Cecil County Commish Consider $250K for Long-Stalled Mill Lane Cleanup in Earleville; No Bridge

July 10, 2012

Decades after storms destroyed the aging Mill Lane bridge in Earleville, the Cecil County Commissioners are considering a $250,000 stream “remediation” project that would remove debris of the collapsed bridge and improve water quality as part of a compromise with state environmental officials over unrelated pollution near the central landfill.

But some longtime Earleville advocates of replacing the old bridge and restoring a dam and popular fishing hole on an offshoot of Scotchman’s Creek will be disappointed that their long-held dream would be permanently dashed. Removal of the remaining bridge debris would delete Mill Lane from the county’s roster of bridges and forever end local residents’ hopes for a new bridge.

The fate of Mill Lane has been a hot-button issue among some Earleville residents for many years, with letter-writing campaigns and pubic meetings on the subject. The bridge was deemed unsafe even before Hurricane Floyd decimated it in 1999.

Last year, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy with support from Commissioner James Mullin (R-1) came up with a costly proposal to use local taxpayer funds to buy 25 acres of adjacent land and create a parking lot and boat launch area next to the stream—but not replace the bridge—while also creating a passageway for fish. The basic stream fix-up plan would have cost $542,710, with part of the costs covered by state and federal aid, but unspecified extra costs for acquiring and improving the adjacent land on the west side of the stream would have been borne by the county. (Mullin had also previously supported a 2009 letter from then-Commissioners pledging county responsibility for costs to remove old bridge debris from the stream.)

[SEE previous Cecil Times special report here:

While any actions to clean up the mess, and the sediment problems feeding into Scotchman’s Creek—which in turn feeds into the Bohemia River and the Bay– have been on hold for years, an unrelated pollution problem is prodding the county to act now.

Scott Flanigan, the county’s Director of Public Works, told Cecil County Commissioners on Tuesday that the county is negotiating with the Maryland Department of the Environment to try to reduce fines imposed by the state for sediment pollution related to the county’s central landfill. Fixing up the Mill Lane stream could count as an offset for the landfill problems and reduce potential fines, he said.

Documents given to the commissioners indicated that negotiations between the county and MDE, while still in a confidential stage, are tilting toward a $10,000 fine payable to the state—instead of up to $50,000 in fines—if the county goes ahead and fixes up the stream problems in Earleville, many miles away from the central landfill.

Remediation of the stream and removal of the bridge debris that still litters the waterway have been on the county’s priority list for many years. Flanigan said the new proposal would only remove the debris, stabilize and lower the high embankments that currently line the waterway and deposit silt, and plant vegetation to prevent further pollution. No additional land would be purchased, he told Cecil Times, and there would not be any parking lot or boat launch area as proposed last year.

Flanigan also told the commissioners they could get “more bang for the buck” with the Mill Lane project because its reduction of sediment runoff would “count” for credits with the state as part of a new, tough “watershed implementation plan” mandate that will force the county to reduce water pollution.

The county is looking to conclude its negotiations with MDE quickly, and put out the Mill Lane stream fix up project to bid, so that the work could be done this fall. Due to stream and fish spawning issues, unless the work is done in the fall, it would have to be delayed until early next summer.

Former County Commissioner Bill Manlove, who lives adjacent to the collapsed bridge, said no one had told him of the latest plan to deal with the Mill Lane problems. But he told Cecil Times that he thought removing the debris and stabilizing the embankments to prevent further sediment runoff was a good, environmentally sound idea.

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