Country club pond drained for storm

Urgency means most wildlife will not survive

By ERIN COX, Staff Writer
The Capital, September 06, 2008

Paul W. Gillespie — The Capital Large pumps sit beside a pond on the Chartwell Country Club Golf Course on St. Andrews Road. The pumps were used to drain the pond, so that rains from Tropical Storm Hanna would not overflow, possibly bursting an already damaged dam and spilling several hundred thousand gallons of water onto Benfield Road.

Tropical Storm Hanna and an enduring squabble between the county and a Severna Park country club have spelled a death sentence for most wildlife in a 7-acre pond.

There was not time for an untold number of fish and possibly turtles, frogs and other creatures to be rescued before officials drained the Chartwell Country Club pond yesterday to stave off an impending catastrophe.

Were Hanna to dump several inches of water into a full pond as she traverses Maryland today, the pressure could have breached an already-failing dam, sending several hundred-thousand gallons of water and silt from the pond, barreling down a nearby gully onto Benfield Road.

The Maryland Department of Environment first ordered the pond to be drained in June, but the county and country club officials have been arguing over who should take responsibility. Hanna's expected arrival prompted a quick compromise Thursday, and while county contractors worked into the night yesterday to empty the pond, the hastened pace left no time to save the wildlife.

"I'm a little bit perturbed that we weren't notified before," said Charlie Gougeon, a program manager with the Department of Natural Resources fisheries service. "At the 11th hour we were contacted to do some kind of rescue."

The summer heat, depleted oxygen levels and the pond's dropping water levels put too much stress on the fish for them to survive a relocation, Mr. Gougeon said. And without a boat ramp into the golf course's pond, the department's large, $60,000 boat for fish relocation would likely get stuck in the muddy shoreline as the tropical storm hit.

"With Hanna fast approaching - and with all the dragged feet - that's going to be impossible" to rescue the fish, he said.

"This doesn't sit well with me, and it doesn't sit well with everybody else," said Cheryl Belloff, who lives near the pond and called every environmental group she could think of yesterday, begging for help. Her 11-year-old daughter spent much of the afternoon trying to rescue turtles herself, unsuccessfully using her lacrosse stick as a net.

"They've known that this has been a problem for months now, and they've basically been arguing over who's going to pay for it," Ms. Belloff said. "And now it's too late."

The earthen dam holding back the golf-courses' pond sits beneath the county-owned St. Andrews Road that links the Chartwell neighborhood. The dam began to fail in May when heavy rains caused a porous drainage pipe to burst, dilute the soil and eventually cause a 30 foot sinkhole to open on the other side of the dam. Engineers said more water flowing through the poorly-constructed dam could completely destroy it, deteriorating the road bed and sending all of the pond spilling into a narrow stream.

Anne Arundel County shut down St. Andrews Road in June, fearing that another set of heavy rains could wipe out the road. At about that time, state officials from MDE issued an order to the county, the country club and the community association giving the trio of landowners 30 days to drain the pond and replace the dam with one that meets modern standards.

Raymond G. Mullady Jr., the country club's attorney, estimated such a project could cost $600,000.

County Executive John R. Leopold has not refused to help pay for the project, but he and County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson have also not agreed to do so. The tangled legal argument over liability has stalled action since June and still continues.

Chartwell officials offer as evidence a 1998 letter from MDE to the county, warning that an emergency pond-drainage pipe that runs beneath the dam was porous. Mr. Mullady said the county never told the country club about the problems, but now the county holds the club responsible for the dam's failure.

"We're not geotechnical engineers. We run a country club," Mr. Mullady said, later adding "We would have never have let something like this slide if we knew about it."

Mr. Gougeon from the fisheries service is hopeful some of the pond creatures will survive the next few days. The turtles and frogs could burrow into the mud and stay damp enough to live, he said. The rainfall from Hanna and stormwater that flows into the pond could provide enough habitat for some of the heartier fish.

"They usually are pretty resilient," he said. "We may have dodged a bullet on a fish kill."


(Revised Sep 2008)