Residents in Pasadena in Anne Arundel County said they are concerned after learning Maryland Port Administration is considering putting dredge material in part of the river where they swim, fish and boat.

What is dredging?

Dredge is what the administration digs up from the river floor when they clear shipping channels, and due to pollution from nearby industries, that material can be toxic.

Residents say they fear MPA’s plans to store dredge underwater, instead of on land, could harm their waterways and way of life.

“I recall the pollution that came over from Bethlehem Steel,” said Carl Treff, who grew up in Pasadena along the Patapsco River. “Things like tar balls and slag, and who knows what else, would wash up on the shore. I’ve seen what Bethlehem Steel used to dump in this river.”

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Treff is part of a group of residents in Pasadena’s waterfront communities trying to stop the Maryland Port Administration’s confined aquatic disposal, or CAD, project.

“Anything that’s stirred up cannot be good for the people that use it or the critters and the animals that live here,” Treff said.

Ruth Sliviak, another resident, said she was horrified when she heard about the project.

“We waterski, we have our kids out here, grandkids, kayaking, fishing, crabbing,” Sliviak said.

What’s the harm?

MPA maintains vital shipping channels through regular dredging.

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However, due to pollution from nearby industries, that dredge material can include contaminated sediment, heavy metals, PCBs and chromium.

That’s why it’s usually stored in containment facilities on land like the one at Cox Creek.

However, CAD involves digging a hole in the river floor and filling it with dredge material.

According to MPA’s website, the proposed location for that hole, or cell, is less than a mile from these waterfront communities.

“We’re very concerned about that being dumped into the water, right near our homes,” said John Garofolo, who lives in Stoney Creek near the proposed site.

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Garofolo has been trying to stop the project since he found out about it last year.

“If you disturb that sediment layer, now you can release a lot of toxic material, the heavy metals, the PCBs, the oils, into the water, and now it’s free to move wherever the current and tide takes it which could be up all of our waterways,” Garofolo said.

Cost-effective solution

According to MPA, finding new places to store dredge is a challenge and CAD offers a cost-effective solution because MPA can use the “good sand” excavated when they dig the hole or cell for other projects.

MPA also said the thick clay under the cell creates a barrier that prevents toxic sediment from escaping.

Residents say they want to see the science themselves.

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“They just need to show us consistent and good science, that the bottom of this river is safe to dredge up and safe to start digging 20-acre holes,” Treff said.

“We think that the bay and the river have been working hard to heal itself, and if it was left alone, it would continue to do that,” Garofolo said. “But if we keep stirring up the poisons of the past on the river floor, we may create a monster that we didn’t need to.”

According to MPA, further progress on the CAD project is paused to ensure a thorough education and outreach process.

WJZ is a media partner of The Baltimore Banner.

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