Gilchrest voices opposition to dumping by Bay Bridge

He wants engineer corps to reject site, start over

July 15, 1999|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest added his voice yesterday to the growing federal chorus opposed to plans to dump 18 million cubic yards of silt and mud from Baltimore harbor's approach channels in open waters near the Bay Bridge.

Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican whose district includes the land closest to the proposed dump site, called on the U.S. Corps of Engineers to tear up the draft environmental impact statement it released last winter and start over. Ultimately, he said, the corps should reject the site, a 4-mile-long area about a mile from Kent Island.

In a strongly worded letter to Col. Bruce Berwick, head of the corps' Baltimore division, Gilchrest decried the "lack of serious consideration given to open water disposal" in the environmental impact statement.

The corps' claim that the project would have a positive long-term impact on water and sediment quality, commercial and recreational fisheries and port-related industries "stretches the limits of credibility," he wrote.

Gilchrest has been lobbying leaders of a House Appropriations subcommittee to withhold funds for the project until the corps sees things his way, said his spokeswoman Cathy Bassett.

"He's trying to get it into the [appropriations] bill to delay spending the money, with the ultimate goal of forcing the corps to find an alternative that's more environmentally friendly," she said.

The corps is responsible for reviewing the proposed disposal of dredge material from state shipping channels.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sharply criticized the draft environmental impact statement last month for "errors, omissions, inconsistencies and apparent bias."

The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries Service expressed reservations about the statement at a Chesapeake Bay Commission hearing last week.

Opponents of the plan, who fear some of the silt deposited at the site would drift, covering oyster and clam beds and damaging aquatic grasses, applauded Gilchrest, but were skeptical of the corps.

"They say they're impartial," said Patrick Welsh, a leader of Citizens Against Open Bay Dumping. "Well, this will be the test for them. If they withdraw the statement, then they are impartial."

Doug Garman, a corps spokesman, said the agency would consider information from state and federal agencies but won't respond until after the period for public comment closes July 31.

Judi Scioli, spokeswoman for the Maryland Port Administration, which operates the port, said administrators have "full confidence in the commitment and objectivity" of the corps. Dumping dredge spoil at Site 104 is part of the port's 20-year plan.

In his letter, Gilchrest noted the corps' statement acknowledges crabs will be buried under the silt and that "commercially and recreationally important fin fish will be unable to use the area." He complained the statement is vague when it addresses water quality issues and lacks information on the amount of nutrients that would be released into the water when the muck is dumped.

Alternatives are dismissed "in a way that suggests that they could not be thoroughly reviewed because of the port's time line," Gilchrest wrote. "I urge the corps to resist the temptation to be swayed by the artificial sense of urgency of the Port Administration."

Pub Date: 7/15/99

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