Health of creeks a worry to some

Muck and silt raise Annapolis residents' concerns over possible runoff from construction projects

April 06, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Evan Belaga keeps a watchful eye on Weems Creek from his living room window.

Last week, he said, he observed "a huge plume of silt and sediment" in plain view of his and other homes built on the banks of the creek.

He worries that several ongoing construction projects in Annapolis, coupled with recent heavy rains, are hurting the creeks that empty into the Chesapeake Bay.

"These little streams can't carry all this storm water," said Belaga, president of the Weems Creek Conservancy, a group concerned about the waterway's health. "You can't stress your environment out."

Annapolis is in the middle of a construction boom, with a new legislative office building, two bridge improvement projects and several private developments under way.

Two weekends ago, many residents were quick to notice that heavy rains had turned the city's creeks brown and muddy with sediment. They expressed concern about the impact on local habitats in the four creeks that flow into the bay.

Last week, College and Weems creeks looked discolored and disturbed enough to set off a series of exchanges among residents, state environmental experts and several elected officials over what, if any, construction or public works project were to blame for the serious soil erosion.

State officials overseeing the most visible projects, the bridges on Rowe Boulevard and the Lowes House Office Building, stressed that their projects were complying with environmental requirements.

David Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said the Rowe Boulevard bridges project has an environmental inspector monitoring storm water runoff daily.

Frank J. Biba, the city's chief of environmental programs, said in an interview that "multiple sources" were likely responsible for last week's muck and storm water runoff.

The Maryland Department of the Environment found problems at two sites: the legislative office building and Park Place, a $150 million mixed-use development going up on West Street at the headwaters of College Creek.

Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for the Department of General Services, said that the agency is taking a "proactive" approach, working with the MDE to rebuild the sediment control system.

City and state officials also agreed that construction should stop at Park Place until the soil erosion problem there was corrected with a stronger silt fence, officials said.

Richard J. McIntyre, an MDE spokesman, said: "They [at Park Place] have been ordered to stabilize the site. The city of Annapolis is cooperating by not issuing any additional building permits until that [stabilization] is addressed."

The work site will be ready to pass another inspection, said Robert G. Kramer, a spokesman for the developer, Jerome J. Parks Cos. "We are confident that the issues raised will be resolved this week," he said.

Belaga thinks large-scale developers should be required by law to pay a storm-water utility fee dedicated to prevent soil erosion.

"It's hard for the aquatic life to survive with this [sediment] hemorrhaging into the creeks," he said.

Atlantic white cedar trees, which were once plentiful before they were chopped down for timber, should be systematically replanted near the city's creeks to help absorb toxic water pollutants, Belaga said.

Anne Arundel County recently finished landscaping a bog near Wilelinor Drive as a watershed restoration project, he said.

Harry Sandrouni, a city engineer, said Annapolis is trying new techniques to cope with environmental erosion. He gave as an example the recently completed Porter Drive "outfall," a reshaping of scrub and woodland designed to arrest an eroding channel into Weems Creek. New willows were added to buttress the watershed, in the Admiral Heights neighborhood.

"It's out there for everyone to see," Sandrouni said, "our legacy for the coming generation."

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