Cross County Connector Center of Lengthy and Heated Hearing

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Cross County Connector Center of Lengthy and Heated Hearing

LA PLATA - 8/1/2008

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By Pete Hurrey

 Attendees began arriving early for the much
 debated permitting process for the Cross
 County Connector
In an earlier story on it stated that after 16 years, the proposed four-lane widening and straightening extension to Billingsly Road, dubbed the Cross County Connector has been in the construction phase in an on-again, off-again way since 1998.

On Thursday, July 31, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in conjunction with the Maryland Department of the Environment held a final public hearing before deciding whether or not to issue the necessary permits to Charles County to finish the final three phases of the much debated cross county connector road.

It was apparent, early that the hearing was bound for a long road of testimony and acrimony. After learning that 153 speakers had signed up to speak, the 7 p.m. hearing moderator, USACE’s Meg Gaffney-Smith notified the audience that each speaker would be limited to only 3 minutes to much rumbling throughout the crowd of 350 plus.

Attending was a mixture of pro-connector citizens and “save Mattawoman Creek” enthusiasts. After the first 10 speakers it was apparent, based upon boisterous cheering and polite applause, that the “SMC”s out numbered connector proponents almost two to one.

 The sign-up list grew to
 153 speakers.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District has been the main permitting agency in charge of the process. According to project lead, Steven Harmon, “We get involved once there is an application for a construction permit. This project has been divided up into a series of construction phases.”

Harmon went on to state that Phases one through four are complete and that each phase was constructed under a separate application and permitting process. “The application and permitting process is the same for the remaining three phases as it was for the first four phases,” said Harmon. “We take input from the applicant, the public and other interested parties and base our decision to permit on their input.”

“Our criteria for permitting is based upon the Federal Regulatory Environment Policy and takes into account all the input we receive for each application,” said Harmon.

Charles County Commissioner President, Wayne Cooper stated, “To date, we have already spent over $600,000 on environmental assessment for this project.” He indicated that the main holdup in finishing the process has been the USACE. “They held a hearing about three years ago, but that it had to be redone because of the way the public was notified.”

Cooper went on to say, “We are interested in improving the Mattawoman Creek watershed, not destroying it.” He indicated that currently, the two-lane roadway has no shoulders and the road parallels drainage ditches, which empty directly into the creek. “The proposed connector will alleviate almost all of the tire and oil residue that empties into the creek every time it rains.”

Cooper maintains that the new road uses above average engineering controls designed to virtually eliminate the roadway’s current runoff problem. “We will have water management areas designed to capture and filter all runoff before they can reach the creek. The new road will also have hiker/biker trails made of wood and not asphalt so there will no impact whatsoever.”

Cooper added a personal note: “I live on Billingsly Road and right now every time it rains there are multiple accidents. We are charged with protecting the safety, health and welfare of Charles County residents and this road is very dangerous.”

 Save Mattawoman Creek proponents, Bonnie
 Bick and Kevin Grimes make their point.
 In disagreement are a number of environmental organizations. Bonnie Bick, spokesperson for the Mattawoman Watershed Society and Sierra Club member said, “We don’t see there being any other position but ours. It has been proven in study after study that increasing the amount of impervious surfaces to a watershed is the primary factor in the deterioration of that watershed.” In short, development does more damage to the environment than chemical pollutants and agricultural effluents.

“We are not asking that the roadway be stopped, but just that a full environmental impact study be performed so we will know whether or not the construction and pending development which inevitably accompany new roadways will harm the watershed,” said Bick.

Kevin Grimes, MWS member reinforced Bick’s statement saying, “Mattawoman Creek has been designated one of the most important and productive tributaries anywhere. It is the number one spawning grounds for multiple species of fish.” He went on to state that if the ocean living fish do not have a place to spawn because of deteriorating environment, the species will ultimately die.

Both the USACE and MDE are accepting written comment through August 15. After that time, each agency will independently determine how to proceed – one more month in a history for a 15 mile stretch of road that has already consumed millions of dollars and 188 months.

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