Press Release

BALTIMORE, MD (March 5, 2009) – After an extensive evaluation determining there would be no significant long-term environmental impact, and after feedback from local residents, today the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) issued permits to three homeowners in Olde Severna Park. One permit authorizes the construction of a walkway and pier; two other permits authorize the construction of a shared pier crossing the tidal pond adjacent to Sullivan Cove that branches into two individual piers to access the Severn River. To protect the tidal wetlands, MDE’s permits require significant changes to the applicants’ original proposals, including the elimination of an entire pier across the tidal pond.

The homeowners’ pier applications encountered significant opposition from residents of Olde Severna Park. In 2007, the State’s Court of Appeals affirmed that the applicants have riparian rights to access the water, and State law entitles the applicants to make improvements to access the Severn River.

MDE Secretary Shari Wilson said: “The proposals allowing homeowners to construct these piers have caused a difficult and controversial situation for local residents, and the length of time involved in making determinations on the applications has further strained the community. Many residents are ardent advocates for the Cove and River’s preservation and will likely be unhappy with today’s decision. Having lost legal battles, we know that some opponents were hoping MDE would not issue permits to allow construction of these piers.”

Ms. Wilson continued: “The tidal pond in Sullivan Cove has ecological, historical, and scenic value for this private community. However, our Agency must implement statutory and regulatory requirements in a fair and consistent manner, and our obligation is to implement the law, as it exists today, to protect the environment and public health. Every citizen and entity in Maryland deserves and expects this standard of review. The permits issued today are based on scientific and environmental data. If the applicants comply with MDE’s required changes, there will be no significant long-term environmental impact from the piers.”

Based on an MDE-commissioned study by the University of Delaware and extensive MDE technical review, the Agency found that there will be only a short-term environmental impact from the construction of the piers, and that the marsh impacted by construction will rebound. After construction, the pier may have a small impact from shading and very minor leaching of wood preservatives from pilings. Research has shown, however, that leachate from pier pilings is at a level that remains below EPA water quality standards for aquatic life.

MDE has proceeded very deliberately during its review of these applications to ensure all necessary steps have been taken to minimize impacts associated with the piers, including consultation with other State and federal resource agencies. Actions taken by MDE that resulted in changes to the original proposal include:

  • A survey to identify and locate Atlantic White Cedars and other sensitive nontidal wetland species, eliminating the chance that these resources would be impacted by the proposed projects;
  • The re-evaluation of pier lengths based on water depths provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, resulting in a 50 foot reduction in the length of one of the piers;
  • The elimination of a second tidal pond crossing and the placement of pilings in close proximity to the confluence of the tidal pond and the Severn River by requiring two homeowners to share a pier; and
  • The extension of the shared pier into the Severn River by an additional 40 feet to provide additional protection to the mouth of the tidal pond.

Maryland’s tidal wetlands regulatory program limits vegetated losses to less than one acre per year statewide. The Agency issues permits for construction of approximately 900 piers each year.

In light of the concerns raised about the natural character of the area, residents’ historical use of the marsh, and other aesthetic and scenic factors, MDE has raised issues about whether the current laws regulating pier construction adequately reflect the concerns of Maryland’s residents and political leaders who have called for preservation of areas such as Sullivan Cove. To address these concerns, MDE will convene a Task Force comprised of a range of stakeholders to review Maryland’s laws, regulations, and policies related to residential pier construction to determine whether they should be revised. This Task Force will complete its work in time to make recommendations to the 2010 General Assembly.

Anyone interested in learning more about this Task Force should contact MDE Program Manager Gary Setzer at 410-537-3000 or visit MDE's website at

Click here to view aerial images of the Sullivan Cove Plan Comparison.

For additional information on Sullivan Cove please click here.