In its role as equal-opportunity protector of the state’s environment, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has found itself caught between a creek and a hard place – or a lot of rock and an environmentally-sensitive wet place, if you prefer – dealing with a road improvement project in Jarrettsville.
The State Highway Administration is proposing a $9.2 million project to shift, widen, and straighten Route 24 through Rocks State Park, but it may ultimately be up to DNR to decide whether the construction will disturb the protected waters of Deer Creek or blast even deeper into the famous rock that gives the park its name.
During a public information session organized and hosted by SHA officials Tuesday night, DNR representative Arnold “Butch” Norden acknowledged his agency had not yet recommended with which plan SHA should proceed – the one that disturbs the creek or the one that blasts away the rock.
Norden, chief of resource management with the Maryland Park Service, said DNR hasn’t given support one way or another and is still weighing which deserves more protection Deer Creek or the rocks at Rocks, but “would not be a roadblock” to the project.
The project is needed, according to SHA, because Deer Creek is scouring away at its banks and creeping dangerously close to Route 24 as it winds through Rocks State Park. In some places, this erosion has caused utility poles and traffic barriers to lean. In other areas, it has led to cracked pavement and pooling water. Eventually, SHA contends, without stabilization of Deer Creek’s bank or a shift of the road away from the encroaching waterway (and through the solid rock on the other side), the safety of motorists traveling along that section of Route 24 (currently at a pace of 5,850 vehicles per day) could be jeopardized.
So SHA has proposed three options to remedy the problem:
– Hold the existing centerline of the road.
– Shift the road 10 feet from Deer Creek.
– Shift the road 20 feet from Deer Creek – with the additional options of adding a retaining wall along the west side of the stream.
The “do-nothing” option would require major stream bank stabilization work to be conducted within Deer Creek, doesn’t separate vehicle traffic from bicycles on Route 24, allows for only a two-foot shoulder on each side of the road, and is generally deemed not desirable by park staff or environmental agencies because of the amount of disturbance that will have to be done to the creek. This option disturbs the creek heavily, but involves no blasting or cutting of rock.
The “10-foot-shift” option would still require work in the creek and on the slopes, allows for an increase in the shoulder size, but disturbs 0.4 acres of forest when crews cut 10 feet through the rock outcrops opposite the creek. This option disturbs the creek and rock about equally.
The “20-foot-shift” option eliminates the need for stream bank stabilization whatsoever, separates vehicular and bike traffic, widens the shoulders to five feet, and creates a 20-foot grassy area between Deer Creek and Route 24, which project planners expect will be used recreationally by fishermen and park visitors. However, this plan disturbs 0.7 to 0.84 acres of forest and requires significant blasting to cut 20 feet into the rock in some places. This option does little to disturb the creek directly, but involves the most intensive blasting and cutting into the rock.
On the southern end of the project, where traffic first enters Rocks State Park on Route 24, the third option is split off into two separate sub-options – a 20-foot shift with a retaining wall and a 20-foot shift without a retaining wall.
Both of the 20-foot-shift options trade minimal disturbance of Deer Creek for an increased rock blasting operation. In one version of the plan, a large and unpleasant-looking retaining wall would cut abruptly through the rocky terrain to allow the road to be shifted away from the creek.
In the other version of the plan, a gradual, sloping hillside would be implemented to allow the road to be shifted without need for the retaining wall. However, this version also contains one other deviation – it calls for the removal of a house on the hill.
Ten or so attendees wandered around the cafeteria of North Harford High Tuesday evening, including a few members of the Whiteford/Cardiff/Pylesville/Street Community Council, who are concerned that closing Route 24 for several months in each of the next two years could force additional traffic onto the already dangerous and excessively-travelled Route 543. Also in attendance was the owner of the lone residence jeopardized by the project.
One option proposed by SHA would bring Route 24 about 20 feet closer to the home he’s owned for 27 years.
Another option would bring an SHA real estate appraiser to his front door making him an offer for his home.
An SHA representative explained the situation to the home owner and listened patiently as the man told a potentially-tragic tale of how he planned on selling his home and property in about 20 years to provide him with the financial means for retirement.
While courteous and understanding, the SHA representative was clear the state would pay only the current market value for the house and land, not the estimated value it might have a few decades from now.
Even as he was left to ponder the fate of his home and carefully constructed retirement plan, the jeopardized homeowner admitted the conditions were such that “something had to be done” about keeping Deer Creek away from Route 24.
DNR and SHA hope to have decided on with which option to proceed with the northern portion of the project by spring 2010 and anticipate construction to begin in summer 2010. The southern portion of the project would begin in summer 2011. Each construction period will last several months, during which Route 24 will be closed to through traffic and access to the park and creek will be restricted.
More details on the project can be found on the SHA website.
A second, identical public meeting on the Route 24 slope protection project is scheduled for Thursday, December 17 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at North Harford High School.
Brian, since you travel this road at least twice daily, what are your thoughts as to which option is most viable? Which option do you prefer? The thought of blasting into rock seems a bit overwhelming to me.
People drive to fast in the park now , How much faster will thy go once you straighten out the road? Watch out hikers , bikers And fisherman …
I travel this road daily. I believe the best option is one that was not mentioned. There needs to be erosion devices placed in the west side of the stream in the areas there are no rock to keep the stream bank from washing out. Then the road can be fixed in its current place. Even if the road is shifted 20 feet one day the current situation will reappear. When there is a bad rain upstream there is a lot of water pushing its way through there that is going to continue to happen. I hate the idea of them blasting the rocks. I also disagree with the idea of adding the bike lanes. I encounter plently of bike riders through the park and as the speed limit is only 25 it is not a problem to wait to go around them. I believe the concept of closing Rocks for 2 consecutive summers is poor idea for SHA. Rocks might be a small road but it is a connecting road between the people in the northern end and Bel Air. I would never consider using their suggested detour route down 165 to 23. That route would be twice the distance for me to get to Forest Hill. I would take Grier Nursery like many of the others. Then you add the problems that too many people already go too fast down Grier Nursery and it wont be able to handle the extra traffic. What SHA needs to keep in mind is that while Rocks might have a state road running through it, it is also an State Park. We do not need to turn it into a highway. Make repairs to the road, put erosion control devices in the areas that are needed and leave it alone!!
Magik Columbine says
Kind of like they did on Cromwell Bridge Rd right where the bottom of the Loch Raven Resevoir hits it?
vietnam vet says
Lorrie my sentiment Exactly.
Brian–Thank you for covering this project. Re the 0-10-20 foot options…When we evaluate the likely outcome(and when we interfere with a water course, all outcomes are probabalistic) of the three approaches, we have to consider what we mean by “disturb the creek.” Dumping rock in the creek, or erecting a retaining wall to deflect the current is clearly disturbing the creek since the stuff is IN the creek.
However, to say that removing forest and blasting rock and dirt that is adjacent to the creek “does little to disturb the creek directly” is only true in the sense that the the removal and blasting is not physically in the creek. The first heavy rain event that occurs after the removal/blasting will indeed directly disturb the creek when dirt and rubble and increased water floods off the steep slopes into the creek.
I’m glad that DNR has a vote on this project. SHA is clearly thinking about the road; somebody needs to be the spokesman for the creek.
I have put this in another article on this subject…erosion control after rebuilding the stream bank vis “mats”. Mats are concrete blocks laced together with cordage and are for this exact purpose. This would allow for retaining the exact road as is. I would also restrict the trucks from it…as its not necessary to transit the county.
Futher……!!!! This road is not necessary for commercial traffic. Commercial traffic can reach any destination north or south without using this road…cut and dry. It’s a beautiful route and should be preserved as is.
Go Dagger !
If it is that beautiful, we should restrict all traffic. What is worse, 100 cars or one truck?
Bill, I know you are being sarcastic but there are roads that should absolutely not have commercial traffic on them and Rocks Rd is one of them. The size of the trucks and the speed at which they travel combined with the sharp curves is a disaster waiting to happen. RichieC seems to know of some sort of erosion control method which would seem to be a relatively non-invasive and smart solution. Of course that would entail the State spending millions of more tax dollars for another feasiblity study.
jimmy stillwell says
the mindless shitheads that come up with these hair-brained schemes have no clue as to what maketh a pristine, natural area….look at Yosemite, Yellowstone, King’s Canyon…what do you see…you see arrangements made to preserve the natural beauty of the area….The Rocks of Deer Creek are historic…whatever can be done to preserve that beauty and quietude will be best…
native, not naive says
1)Leave it alone.
2) Waste millions of dollars in straightening, smoothing, and widening, then police the shit out of it.
I vote for # 1
Deborah Bowers says
This is a copy of my letter to Ms. Tian sent this past weekend.
Ms. Jialin Tian
Re: MD 24 (Rocks Road) “Slope Protection” Project
Dear Ms. Tian:
I attended the Dec. 17 meeting. I strongly disagree with the approach to the problems as they’ve been presented. I would favor a streambank restoration approach, which addresses the cause of the problem, not moving the road, which addresses the symptom.
This project will destroy much of the scenic beauty of this place, which people in our community, as well as many people in the Baltimore region, have come to know intimately over many generations. The project will literally blow up and pave over a large part of the La Grange Ironworks site, which has generated increased local interest in recent years.
I am also concerned about the loss of a colony of rare Dutchmen’s Britches that grow at the Section A site – the only place in the park – and to my knowledge, in the whole area – where they can be found. Their being right along the road has allowed me, over the years, to show them to a number of people who otherwise would have been unable to see them.
I don’t believe SHA or any of the agency personnel involved in designing this project have any idea how much fondness the community has for this area.
The environmental agencies opposing streambank work is the most disturbing aspect of the proposal. Am I to understand that streambank restoration is not to be undertaken because it will cause stream disturbance?? What is it that happens whenever we get a hard rain? The state is unable to address the true cause of erosion, so, why bother to fix its result? Is this the policy? I find this very disturbing and completely contrary to Maryland’s promise to work on improving the Chesapeake Bay.
There are, as I am sure you are aware, bioengineering techniques for streambank restoration in use all over the country that Maryland can adapt. I’m sure every stream situation is different, but I feel some technique can be used in Deer Creek that would improve fish habitat as well as restore stability to the streambank.
I would like to know is there any reason why streambank restoration should not be pursued? Disturbance will occur, of course, but it will be temporary and the results will be lasting. Please respond to this question: why streambank restoration, rather than relocating the road, should not be pursued?
Sincerely, Deborah Bowers, 900 La Grange Rd.
Porter G says
As I understand it, the streambank stabilization option (do not move the road) is opposed by the environmental agencies, because it decreases the cross-sectional area of the creek. This is unfavorable, because it will increase the velocity of the creek, which will have enviromental impacts downstream. I didn’t think they did a very good job of explaining the rationale for the opposition of that option by the environmental agencies.