Council members criticize canceled ICC projects
Scalebacks on Prince George's environmental efforts irk lawmakers
Prince George's County Council members, unhappy about recent scalebacks to environmental projects that would mitigate effects of the controversial Intercounty Connector, accused state highway officials of canceling the projects in retaliation for the council's opposition to the new highway.
At a meeting Jan. 14 of the council's Transportation, Housing and Environment Committee, council members said they feel that they were intentionally slighted by the decision this fall to not proceed with stream restorations in northern Prince George's County.
"I'm concerned about the attitude of those involved," said Council Chairman Thomas Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel. "Prince George's has opposed this [highway] for a while. ... This is payback from the state highway administration, and it's disappointing."
A panel of federal, state and county roads officials agreed Oct. 7 to cancel several restoration plans for streams and wetlands despite objections from Prince George's members on the panel. Though projects in Montgomery County also were curtailed, two chief restoration sites in Prince George's that run along Indian Creek which originates next to Interstate 95 in Laurel and runs down near the Beltsville Industrial Park near College Park were canceled.
At the committee meeting, ICC officials said the projects originally proposed in Prince George's would have been too costly and required nearby businesses to give up land for the projects. Cost estimates were not available by press deadline. The group has boosted environmental mitigation in other areas in Montgomery County where it will have a greater impact, they said.
"What we've tried to do is improve the overall watershed," said Melinda Peters, project manager for the ICC.
But council members said the changes were done over their objections. One county representative on the panel told the group the changes were a done deal before the Oct. 7 decision.
ICC officials said they are holding an open house on Saturday to discuss the environmental improvements that are required as part of the $2.4 billion road. The six-lane toll highway will connect Laurel to Gaithersburg and is designed to ease congestion on the north end of the Capital Beltway.
Although lawmakers in Annapolis and Montgomery County have generally supported the effort, environmental groups and Prince George's County leaders have opposed the highway, complaining that it hurts economic growth and the environment.
"It doesn't seem like you reached out very far," Councilman Eric Olson (D-Dist. 3) of College Park said of the panel's process. "An open house is great, but the decision's already been made."
ICC officials said the changes have been approved by federal agencies and are unlikely to change.
Dernoga said that the scalebacks on the environmental projects hit Prince George's harder than Montgomery.
But after the meeting, State Highway spokesman David Buck noted that more than 90 percent of the road runs through Montgomery County.
"You can't expect equal [mitigation]," he said.