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Coming Together on Weems Creek

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2002; Page AA03

After years of pointing fingers at one another for polluting Weems Creek, city, county and state officials promised last week to work together to clean up the muddy stream, beginning with a $50,000 study of its environmental problems.

If Annapolis, Anne Arundel and Maryland can act in concert, it will mark a major shift in the political currents that have swirled around the troubled creek. For decades, the creek has been polluted with tons of sediment by surrounding city, county, state and private authorities, but none of the groups wanted to take responsibility.

Now, they say, that is going to change. Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D), Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) and Frank Dawson, a representative of Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), spoke before scores of residents at a meeting sponsored by the Weems Creek Conservancy last week.

Moyer, who took office in December, said she hopes the Weems Creek program will serve as a model for cleaning up College, Spa and Back creeks.

"Government groups are notorious for working quite independently. That's been the pattern for a long period of time," she said. "To be able to sit down and look at the problems strategically is, I think, pretty exciting.

The new study, paid for by the State Highway Administration and administered by the state Department of Natural Resources, will be one of the first steps, they said.

The study will take a look at the problems that have plagued the creek for years. Most of them are already well known. As Weems Creek Conservancy Treasurer Corinne Reed-Miller stood before a large aerial photograph of Weems Creek, she pointed to several sources of pollution near the creek: the Westfield Shoppingtown Annapolis mall, the new Anne Arundel Medical Center and the county's detention center to the west; the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to the south; and Route 50 to the north.

All are concrete-and-asphalt giants that dump their storm water runoff, along with pollutants from cars and new construction, into Weems Creek.

The creek's banks have risen, wildlife has disappeared, and boaters have lost maneuvering room as the navigable areas of the stream have shrunk. Dredging hasn't helped, and efforts that have helped the creek have been mostly small-scale and uncoordinated with other efforts.

"We don't want to stay with the status quo," Reed-Miller said. She and Weems Creek Conservancy President Evan Belaga said the study should be done in July or August, after which all parties will know what areas most urgently need work.

"This is not a waterfront problem, this is everyone's problem," Belaga said.

Several other projects are also getting underway. Owens said the county has budgeted $750,000 for restoring the creek, including work on a wetlands project on Porter Drive and a hoped-for grant to restore a terrapin habitat.

Annapolis has put $500,000 of its own money on the table and received a $250,000 grant from the state to fund work on the creek. In a report issued last week, Moyer's environmental transition team recommended that the city aggressively pursue grant money from the federal government and nonprofit organizations.

Finally, privately owned properties such as the mall and the stadium are considering making storm water management improvements.

"It's hard to get people to make [the environment] a priority," Belaga said, but "they have to go with the trend, and the trend is environmental improvement."

Alderman Sheila Tolliver (D-Ward 2), who represents the area in the Annapolis City Council and voted for some of the money committed to the creek, was also at the meeting. "I'm not a pessimist about the creek if people of goodwill who care about it are willing to protect it," she said. "I think that's what we need to do."

2002 The Washington Post Company
Posted with permission