Slow, steady persuasion for habitat project

Glendening wants swift action on beach

February 24, 2000|By Rachel Mansour | Rachel Mansour,CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

Gov. Parris N. Glendening yielded to turtle-toting elementary schoolers yesterday, ignoring a state agency recommendation in a bid to save a Severn River beach habitat of terrapins and horseshoe crabs.

The Department of the Environment had recommended the Board of Public Works allow Martin and Georgianna Fisher to build a 5-foot-high stone wall along their Severna Park beachfront property. The land sits atop a 60-foot bluff that is sliding into the river, taking trees with it.

But Severn River Association claims that piling stone along half the Fishers' 800-foot shoreline would destroy submerged vegetation and block turtles and crabs from the beach where they lay eggs.

Stephen B. Carr, an environmental consultant and association spokesman, proposed building a 2-foot submerged breakwater notched for turtles and crabs to crawl through. The association would plant grass behind the wall to preserve the river's vegetation.

But the most compelling appeal was made by pupils from Samuel Ogle Elementary School in Bowie, who carried buckets of diamondbacks and paraded in front of board members -- Glendening, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon.

Previous owners of the beachfront property in the 900 block of Old Country Road started looking for a solution in 1996. The Fishers, who bought the property last year, continued the effort, hiring lawyer Harry C. Blumenthal. Rejected plans and opposition from the association have delayed resolution.

"We need closure on this," said Blumenthal. "Quite frankly, 3 1/2 years is time enough." The Fishers will spend up to $250,000 to keep their property intact, he said.

The association's proposal would slow waves, but might not eliminate erosion, said Ronald W. Johnson, president of RWJ Associates Inc. and the breakwater project's engineer.

The Environment Department approved a segmented breakwater last year for property on the river's southern shore. But the Fishers' north-shore property receives the brunt of heavy summer storms and is more susceptible to erosion, said Doldon W. Moore Jr., the board's wetlands administrator.

The success of the other project is proof that it would work for the Fishers, Carr said. "It is not a gamble," he said, "but a tried-and-true method that will work."

Almost 75 percent of the river's shoreline is "hardened" or lined with concrete walls, Carr said -- with the Fishers' property one of the largest open stretches remaining on the river.

The governor, impressed by the association's proposition, said swift action must be taken to preserve the beach. The board gave the association 30 days to work with engineers, develop a blueprint and present it to the Environment Department.

The segmented breakwater likely would cost more than the Fishers want to spend, Carr said, but he promised to rally volunteers and donations for the project.

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