Parole project again muddies creek

County issues fine after riverkeeper reports violation

By E.B. FURGURSON III, Staff Writer

Photo by Drew Koslow
This picture taken Tuesday shows the outflow from the Annapolis Towne Centre construction site in Parole where it feeds Church Creek

Church Creek has been sullied, once again, by runoff from the Annapolis Towne Centre construction site in Parole.

This time contractors moving water from one sediment control pond to another failed to do so properly, effectively bypassing the cutting-edge systems meant to curtail such spoilage downstream.

The result: yet another load of choking silt injected into the headwaters of the creek that feeds into the South River.

The county was called to the site Tuesday and found that the contractor was not using a filter bag to catch sediment, and hadn't turned on the pump that adds a polymer to the water to help extract sediment.

Chief Environmental Code Administrator John Peacock also reported that the receiving pond "was full and draining through both the bio-filter wall and the ... standard trap" through which water would normally flow after it has settled. The bio-filter is a special berm filled with mulch to filter fine particles of dirt from runoff before it enters a settling pool and the downstream drainage.

Mr. Peacock immediately ordered the developer to stop draining the pond, as well as any other "de-watering" without specific permission of the inspector. The contractor, Reliable Contracting, was cited and fined $500.

But none of that would have been found if South Riverkeeper Drew Koslow hadn't happened by while running an errand at the Home Depot across Forest Drive.

"I had a feeling," he said. So he peered down the slope where the main drainage line flows into Church Creek. "I could not believe it. The whole plunge pool was full of sediment. It had obviously been going on for a while. It was all the way downstream."

So he called the county and an inspector was quickly dispatched.

Mr. Koslow is familiar with sediment coming from the 34-acre site bordered by Riva Road, Forest Drive and Route 2. The South River Federation twice deployed a state-of-the-art water-quality device just downstream of the site and found huge spikes of turbidity - the measure of sediment in water - emanating from Annapolis Towne Centre's mostly dirt site.

Some of those increases could be tied to major rainfall; others could not. Mr. Koslow suspected there were de-watering operations going on - pumping standing water off the site - but never saw direct evidence.

"We knew from our data that this stuff was going on," he said. "You don't see (turbidity) spikes of 900 unless there is direct discharging into the stream. It is gratifying to finally catch them, though it is disturbing to see."

He said the readings recorded last year, on the same device used by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, showed evidence of runoff.

Betty Dixon, the new director of inspections and permits, said the county won't abide that kind of thing.

"Any deviation from the approved grading and sediment plan will not be tolerated," she said. "The developer worked closely with the county to implement control measures above and beyond the requirements of state and county laws. I expect the developer and contractors working on the site to uphold that commitment for the duration of the project."

Greenberg Gibbons Commercial, primary developer of the Annapolis Towne Centre, said the county erred in its inspection.

"We did not see what the county saw," said Kim Potember, senior vice president and director of development operations at Greenberg Gibbons. "We did not see the overflow ... We don't agree with the reason the fine was levied."

The company's position, for instance, is that a filter bag is not required to move water from one pond to another. "It is being put from one trap into another, which is a filter," Ms. Potember said. "You don't need a filter."

But Mr. Peacock said in his report that muddied water was washing over the bio-filter part of the second pond and the second trap: "The water in the receiving trap was very discolored and contained noticeable suspended sediments." That sediment was washing into the discharge pipe.

Ms. Potember argued that "the water coming out of the pipe was clear."

For violating grading law the subcontractor, Reliable Contracting, was fined $500. The company also denies the county report and will fight the fine, President Jay Baldwin said.

"We are not sure the county has all the facts. We treated the pond that was being drained," he said. "Our guys were watching the operation and the water was not going over the bio-filter. No water was going into that outfall."

He said the company is aware of the environmental sensitivity of the site.

"Our guys are lectured about it all the time," he said. "We are investigating to see what happened and make sure it does not happen again."

The inspection report, and the photograph taken by Mr. Koslow, suggest there was indeed sediment washing into the creek.

Mr. Koslow said the fine isn't tough enough.

"I am disappointed the fine is only $500," he said, "especially after (County Executive John) Leopold's commitment to go after environmental violators. Maybe they should have been cited for each element of the plan they violated. It might have sent a stronger message."

Ms. Dixon said the complaint was evaluated and had it occurred in the Critical Area, a fine might have been issued for each instance, but "this was considered one violation."

Published January 12, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

(Revised Jan 2007)