatchery -- on 63 acres off Route 66 at Interstate 70, about four miles east of Hagerstown -- was chosen because of the spring, DNR officials say.

The state buys trout eggs from a company in Washington state every November and keeps them in small pans in a one-story frame building at the Powell Hatchery until they hatch. As the fish grow, they are transferred from the pans to fiberglass raceways inside the building and, eventually, to 200-foot-long concrete raceways on the hatchery grounds, where they are fed and cared for until they are released.

The hatchery provides 85 percent of the fish for Maryland streams and other state facilities that grow trout, said Marshall Brown, 31, assistant manager of the hatchery.

Mellott applied in November for the zoning change on land in the northeast quadrant of the I-70-Route 66 interchange.

Under the county's zoning laws, the company must prove its quarry would have "no adverse impact" on the hatchery.

Eric Slavin, a geologist hired by Mellott, testified at a hearing in January that the rock formations form a barrier that would protect the quarry. Mark Eisner, a geologist for the Friends of Beaver Creek, said in a later report that Slavin failed to take into account a 1987 study that suggested there are fractures in those formations.

Timothy A. Lung, the county's senior planner, and Azmat Hussain, the geologist, agreed in later reports that Mellott could not guarantee that the operation would not harm the spring and called for more studies.

The planning commission voted 4-1 to recommend approval.

Bernard Moser, the commission chairman, said that even if county commissioners accept the recommendation, the project must come back to the planning commission for site plan approval.

"We can look again at the impact of the quarry," he said.

That's no good, said Norma Heaton of Friends of Beaver Creek.

"Once they approve the zoning change, it's not a question of if they'll do it, but how they'll do it, she said. "Common sense tells you it's too close to the spring. And if that spring goes, there is no Plan B."

Pub Date: 6/12/99

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