ANNAPOLIS — Comptroller Peter Franchot raised concerns during the Maryland Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday, Feb. 21, over “a massive stormwater runoff” from the Four Seasons development site on Kent Island recently that sent plumes of sediment into Macum Creek and the Chester River.
Franchot said he appreciated Maryland Department of Environment’s rapid response to assess the damage, but he remained “concerned about welfare of this ecologically sensitive area.”
Gov. Larry Hogan asked MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles to update them on the situation.
“As you noted, the bad news is that a significant sediment pollution event occurred – and it’s unacceptable.” Grumbles said. “The good news, if we can characterize it as that, is that the situation on site is stabilized.”
He said MDE is working with Queen Anne’s County’s Soil Conservation District and planning department as well as the developer.
Grumbles said MDE is looking at the sequencing of the permitting and the sediment control plans, adding he believed they could be improved.
The materials used for pipe connection were clearly insufficient, he said. He called the weekend rain on Feb. 9 and 10 a 10-year storm. The rain breached a silt fence on the site, allowing construction sediment to flow into nearby waterways.
Franchot urged MDE to hold Four Seasons developer K. Hovnanian responsible, referencing the company’s history of environmental violations during other development construction.
Grumbles said through penalties and strong enforcement action MDE will try to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
In a statement after the meeting, Franchot said he was pleased with the state’s level of responsiveness. “I will reiterate, however, that this is just one example of why a sprawl development of this magnitude should never have been approved at this site.
“It was a terrible idea when it first came to the Board 10 years ago, and it’s proving to be an unacceptable environmental risk today.”
The senior inspector from MDE for the area was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon, but the Cambridge field office was able to verify they had made inspections on Feb. 12, 14 and 15 and were continuing to follow the situation closely.
A representative for K. Hovanian, Doug Shipe, also called the rain event leading to the breach a 10-year storm. According to the National Weather Service, Chester received less than 4 inches of rain that weekend, while Stevensville received 6 inches.
“We are in direct communications with MDE and in full compliance with their wishes,” Shipe said.
Jay Falstad, executive director of Queen Anne’s Conservation Association, alerted Franchot to the situation.
“Concerned citizens recently brought to QACA’s attention the apparent inadequacy of the erosion and sediment control measures being employed at the Four Seasons site on Kent Island. We followed up with drone surveillance that revealed massive breaches allowing polluted runoff and sedimentation in Macum Creek and the Chester River,” Falstad said in a statement Wednesday evening.
“In light of Secretary Grumbles’ admission that ‘mistakes were made,’ QACA calls for a full inquiry into what these mistakes were and who made them. We have no doubt that K. Hovnanian should principally bear the blame – and we have called for stiff penalties and suspension of its wetlands discharge license – but we also insist that any regulatory laxity or negligence should be exposed and corrected,” Falstad continued.
“Hovnanian was operating under a sediment control program approved by Queen Anne’s County (and given advance approval by the Board of Public Works and MDE). A little over 4 inches of rain on a Sunday blew this program apart: Why? Program inadequacy? Negligent implementation? Absence of monitoring?
“The performance of all persons, companies and agencies involved in this sorry episode must be examined.
Something needs to change. Otherwise, we simply continue to tolerate the death of the Bay by a thousand repeated acts of environmental irresponsibility.”
Four Seasons is an active senior development that will feature single family homes starting in the low $400,000’s, as well as waterfront condominiums with elevators and individual garages. The community is planned to include a 24,000-square-foot clubhouse, featuring a banquet hall, fitness center and both indoor and outdoor pools. There also will be miles of trails and a 470-foot fishing pier on the Chester River.