Horse park impact at issue


A state agency that wants to build a horse park in Gambrills and a local environmental group are tangling over whether the project will have an adverse impact on a Chesapeake Bay tributary.

The exchange was sparked by a letter last month from Severn River Commission Chairwoman Lina Vlavianos to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, arguing that the Maryland Stadium Authority was "minimizing the potential impact of this project on the environment and the infrastructure."

The authority's executive director, Alison L. Asti, fired back with a letter contending that the equestrian project would "improve environmental conditions" on the 857 acres of tranquil farmland.

Asti wrote Vlavianos this week that the commission had not consulted with state officials and had reached premature conclusions about the environmental effects of the proposed horse park.

The commission letter alluded to potential nutrient runoff from manure piles. It added that the state agency appeared to lack a storm water management plan, and that the project would require a "massive upgrade to transportation, water and sewage infrastructure in the Gambrills area."

Vlavianos could not be reached for comment Monday or yesterday.

The state selected the Navy property last fall from several sites across the state to build a horse park that could serve as a regional attraction for recreational and competitive riders. Plans call for a steeplechase course and a 2,500-seat arena, along with several show rings and hundreds of stalls.

The Navy is weighing expressions of interest from six parties that want to take control of the tract near Route 3 and Route 175, including the authority and an organic farming operation that uses the land.

Owens has balked at the horse park proposal, which has been pushed by Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, and county officials have pointed to the commission letter as further proof that the complex should not be built in Gambrills. They worry that the county would have to contribute up to $35 million for the park, which has an estimated cost of $100 million. The Ehrlich administration did not submit a bond bill to pay for the project, citing differences between the authority and Owens.

In her letter, Vlavianos said the proposed horse park "represents a potential threat" to the Jabez Branch, the last native brook trout stream in Maryland, and the Patuxent River watershed. The Jabez is a Severn River tributary that flows into the bay.

Asti wrote this week that Vlavianos made a series of inaccurate statements and called on her to retract the letter.

Along with the letter sent to Vlavianos, Asti forwarded a summary of an environmental analysis stating that proposals for storm water and waste management at the Naval Academy's former dairy farm would reduce the flow of sediment and nutrients and protect sensitive waterways such as the Jabez.

"[A] great deal of thought has gone into stormwater management, nutrient/waste management and infrastructure," Asti wrote.

Asti wrote that five planned storm water management facilities would be built in accordance with nationally recognized green-building standards to reduce environmental impact.

The environmental summary, drafted for the authority by the engineering firm of Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, said that horse manure would be removed daily, limiting nutrient runoff, and that the existing public sanitary and water systems appear to have adequate capacity.

Anne Arundel County and Annapolis established the Severn River Commission in 1984 to advise officials on preserving the Severn River watershed. Seven of the members are appointed by the county, two by Annapolis.

Three commission members - Scott Hymes, Sally Hornor and Charlotte Lubbert - said this week that they are concerned that horse park traffic could cause irreparable harm to the Jabez. State officials project the horse park could attract 145 events and 800,000 visitors a year.

But the trio said the commission should await completion of the stadium authority's feasibility study before drawing potentially overreaching conclusions.

The stadium authority said the feasibility study - detailing the traffic, environmental and financial impacts of the project - is due out early next month. Hymes and Hornor said the commission's letter was based on information from the stadium authority's preliminary proposals.

"I disagree with parts of it," Hymes said of Vlavianos' letter.

Hymes added: "I want to see the study and make an educated decision from there. People are jumping the gun."

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