Anne Arundel County environmentalists: Construction sites need better runoff protection

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

More than two dozen community groups and environmentalists have signed onto a letter calling for County Executive Steve Schuh to better regulate construction sites throughout Anne Arundel County.

The letter was sent after volunteers surveyed 26 different construction sites and found varying degrees of sediment control compliance. Their audit claims only about a third of construction sites were properly placing down mulch and grass to control the flow of sediment into nearby waterways.

County officials have disputed this number — saying most construction sites comply with the rules and inspectors visit active construction sites about every two weeks. But officials have set up a meeting with environmentalists Tuesday to discuss their concerns.

Environmental consultant Richard Klein said the county isn’t proactive enough when it comes to regulating construction sites. Klein helped survey the construction sites.

Typically someone has to complain before the county steps in, Klein said.

“If the county were more proactive, we would have far less pollution from construction sites,” Klein said.

The focus of the audit was checking construction sites for what is called stabilization. Stabilization is mitigating runoff from dirt — that is no longer being moved or formed — by covering the soil with mulch and eventually grass, depending on the season.

Excessive sediment runoff can harm wildlife and damage natural habitats. County and state rules require stormwater management practices to prevent as much runoff as possible.

Mulch and grass protect from erosion, which protects the water from excessive sediment and other pollutants, said Lynne Rockenbauch, president of the Severn River Association. Grass has the highest amount of sediment control and is required between March and October.

Exposed dirt erodes away, and the mud and sediment make their way into creeks and other waters. At one construction site, Rockenbauch pointed to a trail of mud leaking out beneath a fence as an example of poorly stabilized ground.

Recent heavy rains have been a major concern as sediment-filled water has flowed into local waterways. July brought 16.67 inches of rain, about 12 inches more than a normal month.

Dan Kane, county director of inspections and permits, said most construction sites throughout the county are following county rules. And after heavy rains sites might be visited more frequently to make sure everything checks out.

Schuh often talks about keeping government lean which can mean sometimes vacated positions aren’t filled. But the county has kept the same number of inspectors the past four years, Kane said.

When problems are found, fees are levied or, in more severe cases, a stop work order is issued, Kane said.

While there is a disagreement on the severity of the problem, it is important to keep a relationship with local groups, he said.

If a site has issues right after an inspection, resident reports resolve those issues faster, Kane said

“We need them as a partner,” Kane said. “They are more eyes for us to see what is going on out there.”

One of the sites surveyed was the Bay Village Assisted Living and Memory Care center construction site off Forest Drive and Edgewood Road. The audit found that a small percentage of the site — which was under active construction — had not properly stabilized the dirt on a stockpile.

Construction began in June and is expected to be completed in fall 2019.

Ted Henry, the owner of TJH Properties, said the construction site meets required guidelines but heavy rains have made stormwater management and concrete pouring more difficult. TJH Properties is the project manager.

The project is within city limits so city inspectors have visited the site several times, Henry said. Corrective actions were ordered after the inspector found three minor issues which included dirt leaking out a seeded stockpile’s silt fence.

Much of the erodible soil flows back into the construction pit and there is a well-vegetated stormwater management pond acting as a secondary layer of sediment capture, Henry said.

“I certainly respect efforts by such organizations to protect our waterways so hopefully we are doing a solid job and will continue to work with the city to keep our site in good condition,” Henry said in an email.

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