Stop Development Runoff
Our St. Mary's County waterways are being fouled by the unrelenting and unmitigated storm runoff of sediment and silt from development construction sites, and our state and county governments are not using the tools and laws at their disposal to stop this flagrant harm to our home waters.
Last year, during the site approval process for a development called the Woods at Myrtle Point in California, concerned residents strongly criticized the design and scope of the site plan because of the evident risk of exposing well-documented soft, loose soils on very steep slopes adjacent to Mill Creek during the clearing and grading of the heavily forested site. They clearly described the huge challenge to contain runoff from such a volatile site and asked for reduction of scope of the site and robust and effective practices to retain the exposed soil on the site. "Keep the soil out of our waterways" was the message. The message was ignored, and the plan approved by what could only be described as standards more suited to flat, firm land located far away from tidal waters. Very poor planning. Strike one!
This planning decision has now been proved to be hopelessly flawed, but it gets worse. Over the past 10 months, with the exception of a few months in the dead of winter when no grading was done, Mill Creek has been muddied by every significant rainfall. Heavy rainfalls have produced dark clouds of thick mocha latte mud that are filling in the creeks and strangling plants and animals. Silt fences, rip-rap barriers, storm water management ponds, soil/stone berms, straw/seed stabilizers and every other technique employed have been breached or overwhelmed by the strong, erosive runoff across that soft soil and down the steep slopes. Every incident has been duly reported by local residents to the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) and the [St. Mary's County] Soil Conservation District (SCD), the inspectors and enforcers of those laws that prohibit this very [type of] sedimentation. Although many inspections have been conducted by MDE and SCD, and non-compliance by the developer has been documented, inspection alone has been ineffective. The developer . . . and his contractor . . . have been unable to stop the runoff, and none of the punitive sanctions authorized by the law have been levied against them to motivate them to cure the problem. So the damage to Mill Creek continues. Very poor enforcement. Strike two!
We are not opposed to development. We understand the value of providing the resources to support the growth and prosperity of the region. But we cannot stand by while a developer comes here and ruins our home. Insult is added to injury by the passivity and poor judgment of the state and county agencies that let it get this way in the first place. With regard to development here in our home county, if it is to be done, we must demand that it be done properly.
We, the citizens of this county, need to speak out strongly and clearly to our elected officials and their staff to demand that they stop this despoilment at the Woods at Myrtle Point and at every construction site in the region. They must direct their staff and commissions to consider the realities of building in an area where tidal waters are only a stone's throw away, and that's practically our entire county. And, they need to consider that the laws of nature (steep slopes, soft soil, rain and gravity) are relentless and unforgiving. . . . They need to enforce our laws, demand that the state enforce our laws and do everything in their power to protect our lands and waters.
More than a month ago, a local citizens group formally petitioned the county government to repair the defects at the Woods at Myrtle Point in light of the hard evidence now available. We have received no feedback that any progress has been made to upgrade the site plan or enforce the law there. If the current government won't fix the problem, we should seek to elect folks who will fight for us and will direct the appropriate agencies and commissions to protect the very soil and waters of our home county. Shirking of duty (state and county). Strike three!
Suzanne K. Henderson
Kellie E. Gofus