College project muddies creek

Resident not satisfied with county response

By E.B. FURGURSON III, Staff Writer

Photo by E.B. Furgurson III — The Capital
Arnold resident Virgil Poe points to a breach in the sediment pond at Anne Arundel Community College construction sites along College Parkway. He was on the site checking out another problem — a violation that caused muddy water to flow into Mill Creek.

Ever since the devastating sewer line failure in Arnold a little over a year ago, Virgil Poe regularly peers into the water near the Mago Vista pumping station to make sure another debacle is not befalling Mill Creek.

On Tuesday, he saw it was running a deep ruddy brown and thought the worst.

"I got out of my truck and didn't smell anything so I knew it wasn't a sewage spill," the retired Naval Academy utility manager said. "I wondered what it was."

Tracing back along the creek on the other side of College Parkway in Arnold, he found the culprit - a river of mud washing off the construction site at Anne Arundel Community College.

He found a fork in the stream below the site, one branch ran clear, the other muddy brown.

A few hours later he returned with a video camera, the muddy side was not as dark as it had been earlier, but was still full of sediment. "I think they shut the pump down and went home, but you can still see the sediment," he said pointing to the sullied creek.

The flow bypassed the site's retaining pond, where the holiday week's deluge had gouged out a three-foot deep crevasse in the pond wall, allowing it to wash unchecked into the stream below.

But what happened next is what really set him off. He called the Maryland Department of the Environment. They referred him back to the county, which has oversight responsibility for construction site snafus.

"I talked to the county environmental office and the lady told me the inspector was gone for the day," he said of his 1 p.m. phone call. "Then she said, 'Well it's not in the critical area, it can wait."

But it was running into the creek, then the Magothy River.

"This is man made, it could be prevented," he said. "Someone is not on the ball ... It's the government's job to do something about it, and they did nothing."

After a late afternoon phone call from a reporter, the county sent an inspector to the site around 5 p.m.

He did not find any major problems in the short visit, but yesterday, the primary inspector for the site found a violation.

"A contractor found water in the foundation area and did not use proper de-watering techniques," county spokesman Pam Jordan said. That water should have been diverted directly to the site's sediment pond instead of running across the open ground, and "eventually into the headwaters of Mill Creek." Ms. Jordan said.

A Class B civil citation, usually carrying a fine of $500, will be issued and corrective-action was ordered, she added. Assistant Director of Inspections and Permits George Eberle said this morning that the concrete contractor should have used what is called a "dirt bag" at the end of the hose to stem the flow as the water was pumped from the foundation of the building.

"That was not done in violation of the plan," he said. "They have been ordered to take corrective action."

The contractor also will be repairing the pond structure damaged over the holidays and plant grass across the bared earth between the building and the ponds.

Mr. Poe's problem is there should have been someone on the site or able to respond more rapidly.

"We have to do something, if we don't who will? This is not my creek, it's everybody's. It's my kid's, your kid's," he said after walking along the inches-deep mud flow below the site for the college's new $7.1 million, 39,000-square-foot administrative services building.

There he said he found the fire hose that was being used to pump water in the direction of the mud wash, part of which breached the grassy earth berm meant to contain it and spilled into a branch that feeds Mill Creek.

Community college spokesman Linda Schulte said the college is very vigilant when it comes to the environment. "We appreciate this citizen coming forward. The more eyes watching the environment the better ... Inspectors are returning to make sure the fence is repaired, everybody is doing their job."

Mr. Poe knows the area and its waters and has been living along the water since the 1960s and playing and fishing in the Mill Creek and Magothy River. "It is part of my life," he said.

After a stint in the Navy and a few years in the Merchant Marine he got job at the Naval Academy where he worked in utilities, operating water and sewer systems for some 34 years before retiring in 2003.

An avid fisherman, he contracted with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources tagging the fading pickerel.

"I value this resource. Every time something like this happens it damages our rivers and the bay," he said Tuesday. "I just wish I'd got a better response from the county."

Yesterday morning he got a call and met with an inspector on site.

"I was not looking for my 15 minutes of fame, I just wanted something to get done," he said. "I am satisfied."

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service is calling for rain both today and tomorrow.

Published January 04, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

(revised Jan 2007)