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Who Has the Right to Protect the Magothy River

June2007_dobbins_island_pier_sav__4 by Kim Coble, CBF Maryland Executive Director
(this column appeared in the Maryland Gazette)

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 resources?

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 county's decisions.

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 the Magothy.

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 county waters.

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 consequences.

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?

Comments

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Edward Wilson

One pier isn't going to ruin the Magothy River or the Chesapeake Bay or undo the work of the CBF in the Magothy watershed! No credible evidence has yet been presented showing that the Dobbins island construction will be any more damaging to the watershed than any other home or pier being built there. If you are going to protect the Magothy by zealously opposing the Dobbins construction, then be as consistent in opposing all of the piers and constructions in the Magothy River watershed, and not just one!. No pier is any more damaging to underwater grasses than any other! Did you as vigorously oppose the piers of the 58 CBF members you have already living on the Magothy River? If you did, you would have no constituency. You have chosen to treat one landowner incredibly unfairly, as if you owned the land. You dont. It was on the market for years. If it was so important to you, then you should have bought it then, or even made an offer in the recent 6 months, when the owner asked for credible offers. You haven't done so, and instead resort to grossly biased propaganda to advance a weak and unfounded position using fear, misinformation, and innuendo. Shame on you and the MRA! Ed Wilson

Sandy Stansbury

When the Board of Appeals denied standing to the Magothy River Assn and to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation it established a dangerous and terrible precedence. Prohibiting involvement of these groups will, no doubt, lead to other environmental groups not having standing in other rivers in Anne Arundel County. If the health of the Bay is important to Anne Arundel County then government officials need to protect the public by protecting the hard work and investment of ALL environmental groups.

I believe it is the mind-set of individuals that their one action doesn't hurt the environment that leads to a crisis like we see today -- Dead Zones in the Bay; Beaches Closed due to Bacteria Levels; Stormwater Runoff Affects River; Sewage Spills Spoil Creek. This mind-set is archaic at best and selfishness at its worst.

Where do you draw the line? Who gets to decide Joe can destroy oyster beds and Sally can't. A law was written to protect the critical areas. Unfortunately in Anne Arundel County critical area law is not applied consistently or fairly. The county appears to give variances willy-nilly and without oversight. This leads to the assumption that the County is lacking in integrity. Environmental groups are necessary to keep the County accountable.

Let's stay focused on the issues -- critical area laws, standing and environmental impact!

Carl Treff

This goes out to Mr. Ed Wilson, former owner of Dobbins Island, and all other nay-sayers about MRA's and CBF's opposition to development on the island. This has always been, and forever will be, about the erosion of the Critical Area Law in Anne Arundel County. This is not about saving the beach for public use or battling over a relatively inane pier. This is about our county representatives consistently overruling Maryland State laws - laws that were put in place to protect the edges of the Chesapeake Bay from development. I am truly sorry that the Magothy island owners either completely ignored State laws, or choose to wiggle around them in every concievable fashion. And because of owners trying to build ill-advised structures and impervious surfaces on land well within the critical 1000' this environmental community had no choice but to draw a line in the sand. And if I'm not mistaken, there is indeed some credibility to the theory that the effluent from a septic system on Dobbins Island will ooze right out of the soft cliffs and into the river.
To deny standing, or the right to legally fight development in the critical area, is a slap in the face to all environmentalists that tirelessly devote energy to protecting and restoring the bay. MRA and CBF told compelling stories during the hearing about why we should have the right to protect our interests that are in the river: restored oysters, restored underwater grass, improved wildlife habitat. To have our county representatives refuse to acknowledge these interests is what is truly shameful about this issue. These very same county representatives enjoy the bay in the same varying degrees that any other county resident does whether it is crabbing, fishing, boating, or simply enjoying a beautiful sunset over its waters. And in fact, Mr. Chairman of the Board of Appeals waxed eloquently about his passion for boating and his experience on the bay and beyond - yet in his next breath he chose to vote our standing down. This battle has been temporarily stymied, but it will go on.

Now, about the pier that Mr. Wilson seemed so hung up on. This is not about a pier. Yes, there are hundreds of piers around the river. One is probably under construction every day. If development was never allowed on this island in the first place, we wouldn't be talking about a red herring pier. We may not immediately know if this pier destroys 1600 square feet of underwater grass. However, I would say the chances are more so than not. But let's look at some numbers. I have personally been the project coordinator for growing underwater grass specifically for the Magothy River over the past six years. Through the participation of 150 volunteers, we have grown and planted over 21,000 plants. A rough calculation shows that we have planted about 1000 square feet of underwater grass over six years. So because of an apparent breach of the truce between Mr. Clickner and the MRA by building a pier, the potential exists to wipe out an equal share of underwater grass in one fell swoop. Thank you very much.
To me, this pier is more about symbolism than it is a detriment. And oftentimes environmentalists have symbolism as the only arrow in our quiver. Especially when we are up against our own bureaucracy, big money, and smart lawyers. I will tell you this, monitoring the e-mails that have come in to the MRA I see that we have awakened a sleeping giant. There will always be opposing points of view, but I would say our constituents are 10:1 in favor of fighting this battle. This dog has a lot of fight left and the fun will continue so stay tuned.
I believe that maybe Mr. Wilson, who has lived on or near the shores of the Magothy for decades, ought to consider what his river would look like without the efforts of organizations such as CBF, MRA, and all the other watershed groups fighting for every ounce of improvement. I suspect that the river would be such a mess that he would not have ever considered buying the island years ago, never mind being able to sell it recently. We will continue to fight the good fight despite nay-sayers. Maybe one day you can all thank us for preserving the Chesapeake Bay for your children and your children's children. Apparently the nay-sayers do not get it or could care less about why we do what we do, whether it is planting grass, restoring oysters, or taking the gloves off and fighting travesties such as this in court.
So, now I will go back to growing grass to provide habitat for fish and crabs so that anyone can enjoy the Magothy River as it shoud be enjoyed.

Kim Ethridge

The Maryland Gazette has joined the discussion with an editorial in yesterday's paper: Our Say: Narrow Ruling Poses Danger to the Environment http://www.hometownglenburnie.com/vault/cgi-bin/gazette/view/2007G/08/08-28.HTM

Mark Thieme

Preface - I may seem I might have issues with MRA, when in fact I have issues all misguided river Nazi organizations.

I'm appalled that we have river Nazis to
pick on the little guy. It's so government. I'm happy the government told you to mind your own business. Now if we can only get them to do the same. Everyone I grew up with that lived on or near the water (and has obviously seen the changes) is extremely sensitive to the condition of our waters on a personal level. This is where all progress starts.
Dobbins Island has been disappearing into the river for decades. I hope the new owner
puts rip rap all the way around it like the little island. Contrary to MRA's propoganda this does provide habitat. Obviously no one has taken a look in the cracks and crevices. MRA would prefer another shoal instead - great job on that one in Sillery Bay. I suppose that little pile of rip rap doesn't count. I hope the new owner does something like the little island. Never have I ever witnessed any indigenous marine life living on either of these islands. Around it maybe.
The government itself is the biggest offender. Millions of gallons of raw sewage are spilled every year, many pumping stations were situated and designed to overflow into the waters. There is unmanaged industrial waste at the sake of tax income and designated spoil areas which are in continual use and occasionally revued for expansion . My favorite: Agent Orange used in the 60's to kill the seaweed - the bottom of the food chain. (Now, why do three of our zip codes report the highest number of cancer rates in the Country?) I could go on and on.
The bottom line...pick on somebody you own size (or bigger).
Anybody remember MAPO? Take a lessen.

Well, thanks for reading my two cents worth...I expect it should fire you up and spark a little broader out-of-the box debate. You cannot hope to 'save' one river by itself. The Magothy is but a bucket full of water in a pond.

Mark Thieme

Preface - I may seem I might have issues with MRA, when in fact I have issues all misguided river Nazi organizations.

I'm appalled that we have river Nazis to
pick on the little guy. It's so government. I'm happy the government told you to mind your own business. Now if we can only get them to do the same. Everyone I grew up with that lived on or near the water (and has obviously seen the changes) is extremely sensitive to the condition of our waters on a personal level. This is where all progress starts.
Dobbins Island has been disappearing into the river for decades. I hope the new owner
puts rip rap all the way around it like the little island. Contrary to MRA's propoganda this does provide habitat. Obviously no one has taken a look in the cracks and crevices. MRA would prefer another shoal instead - great job on that one in Sillery Bay. I suppose that little pile of rip rap doesn't count. I hope the new owner does something like the little island. Never have I ever witnessed any indigenous marine life living on either of these islands. Around it maybe.
The government itself is the biggest offender. Millions of gallons of raw sewage are spilled every year, many pumping stations were situated and designed to overflow into the waters. There is unmanaged industrial waste at the sake of tax income and designated spoil areas which are in continual use and occasionally revued for expansion . My favorite: Agent Orange used in the 60's to kill the seaweed - the bottom of the food chain. (Now, why do three of our zip codes report the highest number of cancer rates in the Country?) I could go on and on.
The bottom line...pick on somebody you own size (or bigger).
Anybody remember MAPO? Take a lessen.

Well, thanks for reading my two cents worth...I expect it should fire you up and spark a little broader out-of-the box debate. You cannot hope to 'save' one river by itself. The Magothy is but a bucket full of water in a pond.

robert glass

building without a permit often warrants a fine. did this happen ? since clickner is a builder, i bet he knows the people, angles, and workarounds. i salute that...HOWEVER...

he owns the island...not the sound. and the underwater power lines will require distance anchorage in the sound. THIS, is not acceptable.

Moreover, he will need septic on that little island. I hope he digs it right...assuming he gets a permit this time.

Shouldn't he be disciplined for the non-registrered building he put on the other island ? what of the riprap ? was that approved ?

so to heck with all laws....or perhaps they should all be supported. Arbitrary rulemaking is not a reasonable approach.

Finally, where does the island stop and the sandbar start ? The public has right to public land....so shouldn't this be available to the public ? he's put in a fence within the water line. Mr Clickner has rights, but so do the boaters. The line should be drawn with the law....not the whims of property owners or boaters.

Otherwise change the stupid laws, but give fair considerations to all.

Alternatively, push the Baltimore spoils onto a few coffers, and you'll have new sporting areas for the public and will save Baltimore dredging costs.

M. T. again

The existing powerline is marked as they are on other rivers. Noone is going to anchor in that spot as it would be akin to standing in the middle of Ritchie Hwy.
Running a line to Dobbins from the other island could fall into the same scenario. That's speculative at this point.

Arbitrary lawmaking happens everyday. All it takes is for one person to whine and BAM - new rule/law/policy/procedure.

By the fence I assume you refer to the poles spaced every 20 feet or so are above mean high water level which is also where his property ends and the sandbar starts. I have seen noone chasing anybody off the bar, much less the beach or his private property - not public property.

The building code in AA County is absurd. I agree the rules should apply to everyone. But in some cases you almost need a blessing from Congress to do anything.

Clenbuterol

Right??? It is a responsibility and everybody involved must bear it

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