State environmental officials refused yesterday to halt construction of the five-lane Admiral Cochrane Drive extension in Edgewater after the county temporarily agreed to limit damage to wetlands.
The ruling by the Maryland Department of the Environment pleased the county and the road's opponents to varying degrees.
The MDE "asked us to come up with a voluntary plan to stay out of the wetlands impact area," county spokesman John A. Morris said. "We did that, and they have accepted that plan."
Thomas A. Deming, attorney for several residents and community groups who oppose the project, called the order a "partial victory." He said it gives a measure of protection to environmentally sensitive areas.
The order is only temporary. On Sept. 22, in a hearing originally scheduled for early this week, Deming will argue that work on the $6.8 million project should not be allowed to affect wetlands until his clients can challenge the project itself, a process that could last months.
Although the county is under the impression that residents would accept a three-lane road, Deming said his clients don't believe a "public need" exists for any road extension.
On Wednesday Deming asked the MDE to intervene immediately after residents noticed major clearing near wetlands. He argued that the issue could not wait until next week's scheduled hearing, which had been delayed 10 days at the county's request.
Under yesterday's order, the county must stop working in all wetlands except for two 20-foot-wide sections and in areas where silt fencing will be installed to protect the wetlands. Those restrictions mirror the county's proposal.
J.L. Hearn, director of the MDE's Water Management Administration, also ordered the county to delineate the boundaries of nontidal wetlands buffers.
The half-mile extension, begun last month and expected to take a year, will link traffic-choked Riva Road with Route 2. Neighbors worry about increased traffic and harmful environmental effects.
The state granted a wetlands permit last winter but decided to revisit the matter after residents complained. Even if the county is allowed to continue working during the potentially lengthy appeal process, the state ultimately could side with opponents.
The MDE says the county could be forced to undo work if it loses, but Deming thinks that is unlikely, which is why he hopes to prevail at next week's hearing.
"You're not going to go in with jackhammers and dig out a road," he said.
The county says key issues were addressed before the wetlands permit was issued.