Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Jr.’s new budget proposal has cut the state’s $1 million share of the cost to remove the Bloede Dam, a move that could jeopardize nearly $8 million in federal funding committed to the project.
The cut in the 2015 budget raised concerns among the federal agencies and environmental groups that are supporting the project.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the federal agencies that has funded the dam’s removal, said in a letter to the administration sent last week that, “If the state of Maryland’s $1 million contribution for this project is rescinded and no non-federal match is provided for the Bloede Dam Removal Project, federal funds cannot be used and the federal dollars in hand for the project will expire.”
Erin Montgomery, Hogan’s press secretary, said in response to questions about the state’s funding cut that the projects is behind schedule and for that reason the money was reduced, adding, “The administration will take all necessary steps to ensure that state funds are available to match federal funds prior to their expiration so that this important project can be completed."
Asked if this meant the administration would restore the money for the Bloede Dam removal, Montgomery replied, “"We're reviewing the projects and activities put in place by the previous administration as quickly as we can. The governor will be asking his selection for DNR secretary to do the same."
The $1 million cut is part of an overall $115 million cut to Maryland land-preservation programs.
The Bloede Dam removal project is part of a major federal-state push to remove four dams on the Patapsco River, which flows through Baltimore. The removal would give river herring and shad a free-flowing river in which to spawn. Two of the four dams — Simkins Dam and Union Dam — have already been removed as part of the project. Bloede, which is the farthest downstream, was slated to come down in 2016. Daniels Dam is the fourth dam that is part of the removal plan.
The partners have already spent $4.5 million to remove Simkins and Union dams. The money came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The $7.7 million federal share comes from grants from the NOAA, the National Fish and Wildlife Federation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Those grants have deadlines, and if the project is delayed because the partners have to seek funding, the entire amount could be compromised, said Serena McClain, director of river restoration at American Rivers. In order to avoid that, the project must begin in the fall of 2015 with the relocation of a sewer line followed by the dam removal.
American Rivers has been assisting the states and the federal government with dam-removal projects across the country. Dam removal projects not only provide fish passage, but they connect upstream and downstream habitat, promote the natural movement of materials, and help clean up waterways.
Much of the design work has been completed for Bloede. State officials described it as a “shovel-ready” project.
“It’s beyond foolish to me. Absolutely beyond foolish,” said Tony Friedrich, executive director of Maryland’s Coastal Conservation Association. CCA members have been actively involved in the dam removal projects and are planning to use the dam’s rubble to make an oyster reef at Love Point, the northern tip of Kent Island.“You’re not saving a million dollars by killing the project,” Friedrich added. “You’re wasting the $4.5 million you’ve already put into it.”
If the Bloede Dam does not come down, Maryland will likely have to spend at least $1 million to make critical infrastructure upgrades so it complies with the state’s dam safety laws. Should the dam breach, the state will have to relocate the sewer line anyway and inconvenience thousands of Baltimore and Howard county residents.
McClain noted that the state of Maryland owns Bloede Dam and has for nearly a century. “This is Maryland’s dam, they own it and it’s a good-faith effort that they contribute something to its removal,” she said.
Bloede Dam is also a safety hazard and a management headache for rangers and police officers at Patapsco Valley State Park. Five people have died there in the past two decades. They drowned after sliding down the dam, or jumping into the water and getting caught in the strong undertow.
Ranger Rob Dyke said the park has posted many signs, in English and Spanish, warning people not to swim there or slide down the dam’s face. But many summer visitors ignore the signs, and police officers spend a lot of their time patrolling the area. There is a 300-foot boundary above and below the dam that is a no swim zone.
“You don’t know what you’re sliding into. It’s a river. Rocks move. It’s just an unknown. When the water is flowing, the water churns, and you can get pulled under,” Dyke said. “We’re constantly going over there to tell people to stop.”
Bloede Dam was built in 1907 to generate electricity for Victor G. Bloede's Patapsco Electric and Manufacturing Co. It has not generated electricity in 80 years. The dam is 230 feet across and nearly 30 feet tall. The dam has a fish ladder, but state wildlife officials have said it is ineffective.
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources officials expressed hope that the funding would be restored.
“There really isn't anything to say at this point in time,” said Nancy H. Butowski, DNR’s program manager for Fishery Management Plans & Fish Passage. “It is part of the new administration's proposed budget cuts. I don't know how it gets handled now by the General Assembly.”