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November 18, 2011

Maryland Sierra Club Turns Back Threat to Endangered Watershed


The Maryland Sierra Club won a huge victory this month in its battle to save an especially high-value estuary of the Potomac River when the Maryland Department of the Environment denied wetland-destroying permits for a proposed highway across the headwaters of Mattawoman Creek. Below, Mattawoman Creek wetlands.


"The denial of this highway is a major victory for smart growth, protection of Mattawoman Creek, the Potomac, and Chesapeake Bay," says Bonnie Bick, below, conservation chair for the Club's Southern Maryland Group. "This highway would have facilitated sprawl development along faltering Mattawoman Creek, a Sierra Club priority and American Rivers' 4th-most endangered river in the nation in 2009."


The Sierra Club and the Mattawoman Watershed Society began organizing against the so-called Cross County Connector more than five years ago. The Club organized dozens of hiking, kayaking, and canoeing events on the creek, wrote letters to public officials, turned out for hearings, and galvanized public opposition to the highway project.


In 2008, after a boisterous wetland-permit hearing where many hundreds of citizens overwhelmingly opposed the highway, more than 20 local, state, and regional groups including the Sierra Club joined forces to form the Smarter Growth Alliance for Charles County. Guided by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the alliance has actively opposed the new highway while working to replace the status quo of sprawl with smart growth alternatives.


"The Cross County Connector, above, was originally conceived to service a huge development project," says Bick, who chairs the Maryland Chapter's Mattawoman Campaign. "Mattawoman Creek is the last best remnant of what Chesapeake Bay rivers were like when the bay was healthy and productive."


The river teems with life including eagles, herons, beaver, otters, bass, and migratory fish. Bick says the prospect of losing this natural treasure prompted former Governor Parris Glendening to promote smart growth in Maryland in earnest and purchase historic Chapman Forest in order to protect Mattawoman Creek, the Potomac, and Chesapeake Bay.

The Sierra Club's Campaign to Save Chapman Forest, created in the 1990s when the Cross County Connector was first proposed, was key to establishing Chapman State Park instead of the now-defunct Chapman's Landing mega-project the new highway would have subsidized.

Bick adds that this week's victory received a huge boost from the Maryland Chapter's successful efforts in 2010 to help elect two environment-friendly candidates to the Charles County Board of Supervisors.

The Club's Mattawoman Creek campaign has been a collaboration between the Maryland Chapter, the Southern Maryland Group, and the Sierra Club's Activist Network, which awarded the campaign with project funding.

All photos by Jim Long, president of the Mattawoman Watershed Society and longtime Sierra Club volunteer.


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