Neighbors band together in bid to save creek in Arundel

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It has been decades since homeowners on Main Creek in Pasadena could wade into the water without fear of sinking hip-deep in slimy sediment. It has been just as long since they fished from backyard piers or pulled up heavy crab pots just in time for dinner.

Today the creek is so choked with sediment that residents say the waterway behind their homes is dead. "There's nothing in the water anymore," said John Sadler, who has lived with his wife, Ellen, in Lake Shore on Main Creek for about 10 years. "No fish. No crabs."

Sadler and many of his neighbors are looking to Anne Arundel County officials to take care of the sediment problem, which they say has gotten worse since the Maryland Economic Development Corp. began building a 36-hole golf course called Compass Pointe.

A rainstorm Aug. 8 sent a torrent of water and sediment from the construction site through back yards and over driveways, especially in the Belhaven Beach neighborhood, where one resident lost most of his lawn. Residents from Tar Cove to Back Creek - located respectively to the north and south of the golf course - noticed a cloud of sediment in the water off their piers and decks the next day.

'Not again!'

"I cried, 'Oh, no, not again!'" said Martha Matteson, a Lake Shore resident who took photographs of Main Creek to document the sediment cloud, which took almost a week to dissipate.

County officials received dozens of complaints and took the unusual step of shutting down the entire project. Twice before, they had stopped work at sections of the site because of runoff problems, said Pam Jordan, a spokeswoman for the county's Department of Inspections and Permits. Since work on the project began, she said, construction officials have received "numerous" correction notices.

"Too many things failed in light of the storm," said Jordan, referring to silt fences that fell down and sediment ponds that overflowed during the Aug. 8 storm, which dumped about five inches of rain in about two hours. "It had to be shut down."

Construction officials at the golf course, located on 800 acres off Fort Smallwood Road, said Friday that they are working overtime to address runoff issues. They are planting grass seed, laying fertilizer and blowing hay over 100 acres of exposed dirt in hopes of avoiding a similar runoff emergency.

Also, they are using an environmentally safe chemical that causes sediment particles to bond, making them heavier and therefore less likely to be swept away during a storm. A site manager said last week that the additional measures, including hiring extra crew members and superintendents, have cost more than $150,000.

Work 'swept away'

"We were heartbroken to see all of our work swept away by the storm," said Christopher Ward, a project manager with Claris Services Corp., which has contracted with the state to build the golf course. Ward said crews were ready to seed 12 holes of the golf course - 18 have been completed - when the storm hit. Officials said they worry that they may have to delay the grand opening scheduled for Sept. 1.

Once the golf course is finished, the state will sell it to the county for $1, said Hans F. Mayer, executive director of the Maryland Economic Development Corp. A professional golf management company will run the course for the county for at least 20 years, or until the bond debt has been paid off. The state sold tax-exempt bonds worth $17.5 million to finance the project.

Residents who live near the golf course - which has been in the works for years - attended a meeting last week with Del. Joan Cadden, a Democrat who represents the Pasadena area, to get an update. At that time, county officials said they might revise their grading and sediment control review process to guard against runoff problems such as those that occurred at Compass Pointe.

County officials also told residents that a dredging project for Main and Bodkin creeks is in the planning phase.

Residents, who have been lobbying for that project since the 1970s, said they fear that the $700,000 project will be focused at the mouth of Main Creek, where it runs into Bodkin Creek, and not at the headwaters where aquatic life has significantly died off.

"We might see [dredging] back here or we might not," said Sam Truitt, John Sadler's son-in-law, who also lives in Lake Shore.

Problems since 1970s

Truitt said Main Creek has had sediment problems since the 1970s, after runoff from a subdivision called Fairwoods dumped tons of silt into the waterway. At one point, the mouth of the creek was blocked by a sediment sandbar that stuck 3 feet out of the water.

The problem has only gotten worse. Now, during low tide, the creek is almost impossible to navigate; sometimes, it drains completely.

During a visit to his father-in-law's house last week, Truitt used a boat hook to demonstrate to a visitor how shallow the creek is - even during high tide. He lowered the hook about 2 feet into the water until it hit sediment. Truitt pushed the hook deeper still. When he brought it up, the hook was coated with a gray slime.

"We're not against the golf course, but someone has to protect this water," he said. "The ducks don't even come back here anymore. This water is dead."

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