Dredging remains key to port's success

One-year delay: Corps of Engineers postpones decision on site near bay bridge while it studies dumping.

January 16, 2000

GIVE the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers credit. It could have caved in to demands from opponents and banned dumping of dredged material at Site 104 near the bay bridge. Instead, it refused to knuckle under to the group's pressure tactics and instead announced a new delay while it studies several key environmental issues.

That's a victory for basing decisions like these on sound science, not on which side shouts the loudest and exerts the most pressure.

Dredging the Chesapeake Bay's shipping channels is critical for tens of thousands of jobs at the port of Baltimore.

A carefully crafted dredging and disposal plan -- initially approved by several federal agencies and environmental groups -- called for part of this material, which consists of mud and silt from the bottom of the bay's shipping channel, to be dumped at Site 104.

Studies showed it was the best site. But now new Corps of Engineers data raises concern about the impact of such a plan on fish that might winter in that area in cold months. Another point needing clarification is the impact of silt that would drift off the site.

The corps' delay will push back the port's dredging plans by a year. This, in turn, could pose some tough decisions.

Are there other disposal sites the port can use temporarily until a final verdict is reached on Site 104? Care must be taken because overloading one site with dredged material doesn't allow the material to compact naturally. That means less material can be dumped at that site.

One way or another, the port must continue to dredge its channels and deepen its northern approach lane from the C&D Canal -- as has been done for more than a century. The future of Baltimore's maritime industry is at stake.

Opponents have railed against any dumping in the bay. They have persisted in demanding that the Army Corps kill the Site 104 project even before scientists conclude their studies. At the same time, the dissenters have failed to present feasible alternatives.

The corps made the right decision in postponing its verdict on Site 104. It won't be rushed and it won't be pressured. The agency remains committed to waiting until all the facts are in and all its questions are answered. That's the way it should be done.

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