An Edgewater marina owner wants to add more than 200 boat slips to his facility on the South River, but neighbors say the river is already too crowded and are asking county and state officials not to grant permits for the expansion.
Michael O'Connor, owner of the Pier 7 Marina, wants to increase capacity from 198 boats to 422 boats. He says the $2.5 million expansion would allow him to make the facility look newer and make all of the slips accessible to the disabled.
"It will be good for my business, and it will give the state a nice showcase for the river," said O'Connor, who would close two public ramps and his boat rental service at the marina, located at the Route 2 bridge over the river.
But members of the South River Federation, a nonprofit group devoted to protecting the waterway, say O'Connor could spruce up the facility without adding so many more boats.
"Renovating is one thing, but tripling the capacity is quite another," said federation President Paula Jasinski. "I don't know that the river can handle that many more boats. On any given weekend, if you have nice weather, you can hardly get a boat through now."
Jasinski said she and other Edgewater residents are also worried that the expansion would harm a grove of trees and wetlands that borders the marina.
The fate of O'Connor's plans lies with officials from Anne Arundel County and the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The marina owner said he hopes to receive positive responses from both by March so he can secure financing for the project, which he said would take three to four years to complete.
County officials found several problems with O'Connor's initial expansion plan, submitted in 2002. They said the plan would extend the marina too far into the river basin and also questioned whether O'Connor could provide sufficient parking. O'Connor submitted a revised plan last month that he said addresses those problems.
But county officials said they remain concerned about how far the expanded marina would extend, though they have not filed comments on the revised plan.
"Those were our concerns last year, and they are likely to be our concerns this time as well," said Pam Jordan, a spokeswoman for the county land-use department.
The county also would not offer a building permit until O'Connor gains approval from MDE and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Critics of the expansion have peppered MDE with complaints and hope the agency will hold a public hearing where they can voice their objections.
O'Connor said he resents their attempts to halt his plans.
"These people all have their own waterfront lots, but they don't want the poor people to have their access to the river," he said. "They think the bay and the river belong to them and them alone."
O'Connor, who has owned and operated the marina since 1971, said he doesn't think the expansion would add boat traffic to the South River. Closing the two public ramps and his boat rental service will balance out the increase created by the addition of new slips, he said.
He said he plans to upgrade his docks from wood to vinyl and convert the marina's restaurant from a nightspot to a more family-oriented eatery.