Artificial wetland in St. Michaels approved

An Eastern Shore developer got the go-ahead from the state yesterday to build an artificial wetland that could help pave the way for a 279-house development in St. Michaels.

The development would increase the size of the historic village by about 40 percent. The project has been debated in St. Michaels for a decade, and several residents lobbied the Board of Public Works at its meeting two weeks ago to reject the wetland, which was a key component of the town's initial approval for the development.


Residents also questioned the environmental viability of the artificial marsh, saying they fear it would wash away during a storm and would fail to attract wildlife. But representatives of developer George Valanos said similar artificial wetlands have been successful elsewhere in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Valanos proposes to build a 3-foot-high stone wall about 110 feet into the Miles River. Behind that, he would fill about four acres with sand and plant it with marsh grasses. Such wetlands are seen by some environmentalists as a better alternative to the large stone walls developers traditionally build to protect property from erosion and water damage.


The development plan calls for the homes to be built 150 feet from the water -half the setback the Maryland Critical Areas commission initially tried to require. But the developer sued, and the commission agreed in a settlement to the wetland and the reduced setback.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that he had had some concerns about the project but that they were answered to his satisfaction.

Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said the board's authority in the matter was limited to whether the project meets the requirements for a wetland license, not whether the development would be a good idea.

"The only issue before us is issuing a wetlands license," Kopp said. "From everything I can read, this application meets all the requirements for a wetlands license."

The third member of the board, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, objected to the plan two weeks ago, saying the development would fundamentally alter the nature of the town, but yesterday he didn't discuss the issue.

Even with the board's approval yesterday, more steps remain before the builder can receive final local approval to begin construction of the houses.