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Pearce Creek Solutions Move Forward Under Residents’ Watch

Posted on March 16, 2016

About three dozen people gathered in the community room of the Parklands at Cecilton complex Friday morning to hear the latest developments on the remediation of the Dredge Material Containment Area (DMCA) and building of a public water service line to the Pearce Creek communities.

It was a different mood than the first meetings with those Earleville residents nearly three years ago, when a U.S. Geological Survey report found that disposal of dredge spoils there had degraded water quality in local wells. Several harmful, albeit naturally occurring, contaminants were found in varying levels in water samples of that study.

Over the past few years, officials from the Maryland Port Authority, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Department of the Environment, Maryland Department of Planning, the town of Cecilton and Cecil County have all helped develop a plan to seal the 260-acre site with a synthetic liner that aims to prevent leaching of contaminants from dredge spoils into local water tables while also running a public water service line to the West View Shores, Bay View Estates and Sunset Pointe communities. On Friday, many of those officials updated residents on their progress during a bimonthly meeting of the Pearce Creek Implementation Committee.

Gavin Kaiser, of the Corps of Engineers, said nearly two months of clearing, surveying and grading work has been completed at the DMCA site by the Corps’ contractor, Sealaska. About half of all the synthetic liner material needed to cover the site has also arrived on site and officials expect to host a tour of site work in April for residents, Kaiser said.

The Corps has applied for a one-year extension of its MDE water quality certificate, needed before dredge spoil can be placed at the Pearce Creek DMCA again. Officials also anticipate finishing a groundwater and discharge management plan by October, which will ensure that the liner is working properly into the future.

Meanwhile, Cecilton Mayor Joe Zang reported that residents should be receiving public water at their homes in about two years.

“Our bids came back well within our calculated costs, so we’ll be moving forward shortly,” he said.

All of the project cost will be shouldered by MPA, which is in desperate need of a disposal site for channel dredging heading to the Port of Baltimore. Eastern States, of Wilmington, Del., was the lowest of three bidders for the installation of water lines to the affected homes at a total of $4.66 to $4.8 million, while Reybold, of Bear, Del., was the lowest of four bidders for the distribution work at a total of $3.75 to $4 million.

Work on each of those segments is estimated to take about a year, but will be done simultaneously, said Chris Rogers, of Cecilton’s contracted engineering firm AECOM. An additional year will be needed to extend service lines to all affected lots, but homes will be allowed to begin service as soon as a connection is completed.

Rogers also reported that all bidders reported concerns about the weight of their equipment on the communities’ roads, saying it would “destroy” them. Therefore, the MPA authorized an additional $345,000 to repave the roads in West View Shores and Bay View Estates according to their current composition. Sunset Pointe, which lies on a higher quality county road, may not face the same dangers. All repaving would carry a one-year warranty through the contractor.

Finally, Karin Olsen, with the environmental and engineering consulting firm Anchor QEA, provided residents with the first results from surface water and sediment testing that while be conducted twice a year in the Pearce Creek area for the next three years.

MPA officials are committed to showing local residents that they know what effect dredge spoil disposal will have on local waters, so they hired Anchor QEA to study the health of the nearby Elk River and Pearce Creek Lake before and after the first spoils are scheduled to be disposed of at Peace Creek in October 2017.

The consultant’s test examined 10 sampling locations: seven in Pearce Creek Lake near the DMCA’s discharge point and one farther away as a reference, and one in the Elk River near the outflow from Pearce Creek Lake with another one farther away as a reference.

Of the 18 chemicals tested for in the surface water, only one — zinc — exceeded water quality standards at one site in Pearce Creek Lake, a result that Olsen said was not uncommon in the Chesapeake Bay. Future testing will determine if the finding is something to actually worry about, she noted.

In sediment testing, levels of nickel higher than what scientists like to see were detected in Pearce Creek Lake, while other metals were found in less concerning degrees. Olsen again stressed that such findings, while not perfect, are not of great concern in the Chesapeake Bay, where higher nickel concentrations are common.

“I didn’t see anything in these data sets that I haven’t seen in most of the other dredge sites that I’ve worked,” she told the crowd.

Meanwhile, lab-controlled benthic bioassays, or 10-day growth studies of organisms that live in or on sediment, found that both Pearce Creek Lake and the Elk River were not toxic and had high survival rates for organisms. A further organism survey at the location found that both the lake and river met Chesapeake Bay restoration goal levels in most cases, with only one Pearce Creek Lake site drawing results of concern for further study, Olsen said.

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