Opponents of a $6.8 million, five-lane road extension outside Annapolis say they will keep fighting the half-mile project despite a ruling by state environmental officials that the work can go forward.
Residents and community groups in the area of Admiral Cochrane Drive are challenging a state wetlands permit. They claim storm water runoff from the lengthened road will harm the ecology of nearby Church Creek and the South River, among other things.
But the Maryland Department of the Environment ruled Wednesday that work can continue, even as foes await a chance to argue that the wetlands permit should be rescinded.
The work poses no "imminent harm to the environment," ruled James Hearn, director of the department's Water Management Administration. Also, Hearn wrote, there is "no evidence or testimony" to suggest critics ultimately will succeed in defeating the road.
"Most likely for us, the next venue will be in court," said attorney Thomas Deming, who represents the road's opponents.
The county, whose contractor began construction Aug. 21, had agreed this month to avoid working in most wetlands temporarily after residents complained about trees being uprooted near streams. But Hearn's ruling lifts even those restrictions.
"At this point it does not look like the project is going to be halted by this particular question [about wetlands]," said county land-use spokesman John A. Morris. Still, he said, county officials plan to consult with Hearn's office to make sure they understand it.
The road extension - first proposed more than 30 years ago and included in numerous long-range plans - is expected to take a year to complete, Morris said.
It will link congested Riva Road with Route 2 and, county officials hope, ease traffic. Several growing businesses are nearby, including high-tech firms such as ARINC and USinternetworking.
Critics also say the road project will worsen traffic rather than improve it because of anticipated new development. Deming argues that the county is building five lanes, instead of three, and putting in a new water main to accommodate a large development proposed by the Bernstein Cos., even though that property is zoned residential.
"It's like a hand in a glove the way the county's road plans fit the Bernstein development proposal," Deming said, accusing the county of ignoring Smart Growth requirements.
But Morris said there is no connection between the road work and any specific developments. He also noted that the county has denied the Bernstein proposal, a dispute now in the courts.
Deming plans to explore at least one other avenue: a challenge of the grading permit for Admiral Cochrane Drive, scheduled to be heard Oct. 11.
He hopes to find some way of stopping the bulldozers. Otherwise, he conceded, the challenge of the wetlands permit - which could take months to resolve - could be "moot," even if his clients prevail.