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A MAPP to the Mattawoman's Demise
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by Matttawoman Watershed Society | 2011

The Mattawoman creek is in major jeopardy of being irreparably harmed through the creation of the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway which would call for the deforestation of 100 acres and the destruction of 76 acres of permanent wetland. We must take up action to prevent this atrocity from occurring.

A MAPP to the Mattawoman’s Demise?

 

Readers of Chesapeake are familiar with the plight of Mattawoman Creek, a priority conservation project of the Maryland Chapter. Heralded as one of the Bay’s best fish spawning and nursery grounds, this twenty-mile river and sinuous tidal-freshwater estuary opening to the Potomac River has been under assault by asphalt for some time.

 State and federal agencies warned of potential trouble some twenty years ago, when Charles County concocted the concept of a “development district”—30% larger than Washington, D.C.—to institutionalize sprawl development across Mattawoman’s mostly forested watershed.

Today, these warnings are coming true, according to a recent report by the Department of Natural Resources. The health of Mattawoman’s fish communities began sliding several years ago when the watershed passed about 8% coverage by surfaces impervious to rainwater, as expected according to recent research. Yet, the onslaught continues. In an area important to spawning migratory fish, Charles County has proposed growth-inducing mega-projects like the Cross County Connector, an airport expansion, a tech park, and zoning to convert the one-stoplight town of Bryans Road into a new edge city.

Now the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway, or MAPP, emerges as a new threat. MAPP, a proposed extra-high-voltage transmission circuit, lay sleeping until last October, when PEPCO Holdings, Inc. applied for permits to deforest 118 acres of wetlands along a 52 mile right-of-way. This is the largest wetland permit ever considered by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Coincidentally, together with PATH (Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline), MAPP is also a Chapter priority in its campaign against “coal by wire.”

The current permit application pertains to one segment of the entire MAPP proposal, which would run 230 miles from the Potomac River’s Possum Point in Virginia to Salem, NJ. In Maryland, MAPP would cross the Potomac River on new towers to Moss Point below Mattawoman’s mouth, then traverse Charles, Prince Georges, and Calvert counties in a widened right-of-way. From there it would cross the Chesapeake Bay just north of Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant, dive underground for 23 miles beneath the Choptank River, and then cross Dorchester and Wicomico Counties to the Indian River power plant in Delaware. ( The remaining segment to Salem, NJ is presently on hold.)

The impacts of the 52-mile segment now before MDE and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), would affect Mattawoman, Nanjemoy, and Piscataway Creeks, Zekiah Swamp, and the Patuxent River. The impacts arise because the new 500-kilovolt circuit would be strung for most of its distance on the vacant side of existing towers, which requires forest clearing. The results are not benign. A widened clear-cut usurps habitat from forest interior dwellers, impairs important wetland and floodplain functions, potentially desiccates vernal pools, impedes wildlife migration, and promotes dispersal of invasive plants.

 Mattawoman would bear the brunt of MAPP’s damage, as the widened path would cross 27 streams, deforest 76 acres of permanent wetland, and clear another 100 acres of forest. All at a time when the watershed’s forest loss is approaching ~50%, beyond which the landscape loses its ability to fully protect the creek from damaging runoff, even in the absence of impervious cover. At such a time, maintaining a fully functioning wetlands should be a priority.

The proponents of MAPP have been employing a multi-pronged public relations effort. PEPCO Holdings, Inc. targets the general public with claims that the lights will go out without the new circuit, and that the line will create jobs. The corporation soothes the environmental community with claims that MAPP is critical to distribute offshore wind-generated power. But independent professional assessments find that MAPP is not needed for reliable power, especially as other measures are taken to relieve transmission congestion. Any jobs would be temporary, but come at the cost of permanent and irreversible degradation of the water quality and natural resources that employ those servicing birders, boaters, paddlers, hikers, bikers, anglers, hunters, and all who appreciate wildlife and green spaces. And the 600 MW expected from current offshore wind projects would be absorbed on the eastern shore, Baltimore, and other east coast cities, without any need to cross the Potomac River. The distribution of this power might also be better met with alternatives, such as a proposed route near the head of the Chesapeake Bay that appears to be less environmentally damaging.

While the comment period to MDE and the Army Corps closed on March 1, Sierrans can still do their part by participating in an Army Corps hearing if one is granted in response to requests by the Sierra Club, Mattawoman Watershed Society, and others. There, requests can be offered for an Environmental Impact Statement to assure that a widely scoped analysis of alternatives is conducted. Please stay tuned!         n

 

This article was contributed by the Mattawoman Watershed Society.

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