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Hart-Miller Island again being considered for dredge containment

An aerial view of Hart-Miller Island in Baltimore County.

Posted on May 1, 2024

Tradepoint Atlantic wants to fast track plans to build a deep water container terminal in Eastern Baltimore County. But to do that, it needs permission to dump dredge on a nearby island that years ago was at the center of a legal fight over dredging.

Tradepoint is hoping it can convince the community that depositing dredge again on Hart-Miller Island would be a win-win deal.

With the site of the collapsed Key Bridge in the distance Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint Atlantic’s Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs, talked about the future, when the global logistics center will have a deep water port that can handle big container vessels, like the ones that currently are blocked from the Port of Baltimore.

The plan is for it to open in 2028. Tomarchio said they have a way that it could open in 2026 instead.

“Looking at fast-forwarding that, it would take a solution on finding a place for the dredge material that we’re going to need to find a place for, to create that 50 foot channel that’s needed for those large container vessels,” Tomarchio said.

He said that solution is Hart-Miller Island, which for years was used to store dredge from Baltimore’s harbor before the facility was shut down by the state in 2009. That would speed things up because Tradepoint wouldn’t have to build a containment facility for dredge, the muck that is scooped up from the bottom of waterways.

“We’ve been having conversations about utilizing an existing facility to take the dredge material that it’s designed to take and see if we can fast forward the over 7,000 jobs that will result with this new container terminal coming online,” Tomarchio said.

He added that it would send a message to the global shipping community that “Baltimore is back, bigger, better, more resilient.”

Hart-Miller Island viewed from the beach at Rocky Point Park in Baltimore County.

Standing on the beach at Rocky Point Park, near where Back River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, Hart-Miller Island is about a half mile away, its beach and treeline clearly in view. Sam Weaver, who owns Weaver’s Marine Service in Essex, points to the beach that people enjoy in the summer. There is a ranger’s station and bathrooms nearby.

“On a weekend there’ll be 4-500 boats out here,” Weaver said.

In the 1970s and 80s, nearby residents tried unsuccessfully to stop the dumping of dredge on the island, fearing an environmental disaster. The legal case went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court.

But here’s the thing.

While Weaver opposed the dredging back then, he’s now thankful for it. Weaver said all that dredging material formed one island from two, Hart and Miller.

“When I was a kid, Miller’s Island was almost gone,” Weaver said. “There was very little left. And Hart Island was getting smaller and smaller from erosion.”

Officials said the island has the capacity to handle the dredge that would come from Tradepoint, but that the operation would be away from the beach area.

Northern shovelers fly along Hart-Miller Island in Baltimore County.

Republican Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents Eastern Baltimore County, said he was skeptical at first about Tradepoint’s plans. He calls the island a gem. It’s now a state park. It’s a haven for migratory birds.

Crandell said, “It does touch on an emotional issue in our area, Hart-Miller Island, and reopening the island up for dredge material.”

But Crandell is open to talking about it, and that’s what’s happening now. In the closing days of the 2024 General Assembly, legislation passed that allows Tradepoint to make its pitch to the community. Then the project would go forward only if the County Council and Executive Johnny Olszewski agree by the end of the year.

Olszewski said, “We recognize the history here. We are committed, if this happens, right and it’s an if, that the community has to be bought in and has to be a part of that process.”

To sweeten the deal, Tradepoint likely would pay for improvements on Hart-Miller Island.

Crandell said that could turn the island into a “national treasure.”

Crandell said, “It’s an opportunity worth taking a look at.”

Paul Brylske, the president of the Friends of Hart-Miller Island, said they want Tradepoint to pony up at least $50 million for the island. The money would be used to make the island a destination for recreation and for environmental education.

“There’s no place really for children or the community to actually gather, like a visitor’s center,” Brylske said.

His organization would like additional money for nearby communities that could be spent on services like fire and rescue.

Brylske said Tradepoint would save a lot of money by not having to build a facility.

“We’re also moving the timeline up by two years which allows them to get this project going and to have profit,” Brylske said.

He added that in years past, when it came to environmental justice, Eastern Baltimore County was marginalized and even exploited.

Brylske said they want to see a plan on how the dredging would be environmentally safe.

Brylske said, “There is a way of balancing business, economic benefit, safety, environmental concerns and community benefit.”

“The EPA’s going to be up their butts,” Weaver said. “They’re not going to put anything in there that’s not safe enough to put in there.”


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