ANNAPOLIS – After a bitter debate Friday, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill to temporarily bar the Baltimore Port Administration from dumping dredge spoil into the Chesapeake Bay’s Site 104.
Supporters lauded the bill for establishing the state as the bay’s steward and for providing time to determine cost-effective and bay- friendly dredge uses.
“You want to dump 18 million cubic yards of dredge in my backyard? Why don’t we talk about that,” said Delegate Wheeler R. Baker, D-Queen Anne’s, the bill’s key sponsor.
Site 104 is a deep trench in the Chesapeake Bay that the Baltimore Port Administration planned to use to dispose of 110 million cubic yards of dredge spoil removed to deepen the C & D Canal, the northern access route to the Port of Baltimore, over the next 20 years. The plan has Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s endorsement.
Baker’s bill, which passed 90-47, is the first anti-dumping bill to win a floor vote. Three House bills banning open-bay dumping failed.
Baltimore and Baltimore County delegates overwhelmingly opposed it, with 30 of 44 delegates from those districts voting against it.
“What this bill accomplishes is actually nothing,” shouted Delegate John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County.
The bill harms the Port of Baltimore and the state’s economy, he said. The port employs 18,000 people and is responsible for another 130,000 jobs.
We are “lending ammunition to (the port’s) competition in New York and New Jersey, Arnick said.
“The trend around the world is to build bigger and faster ships,” said Delegate Brian K. McHale, D-Baltimore. “If we don’t accommodate (businesses), they are going to say, ‘Bye-bye.'”
The bay’s health is threatened just as much as the port’s economic viability, countered Delegate Ronald A. Guns, D-Cecil. “The enemies of the port don’t have the Chesapeake Bay in their backyard.”
Port officials, in past committee hearings, have pointed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental impact statement for the final say on open-bay dumping.
“It is important we not rush to judgment, but let science decide,” said port spokeswoman Judi Scioli.
Delegates agreed: “This is not an issue about the bay,” said Delegate Alfred W. Redmer Jr., R-Baltimore County. “The federal folks are going to give us that information. We need to show the world we’re supporting the port’s long term plans.”
The Corps postponed release of the study in January over concerns that dumping could alter the bay’s thermal equilibrium and the winter habitat of striped bass and perch. The final report will be released in April 2001 after public hearings.
But Guns said the Corps could postpone that “doomsday decision.” If it is released after April, the General Assembly will not be able to react with legislation.
The bill gives the General Assembly time to anticipate problems like that, he said: “We are the policy-makers.”
Lawmakers tried to appease opposition by portraying the bill as pro-port and pro-environment.
“Let’s pass a bill,” said Delegate Leon G. Billings, D-Montgomery, “and commit ourselves to finding out how we can pay for alternatives that protect both” the bay and the port.
Another proposal to establish research funds for alternative dredge uses passed unanimously.
The bill by Delegate Mary Roe Walkup, R-Kent, slid through without debate. That proposal requires the governor set aside at least $1 million in state funds to help businesses develop dredge reuse projects.
“We are missing an opportunity to really make something out of dredge,” Walkup has said. She said dredge spoil is used in other states for construction aggregate and highway sound barriers.