ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland House Republican Caucus Friday opposed open-bay dumping in the Chesapeake by backing two bills to prohibit the practice and demand alternatives from the Baltimore Port Authority.
“I’m tired of us throwing (the dredge) away and dumping it into the bay. We have no business doing this,” said Delegate Mary Roe Walkup, R-Kent, who introduced a bill to prohibit dumping any material from Baltimore Harbor into the Chesapeake Bay or any of its tidewater tributaries.
The caucus’ statement came two days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers delayed release of its environmental impact statement on a proposal to dump dredge at Site 104, a spot north of the Bay Bridge. The corps said in a written statement that further analysis is needed because it learned the winter habitat of the endangered shortnose sturgeon could be affected by the disposal, and that water temperatures and velocities would change.
Dumping is “contrary to all the public and private efforts that have been made to `Save the Bay,'” House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman, R-Howard, said in a written statement.
Site 104 is a 78-foot deep trough, one of the Chesapeake’s deepest, used from 1924 to 1975 to hold dredge spoil from the port. The state now plans to dump 18 million cubic yards of sediment into the same spot, and Gov. Parris N. Glendening supports the proposal. Dredging keeps the Baltimore port’s channels open to ships. While port representatives have examined alternatives to open bay dumping, they have not found a better option. The Port Authority needs a positive environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before deciding whether to dump the dredge spoil at Site 104.
Delegate Thomas E. Hutchins, R-Charles, is drafting a bill that demands the Port Authority come up with alternatives to open-bay dumping by Dec. 1, 2000. Hutchins acknowledged the importance of the port but said, if the state destroys the bay, then seafood and tourist industries can’t flourish, and an environmental issue “becomes an economic one, too.” Patrick T. Welsh, spokesman for the non-profit group Citizens Against Open Bay Dumping Inc., said “all the Port Authority wants is something quick and cheap. Taking (dredge) out on a barge, opening the trap door, and letting it rip isn’t going to work. The bay is worth more than that.” A poll sponsored by his group showed 67 percent of Marylanders oppose open-bay dumping. Walkup, who introduced four unsuccessful bills last year against dredge dumping at Site 104, said she wouldn’t give up. She is drafting a second bill to create a pilot program to try to sell dredge material for other uses. “This issue has consumed my life,” she said, “but I am beginning to feel a sense of relief.” With the recent U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ study, she said, “science is now on our side and the time has come for us to develop alternatives.” The House Republican Caucus said they need Democratic support if legislation is to be passed. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Senate 33- 14, and the House, 106-35.
“This has got to be a bipartisan effort,” said House Minority Whip Robert L. Flanagan, R-Howard, and I hope we’ll see (the Democrats) follow suit.” House Majority Leader John Adams Hurson, D-Montgomery, declined to speak for the full Democratic Caucus, but said, “I’m just waiting for the Army’s full study and their final decision.” He suggested Republicans are not unified on the issue. Several House Republicans did not attend Friday’s news conference, but GOP leaders downplayed the significance of their absences. “Obviously it’s not a lock-step opinion they are taking on these bills,” Hurson said. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, and House Majority Whip George W. Owings III, D-Anne Arundel, declined to comment on their party’s position. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, could not be reached for comment. Delegate Martha S. Klima, R-Baltimore County, said open bay dumping in the bay is a state issue, not just one affecting watermen and bay residents. “The Chesapeake Bay is a state resource,” she said, and its destruction will effect everyone.