Big-box foes fill Crofton meeting

Proposed Wal-Mart provokes concern about flooding

November 15, 2006|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to the Sun

A proposed Wal-Mart in Crofton could seriously flood Route 3, surrounding neighborhoods and the Little Patuxent River after a major storm, residents told state officials at a packed public hearing.

Subijoy Dutta, an engineer who lives in Crofton, said at Monday's meeting that the 20-acre parcel where Wal-Mart wants to build is a major drainage area. If it were paved over, he said, water would be forced into a nearby housing development and would raise the river level by 6 to 8 feet after a heavy rainfall.

He clearly had the support of the crowd of about 230 people jammed into the Bowie Elks Club who had organized their opposition to the project along Route 3 at Cronson Boulevard. Wal-Mart had shrunk the proposed store's size from 143,000 to 120,000 square feet with 600 parking spaces over the summer to appease critics, who had vowed to use environmental concerns to kill the project.

The Maryland Department of the Environment held the hearing on whether to grant Wal-Mart a wetlands license to build its fifth store in Anne Arundel County, about five miles down the same road from a smaller Wal-Mart in Bowie in Prince George's County. The license would allow Wal-Mart to build on top of a quarter-acre of wetlands as long as it replaces them at the back of the property.

The MDE will make a decision by Dec. 27, a deadline that could be extended if officials need more information from the big-box discounter, said Gary Setzer, program administrator for the state wetlands and waterways program.

Some opponents questioned whether the MDE was prepared for the outpouring against the project. Every chair in the room was filled, and flares and police cars blocked off the jammed parking lot before the meeting began, forcing several dozen attendees to park along busy Route 450.

David Goodier of Crofton almost decided not to attend when he saw the parking shortage. He relented and joined his wife, Kristin Wyckoff, who arrived separately. Goodier said the lack of parking and seating might have deterred other residents from attending.

"They put us in this little building," he said.

Inside, County Councilman Edward R. Reilly of Crofton asked who was against the project, and nearly everyone raised his hand. Only a few hands went up when he asked who wanted to see other development at the site.

"I'm glad to see Wal-Mart has downsized this project, although I'd like to see it downsized a little more," Reilly told the audience.

Before the 1960s, the site had been used for sand and gravel mining, said Jim Cook, an environmental consultant for J. Cook Consultants in Owings Mills. The company is working for the developer, 1691 Limited Partnership, and Wal-Mart.

"Being a degraded mine site, the wetlands have little ecological value," Cook said, eliciting skeptical groans from the audience.

Members of Crofton First, a grass-roots group supporting smart growth, said the bog has become a host to deer, beavers, fish, blue herons and ducks. It also is home to at least 18 plant species, including the large cranberry, which is on Maryland's watch list of threatened plant life.

Dutta was incredulous that the state had not required a detailed environmental impact assessment. He noted that groundwater is 1 foot below the surface.

Data disputed

"That means it routinely floods," said Dutta, who is technical director for S&M Engineering Services in Crofton.

Using data from the U.S. Geological Service, he analyzed the impact of previous flooding from storms, such as Hurricane Agnes in 1972. A significant storm would not only raise the river level, but it would cause flooding of Route 3 and the residential area along Beaver Creek to the east of the proposed Wal-Mart, Dutta said.

William Berkshire, who is developing the project through 1691 Limited Partnership in Crofton, said yesterday that Dutta's assessment was based on misinformation.

"This is a theoretical thing, using the wrong information and reaching the wrong conclusion," he said.

MDE does not conduct environmental impact assessments, Setzer said after the meeting. The Army Corps of Engineers determined that the plan met the requirements of its general permit.

"It is our belief that [Army engineers] are pleased with the environmental aspects of this site," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Rhoda Washington said in a prepared statement yesterday. "We, along with the site developer, will continue to work with state and local regulatory agencies to meet or exceed requirements."

Berkshire said the community is fighting for an area the size of a house lot. Moreover, the arguments appear hypocritical because the county approved commercial retail development at the site in 1988 and reaffirmed it in 2001, said Berkshire, who has lived in Crofton for 30 years.

"There is no way that anyone in 1691 Limited Partnership would hurt anyone in the community," he said.

Aside from the environmental impact, residents oppose the project for aesthetic reasons and the potential for traffic backups.

"Everything about it is bad," said Nancie Allen, who would see the Wal-Mart from her backyard.

Goodier and Wyckoff are particularly worried about traffic. Cars already cut through their neighborhood to escape bottlenecks on Route 3. They said the animosity is not a knee-jerk reaction to Wal-Mart, which has been criticized for squeezing out mom-and-pop stores.

"I think it's waking up everyone to development and smart growth," Wyckoff said.

The MDE will accept public comments until Nov. 27. Comments should be sent to the attention of Judy Broersma-Cole at the Maryland State Department of the Environment, Water Management Administration, Nontidal Wetlands and Waterways Division, 1800 Washington Blvd., Baltimore 21230.

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