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$25 million allotted for bay dredging; Clinton 2000 budget would help to widen, straighten channels; Port of Baltimore


President Clinton's 2000 budget will include about $25 million for dredging in Maryland, financing that will allow construction to begin on three of the port of Baltimore's main channel-access projects, U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes said yesterday.

If approved by Congress, the money would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to widen one channel leading to the port, straighten another, and begin the second phase of the Poplar Island disposal project -- essentially the building up of an island to hold dredged material.

"I think it's an indication to the shipping companies that we're very much on top of issues of importance to the port," Sarbanes said. "It shows that we have a consistent improvement of the infrastructure."

The pilots who navigate the Chesapeake Bay have long asked for an eastern extension of the Brewerton Channel -- at the mouth of the Patapsco River -- to be widened from 450 to 600 feet. About $9.6 million would be used for that, along with $4.8 million from the Maryland Port Administration.

The pilots also have campaigned to straighten the S-shaped Tolchester Channel, which connects the port to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal to the north. Clinton's budget will include $5.8 million for that project, which ultimately will cost about $13.9 million.

The rest of the money -- $9.5 million -- would be used to begin constructing a second dike at Poplar Island, which is near the Eastern Shore just north of the Choptank River. The entire project will cost $307 million, and will use material dredged from the channels to add 1,100 acres to the island -- restoring Poplar Island to its size in 1847 before erosion.

The funds still must be approved by Congress, but inclusion in the president's budget proposal is generally considered the first hurdle in securing federal money.

Also yesterday, Sarbanes released a letter signed by all of Maryland's senators and representatives that was sent to shipping companies Maersk Inc. and Sea-Land Service Inc. urging them to select Baltimore as the site for a new container shipping terminal. The companies have named Baltimore one of three finalists and are expected to make a decision in several weeks.

Commitment to the Poplar Island project could be of significance to Maersk and Sea-Land because the companies are planning to sail large ships that take full advantage of the port of Baltimore's 50-foot draft. The channels must be dredged regularly to maintain that draft, and Poplar Island will ensure that the Army Corps has a place to put the dredged material.

Poplar Island is being maintained as a wildlife habitat, and will be composed of clean soil dredged from the Chesapeake Bay -- not soil dredged from the Patapsco River closer to Baltimore, which can be contaminated with industrial pollutants.

Pub Date: 1/30/99

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