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Pond's collapse fuels store war Woodies calls embankment unsafe


Last week's collapse of a 20-foot embankment protecting Weems Creek from silt and construction site runoff is giving a Parole department store additional fodder in its war against an Annapolis Mall expansion.

An attorney for Woodward & Lothrop Inc. said yesterday the incident bolstered the retailer's year-old claims that the county and mall had designed the sediment pond poorly, endangering the local environment. Those claims were widely dismissed as moves by Woodies to block the arrival of a competitor.

"The county and the people put blinders on by saying, 'Woodies is just pretending to be green,' " said John Britton, an attorney for Woodies. "They were so blinded . . . they failed to say, 'Maybe there is something to it.' "

Mall officials remain convinced that their contractor, Harms & Associates, designed the pond properly. The embankment collapsed during heavy rains.

"This is a construction problem that obviously needs to be fixed," said Tim Lowe, development director for owner/manager CenterMark Properties. "It's unfortunate that this happened and unfortunate that Woodies jumped on it to support their claim."

County officials would not comment about Woodies' claims.

The county is investigating why the embankment, part of a pond designed to control erosion from the county's Bestgate Road widening project and the mall's expansion, collapsed last Thursday morning. County investigators are examining the pond's original design, the workmanship, the materials used and the pond's maintenance since it was completed in June, an official said.

"The embankment basically imploded," said John Goheen, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment. "The net effect was a little like pulling the plug on a bathtub."

Mr. Goheen said the collapsing embankment crushed a 54-inch- wide corrugated metal pipe meant to carry clean water from the pond to a tributary of Weems Creek. As a result, a wave of sediment-laden water washed into the creek. The MDE, which enforces sediment controls statewide, was called when the collapse was discovered. Sediment can clog recreational boating channels as well as suffocate aquatic plants and animals.

Walter Chitwood, acting director of the county Department of Public Works, said the embankment has been patched temporarily with a stone dam and other measures have been taken to protect the creek from further sediment pollution.

The pond became the focus of a fight between the Annapolis Mall and Woodies, which has a store a half-mile away in Parole, last year. Woodies officials said the county could not remain objective in regulating the expansion after entering into a cooperative agreement with the mall's owners to build the pond.

Since last summer, Woodies officials have maintained that the county and the mall miscalculated the amount of runoff the pond would have to contain.

"I hate to think you have to hope for this type of disaster to make people stand up and look," Mr. Britton said.

However, mall officials say the pond -- which was designed to take the drainage from 41 acres between Bestgate and Jennifer roads -- was only half full when the embankment collapsed.

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