Group wants public meeting

Citizens say corps won't listen to their wetlands concerns


October 01, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

A south county citizen group, determined to block plans for a Safeway store in Deale, is still hounding the Army Corps of Engineers for a public meeting to allow community residents to voice concerns about wetlands protection and the threat of flood damage.

South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD) opposes building a store and a shopping center at routes 256 and 258 because members claim it would destroy sensitive shoreline and create acidic runoff that could contaminate waterways.

SACReD, along with local politicians, wrote letters to the corps in August demanding the public meeting and asking that the permit for the site be re-examined because the wetlands have grown over the years. But the corps, which granted the original wetlands permit, said it was not required to hold a hearing and that the permit was automatically renewed Sept. 15.

Michael Shay, one of SACReD's leaders, said yesterday that he spoke several times to Linda Morrison, the corps' chief of regulation, before the permit expired, but she refused to hold a meeting. Shay said she had always been cooperative when he had worked with her in SACReD's fight against a housing development a few years ago. This time, however, she kept asking him to call her back, he said.

"This was the first time she has ever dodged me," he said. "I hate to burn a bridge. But the corps have not helped us in the past, and they are insensitive to wetlands and they have never stopped a project in our community before."

Debi Horne, a corps spokeswoman, said again yesterday that the corps is not required by any law, policy or regulation to hold a meeting on the wetlands.

Shay and other SACReD members say they realize this, but they believe it would be in the best interests of the community to have a meeting.

"That is as good as a public hearing and that way, they could put their case on the table, and we would be able to discuss our concerns," Shay said.

In a Sept. 15 letter to the corps, Shay and SACReD president Amanda Spake said the corps has been widely criticized throughout Maryland for not strictly enforcing wetlands protection laws. They cite a report by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility that shows that the number of wetlands inspections the corps does across the country has dropped 40 percent since 1992.

"Permitting this project, as you have done, and reissuing that permit without any further review of the project's plans increases the risk of flood damage in Deale," Shay and Spake wrote.

The corps and SACReD disagree about the amount of wetlands that could be affected by the building of the shopping center. According to an environmental consultant hired by SACReD, the wetlands have tripled in size from 0.9 acres to 2.7 acres since 1997. The corps has not re-evaluated the site since 1997.

"The corps would be responsive to the community if they held this meeting," Shay said.

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