Nest's threat to Safeway diminished

Construction banned for breeding season, but eagle aerie empty

May 18, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

A once-active bald eagle nest near the site of a proposed Safeway supermarket in Deale is empty, state natural resources officials said yesterday. That means a ban on construction there could be lifted before the end of the breeding season June 15.

"The nest failed," said Glenn D. Therres, Maryland's bald eagle biologist, adding that he isn't sure why.

Safeway's opponents are worried that the grocery chain might clear its wooded 16-acre site - even though a new state law to take effect July 1 will stop the 77,000- square-foot strip plaza from going forward as planned.

Safeway has a county permit to prepare the land for construction but not one to build.

Store opponents aren't sure what clearing the site would accomplish if the building is not allowed, but they want the county to keep the eagle restriction in place just in case. These critics say the shopping plaza would hurt the South County area's quiet atmosphere, among other things.

"I hope [Safeway] wouldn't try to knock down trees needlessly," said Amanda Spake, president of South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development.

Safeway officials revealed nothing about their intentions yesterday. "We are still contemplating our development options," said spokesman Gregory A. TenEyck. "I'm not going to elaborate."

Before grading can begin, Safeway is required to meet with the county's permit director. The county's planning and permit directors have not reviewed the new information about the eagles, a spokesman said.

Safeway hasn't hidden its frustration at how the county has treated the company. Its attorney recently wrote to the County Council, alleging that Anne Arundel has "seriously compromised" its rights during the years-long review process. He also alleged that the store's land has been effectively "taken" without compensation.

Now comes the new state law, which Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller muscled through the General Assembly this year specifically to block Safeway. That law says Safeway cannot put storm runoff ponds on adjacent residential land - a setup the company says the county once demanded.

County Executive Janet S. Owens, under pressure from Miller, now supports new zoning for Safeway's land that would permit buildings no larger than 25,000 square feet. In addition, the County Council is considering legislation similar to Miller's that also would effectively block Safeway's present plans.

Although the Owens administration gave Safeway a grading permit last year - before Owens decided to support the rezoning - the county has not issued a building permit. Before Safeway could clear the property, it ran up against another obstacle: the state's restriction on construction near eagle nests between Dec. 15 and June 15.

The nest is about 600 feet from the Safeway site. Although the area in between is not pristine - it houses several buildings - Therres said the eagles could see the site from their nesting area and might have left had work begun during the nesting season.

A flyover in March revealed an eagle sitting in an "incubating posture," indicating an egg in the nest. But May 10, the nest was empty, meaning the egg did not hatch, Therres said. "At this time of year, young should be two to three weeks from flying, so it wasn't like they had already flown away."

Therres could not explain the nest's failure - four of eight in Anne Arundel did not produce eaglets. He speculated that the nest's new location - it was rebuilt in a hardwood after it fell out of a pine tree - might have left the birds more exposed to the elements.

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