The fourth meeting of the committee formed to find a better way to improve roadway and creek erosion conditions along Route 24 through Rocks State Park ended Monday night with lengthy negotiations over future of controversial rock drilling in the popular park.
The end result was just the sort of compromise government officials and local residents had hoped for when they came together to form the group, known as the MD 24 Advisory Committee, about five months ago – drilling and boring for rock samples will resume within Rocks State Park, but in a reduced and much more cautious manner; and only after the public and other state agencies have been given advanced notice of approximately how many borings will occur and roughly when they will take place.
Monday night’s meeting, held at the McFaul Activities Center in Bel Air, also saw the committee agree to proceed with further study of four potential plans that would either remedy the erosion of Deer Creek through the park or move Route 24 far enough away from the water so the roadway is no longer endangered.
To be able to further study those proposed plans, however, requires the State Highway Administration to proceed with six- to nine-month-long hydrologic and hydraulic studies as well as finishing the previously aborted rock borings. That means the committee will not meet again until December at the earliest, and work within the park, aside from engineering, planning and bore sampling, is not likely to begin until 2011.
Anything But Boring
Six months ago, SHA removed workers who had been drilling for soil samples and cutting trees along the hillside just south of St. Clair Bridge Road in Rocks State Park after residents and members of the community activist group Save the Rocks complained the work was unnecessary.
As a result of the community uprising, SHA agreed to halt all rock boring in the park until a later date. That date could be announced shortly, after the committee came to an agreement over terms of a restart of the drilling.
The committee was nearly at an impasse, with citizens arguing that rock samples needn’t be taken from the outermost reaches of the option which would cut back the rock the furthest when it’s unlikely that plan will even receive serious consideration. Meanwhile, state and federal agency representatives explained that government regulations require them to study even the plans with the highest level of disturbance, even if it’s highly doubtful that option will be chosen, just to fulfill regulatory guidelines.
Daryl Anthony, Central Region Manager for the Department of Natural Resources, empathized with the citizens and said the rock drilling is unpleasant, but needed.
“Unfortunately, we deal with these borings in state parks every day. It is horrible for us. We take the brunt of it all the time, but it’s a necessary evil,” he said.
By way of example, Anthony explained how four wells recently had to be drilled at Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area in Cecil County. It was a simple well-drilling operation, but, when four well drilling trucks pulled up simultaneously at the site, residents of the area feared the worst and rumors began to fly – some even claiming that work was underway for a new slots casino at the site, Anthony said. Well drilling services usually operate with full consideration of their surroundings, so you could imagine just how shocked Anthony was.
In search of a compromise, representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed that if SHA can use the results from rock borings closer to the road to extrapolate the data outward with a high level of confidence, those agencies would preliminarily agree to accept the extrapolated data rather than require SHA to continue drilling and cutting down trees further into park property.
Further, to avoid a repeat of the fiasco from late-January, SHA agreed to pre-coordinate with DNR the amount and timing of the borings within the park. A rough outline of that information will also be presented to Save the Rocks to help inform the public about the drilling and why it is occurring.
Four Proposals Under Study
The committee also agreed Monday night to proceed with the study of four proposals for dealing with the creek erosion and road conditions along Route 24 through Rocks State Park.
The road, rocks, and creek would be left untouched, but for regular routine maintenance.
Eventually, routine maintenance will be non-viable to ensure public safety and as the roadway fails and erodes into the creek SHA would be required to swoop in, close Route 24, and immediately complete an emergency repair of the failure.
The roadway would be shifted away from Deer Creek in only the most critical areas.
This shift would require excavation of up to 10 feet of rocks in some areas, with as much as 25-foot limits of disturbance on the rock face side of the road.
Minimal stream and slope work would be conducted under this option and the creek would be allowed to continue to eat away at the bank with less concern as the road would be moved 10 feet away.
Extensive rock excavation and disturbances of 60 feet or more would be required to shift the roadway as much as 20 feet west of its current location.
Nearly all rock outcroppings along Route 24 would be removed.
There would be virtually no disturbance of Deer Creek and little concern of the creek eating its way over to the road in its new location 20 feet away anytime soon.
No rock excavation whatsoever would be conducted in this option, and instead the erosion would be dealt with in the creek via construction of a wall of natural stacked stone configured to the geometry of the stream for a distance of 200 to 500 feet along the toe of the sloping creek bank.
The roadway would maintain its current path and distance from the creek and live tree planting and aggressive landscaping would stabilize the banks.
While avoiding any blasting or cutting of the rocks, this option calls for the most disturbance of Deer Creek, including construction of a temporary stream diversion to channel water away from the shore while the rock wall is constructed.
Other stabilization techniques, such as root wads/log-cribbing and cross vanes – incorporating fallen, anchored trees and arranged boulders to divert water – were investigated, but deemed unsuitable for this project according to SHA.
Anthony, who at one point made it clear that DNR is not likely to support the maximum shift option that would carve away all the popular rock outcroppings along Route 24, noted it is important to consider that the hikers, kayakers, and fishermen are in the minority when considering those who most frequently visit Rocks State Park.
“Unfortunately, 90 percent of those who value Rocks do so through the windows of their car,” he said.
Anthony’s point was that, for most visitors, the beauty of the park is visible in the form of the rock faces alongside Route 24, which, if removed, would be noticed by all visitors to the park. The stone wall, if chosen as the most viable option, would only be seen by fishermen, kayakers, and those viewing the bank of the creek from within the water.
The committee will continue to mull over and tweak the four proposed options for the next six months while SHA completes its rock and water studies, but is not expected to meet again until December.
Note: The author is a member of the MD 24 Advisory Committee and Save the Rocks.