Baltimore County is planning a multimillion-dollar dredging of the Bird River, a waterway in the eastern part of the county that residents say has been clogged by sediment-filled runoff.
The $4.5 million project will be funded jointly by the county and the state and will remove about 50,000 cubic yards of sediment — enough to fill 15 Olympic-size swimming pools — from the bottom of the Bird River and Railroad Creek.
"You're not going to find a river that's more sediment-polluted," said Janet Terry of the Bird River Restoration Committee, a community advocacy group. Terry hosted county officials at her riverfront home Thursday to announce the project.
Mining, farming and development upstream have sent dirt washing into the river over the years, Terry said. The river was last dredged 15 years ago, and she hopes that after this project, the county won't need to dredge the creek again soon.
Local residents have been concerned about development in the White Marsh area for years. Many fought a proposed outlet mall in White Marsh that had planned to follow older environmental and sediment-control rules during construction. Eventually the developer agreed to follow updated regulations, though the project ultimately fell through.
County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Democrat who represents the area, said the council recently passed a resolution directing the county planning board to investigate the issue of approved plans that have yet to be built. The council could consider legislation limiting how long approved plans can sit dormant, Bevins said, as a way to make sure new projects fall under up-to-date environmental standards.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, also a Democrat, praised Bevins for her "tenacity" in pushing him to fund the Bird River project.
Kamenetz said the Bird River dredging will complement the county's other "clean, green" environmental initiatives, such as restoring streams and shorelines, planting trees and sweeping trash and dirt from streets.
The county will draw up designs for the dredging over the next year, with the dredging scheduled to take place two years after that.
While the Bird River will get relief, there are no plans to dredge any of the county's other rivers and creeks, said Vince Gardina, the county's director of environmental protection and sustainability.
The Bird River project is possible, in part, because a portion of the county's Eastern Sanitary Landfill nearby can hold the dredged material. Finding a place to put dredged material from other waterways would be a problem because there is limited space available, Gardina said.
The county also received a state grant for the Bird River after applying for it the past several years, he said. The state will pay 45 percent of the project cost, and the county will pay the other 55 percent.