WASHINGTON – New environmental concerns about a proposed Chesapeake Bay dredge dumping site “give me pause” and will require another six months of study, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official said Wednesday.
In a letter to Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, the Corps’ Baltimore District commander said Site 104 may be a refuge for fish in the winter, including the endangered shortnose sturgeon.
Col. Bruce A. Berwick also said the speed of currents at the site north of Kent Island may be different than originally estimated, which would cause the dredged material to erode at a higher rate.
The Corps had expected to have a revised draft of the environmental impact statement on Site 104 out this month. Berwick said in his letter that the draft will not be available until July and that a final environmental impact statement will not come until January 2001.
Gilchrest, a strong opponent of the project, hailed the Corps’ decision. He called the delay “a further validation of all of the concerns that have been voiced by citizens, environmental groups and federal agencies, and a clear sign that support for the dumping plan is eroding.”
State officials have said that dumping at Site 104 is the best option for the continued dredging that is needed to keep bay shipping channels open. A spokeswoman for the Port of Baltimore expressed surprise and disappointment at the Corps’ announcement, but she said it was by no means the end of the project.
“We have said all along that this project needs to go forward based on sound scientific evidence and this shows that the Corps is going through a very rigorous process,” said Judi Scioli, the port spokeswoman.
Gilchrest called on Gov. Parris N. Glendening to “do the right thing for the environment and the Chesapeake Bay” by finding alternatives to dumping dredged material at Site 104.
Aides in Glendening’s press office said Wednesday evening they were not aware of the Corps’ action and could not immediately comment on the delay.
Berwick’s letter said the new concerns about fish using the warmer bottom waters at the site during the winter first came up in a report from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
He said it is “imperative to address this issue.” Dumping dredged material “would permanently change the water depths, and could potentially change the distribution of warmer bottom waters,” eliminating the winter habitat for fish, Berwick said.
Berwick said the Corps is also gathering additional measurements of the current in the area so it can develop a more accurate picture of how the sediment will move after it has been dumped.