Plans For Private Spoil Site Allowed To Proceed

SNOW HILL – Despite a strong turnout from anti-spoil neighbors, the private dredge spoil site in Friendship will go forward after the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) granted a requested variance.

Sand must be dredged out of the Marsh Harbor canal, owned by variance applicant Whaley Brittingham, to keep it navigable for sportfishing boats. The spoil would be dumped on 1.5 acres of a 56-acre parcel in Friendship Village.

During the lengthy discussion at the Feb. 14 meeting, both the applicant and the anti-spoil site neighbors presented their cases, pro and con, but villagers did not have the evidence of harm to prevail against the applicant’s experts.

Applicant Whaley Brittingham’s consultants testified there would be little to no traffic impact, no harm to neighborhood wells and no reduction in property values from the private dredge spoil site.

Villagers were not mollified, however, and at least 30 attended the BZA meeting, with several making impassioned pleas to the BZA to consider the negative impact of the dredge spoil site on Friendship village over the course of a nearly three-hour discussion.

“We’re not against the project. We’re against where the spoil is to be dumped. We feel that’s our backyard,” said Norman Cathell, Sr., chosen by the villagers to represent them. “Are we going to end up with a large mountain in Friendship? I hope not.”

“It’s being ruined,” said Linda Brown, who grew up on Friendship Rd. “I don’t like what’s going on. It’s not necessary.”   

Villagers are concerned that run-off from the drying spoil will contaminate wells and groundwater, although the applicant describes the spoil as just sand.

“We find that hard to believe,” said Cathell. “When you go back 2,115 feet, you’re in marsh. That marsh is going to be dumped in Friendship.”

The sand to be dredged has not been tested or examined by the Health Department.

“With the amount of buffer around the site, the material, that is characterized as sandy material from the dredge area, there really should be no environmental impact on the surrounding wells,” said James Dieter, environmental impact consultant.

The spoil site is over 300 feet from the nearest property line, according to Brittingham’s attorney, Mark Cropper.

Although daycare operator Gail West’s business is a mile from the dredge spoil site, she said she is concerned about water contamination though groundwater or through spills from spoil-carrying dump trucks. Daycares must test wells quarterly for a three page long list of contaminants, she said.

Traffic was also on West’s agenda. “It’s a bad road,” she said.

Increased truck traffic could be dangerous, several villagers felt.

“We are really concerned about the highway safety,” said Cathell, who added 30 school buses travel Friendship road daily.

“It boils down to one truck an hour maximum,” said Wes Guckert, president of the Traffic Group, with two trucks an hour at optimal efficiency. “You would not even notice it from a traffic point of view or a capacity point of view.”

Reggie Mason, recently retired chief deputy of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, told the BZA that he had to put an officer at the sand pit on Cropper Island Rd. every day because of the truck traffic.

“That is a bad intersection,” he said of Route 50 and Friendship Rd.

Someone needs to make sure Brittingham and the dredge contractor are complying with dump limits, hours of use, and other restrictions, said Mason.

“I’m concerned about who’s going to police this project. Planning and Zoning is not doing their job,” he said.

 “How do we know when they hit their limit?” neighbor Dan Cathell asked. “Who do we contact when there’s a problem with it?”

MDE polices the amount of fill, said Cropper, and other matters can be taken to Zoning Administrator Kelly Henry in the Development Review and Permitting department.

Cropper and Brittingham agreed at last week’s community meeting to consider alternate spoil dumping sites if any could be identified.

“The dump in Berlin is an alternative site. The Bishopville [wetland restoration] project, as we understand it, is approaching and they would take the spoil,” Cathell said.

There are no other dredge sites in Worcester County still active.

There is a possibility that 15 to 20 surface mines in Worcester County could take dredge spoils, Henry said.

Cropper said alternate sites have been discussed with staff.

“The problem is there is a cost associated with that and that needs to be addressed,” he said. “There are also neighbors up around [the Bishopville] site that will probably have some of the same concerns.”

He added, “We did say we’d consider other sites and we will as they come to fruition. … The only dredge spoil to go on this site is from the canal at Marsh Harbor.”

Spoil may not be deposited on the site after the dredging is complete. “We’re looking at a way to stabilize the canal on a permanent basis,” said Brittingham.

The spoil material will be planted when dried, probably with pine trees.

Neighbor Harry Mitchell said that Brittingham wanted to dump material on what he characterized as very wet land, to improve it. Water from the property runs-off onto his, Mitchell said.

The dredge site is about 1,000 feet from the cleared area on Mitchell’s property, Cropper said, which is already sub-divided for development.

“All Mr. Brittingham is asking to do is put some dredge spoil on his,” said Cropper.

Despite the passion of the speakers and their conviction that dredge spoil would ruin their neighborhood, the villagers had little to offer the BZA besides their opinion.

“Maryland law requires you prove by evidence that the environmental harm at this site is greater than other sites in the county,” said BZA member James Clubb. 

The protests made enough of an impact to prompt Clubb’s motion for a continuance to allow the villagers to retain experts.

Cropper protested at once. “Immediately upon the application being filed and this property’s being posted I was contacted by some of the property owners,” he said.

Brittingham, Marsh Harbor Homeowners’ Association President Reese Cropper III and attorney Cropper met with the community last Friday as well, the attorney pointed out.

“In their defense, they didn’t know what the law was until you and I talked about it right now,” said Clubb. “In my experience, the general public thinks they can come in here and voice concerns and somehow the weight of those concerns will matter with this board.”

Cropper the burden of the impact has not been met.

“Since this is a special exception the opposition have the obligation to prove there is a burden here, an impact here, that the impact is greater here,” Cropper said.

The law also requires the applicant prove his case, Cropper said. “I believe we’ve done that and then some.”  

A delay and another appearance before the BZA would be unfair, the attorney said.

“These gentlemen are going to be burdened by the additional cost of coming back here,” Cropper said.

“You’ve also come before this board and asked for a continuance,” Clubb said.

The last item on that night’s agenda was in fact a continuance Cropper asked for an earlier case, he pointed out.

Clubb made the motion for a continuance, but the action failed, with only Clubb and BLA member Joe Fehrer voting for the delay.

A subsequent motion to grant the variance allowing the dredge spoil site passed 4-1, with Fehrer dissenting.