Developers, state and county officials, and conservationists -- often a contentious combination -- will meet tomorrow in a rare workshop to discuss solutions to the problem of erosion and sediment runoff in the region's waterways.
Although the workshop in Millersville is not expected to generate a formal policy statement, participants say they hope to walk away with more insight into the challenges and possibilities of environmentally friendly development sites, said Weems Creek Conservancy President Evan Belaga.
"We're hoping that this workshop will produce some proactive, positive solutions to the problem of sediment runoff," Belaga said.
Anne Pearson, a board member of the Severn River Commission and the workshop coordinator, said that she and other organizers see county officials as deeply committed to making environmental improvements and that organizers are eager to see that commitment in action.
"We feel that the county's door is really open to us on this issue," Pearson said.
Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works director Ron Bowen said tomorrow's workshop will give county officials a chance to discuss erosion and sediment control with a diverse audience.
"When there's a sediment-control problem, the immediate perception tends to be that it's the county's fault," Bowen said. "But the success of any project like this really involves all parties."
Sediment, declared a pollutant by the state in 1961, can cloud water, blocking sunlight from submerged plants. It can also cause major changes in the flow of water. Developers are required to have sediment-control plans approved before permits are issued.
County regulators are well aware of the effect sediment can have on the environment.
As of tomorrow, Anne Arundel County Soil Conservation District will require developers to pace their work to minimize runoff and erosion, said Jeff Opel, district manager. For example, rather than clearing all 100 acres for a project at the same time, developers will have to clear 20 acres at a time. There have not been any limits set on the number of acres that can be disturbed for a construction site.
As of Friday, about 70 engineers, contractors, developers and builders were registered for the workshop, sponsored by the Anne Arundel Watershed Network, Anne Arundel Soil Conservation District, the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Lower Western Shore Tributary Strategies Team and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
The discussion is expected to include broad policy issues and more practical matters of permits and inspections, with smaller group sessions on ways to improve sediment control and decrease erosion during each step of the development and construction process.
Howard R. Ernst, author of Chesapeake Bay Blues: Science, Politics, and the Struggle to Save the Bay and a scheduled speaker at the workshop, said his challenge to policy-makers is to be open to unconventional ways of solving the problem of sediment runoff and erosion. He said he hopes they will work with developers and environmentalists to find ways to fix and prevent problems.
Opel said he hopes to challenge engineers to go beyond regulations when planning and implementing development sites.
"I'd like them to see the regulations as minimums rather than maximums," Opel said. "Sediment control during the construction process is only a start. It's a long-term issue that needs to be addressed after the grading permits have expired."
The workshop will begin at 9 a.m. at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville and conclude in the afternoon with a tour of the facility.