If the federal government wants to help the Bay, it should flex its regulatory muscle to block 10 projects that would destroy wetlands, threaten other habitats and spur sprawl development, says the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The environmental group in January sent a letter to EPA Administrator Carol Browner urging federal agencies to use their review and approval power “to ensure that these projects are not allowed to happen.”
The letter, signed by CBF President William Baker, was a response to the federal “Chesapeake Ecosystem Unified Plan,” signed by a score of agencies last fall. The agreement contained 50 commitments to be carried out by the federal government, such as restoring 100 acres of wetlands annually and completing two habitat restoration projects a year on federal property within the watershed.
The agreement stemmed from the Clinton administration’s Clean Water Action Plan, released last year, which directs federal agencies to work together to improve watershed management around the nation.
While CBF said the plans’ goals “will materially help the Chesapeake Bay’s recovery,” the letter said the agencies should also use their oversight authority to block projects needing federal permits that would harm the Bay.
The letter noted that just two projects on CBF’s list, the proposed King William Reservoir in Virginia and the proposed Swatara Dam in Pennsylvania, would cause the destruction of more than 500 acres of wetlands — the equivalent of five year’s worth of restoration activity in the federal plan.
“Although it is important for the federal agencies to work to restore habitat and to provide information for the Bay’s restoration, it is even more important to ensure that actions on the land are not allowed to damage what remains of the Bay’s natural systems,” Baker wrote.
The letter went to Browner because she represents the federal government on the Chesapeake Executive Council, the top, policy-making body for the Bay Program, which also includes the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the mayor of the District of Columbia and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
Bill Matuszeski, director of the EPA’s Bay Program Office in Annapolis, said the EPA has already expressed reservations about many projects on the list. “There are no surprises on the list,” Matuszeski said. “They [CBF] have identified a number of projects that the EPA has already showed a lot of interest in, and in a number of cases we have gone on the record, or gone into negotiations, to try to deal with.”
Matuszeski, noting that almost all of the projects on the list deal with either reservoirs or highways, said the CBF raised “credible questions” about the underlying need for the projects.
In the letter, Baker said that “when we look back on the history of the Bay cleanup in five or 10 years, I hope we can retitle this list ‘Ten Bay-Damaging Projects that Never Happened.’
The 10 projects CBF wants stopped included:
- The King William Reservoir, in King William County, VA. The reservoir, proposed by the City of Newport News water supply, would result in the loss of more than 400 acres of wetlands, which CBF said would be the single largest permitted loss of wetlands in the state’s history.
- Swatara Creek Dam, Lebanon and Schuylkill counties, PA. The dam would create a 750-acre lake, flooding more than 10 stream miles along the Swatara and its tributaries, including more than 100 acres of wetlands and hundreds of additional acres of undeveloped habitat. [Pennsylvania officials in February withdraw their permit application for the Swatara dam, but left open the potential for submitting a modified proposal in the future.]
- Waldorf Bypass, Prince George’s and Charles Counties, MD. CBF said the bypass would damage a significant amount of forests, wetlands and streams, including Mattawoman Creek, one of the most pristine waterways in southern Maryland. It said the bypass would lead to increased sprawl in southern Maryland.
- Western Bypass, Stafford, Prince William and Loudoun Counties, VA. The highway would destroy 300 to 450 acres of wetlands and threaten the water supply from Lake Manassas and, indirectly, Occoquan Reservoir, CBF said. The bypass would require 25 major stream crossings and impact habitat for threatened and endangered species, CBF said, as well as leading to increased sprawl.
- Inter-County Connector, Montgomery/Prince George’s Counties, MD. Depending on the option pursued, the highway would destroy 10 to 60 acres of wetlands and flood plains, 235 to 550 acres of forest, 3 to 6 linear miles of streams, damage air quality and lead to increased sprawl, CBF said.
- Eastern Bypass, King George, Caroline Counties, VA. This project would threaten 25 percent of the wetlands in the upper tidal Rappahannock River around Port Royal, as well as 28 rare and sensitive plant and animal species. The Town of Port Royal, one of only three U.S. towns designated as National Historic Districts, would be adversely impacted. It would also contribute to sprawl.
- Fredericksburg Outer Connector, Spotsylvania/Stafford Counties, VA. CBF said the highway would induce sprawl in Spotsylvania, Stafford, Prince William and Fauquir counties.
- Waterfront Development Plans, Prince William County, VA. The development would cause the loss of several hundred acres of forest, wetland and stream habitat on Cherry Hill and adjacent peninsulas, CBF said. Other impacts include innumerable stream crossings, and cut-and-fill on steep slopes.
- Open water dumping of dredge spoil in the Chesapeake Bay at Site 104, MD. Dumping of up to 18 million cubic yards of dredge spoil in the mainstem of the Bay just north of the Bay Bridge could threatened fish, shellfish, plants and water clarity, according to CBF.
- Southern Public Service Authority regional landfill expansion, Suffolk, VA. Creation of additional landfill space would result in the loss of 377 acres of wetlands, CBF said.