Legislators back demand for hearing

Proposed grocery, strip center received needed permit in 1997

`Does Al Gore have to call?'

Environmentalists say wetlands growth requires review


August 12, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

A vocal southern Anne Arundel environmental group supported by an array of politicians is demanding that the Army Corps of Engineers re-evaluate the wetlands permit it has granted for construction of a Safeway store and strip shopping center in Deale.

South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD) has also been pressing the corps for months for a public hearing to gauge community support for a shopping center at Routes 256 and 258.

The corps, which oversees wetlands, has ignored the request, said Amanda Spake, president of SACReD, which fears that a Safeway would destroy sensitive shoreline and create acidic runoffs that could contaminate waterways.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, and state Dels. George W. Owings III, Michael E. Busch, Virginia P. Clagett and C. Richard D'Amato, all Democrats from Anne Arundel, have written to Abigal Hopkins, chief of the Western Shore Section of the Army Corps of Engineers, requesting the public hearing SACReD has been seeking.

The hearing would allow the group to present experts to argue against granting a wetlands permit, said SACReD attorney Paul Roche. It would also allow residents of the rural community to judge the scope of the project and give their opinions.

The corps is not required to hold a hearing, spokeswoman Debi Horne said, because the permit it handed out in 1997 remains valid.

"Well, yes, they are not required to hold a hearing," Spake said. "But if a U.S. senator and state delegates ask them to, don't you think they should? I mean, how much political pressure do they need? Does Al Gore have to call them and ask for it?"

The corps and SACReD disagree about the amount of wetlands that could be affected. According to an environmental consultant for SACReD, the wetlands have tripled in size from 0.9 acres to 2.7 acres since 1987. The corps, Spake said, has not looked at that increase nor has it re-evaluated the wetlands since authorizing the 1997 permit. Horne said she had no information about the size of the wetlands on the property.

County Executive Janet S. Owens, in a letter Aug. 3 to the corps, said she too believes officials need to revisit the site and the wetlands permit.

"A great number of citizens have expressed their concerns to me about the issuance of the environmental permits and approval of the proposed development plans," she wrote. "I have reiterated that the County Department of Planning and Code Enforcement will not approve the plans without the appropriate federal and state permits."

She said there are questions about "discrepancies" between the plan the corps has approved and the plan for the site the county is reviewing.

SACReD leaders met with Safeway officials Tuesday to discuss concerns about the proposed 55,000-square-foot store. Spake said her group would like to see the property stay a wetland.

SACReD and another local group, the Alliance for Rural Business, along with Food Rite, a much smaller local grocery store told Safeway officials they were worried that the Safeway and new strip mall would intrude on the rural character of their community and force mom-and-pop stores out of business. They say they do not believe there is enough business in the area to support a big-name grocery store with huge overhead costs.

"We know there are some people here who want a grocery store," Spake said. "But there are other things to consider. Our biggest fear is that this will be the next store that they close down, and then we will have a huge hulk on our hands, and the other local stores would have already gone out of business."

Safeway spokesman Greg Ten-Eyck said the company is not counting on growth for profits. He would not say what the store's projected profits are.

"It is our contention that there is sufficient population there now to support the store," he said.

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