State seeks pro­pos­als for Conowingo sediment

Record Observer - - Front Page - By BRAD KRO­NER bkro­ner@ches­pub.com

DAR­LING­TON — The Mary­land En­vi­ron­men­tal Ser­vice will send out re­quests for pro­posal on Aug. 31 to find a pi­lot project to ad­dress the sediment backup be­hind the Conowingo Dam, Gov. Larry Ho­gan an­nounced Tues­day, Aug. 7.

The Susque­hanna River pro­vides nearly half of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay’s fresh­wa­ter, and with that, it car­ries sediment and pol­lu­tants down­stream from Penn­syl­va­nia and New York. Lo­cated at the end of the Susque­hanna River, the Conowingo Dam traps sediment, as well

as as­so­ci­ated pollution from ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rous, that would be flow­ing into the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

“The Conowingo Dam has reached ca­pac­ity and is no longer able to trap pollution,” Ho­gan said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the foot of the dam.

That press con­fer­ence was the cul­mi­na­tion of Ho­gan’s sec­ond Conowingo Dam Sum­mit, where he met with state and lo­cal of­fi­cials, re­gional part­ners from Penn­syl­va­nia and Vir­ginia, and mem­bers of the sci­en­tific, re­search and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy com­mu­ni­ties to dis­cuss the sediment is­sue. Ear­lier in the morn­ing, Ho­gan ad­dressed a sem­i­nar spon­sored by the Na­tional Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion’s Wa­ter Pol­icy Learn­ing Net­work, which he co-chairs along with Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Jerry Brown.

Nearly 200 mil­lion tons of sediment and pol­lu­tants are trapped be­hind the dam, and medium-to-large storms can in­crease river flow, forc­ing sediment through the dam and into the Bay.

Sediment, ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rous are three pol­lu­tants that could harm the bay. Sediment can be a shock to ecosys­tems, cloud­ing the wa­ter and block­ing sun­light, thereby harm­ing un­der­wa­ter veg­e­ta­tion and there­fore other un­der­wa­ter or­gan­isms like fish and crabs.

Ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rous have sim­i­lar ef­fects. They can cause se­vere al­gae blooms, which have a dou­bly neg­a­tive im­pact: they can cre­ate dead zones, where there is no oxy­gen to sup­port ma­rine life, and they can also block sun­light, in the same way sediment does.

Sci­en­tists and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates had been di­vided over the dam’s im­pact on pollution in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, but ex­perts are now in con­sen­sus that the sediment backup is pos­ing a ma­jor threat, some­thing Ho­gan and like-minded al­lies had been say­ing for years.

“The sci­en­tific com­mu­nity is now in com­plete agree­ment with our as­sess­ment,” Ho­gan said.

Mary­land Sec­re­tary of the En­vi­ron­ment Ben Grum­bles told APG Me­dia that the buildup rep­re­sents “one of the big­gest un­ad­dressed is­sues” in the cleanup of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, and with­out ad­dress­ing it Mary­land would be un­able to achieve its 2025 restora­tion goal. Even with­out pe­ri­odic storm surges, the max­i­mum buildup means sediment scour, or leak­age, from be­hind the dam is an ev­ery­day is­sue af­fect­ing the health of the bay, Grum­bles added.

Last year, the gov­er­nor cre­ated a multi-agency work­group and is­sued re­quests for in­for­ma­tion to de­ter­mine what in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions could be de­vel­oped to re­move the sediment.

“Our ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued an RFI, a re­quest for in­for­ma­tion, to iden­tify cost ef­fec­tive dredg­ing so­lu­tions in­clud­ing ben­e­fi­cial or in­no­va­tive uses for sediment and as­so­ci­ated nu­tri­ents be­hind the dam,” Ho­gan said.

Now, the gov­er­nor is seek­ing full-fledged pro­pos­als for dredg­ing the sediment and how to re­use the dredged ma­te­rial.

A bid is ex­pected to be awarded in the fall, with dredg­ing be­ing com­pleted by March 1.

This first RFP is just a pi­lot test to de­ter­mine the ef­fi­cacy of dredg­ing. Bid­ding com­pa­nies will be asked to demon­strate how they will dredge the ma­te­rial, what they will use it for and how much it will cost. Ho­gan de­scribed the pi­lot as a “demon­stra­tion.”

At first, the com­pany will dredge just 25,000 cu­bic yards of ma­te­rial — a tiny frac­tion of the es­ti­mated 31 mil­lion cu­bic yards built up be­hind the dam. At that point, ex­perts will re­view the ma­te­rial, the im­pact on the bay and what the com­pany could do with the ma­te­rial.

Roy McGrath, di­rec­tor of the Mary­land En­vi­ron­men­tal Ser­vice, said one of the goals is to “find in­no­va­tive uses to use the ex­tracted sediment.”

The state will bear the cost of the bid, which will be de­ter­mined by the bid process. If the pi­lot’s re­sults are pos­i­tive, the ad­min­is­tra­tion will seek larger scale bids to deal with the prob­lem.

Ex­elon, the dam’s owner, is not pay­ing for the pi­lot. Reached for com­ment, a spokesper­son said Ex­elon is will­ing to work with Ho­gan and other par­ties on a so­lu­tion.

“Ex­elon Gen­er­a­tion be­lieves pro­tect­ing the vi­tal­ity of the Bay is a multi-stake­holder, multi-state is­sue, and we con­tinue to work with all par­ties, in­clud­ing Gov. Ho­gan and his ad­min­is­tra­tion, to en­sure the Lower Susque­hanna River re­tains its im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal and recre­ational ben­e­fits,” Ex­elon spokesper­son Deena O’Brien said.

The ex­pected im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment from the pi­lot bid is min­i­mal, but Ho­gan said he hopes it leads to a stronger so­lu­tion.

“It will tell us whether it’s fea­si­ble to con­tinue to make a larger in­vest­ment here so that we can ad­dress this is­sue,” Ho­gan said.

A fi­nal bid, Ho­gan said, may be paid for by a group of par­ties. He said he has had con­ver­sa­tions with Ex­elon and up­stream states about pay­ing for the dredg­ing.

Asked whether he’d con­sider ask­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Brian Frosh to take le­gal ac­tion against Penn­syl­va­nia and New York in or­der to push them to as­sist, Ho­gan didn’t rule it out. Just last month, Mary­land of­fi­cials an­nounced they were do­ing just that in a case against the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, af­ter they ar­gued that the EPA failed to en­force air emis­sions stan­dards on up­wind states, im­pact­ing Mary­land’s air qual­ity.

“If it comes down to that, we would,” Ho­gan said. “If we have to, we’ll file suit against the EPA and the up­stream states.”

State Sen. Mi­nor­ity Whip Stephen Her­shey, R-Up­per Shore, agreed that le­gal ac­tion may be nec­es­sary.

“If it’s some­thing that at the end of the day helps Mary­land, then why not?” he said, point­ing out Frosh’s nu­mer­ous law­suits against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

One or­ga­ni­za­tion that, like Ho­gan, has staunchly ad­vo­cated for the Conowingo Dam sediment cleanup is the Clean Ch­e­sa­peake Coali­tion, of which Ce­cil County is a party, rep­re­sented by At­tor­ney Charles “Chip” Ma­cLeod. He said he was “de­lighted” by the an­nounce­ment.

“For the Clean Ch­e­sa­peake Coali­tion, we think it’s long over­due,” he said. “The RFP is go­ing to an­swer a lot of ques­tions.”

For Ma­cLeod, is

“Maybe the down­play­ing and the de­nial is over,” he said.

Her­shey said that, while en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists had al­ways down­played the dam’s im­pact, fo­cus­ing on farm runoff in­stead, he and oth­ers put the spot­light on the dam. He said the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion called the fo­cus on the dam a “red her­ring.”

“This is where (the pollution) is hap­pen­ing,” Her­shey said.

Al­li­son Prost, the foun­da­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for Mary­land, said that while dredg­ing is worth ex­plor­ing, more work still needs to be done to pre­vent pollution from en­ter­ing the bay.

“We do worry that peo­ple are go­ing to look at the dam at some sil­ver bul­let to clean the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, and we do not agree with that,” she said Tues­day. “Clean­ing up the dam is not go­ing to stop pol­lut­ing our lo­cal wa­ters and streams.” the an­nounce­ment “vin­di­ca­tion.”

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JA­COB OWENS

Gov. Larry Ho­gan an­nounces an up­com­ing re­quest for pro­pos­als to deal with a buildup of sediment be­hind the Conowingo Dam dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in Dar­ling­ton on Tues­day, as Mary­land Sec­re­tary of Nat­u­ral Re­sources Mark Bel­ton, cen­ter, and Sec­re­tary of the En­vi­ron­ment Ben Grum­bles look on.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JA­COB OWENS

Gov. Larry Ho­gan and mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion get an aerial view of the Conowingo Dam and the sediment built up be­hind it Tues­day be­fore a press con­fer­ence.

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