Save Abingdon Woods, a coalition of county residents and environmental action groups, held a rally Wednesday evening after developers began clearing trees on July 5.
“People are fired up,” said Tracey Waite, president of the nonprofit group Harford County Climate Action. “I think they are really angry.”
Just over two dozen people attended the 4:30 p.m. rally in front of the Harford County Administrative Office building, a turnout Waite considered a success considering the short time for planning.
People driving down South Main Street periodically tapped their car horns to show support for the group, while others slowed to read signs with phrases such as “Save wetlands animals,” “Cutting trees is foolish,” and “County government does NOT care.”
A slew of guest speakers, including Waite, addressed the crowd.
“We are fed up,” Waite said during her speech. “We are angry, and we are worried about the future.”
The tree clearing by developer BTC III I-95 Logistics Center, LLC began after a grading permit for the project was issued on June 29.
The permit allows for “construction of sediment control measures during the grading [moving of dirt] on the property,” according to the county’s governmental and community relations director Cindy Mumby.
Mumby said the permit was issued by the Harford Soil Conservation District following the county’s public works department recommending approval after viewing an engineering analysis of the submission.
There are two active cases opposing the development: The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is opposing the development’s forest conservation plan, and the Chesapeake Legal Alliance is representing the Gunpowder Riverkeeper in a case challenging the project’s wetlands and waterways permit.
“CBF is strongly opposed to cutting down any trees at this site while the project’s Forest Conservation Plan is being contested in the Maryland Court of Appeals,” said Paul Smail, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s director of litigation, in a statement. “The case remains open and the court is expected to issue a ruling later this summer.
“We’re looking at all legal options to immediately prevent the irreparable damage now being done to Abingdon Woods, which is cherished by residents and improves air and water quality in the area.”
Gunpowder Riverkeeper Theaux Le Gardeur addressed the tree clearings in a July 6 statement.
“This action is heartbreaking for the communities surrounding Abingdon Woods,” Le Gardeur said in the statement. “Converting 326 acres of forested wetlands and waterways into millions of square feet of impervious surface will further degrade the already polluted and impaired Bush River and lead to erosion and stormwater runoff issues.”
The Morning Sun
Patrick DeArmey, the Chesapeake Legal Alliance attorney representing Le Gardeur’s case against the Maryland Department of the Environment in Harford County Circuit Court, told The Aegis an opening brief was filed about two weeks ago, and they were expecting a response from the developer and the state by the end of this month.
Other speakers at the rally included Kathy Baker-Brosh, president of the Otter Point Creek Alliance, and Leigh Maddox, a leader of the 3P Protect Perryman Peninsula coalition.
“All of us have one thing in common,” Maddox said. “It’s not that we love nature, although most of us do. It’s not that we want safer roads, although most of us do. It’s not that we demand our property rights be respected. What we all have in common is we want a government that is free from illegality, free from kickback and free from special interests. We want a government that cares for us. I don’t care how many people we have to vote out because we are going to vote you out."
Several political candidates attended the rally, Andrew Johnson and Sarahia Benn, both Democrats running for District 34A state delegate seats; Matt Whitlock, a Libertarian running for County Council’s District F seat; and Henry Gibbons, who’s running for the Democratic Central Committee.
“Abingdon Woods is in my district, and I fully support and put the weight of my office behind the support of this group out here,” Johnson said. “I’ve been behind this group from day one.”
The Abingdon Woods coalition handed out flyers to attendees with chants to yell in between speeches, one of which named Harford County politicians they wanted out of office: Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and his chief adviser, Billy Boniface, who is running for county executive; County Council President Patrick Vincenti, who is running for re-election; and council members Curtis Beulah, Chad Shrodes, Tony Giangiordano, Joseph Woods and Robert Wagner. Beulah, Giangiordano and Wagner are running to retain their seats; Shrodes is running for county clerk.
“If we lose Abingdon Woods, there are still other forests that we can protect,” Waite urged the crowd. “I don’t want to see you lose what you have learned.”