Citizens group asks planners to stop new Safeway grocery

Store, shopping strip would pollute water, Arundel group says

June 28, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

A southern Anne Arundel County citizens group is lobbying county planners to bar Safeway from building a strip center in Deale, saying the project would destroy valuable wetlands and create acidic water runoffs that could contaminate the community's waterways.

South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD) says the wetlands on the 16-acre site, at routes 256 and 258, have tripled in size since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Baltimore division inspected the site and authorized Safeway's permit to clear the area in 1987.

SACReD wants the Corps to review the wetlands again and wants county Planning and Code Enforcement (PACE) officials to stop Safeway's plans, which include a storm water management pond that federal and county soil experts have said could create acidic runoff in the neighborhood.

"The environmental laws, the regulations have changed in the last 10 years," said Michael Shay, a co-founder of SACReD. "To operate with information that's that old is absolutely insane in this day of consciousness and trying to do the right thing. The citizens here won't stand for it."

Safeway wants to build a 55,000-square-foot supermarket, more than 30,000 square feet of surrounding retail space and a fast-food restaurant. SACReD has fought the project furiously for months, saying a new strip mall will forever alter the character of their old, rural community in which the largest grocery store today, Food-Rite, is a mere 5,000 square feet and the largest strip mall contains nine mom-and-pop stores.

The group has banded with the Alliance for Rural Business and Food-Rite to send flurries of letters to PACE, the Corps and the state Department of the Environment since March, when an environmental consultant SACReD hired reported that wetlands on the site had tripled in size since 1987, from 0.9 acres to 2.7 acres.

Officials with Safeway could not be reached for comment. John Morris, county land-use spokesman, said PACE officials are reviewing the company's building application, which it submitted in 1991, withdrew, then resubmitted in January. Morris said PACE officials were concerned about Safeway's storm water management plan and are waiting for the company to submit a new proposal addressing the problems at the end of this week.

Corps spokesman Doug Garman said the Corps is reviewing the proposed site plans to ensure they are similar to those laid out in 1987 and will send Safeway a letter in a few weeks. He said Safeway's permit is valid because the Corps has granted extensions at least twice since 1987.

"Once the project is authorized, if it's reauthorized and if it meets its originally authorized stipulations, the project is a viable project," Garman said.

Pond plan opposed

SACReD members are also fighting Safeway on its proposed storm water plan. The Anne Arundel Soil Conservation District told PACE this month that Safeway's plans to build a 4-foot-deep storm water pond would expose acidic soil, which would oxidize to produce sulfuric acid.

Jim Stein, a soil engineer with the conservation district, said this acid would contaminate the pond's water, which would then flow into nearby Rock Hall Creek.

Worries about acidity

A U.S. Department of Agriculture soil scientist who studied the site concurred. Stein said he recommended that PACE deny Safeway's permit.

"We are concerned about this," Stein said.

"The normal pH range of water is 6 or so, but this could get that to as low as 3," he said. The lower the number on the pH scale, the stronger the acidity.

"Acidic runoff could affect plant growth, water quality in the river, thus affecting animal life," Stein said.

"Structurally, it could affect foundations and public structures like bridges and pipes because acid absorbs calcium out of concrete structures," he said. "It weakens structures."

Weems Duvall, Food-Rite's attorney and a community resident for 15 years, said they also are concerned that destroying the wetlands will eliminate a natural habitat for the two bald eagles commonly seen in the area.

Bordered by water

Driving through the quiet village of Deale, Shay said this is an important environmental issue for a community bordered by water and struggling against a spurt of residential development in recent years.

It is a new battle for a neighborhood out of which SACReD was born five years ago to fight to save 477 acres of waterfront wetlands from becoming single-family homes.

SACReD won that battle.

"This is what we have to have to save the Chesapeake Bay," Shay said of the wetlands. "We can't lose any of it."

Pub Date: 6/28/99

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