Residents sue to halt new Severn River Bridge


In a last-ditch effort to stop construction of the new Severn River Bridge, a group of Pendennis Mount residents have sued in county Circuit Court, claiming the project should not proceed until two environmental studies are done.

Meanwhile, another group of residents is petitioning Gov. William Donald Schaefer to preserve the old bridge as a fishing pier.

Richard L. Peters of the 1800 block Pleasant Plains Road in Annapolis, said in a press release that more than 300 people have signed a petition asking for the fishing pier. Currently, fishing is allowed from the bridge, but it is slated for demolition after the new span is completed.

On Tuesday, five neighbors who have tried to stop construction of the new bridge charged in their suit that the state violated critical areas legislation and the Scenic and Wild Rivers Act by failing to complete the environmental studies. They are seeking a court order to halt the construction until the studies can be done.

"We feel very, very strongly that the critical areas laws and the Scenic and Wild Rivers act were completely ignored," said attorney Thomas McCarthy Jr., representing the plaintiffs.

But the Department of Natural Resources and the Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission claims the $33 million bridge project was "grandfathered" and not subject to study, according to court documents.

The suit contends the commission must review the project because critical areas regulations concerning state projects were adopted in 1988, and the bridge design wasn't decided until 1989.

The plaintiffs also argue that Department of Natural Resources Secretary Torrey C. Brown should have reviewed the project under the Scenic and Wild Rivers Act of the 1970s.

These same arguments were incorporated in a federal suit the group filed, but federal judges ruled that the issues could only be addressed by the state courts.

The plaintiffs are among a group of Annapolis-area residents who have fought for a year to preserve the 68-year-old bridge into Maryland's capital.

In the last month, Citizens for a Scenic River Bridge lost a federal appeal that would have stopped construction of the 80-foot replacement bridge. At the same time, the keeper of the National Register of Historic Places refused to designate the bridge a historic site.

The group is now considering whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bryan Miller, president of Citizens for a Scenic River Bridge, said an appeal would only be filed if the group believes it has a good chance of winning.

David E. Russell, a plaintiff in yesterday's suit, said he hopes to win the war at the state level. "I feel that the way the citizens have been treated by the state and federal authorities is unacceptable," he said.

In addition to Mr. Russell and his wife, Denise, the other plain tiffs are Dorothy M. Ackler and Thomas and Virginia Strange, all neighbors in the 1900 block of Old Annapolis Blvd.

Defendants in the suit are: state Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer; Hal Kassoff, administrator for the State Highway Administration, Mr. Brown and John C. North, chairman of the Critical Areas Commission.

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