Standing at the edge of the greenish mire that used to be Severna Park's main commercial port, two Berrywood residents recalled the string of sewage spills, housing and highway projects that resulted in the decline of Cattail Creek.

In the last five years, an alarming transition has taken place in the creek. It is now impossible to swim, fish, crab or even navigate its headwaters, said Larry Rose and Edward Tarr, two men spearheading an effort to get a channel dredged in the creek.

"The last crabs disappeared in 1987," said Rose, standing at Robinson's Landing, a spot just east of Ritchie Highway and near the headwaters of the creek.

"Now you can't even store crabs in a live boxat the pier because there's no oxygen in the water. They just die," said Tarr, who blames the lack of a cold, deep-water channel. "Every year, we have a fish kill that looks like somebody dropped bombs all through here."

The state and county have approved money, but the dredging has been bogged down by red tape and the difficulty of finding a deposit site for the dredged material.

Until the 1950s, Robinson's Landing had been used as a commercial port, with the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad operating a depot three-quarters of a mile down Route 648. While those days may be over, plans call for a $472,000 project to clear a 3,000-foot by 50-foot-wide channel to the Magothy River and restore the creek's recreational value.

Frustrated by the delays, Tarr and Rose are taking their case to Councilwoman Diane Evans, R-Arnold, and County Executive Robert R. Neall. The pair hope to put dredging projects like theirs ona fast track.

Tarr said the big problem is the number of regulatory agencies that need to be dealt with. To complete a simple dredging project, one has to go through the County Council and executive, the department of public works, planning and zoning, land acquisitions, the office of law, the courts, the state Department of Natural Resources, the Highway Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.

"The corporate structure is an inverted pyramid, everyone is responsible and yet nobody is responsible for getting anything done," he said."I go to find out where the project stands and I get six people pointing in six different directions. I want to work with the county, but I don't know who to work with."

Leaders of the Berrywood, Berrywood South and Arundel Plaza communities will be meeting with Evans and Neall April 8. Tarr said he's going to suggest that some kind of dredging czar be appointed to set priorities and coordinate the projects.

Robert Regan, head of the county's watershed management program, said the environmental problems and delays with the Cattail Creek dredging are not unusual.

Regan said it can take anywhere from one to four years to get through the Army Corps of Engineers permit processalone, depending on whether environmentalists oppose the project.

Local naturalist Colby Rucker, of the Severn River Association, said many people oppose what he calls "exploitative dredging," such as the plan for Cattail Creek. He said the primary rationale for dredging the headwaters is to exploit the property values of waterfront property, not to improve the environment -- which he said eventually would heal itself by forming a marsh where the deep-water channel once was.

Tarr dismissed Rucker's arguments, saying man should make up for such unnatural disasters as the major sewage spills in 1977 and 1986 that dumped a combined total of 300,000 gallons of raw sewage into the creek.

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