Proposal for Hart-Miller north cell revealed
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 13:21

Three possible paths laid out at NPPC meeting

by John G. Bailey

    At the North Point Peninsula Council meeting on May 2, Nat Brown of the Maryland Port Authority and Lincoln Tracy of Maryland Environmental Service summarized plans under consideration for the development of the north cell of Hart-Miller Island.
    The island is a MPA containment site for dredge material from the Port of Baltimore. The Maryland Environmental Service has overseen the development of the site since 2009, when dredging infill ended.
    Made up of two parts, or cells — what were once Hart and Miller islands — the island is a work in progress, a monumental effort to transform a dredge dump site into a place that’s beneficial to wildlife and humans alike.
    Objectives for the engineered restoration include a seasonal habitat for a range of wildlife, passive recreational opportunities and wildlife observation facilities for visitors, maximum use of onsite resources during construction and maintenance and a system to manage surface water.  Both cells include a large pump and natural spillways for this purpose.
    The  development of the smaller south cell is complete and is now a successful sanctuary for migrating birds,  a mecca for bird watchers and a popular camping site.
    When development of the north cell is complete, managment of the entire island will be transferred from MPA to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which currently manages part of the south cell.
    The original plans for the north cell had to be scrapped when the projected topography of the site was modified due to lower-than-expected dredge material during the last year of the landfill process, resulting in a flattter landscape. 
    A large pond is the dominant feature of the north cell as it currently exists. The perimeter of the site forms the dike that contains the fill material. As on the south cell, picnic tables, trails and bird watching platforms are planned for the dry area.
    Each of the three plans now under consideration for the north cell evolved as compromises between competing factors: objectives, environmental law, costs and construction. The ideal, it was noted, often gets tempered by expediency.
    Two of the prospective plans call for keeping the pond as a dominant feature, but at different sizes.
    One of these plans envisions a smaller pond with less depth, with a deep pool in one area where fish can take refuge during temperture extremes. A dry upland area would be created with the soil excavated from the deep pool. Shallower water would create wetlands habitat, an environment attractive to migratory birds.
    A drawback of this plan is that the low acidity of the infill soil from dredged material would contaminate the shallower pond water, making it inhospitable to some marine life. Another problem is that wetlands are prime environments for phragmites, an invasive plant species that DNR is seeking to eradicate.
    The other plan for the pond would increase its depth. The deeper water would provide the refuge that the deep pool would provide in the above plan. No wetland habitat would be created. This plan is regarded as the most advantageous in terms of costs and construction time.
    A third plan would call for draining the pond to create a plane for underbrush habitat.
    Because of the acidity and high copper and zinc content of the pond water, by law it must be treated before being pumped into the bay. The treatment costs and the cost of keeping the area dry, along with the reduction of waterfowl that would result, make this plan more problematic than the others.
    During the presentation, Tracy emphasized that no decision has yet been made by MES and MPA officials on which plan to utilize for the north cell’s development.
    Plans first have to be reviewed by a number of Dredged Material Management Program committees, including the Hart-Miller Island Advisory Committee, the Harbor Team and the Bay Enhancement Workgroup.
    North Point Peninsula Council members were assured that once a plan had been selected, a public meeting would be scheduled for the airing of comments and concerns.