|Guest column: Who has the right to protect the Magothy
By Kim Coble
The Dobbins Island case embodies
more than just building a home, or a pier. It's about the quality of
the Magothy River, the health of the crabs, fish and grasses within
it, and about the Bay's future.
This week, Anne Arundel County's Board of Appeals decided that
neither the Chesapeake Bay Foundation nor the Magothy River Association
had the right to challenge its decision to allow construction of a pier,
driveway, well and septic system on the Magothy River's Dobbins Island,
one of the last vacant islands in Maryland.
The county said the organizations do not have the right to challenge
because they do not own property on the river. It was not enough that
58 of our members own property on the river, or that the organizations
have spent considerable efforts to restore the river. We still have
no right to question the county's actions on the river.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Magothy River Association
argued their right to protect investments in the river, including underwater
bay grasses and oyster reefs the organizations built with their hands,
sweat, and funds. The organizations' key point is that the county's
decision to allow construction of a house, driveway, pier and septic
system on an island with steep slopes will produce harmful runoff,
damaging these oyster reefs and bay grasses.
Anne Arundel County said that, despite our extensive
work and hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment,
our interests were no different than the average citizen
and called our efforts to protect those essential oyster
reefs and bay grasses, "big brother at its worst."
If the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Magothy River
Association don't have the right to appear in court and challenge
decisions we believe will be harmful to the quality of the
Magothy River, then who CAN protect the river and its natural
Anne Arundel County's Board of Appeals believes no one has that
right. Their decision to limit that right to anyone living within 175
feet of these islands results in no one being able to challenge the
This is a bad decision for not only the Magothy but for all
of Anne Arundel's waters. Little Dobbins Island, right next to the
bigger Dobbins, is another example of county decisions that will hurt
With Little Dobbins, we saw a "build first, seek variances later" approach.
A developer built a home, lighthouse, pool, boat ramp, driveway, and
gazebo, and removed acres of protective trees and shrubs that reduced
pollution and erosion - all without the necessary permits and variances.
The county allowed the structures to stand, and decided that the Chesapeake
Bay Foundation and Magothy River Association did not have the right
to challenge this damaging development.
On Dobbins Island, the county allowed one pier to be built,
extending from the island to a length that will kill about 1,600 square
feet of flourishing bay grasses - a rare sight in the bay today.
Underwater grasses play a critical role in supporting water
quality of rivers and the Bay. Essential bay grasses have dwindled
from their abundant numbers, and the Bay and its rivers have less than
40 percent of the grasses they used to have. We should not allow actions
that result in losing more underwater grasses.
Anne Arundel County's trend seems to be to issue one permit
after another, allowing construction that is harmful to our rivers
and bay, without any regard to the grasses, oysters, crabs, and the
rest of the bay's bounty. At the same time, the county seeks to block
all voices of opposition to such development, even from groups that
are spending thousands of hours and millions of dollars to improve
Citizens and organizations are working tirelessly to restore
our rivers and Bay in order to make the Chesapeake Bay a resource they
can enjoy and leave to their children in better shape than they found
it. Without the ability to protect their efforts, citizens and organizations
will start to question whether their efforts are worth it.
The County Board of Appeals' decision to tell the Chesapeake
Bay Foundation and the Magothy River Association that they cannot challenge
the county's decision to allow harmful construction - to silence their
desire to protect investments in the Bay and its rivers - has larger
If these organizations - and the tens of thousands of voices
and Bay resources they represent - are not allowed to speak for the
Bay and the rivers, who can?
Kim Coble is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's
Maryland executive director.
Maryland Gazette, Glen Burnie, Md.