ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris N. Glendening Wednesday yielded to turtle-toting elementary schoolers, ignoring a state agency recommendation in a bid to save the Severn River beach habitat of terrapins and horseshoe crabs.
The Department of the Environment recommended the Board of Public Works allow Martin and Georgianna Fisher to build a 5-foot-high stone wall along their Severna Park beachfront property. The land sits atop a 60-foot bluff that is sliding into the river, taking trees with it.
But the Severn River Association claims piling stone along half the Fisher’s 800-foot shoreline will destroy submerged vegetation and block turtles and crabs from the beach where they lay eggs.
The association came not to “fight” the Fishers, but to offer alternatives, said Stephen B. Carr, environmental consultant and SRA spokesman. He proposed building a two-foot submerged breakwater notched for turtles and crabs to crawl through. The SRA would plant grass behind the wall to preserve the river’s vegetation.
The most compelling appeal came from students from Samuel Ogle Elementary School in Bowie, who carried buckets of diamondbacks and paraded in front of Glendening, Comptroller William D. Schaefer and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon. The three officials make up the board.
Previous owners of the beachfront property at 940 Old Country Road started looking for a solution in 1996. The Fishers, who bought the property last year, continued the effort, hiring lawyer Harry C. Blumenthal. Rejected plans and opposition from the SRA have delayed resolution.
“We need closure on this,” said Blumenthal. “Quite frankly, three and a half years is time enough.” The Fishers will spend up to $250,000 to keep their property intact, he said.
The SRA’s proposal will slow waves, but might not eliminate erosion, said Ronald W. Johnson, president of RWJ Associates Inc. and the breakwater project’s engineer.
The Department of the Environment approved a segmented breakwater last year for property on the river’s southern shore. But the Fisher’s north-shore property receives the brunt of heavy summer storms and is more susceptible to erosion, said Doldon W. Moore Jr., the board’s wetlands administrator.
The success of that project is proof that it will work for the Fishers, Carr said.
“It is not a gamble,” he said, “but a tried-and-true method that will work.”
Almost 75 percent of the river’s shoreline is “hardened” or lined with concrete walls, Carr said. The Fishers’ property is one of the largest open stretches remaining on the river, he said.
That hit a nerve with Glendening: “We want a decision,” he said, but we must address “the dangers of having the whole river channeled.” The governor was impressed with the SRA’s proposition, and said swift action must be taken to preserve the beach. The board gave the SRA 30 days to work with engineers, develop a blueprint and present it to the Department of the Environment. The segmented breakwater likely will cost more than the Fishers want to spend, Carr said. But he promised to rally volunteers and donations for the project. “Our work has just begun,” he said. “But in the end, the Fishers will have a breakwater to be proud of.” Blumenthal said his clients approve any proposal that is cost-effective and stops erosion. But he assured the board he would be back if the Fishers are not satisfied. “You can’t expect a husband and wife who are private lot owners to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on nothing.”