Federal wildlife officials have instructed Aberdeen Proving Ground to re-examine its finding that a 60-acre test explosion pond along theBush River would not hurt the base's bald eagle population.

The new study could delay plans to begin U.S. Navy tests next July on models of its Seawolf attack submarine.

"We found the environmental assessment to be inadequate in terms of the bald eagle population," Andy Moser, an endangered species specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field office in Annapolis, said Friday.

A U.S. Army environmental study released last month included a two-line statement that the $22 million project would have no effect on the birds. During two public briefings on the proposed 150-foot-deep pond at APG earlier this month, project manager Paul Tennant said a smaller explosion pond operating on the opposite side of Romney Creek for more than two years has had little effect on the area's bald eagle population.

But Moser said APG ignored an independent report released in February that concluded that the birds' use of APG has declined over the last five years, particularly in the Romney Creek area.

"The most likely explanation for the decline is the military activity in the vicinity of Romney Creek," wrote James Fraser, who monitors the eagles for Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg.

Moser said his office wants APG to conduct a before-and-after study to test Fraser's theory that the existing explosion pond accounts for the drop in sightings of radio-tagged eagles.

"The Army apparently did not contact Dr. Fraser or state wild life officials or anybody else outside the proving ground," Moser said. "They basically wanted us to accept on faith that there's no impact, and we can't do that. The eagle population there is one of the most important in the county."

APG spokesman John Yaquiant said Friday that Army environmental specialists will review their eagle findings and project how much additional human activity the new pond would bring to the area.

"We'll look into it in a little more detail and hopefully get back to them within a month," he said.

Predictions of a drop in the eagle population could be grounds for requiring an environmental impact statement, a more rigorous study than the assessment released in May.

The Conservation Federation of Maryland and the Community Coalition of Harford County have demanded the longer study, which theU.S. Army Corps of Engineers would have to order.

APG's public comment deadline for the project passed Friday. But a second opportunity for voicing concerns will open when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins the permit review process required to meet federal and statewater quality standards.

APG plans include creating up to 100 acres of wetlands using material dredged from the Bash River to deepen achannel to the site and soil displaced to create the pond.

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