Opponents of a plan to dump 18 million cubic yards of silt and mud in open waters near the Bay Bridge were buoyed yesterday to learn that a key federal agency -- the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- has gone on record against the dredging proposal.
In a strongly worded letter Monday to the Army Corps of Engineers, fish and wildlife officials criticized a draft environmental impact statement for "errors, omissions, inconsistencies and apparent bias."
The letter, addressed to the Corps of Engineers' regional office in Baltimore, also threatened to take the issue before the Council on Environmental Quality, which arbitrates policy disputes among federal regulatory agencies.
The corps is responsible for reviewing the proposed disposal of dredge material from state shipping channels,
`A great day'
"This has been a great day for us," said E. J. Pipkin, a leader of Citizens Against Open Bay Dumping, a group of volunteers opposed to the dredging proposal.
"It's further validation of what we've said all along; it lends more credibility and depth. And our grass-roots support has never been stronger."
Douglas Garman, a spokesman for the corps' regional office, said officials have not reviewed the letter.
"We're reviewing this, as we will all comments submitted by any agency or members of the public," Garman said. "Getting a wide range of comments is all part of the process."
Only a draft
The corps, at the behest of 1st District Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, has twice extended the period for public comment before the environmental impact statement is made final and a decision made on whether the project, which supporters say is vital to the port of Baltimore, will be allowed to proceed.
Tony Caligiuri, Gilchrest's chief of staff, said the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries Service also are studying the draft environmental report.
"In all fairness to the corps, this is a draft report that won't be final for months, but we were thrilled that the language was this strong," Caligiuri said. "We'd hope that maybe with one agency taking the lead, we'll see a domino effect. We're optimistic that EPA and the fisheries service will take a similar position."
The preliminary environmental study, released by the corps last winter, says that Site 104, a 4-mile-long area of the Chesapeake Bay about a mile from Kent Island, is the best location for dumping the muck that is clogging shipping lanes. After studying 32 potential dump sites, the corps concluded that most detrimental effects at Site 104 would be short-lived.
Opponents, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, fear that dredge material might drift in bay currents, covering oyster and clam beds, and damaging underwater grasses.
Bias in evaluations
Fish and wildlife service officials say the dumping could cause algae blooms in the bay because of the release of nutrients, including an estimated 1.8 million pounds of nitrogen. The corps also was taken to task for bias in evaluating alternatives to Site 104.
"The overall tenor of the document gives the strong impression that Site 104 was the pre-selected choice for disposal of dredged material," wrote Michael T. Chezik, the service's regional environmental officer. "We strongly recommend that the Corps of Engineers reconsider the alternatives. "
A final environmental report from the corps is not expected until late fall.
Pub Date: 6/26/99