In defending their plans for a 60-acre explosion pond at the edge ofBush River, U.S. Army officials repeatedly note that a smaller test site operating nearby has had little effect on the area's bald eagle population.

However, a state environmental group disputes that contention. The group has focused on the older pond's effects on the base's endangered bald eagle population as grounds for further study of the new $22 million project's possible effects on the environment.

The U.S. Navy wants to build a 150-foot deep pond to test how models of its Seahawk submarine and other hardware stand up to underwater explosions. "This test is largely non-destructible," test project manager Paul Tennant said Tuesday during a public comment hearing at APG.

While narrating a video on the existing test site, near the southern border of the base, he said studies show that the 330-foot-diameter pond has withstood 125-pound explosive shocks for more than twoyears with no damage to it or the surrounding area.

Tennant said ongoing observation by independent wildlife experts from the VirginiaPolytechnic Institute in Blacksburg also shows the explosive tests have not harmed the eagles that regularly fly in and out of the trees surrounding the area south of Romney Creek.

But the VPI research suggests otherwise, Pam Serino, a Harford resident and director of theConservation Federation of Maryland, said Thursday. James Fraser, a VPI professor who manages the eagle research project, was unavailablefor comment last week. But his annual report to APG in February shows that researchers have recorded a decline in the use of the base by radio-tagged eagles.

The report concluded that eagles' use of APG has declined over the last five years, particularly in the area of Romney Creek, where VPI recorded a drop in roost counts at one site from an average frequency of 11.8 to 5.3.

"The most likely explanation for the decline is the military activity in the vicinity of Romney Creek," Fraser wrote.

The existing pond is on the southern shore of the creek, and the new pond would be wedged between Bush River and the creek's northern shore. The VPI project does not record eagle populations. But Fraser reported a decline in eagle roosting at APG, while sitings of radio-tagged eagles increased on the Eastern Shore during the same period.

Plans to begin the nine-month construction project in time to launch tests by next July depend on joint permit approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of theEnvironment.

APG officials say water and geological tests conducted for the Army demonstrate that the new pond would have no significant environmental effect. The proposed "superpond" would be host to about 40 tests each year, with some explosions as large as 3,500 pounds.

"With a 3,500-pound charge and a 125-pound charge, you're dealing with apples and eggs," Serino said Thursday. "We do not acceptthe Army's environmental assessment. We want an environmental impactstatement."

A full environmental impact statement could force APGto reanalyze water quality, soil conditions, noise and shock effectsand wildlife at the site.

The Community Coalition of Harford County, an Edgewood-based citizens group, also supports the study and is circulating petitions to present to Maryland's U.S. Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski. Both senators lobbied the Pentagon to consider APG as a site for the test pond.

Nick Carter, a state Department of Natural Resources wetlands specialist said his office is also concerned that APG plans to dispose of soil from the construction site by creating 100 acres of wetlands in a striped bass spawning area.

"I don't think the process is going to move as quickly as the Army seems to think," he said Thursday.


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