WASHINGTON – The Army Corps of Engineers said Friday that it could find only “short- term and localized” negative environmental impacts from a plan to dump dredge spoils along a four-mile stretch of bay off of Kent Island.
In its 481-page draft environmental impact statement, the corps said that dumping up to 18 million cubic yards of silt dredged from Chesapeake Bay shipping channels at Site 104 could actually have environmental benefits. The new dredge could cap heavy metals that were left at the four-mile site when it was used as a dump from 1924 to 1975.
Environmental groups were not surprised by the corps report, but disagreed with the findings.
“Our worst fears are being recognized,” said Patrick Welsh, spokesman for Citizens Against Open Bay Dumping, which believes that the dumping will cause more harm than the corps has predicted.
Delegate Wheeler Baker, D-Queen Anne’s, is sponsoring a bill in the General Assembly that would stop the dumping by extending a protected zone of the bay floor known as the Deep Trough north to include Site 104. A similar bill is pending in the state Senate.
Baker said he also asked Gov. Parris Glendening to look for other places to dump the dredged materials. “I would rather see this material used in a beneficial manner,” such as the rebuilding of Poplar Island with dredge materials, he said.
But Lt. Col. Greg Stinner of the Corps’ Baltimore District said that Site 104 looks like the best site for dumping the dredge spoil, “based on the data we have now.”
Stinner cited limited dumping space elsewhere and the possible positive impact of dumping clean silt on top of the heavy metals that were dumped at Site 104 before 1975, when it was known as the Kent Island Deep.
The four-mile long section of the bay starts about 1,000 yards north of the Bay Bridge and lies between the shipping channel and Kent Island.
The corps found that dumping at Site 104, which would only be done during winter months, would cause “short-term fish displacement” and the destruction of overwintering, or hibernating, crabs. But the death of crabs at Site 104 is “not expected to impact the bay-wide population,” the report said.
The corps’ computer simulations did find that up to 17 percent of dredge — or about 3 million cubic yards — may drift from Site 104.
Tom Grasso, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland office, said he has a “real concern with the inability to control the movement of sediments” at the site. He also questioned the corps’ characterization of the nine-year dumping project as “short term.”
“Nine years doesn’t seem to me to be a short-term impact,” Grasso said. “It doesn’t look like a good sign to me.”
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, does not oppose dumping altogether, but he agreed with Grasso that nine years is too long to allow dumping at the site.
Gilchrest said he would spend “three to four weeks scrutinizing” the study before making any decisions. “We will work to ensure there is no dumping,” if it threatens the environment, he said.
Baker said he does not want to stop dredging of the shipping channel, which is vital to the Port of Baltimore. But he does not think it is worth the risk of dumping dredge at Site 104.
“It’s a tenuous position – we’re not walking away from Baltimore,” Baker said. “I want the port dredged, but I want it done in an environmentally sound manner.”
The corps will accept public comment on its report until April 12. Stinner said a final report is due by October, which would allow dumping this winter if the site wins final clearance.
Copies of the draft report are available at public libraries in Queen Anne’s, Kent, Anne Arundel counties. Copies are also available online at www.nab.usace.army.mil.