Mikulski says Army Corps `bungled' impact study

More oversight wanted on Site 104 dumping plan

Bay dredging

August 05, 1999|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski asked an assistant secretary of the Army yesterday to personally supervise plans to dump dredged mud into the Chesapeake Bay, saying that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "bungled" its study of the plan's impact on the environment.

The Army corps announced last week that it would conduct a new assessment of the effects that dumping at "Site 104" will have on the bay grasses and marine life, promising to review criticism offered by federal and wildlife environmental agencies.

At the time, corps officials said they were following the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act, which calls for periods of comment and revision before decisions are made.

Plans to create the Hart-Miller Islands Natural Resource Area, a dumping site in eastern Baltimore County near Back River, had been revised several times before receiving final approval.

Mikulski criticized the Corps of Engineers yesterday for not consulting federal and state agencies earlier in Site 104's review process, saying it has needlessly delayed a project that could prove critical to commerce in the port of Baltimore.

"We have lost time and we have lost public confidence," Mikulski wrote in a letter to Joseph Westphal, the assistant Army secretary for civil works and the presidential appointee who oversees the Army corps. "I am further concerned that the same team that did such a shoddy job in the first place will botch the revised assessment," the senator said.

Westphal would not comment, but a spokesman said the letter was being reviewed.

Site 104 is an area near Kent Island that the Maryland Port Administration hopes to use for the underwater disposal of 18 million cubic yards of material dredged from the bay's shipping channels. It is one of six potential disposal sites that could hold 100 million cubic yards combined.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has criticized plans to dump spoil at Site 104, rejecting the Army corps' finding that the project would have few long-term effects on wildlife and vegetation. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency was preparing criticism of the plan.

Col. Bruce Berwick, head of the Corps of Engineers' Baltimore district, ordered a revised environmental study last week because of the comments received, a decision that could delay the use of Site 104 by a year or more. He called it a regular step in the process of reviewing and recommending projects.

Berwick would not comment yesterday, but spokesman Doug Garman said: "We are committed to the same goals as the senator -- reaching a sound decision that is based on sound analysis, sound science and sound reasoning."

Pub Date: 8/05/99

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