ANNAPOLIS – The release of a study that evaluates the environmental impact of the Inter-county Connector has some opponents concerned that the timing will deter public input.
Releasing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Monday, so close to the holidays, and holding public hearings right after the New Year is inconvenient for those who want to review it and comment on it, said Brian Henry, ICC campaign coordinator for the Audubon Naturalist Society.
“As much as some of us will enjoy reading (the study) over our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, I think we really have to be fair with the public . . .,” said Henry.
The statement, released Monday, outlines the benefits, costs and environmental impact of the road, which is planned to connect Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County with Interstate 270 in Montgomery County. It also compares the benefits of two proposed routes to not building it at all.
The comment period gives citizens ample opportunity to respond to the study, said State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen.
The study’s focus was too narrow because it did not have a significant range of alternatives, said Henry, who plans to ask for a longer comment period and for hearings to be moved to February.
“Any kind of benefits that they are purporting are going to be blown out of proportion when compared to nothing,” said Henry.
Delegate Mary-Dulany James, D-Harford, said the state would be smart to give the public as much time as possible to review the report. Not doing so runs the risk of increasing public suspicion, she said.
After initially being opposed to the ICC, Delegate Melony Griffith, D-Prince George’s, said she will consider support after “thorough review and deliberation” of the study and after hearing from the public.
Both James and Griffith hold seats on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and the Environment.
Officials examined transit alternatives before the study was conducted, but they did not meet the purposes and needs established for the study, said Pedersen. But, there is a transit proposal that employs an express bus service running on the ICC and connecting to nearby Metro and MARC stations, said Pedersen.
“It really is a multi-modal proposal that includes transit,” said Pedersen.
The study suggests significant increases in traffic congestion and a delay in travel times if the no-build option is chosen, said Pedersen.
The study also shows how the environmental impact will be minimized.
“We believe that we’ve taken extraordinary measures to minimize environmental impacts and incorporate stewardship measures,” said Pedersen.
Those measures, primarily building longer bridges, would control runoff, sedimentation and erosion to minimize the overall impact to water and wetlands, according to the SHA.
A similar study was conducted in 1997 that showed the road would have a significant environmental impact and James said she is curious to see how that is being mitigated now.
Another part of the study shows ways to minimize impacts on communities by lowering the roadway in some spots to reduce noise and views.
Those measures are a decoy, according to Henry.
“There has been a concerted effort by the (Gov. Robert) Ehrlich administration to hide behind environmental stewardship, when the reality is the net effect on the environment is going to be devastating,” said Henry.
The full study is available online at www.iccstudy.org, at libraries, community centers and government facilities. Comments can be made on the Web site through Feb. 1, by letter or at three public hearings scheduled for Jan. 4, 5 and 8.