Interior Dept. opposes permits for Charles County connector

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Interior Department has recommended that federal permits for Charles County's planned cross-county connector, which would link Waldorf and Indian Head, should be denied.

A Dec. 23 letter from Leopoldo Miranda, a supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to Col. David E. Anderson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers states that Mattawoman Creek and its watershed would suffer if the last six miles of the highway between routes 5 and 210 is built.

"The Service recommends denial of the Section 404 wetland permit until a more complete assessment . . . of the proposed highway is completed in addition to a more comprehensive evaluation of alternatives, and a detailed mitigation and compensation plan," Miranda wrote.

Miranda also cited President Obama's May executive order for federal agencies to take a leadership role in protecting the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding wildlife habitats.

Clem Gaines, an Army Corps of Engineers spokesman, said the Fish and Wildlife Service's input would be considered as part of the approval process. "We continue to review the permit application from Charles County and expect to announce a decision in the near future," he said.

The last section of the 16-mile east-west roadway needs wetlands permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment because of its potential impact on more than seven acres of wetlands, 2,150 feet of streams and nearly 75 acres of forest, according to Miranda's letter.

"The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has consistently documented the Mattawoman as an important Bay resource" for being "considered the Chesapeake's most productive nursery" for several types of fish, Miranda wrote.

Officials in Charles have said that the road, which is estimated to cost $47 million, is necessary for safety reasons and to serve all of the planned residential developments for that area.

Commissioner Gary V. Hodge (D-St. Charles) has maintained that the county will use state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly construction methods.

"I just view it as part of the propaganda war the opponents have been waging against the project," said Hodge, who noted that Smarter Growth Alliance for Charles County members were listed on the letter as copy recipients. "The letter looks very familiar in terms of the previously stated concerns that this group and others have about the project."

The alliance comprises nearly 20 local environmental groups that are opposed to construction of the cross-county connector.

Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a member of the alliance, called the letter unexpected.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is required "to look out for natural resources of the country," Coble said. "For them to come out in an unsolicited manner with such a strong statement for protection of the creek and the natural resources in it is very significant."

Miranda's letter also said that housing developments the county expects to be built around the new highway will also adversely affect the Mattawoman watershed and should be considered in the permit process.

But Hodge said a "deliberately engineered highway which is designed to protect the creek . . . is a far better approach . . . than a haphazard development of private roads."

"We don't accept the arguments being made that the road is a catalyst for growth," he said. "That is simply not accurate at all."

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