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Residents use tax district for Johns Creek dredging


Teri Nilsen and her Johns Creek neighbors will pay nearly $800 more in taxes next year, and they have only themselves to blame.

OK, maybe Mother Nature had a hand in it, too.

Ms. Nilsen and seven neighbors have formed the Johns Creek Waterway Tax District, to restore a boating channel through the West River tributary that has been filled in by natural erosion from the creek's banks, their yards and nearby farms.

Ten to 15 years ago, the channel was 5 feet deep.

Today, even at high tide, it is just 3 feet deep. At low tide, boaters can forget getting through, Ms. Nilsen said.

"If you have high pressure and a full moon, you're stuck," Ms. Nilsen said yesterday. "If you have a motor, you just have to try to plow through" the soft muddy bottom to get to deeper water.

The Johns Creek group is one of nearly 20 special tax districts in Maryland established to finance dredging projects with interest-free loans from the state Department of Natural Resources.

The residents have 25 years to repay the loans.

The dredging will begin Nov. 6 and should be completed by Nov. 30.

Yesterday, Ms. Nilsen was joined by DNR Secretary Torrey Brown, County Councilwoman Virginia Clagett, a West River Democrat, and county Department of Public Works officials on Tom Jackson's pier overlooking the $235,000 dredge project.

Mr. Brown, who was touring DNR projects in the southern region, including Anne Arundel County, held up the dredge project as an example of a growing public-private partnership.

Earlier in the day, he reviewed a $3.4 million improvement project at Sandy Point State Park, which includes a concession stand, bathrooms, an expanded entrance road and new picnic pavilions. The improvements should be complete by June 9, 1993.

The concession stand will be operated by a private enterprise that will pay the state. That money will be used to offset the cost of running the park, Mr. Brown said.

Dennis McMonigle, project manager for the county Department of Public Works, said Mike Davidson Excavating will "vacuum" 5,600 cubic yards of mud from the creek bottom with a hydraulic dredge. The process will create a channel 1,600 feet long, 40 feet wide and 4 1/2 feet deep, he said.

The mud will be pumped through a tube across John's Creek to a 4.2-acre, polyethylene-lined dike, where it will drain and become compact, said Sara L. Trescott, a water resources engineer with the Department of Natural Resources. The dump site was donated by owner Alec Schlegel, whose family owns a nearby marina.

Ms. Nilsen and other Shady Oak Manor residents first petitioned the county Department of Public Works to have their creek dredged in 1988. But the project was delayed as residents negotiated among themselves over exactly who would participate.

Gradually, the size of the project, which began with nearly 30 waterfront owners, was whittled down as many -- unwilling to pay the annual charge to their tax bill -- dropped out.

Ironically, Mr. Brown said, as the interest-free loans become more popular, the souring economy has forced the state to grant fewer of them.

The program is funded through boating fees and licenses, he said.

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