Crews begin survey of Annapolis creeks

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The Capital, June 11, 2008

Colleen Dugan - The Capital
City representatives Steve Carr and Frank Biba look for problems along Spa Creek during a tour of the four creeks in Annapolis Tuesday
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Under the blistering sun yesterday, a team of Annapolis government employees and outside contractors floated in two boats up and down each of the city's four creeks.

They were looking for the things that can't be seen from land or from maps: failing shorelines, silted-in coves, bad stormwater controls.

The information will be a key piece in a puzzle as the city develops a master plan for fixing up each of the four creeks: Back, College, Spa and Weems.

"Water quality has been measured a million times. We know all that stuff. What we want to do is unify all the information the city has," said Michael Whitehill, a vice president of McCrone, the private firm the city is paying $80,000 to conduct most of the work on the plan.

Yesterday, McCrone's crew teamed up with city employees and the mayor for an on-the-water survey.

As employees from the Harbormaster's Office piloted two boats through city waters, McCrone employees documented their finds on paper, in pictures and on video. The city employees were able to point out areas that have had projects completed and areas that need work.

There was talk of wildlife - fish, ospreys, herons and at least one turtle - and the varied uses of the waterfront, which range from undeveloped stretches to large homes to busy marinas. Each use presents a different challenge. For example, marinas might have problems with fuel spills or pollution from stripping paint off boats. Homeowners, on the other hand, might be using too much fertilizer on their lawns, which harms the creeks.

"We've got a little bit of everything in each of these creeks … it's a real mixed bag here," Mr. Whitehill said.

As the survey continued up and down the creeks, Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said the city has worked hard to improve the environment, as have the various nonprofit groups devoted to the creeks.

But, she said: "It became obvious we really needed a coordinated plan.

"The money for the survey was put into the city budget last year, she said.

The final plan will identify problems and list possible solutions. Some solutions might need to be taxpayer-funded government projects. Others might be projects the nonprofit groups or individual homeowners could take on - for example, installing more rain gardens and rain barrels in a neighborhood, or raising filter-feeding oysters in the water.

Mr. Whitehill said his team will take their on-site documentary work and combine it with all the various plans and studies, as well as water quality data and city government records.

"We're going to prioritize the projects so we're not pouring sand down a rathole," Mr. Whitehill said. "We're going to see if we can connect the dots in all the studies that have been done … This will allow us to put all the pieces together."

They're also hoping to hear from people who live, work and play in and around the creeks. There will be public meetings later this summer, but Mr. Whitehill said he'd like to hear from people even before then.

And this citywide creek study is about more than reducing pollution and improving creek health. It's also about improving access to the water. There's talk of more trails leading to the water and improvements to the city's many waterfront, street-end parks.

The entire plan should be complete by November.

To share ideas for the study of the creeks, contact Shannon Rose at annapoliswater@yahoo.com or call the Mayor's Office at 410-263-7997.

(Revised June 2008)