House passes Garrett Island refuge bill

Volcanic rock formation stands in Susquehanna

April 30, 2003|By Jennifer Blenner | Jennifer Blenner,SUN STAFF

A bill to protect Cecil County's Garrett Island as a wildlife refuge was passed by the House of Representatives yesterday.

The House cleared the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Act on a voice vote. "It passed all the hurdles, and no one had any objections," said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, the Maryland 1st District Republican who sponsored the bill to designate the island as a wildlife refuge.

Garrett Island, in the mouth of the Susquehanna River, is the only rocky island in the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The island encompasses 189 acres and is about 1 1/2 miles wide. Its topography, featuring the granite dome of an ancient volcano, rises 115 feet above sea level.

"It is a beautiful island with a classic rock formation," Gilchrest said, "when you look down you can see Route 40 and Route 95 and watch the trains pass you by."

The island's owners, Peter Jay of Havre de Grace and Gary Pensell of Perryville, have been lobbying Havre de Grace and Perryville for several years to acquire and protect it.

The bill authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to acquire the property for inclusion in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The island would be purchased for $300,000 to $400,000 and managed by Blackwater Refuge.

Under this bill, the island would be preserved for its archaeological significance - it contains evidence of the late Archaic Period Indian presence, from 3000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.

The bill would restore and manage habitat for migratory birds, such as ospreys, and bald eagles. It would permit public access that does not adversely affect the island.

Gilchrest said he will watch what happens in the next couple of months between Havre de Grace and Perryville officials, who are considering plans to annex the island.

"The bill is a fallback, supposing there's a legal glitch in the annexation," Gilchrest said. If the island is annexed by either Havre de Grace or Perryville, he said, then the federal bill will be dropped.

Originally, Gilchrest said he was contacted by Bill Kilby, president of the Cecil Land Trust, about the issue. "I came up with a bill to help preserve the island and raise the issue to a higher level," the congressman said.

Last May, Gilchrest introduced legislation to include Garrett Island as a refuge in the Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuge Expansion Act, but that bill died with adjournment of Congress.

Gilchrest reintroduced the bill Jan. 8, and hearings began in early March. The bill now moves to the Senate.

"No matter what happens," Gilchrest said, "that island will be preserved."

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