WASHINTON – Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said Tuesday that he will ask the Supreme Court to review a special master’s ruling that grants Virginia access to the Potomac River, which is Maryland property to the Virginia side.
Special Master Ralph Lancaster ruled Monday that Virginia did not need permission from Maryland to draw water from the river or for construction connecting to the shore. His ruling is the latest in a long-running fight between the states over a Fairfax County plan to extend a water intake pipe in the river.
Maryland officials say that the state’s ownership and subsequent regulation of the river are based on a 17th century charter issued by King Charles I. In the past, Virginia residents have needed Maryland permits to take water from the river or build in it.
But Lancaster ruled that Maryland agreed to share control of the river with Virginia, under compacts signed by both states in 1785, 1877 and 1958.
Curran said the state’s request for review stems from concern “about the potential environmental impacts” the lack of uniform regulation will have on the river.
“The Potomac River is Maryland property . . . therefore it is incumbent in the owner to protect” it, Curran said.
“There needs to be some authority to protect this non-reoccurring resource,” he said.
But Stuart Raphael, the special counsel for Virginia in the case, countered that the river does not need Maryland’s protection, noting that any projects on the river are still subject to Virginia permitting laws as well as federal regulations.
The dispute began in 1996 when Maryland denied the Fairfax County Water Authority a permit to extend a water intake pipe out into the middle of the river.
Virginia officials said the extension was necessary because sediments along the shoreline were clogging the older intake pipe and the water in the middle of the river was cleaner. Maryland officials denied the request insisting it was environmentally damaging to the river.
Jim Warfield, the water authority’s executive officer, said Maryland officials blamed the need for a pipe extension on growth issues and “the whole thing just (went) spinning out of control.”
Virginia officials appealed to the Supreme Court to review the case in October 2000.
Meanwhile, a Maryland Department of Environment arbitrator agreed with Virginia that the pipe did not pose enough of an environmental threat to be canceled. Maryland appealed that ruling, but a Baltimore Circuit Court judge sided with the arbitrator and Virginia, and forced Maryland to approve the construction in January 2001.
Virginia officials chose to continue their case before the Supreme Court, which had assigned Lancaster, an attorney from Maine, as special master to review the case.
Lancaster’s ruling has not yet been approved by the court, which gives Curran the opportunity to request a court review.