Our Chesapeake Bay is suffering "death by a thousand cuts." The next cut may be a small tidal pond off the Severn River.
Fox Creek has a narrow shoal inlet that makes it a unique environment as a fish hatchery. Healthy beds of subaquatic vegetation thrive at the mouth of the creek. But in 2004, an association of waterfront landowners applied to dredge through those beds at the inlet to open a channel for large boats.
In August 2007, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) recommended denial of the application, stating, among its findings, that "historic use [by boats] has not been documented, and long term, irreversible adverse environmental impacts would be incurred." It cited Department of Natural Resources (DNR) environmental reviews recommending denial; 50 years of county aerial photographs showing the shoaled inlet; depth surveys; U.S. Fish & Wildlife recommendations; and an independent analysis by the Virginia Institute of Marine Studies showing five years of healthy and expanding subaquatic vegetation beds - a place where, unlike so much of the Severn River and the Chesapeake region, underwater grasses are thriving.
Supporting the MDE are many waterfront owners on Fox Creek who want the creek to be preserved for small craft, kayaks, and canoes, and not disrupted by large boats. The property owners of both sides of the narrow inlet, including me, oppose the dredging out of concerns about damage from the dredging operation and from erosion due to increased boat traffic and underwater erosion into the dredge "ditch." In addition, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Severn River Association, and the Severn River Riverkeeper have opposed the dredge application.
However, the wetlands administrator to the state Board of Public Works, Doldon Moore, is now recommending approval of the dredging. In his report, dated Oct. 8, he states that he met privately with the applicant in June 2008. Following that meeting, and after reviewing new evidence, he recommends overturning MDE's well-researched and well-documented decision.
This new evidence was not provided upon request and will have to be obtained through Freedom of Information Act filings. Memos from his office to MDE requesting a change/reversal of its position and MDE's response have been declared "confidential."
It is troubling to think that a government official would meet in private with the parties on one side of an issue and accept new evidence without contacting any citizen on the other side.
The MDE writes, "ultimately the benefits [of dredging] result in improvements to navigation, recreation and property values rather than in environmental protection or improvements." One can only hope the Board of Public Works will keep in mind that reversing the effects on the bay of a thousand cuts is far more difficult than preventing the damage in the first place.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janet Clauson is a Herald Harbor resident and neighborhood activist