Court Sends Abingdon Woods Wetlands Permit Back to MDE for Failure to Consider Riverkeeper’s Public Comments
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 09/10/2020
Theaux Le Gardeur, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monkton, MD —The Harford County Circuit Court recently granted Gunpowder Riverkeeper’s request to remand the Nontidal Wetlands and Waterways Permit for the proposed Abingdon Woods development back to Maryland Department of Environment (“MDE”). The court determined that the agency had failed to provide a public comment opportunity required for “Tier II” high quality waters anti-degradation review and Socio-Economic Justification analysis.
This review and analysis, an essential part of the MDE’s permit approval was not made available for public review and comment to Riverkeeper and the public until after the Permit was approved, and more than six months after the comment period had closed.
Tier II Waters are Maryland’s highest quality waterways. Abingdon Woods is a 330-acre parcel of forested wetlands in the Bush River watershed that contains part of the Tier II high quality watershed of Otter Point Creek I. Abingdon Woods is also the last significant stand of forest in the Bush watershed before it reaches the Chesapeake Bay.
Gunpowder Riverkeeper brought this challenge, represented by Chesapeake Legal Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to protect and restore clean water and promote healthy, resilient ecosystems for communities across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Gunpowder Riverkeeper challenged the state’s permit approval because it failed to protect water quality and because MDE failed to provide adequate opportunity for public review and comment on essential elements of the approved permit.
Prior to the challenge, the MDE permit allowed impacts to the Tier II watershed, nontidal wetlands, buffers, waterways, and floodplain within the site to be developed into a two million square foot industrial warehouse complex. These sensitive areas, including the last stand of forest would be replaced with hundreds of acres of impervious surface.
The Court agreed that Riverkeeper was prevented from submitting public comments to MDE regarding the project’s Tier II Antidegradation Review and Socio-economic Justification and sent the Permit back to MDE to correct this procedural flaw.
The Court stated: “that the matter is to be remanded to the MDE for the limited purpose of reopening the comment section, to allow the Petitioners to provide comments on the Tier II Antidegradation review and Socio-Economic
Justification analysis filed by the Applicant on January 22, 2020, and for the MDE to consider these objections as part of its decision on the permit application.”
With this order, the Circuit Court preserved Gunpowder Riverkeeper’s public participation rights and established important precedent by underscoring that MDE must strictly adhere to public notice and comment requirements and ensure that the public is given adequate opportunity to review and comment on all essential elements of permit approval and renewal proceedings under Maryland’s Environmental Code.
“We were unlawfully prevented from exercising our rights to review essential parts of this Permit and provide the State with comments to consider in their Permit review process,” said Theaux Le Gardeur, the Gunpowder Riverkeeper. “We are thrilled with the Court’s decision to send the Permit back to MDE and grant us our opportunity to provide comments for MDE consideration in re-evaluating the Permit.”
Gunpowder Riverkeeper is a grassroots, advocacy based 501 (C) (3) membership based organization charged with protecting, conserving and restoring the Gunpowder and Bush Rivers and their Watersheds. We champion the enforcement and compliance of environmental laws to protect the River for all users. Gunpowder RIVERKEEPER® acknowledges that we protect land, water, sensitive species, and communities in the traditional territory of many nations including the Algonquin, the Susquehannock and the Delaware peoples.
Chesapeake Legal Alliance (CLA) is the only regional organization solely dedicated to providing free legal services to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Its mission is to apply the power of the law to protect and restore clean water and promote healthy, resilient ecosystems for communities across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. CLA is a trusted source for innovative legal strategies to solve the Bay’s most complex problems whose clients include individuals, community groups and environmental advocates working to protect the Bay’s lands, waters and communities. CLA also works with local, state, and federal regulators seeking unique solutions to Chesapeake Bay protection and restoration.