Opponents of a plan to dump mounds of muck dredged from Chesapeake Bay shipping channels into an underwater trench near Kent Island unveiled a $250,000 television advertising campaign yesterday.
The ads will run on major network affiliates in Baltimore and on cable stations in the Washington suburbs, Patrick Welsh, spokesman for Citizens Against Open Bay Dumping, said at a morning news conference in Annapolis.
The campaign is the latest salvo in a long-running dispute over the Maryland Port Administration's plans to dump the spoil from the approach channels to the Port of Baltimore in 45 feet of water off Kent Island.
The opposition, a grass-roots group that has enlisted the aid of federal and local officials and agencies as well as conservation groups, fears that dropping the spoil at the spot known as Site 104 would cause serious environmental damage. Port officials say the need to maintain shipping channels outweighs any damage that might be done.
The Army Corps of Engineers said in July it would re-evaluate the plan because of the criticism, delaying the project for at least a year.
The 30-second spots, created by Sandler-Innocenzi of Alexandria, Va., will debut Sunday during "Meet the Press" on WBAL-TV and be aired around local news broadcasts for 10 days.
"We want to draw the public's attention to this issue and to let the governor know there are alternatives," Welsh said.
The ad opens with a picture of a man who appears to be in his late 50s walking along the beach at Love Point, the northern tip of Kent Island, with three children following him and the Bay Bridge in the background.
"For years now, we've been working together to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Now, the Maryland Port Administration wants to dump 18 million cubic yards of dredge spoils right here," the man says, motioning to the water. "They contain arsenic, lead and mercury and nitrogen and sediment that could kill fish and bury crabs alive. If we did that, they'd throw us in jail."
The actor concedes the port is important, but adds, "So are they," motioning toward the children before he tells viewers to call Gov. Parris N. Glendening and urge alternatives to dumping in open water.
"We hope this will educate the public," Welsh said.
Port Administration spokeswoman Judy Scioli said the ads are misleading.
The opponents "are referring to the exact same clean materials that are being used today to create a wildlife habitat on Poplar Island," she said. The dredge spoil that would go to Site 104 "is no different than materials" already on the bottom of the bay, "and to intimate in any way that they are toxic or harmful is misleading and wrong."
Opponents say the dredging is not necessary and point to other spoil sites -- Hart-Miller Island off eastern Baltimore County, Pooles Island near the mouth of the Bush River off Harford County and Poplar Island farther south off Talbot County -- that they say still have room for spoil.
They also point to studies that show that some of the dredge material could drift in bay currents, covering oyster and clam beds and underwater grasses, smothering crabs that burrow into the mud for the winter and damaging striped bass and perch.
Advocates say they will keep damage to bay life to a minimum and point to the $2 billion a year in economic activity the port generates.
The movement of sediment prompted by storms, tides and passing ships is greater than that produced by dredging, Scioli said.