Opponents of a five-lane road extension in Edgewater say a county contractor is destroying wetlands, and they want state environmental officials to stop the destruction before it's too late.
A county spokesman acknowledged yesterday that some clearing is taking place near environmentally sensitive "impact areas" and promised that the county would minimize the damage.
Thomas A. Deming, a lawyer for several area residents and community groups, said the $6.8 million project -- a half-mile lengthening of Admiral Cochrane Drive between Riva Road and Route 2 -- is causing "irreparable" harm to wetlands and creeks.
Yesterday, Deming asked the Maryland Department of the Environment to step in. He said the agency should not wait for a Sept. 22 hearing on whether work can proceed in wetlands while his clients fight a potentially yearlong battle over the project's scope.
The Sept. 22 hearing was originally to be held Monday but was put off for 10 days at the county's request.
"For the county to first of all delay that hearing, and then during the period of delay to start destroying the very resources that are the subject of the permit hearing -- that is certainly showing no respect for the process," Deming said.
The emergency stop-work request was under consideration late yesterday, MDE spokesman John Verrico said. He said the agency might issue a temporary restraining order if work is found to be occurring in wetlands.
County land-use spokesman John A. Morris confirmed that to be the case, saying, "We have done work in the wetland impact area. Not a lot, but some."
Morris said the county hopes to minimize disturbance in those areas and would send its plan for doing that to the MDE by this morning. But he noted that the state has not told the county -- or its contractor, Cossentino Contracting of Baltimore -- to avoid any areas.
Preliminary work on the road began Aug. 21.
Ken Wallace, whose property is adjacent to the project site, said seeing trees knocked down in wetlands "takes the breath out of you. It's a stunning feeling when you see this huge forest area being cleared out that's not developable land. It's all wetlands."
The dispute is the latest in a long-running battle over the road project.
Residents are not trying to block the extension, which the county says will relieve congestion on Riva Road and improve access for emergency vehicles. Rather, they want it to be three lanes, as once envisioned.
One of their concerns is that more development will sprout up in the area, erasing any improvement in traffic flow.
Building a five-lane road means encroaching on wetlands, which the county must offset by creating twice as many acres of wetlands elsewhere.
The MDE granted a wetlands permit for a five-lane road last winter, but Verrico said the agency decided to re-examine the issue recently after residents complained that the county had not notified them.
It could be nine months to a year before the MDE rules on the larger issue of whether the wetlands permit needs to be revised, Verrico said.
Timing is an issue. Deming noted that the road project is scheduled to last about a year, meaning the ribbon-cutting could take place by the time state officials reach a decision.
Even if the county is allowed to