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Airport expansion

Developers succeeded in inserting language into Charles County
's draft comprehensive plan of 2013 calling for a study on how to exploit rural land around the Maryland Airport for industrial development. The study area is shown by a white boundary in the map to the right.  For much of the area, developers had earlier secured industrial and business-park zoning (red outlines).

Note: the 2016 Comprehensive Plan places the land around the airport in the Watershed Conservation District. This new policy, when implemented with zoning, satisfies the conservation goals described here, and protects the airport from incompatible uses near it.

Nonetheless, the development lobby continues to agitate for industrialization around the airport. They point to the airport land-use study. But the study was inserted by the same lobby to rationalize taxpayer subsidies for the infrastructure needed to enable industrialization of the area. A better choice is conservation, which:

-would prevent incompatible uses;
-would better protect Mattawoman Creek;
-would save the public from paying for sewers;  
-would maintain the ecological values of the forested area.

The damaging secondary impacts are outlined in the airport Land-Use Study (LUS) available here. (pdf, 5.6 MB). On the good side, the study recommends that no new land be zoned for commercial purposes. There is of plenty of land in the county already so zoned, and two studies question the market for such land in this area of northwestern Charles County.

On the bad side, the LUS promotes ill-conceived projects and zoning that would be devastating to Mattawoman Creek. These include:
-the failed tech park,
-the Cross County Connector (CCC) for which permits have been denied,
-the Pomonkey Connector linking the CCC with the airport,
-the idea of a dense Bryans Road beneath the flight path,
-the conversion of hundreds of forested acres to business and industrial parks,
-public subsidies for sewer lines, an airport terminal, and road widenings.

Those opposed to public subsidies for sewer lines, a terminal, etc. have many good arguments on their side outlined below. Those with financial interests do not. Their testimony at the open-house ignored two market studies, and pretended that destroying forest with pavement has no effect on Mattawoman Creek.

The consultant's presentation on the airport study found that new employment land is not needed and that the airport will not drive development. This is consistent with a market study of the tech park site adjacent to the airport. Then why should we fund another sweetheart deal like the failed tech park, for which taxpayers gave developers $3 million over market value to buy back the land? 


Here are some issues the airport raises:

Should a privately owned airport, expanded with public funds, be exploited by special interests for subsidies from the local taxpayer?
The Maryland Airport is a privately owned airport open for public-use. It is located next to Bry
ans Road, MD. It's runway (double lines in the maps) was recently lengthened with federal, state, and county funds. In a shady process known as segmentation that disguises big impacts with small steps, the runway is planned to be lengthened a second time (dashed double lines in the map above). This will allow use by larger planes and business jets. And it will require even more forest clearing (yellow area in map above).

The same special interests that have been trying to "punch through" development into western Charles County for years now want to use the expansion as an excuse for using tax dollars to give them infrastructure to industrialize the land around the airport.
Airport related features are superposed on the Charles County zoning map, where housing density can be inferred from the mapped parcel density.

What's wrong with this picture?

(i) The standard FAA traffic patterns (dashed double-lines) guide business jets and propeller craft over populated areas north of the airport. Depending on wind direction and pilot choice, planes will fly over areas zoned for 8000 dense housing units, and over growing subdivisions with townhouses and single family residences. Planes will disrupt the tranquility of historic Mt. Aventine in Chapman State Park and the Indian Head Rail trail (hatched line).
(ii) The airport is located near two schools (white star).
(iii) The industrial zone surrounding the airport is carved out of a conservation area (massive lower green area).

A land-use study is examining numerous issues relevant to the proposal to industrialize around the airport. The white boundary shows region-of-interest in the study.

Taxpayers to subsidize more development? 
A small group of developers that has repeatedly tried to urbanize western Charles County is again angling for public subsidies. This time it's to industrialize over 1000 mostly forested acres around the airport. The cost of supplying sewer alone would run over $8 million, or $160 for every household in Charles County.1

The developers have repeatedly manipulated land-use planning in attempts to urbanize western Charles County. For example, 277 of the 1000 acres is the environmentally sensitive Tech Park site next to the airport. The failed Tech Park was a public-private partnership in which taxpayers assumed the risk. When no tenants materialized, the county had to repurchase the land from the developer at a price above market value by over $3 million. The taxpayer had already funded a water line for  $2 million.

What additional costs are yet to be revealed?

Not smart.  A recent market study found that the Tech Park's location in western Charles County made it unsuitable for commercialization all along. The forested land next to it around the airport is no different. In fact, a preliminary conclusion of a second market study for the land around the airport is in agreement. It's smarter to locate in improved  commercial sites looking for tenants along the U.S. 301 transportation corridor, or to redevelop Indian Head.

The market studies are based solely on traditional ledger sheets, and so ignore the enormous environmental costs and loss of ecosystem services that would occur if the area were industrialized. For example, the left-hand map at the bottom of the page shows how the area is providing stormwater treatment and flood prevention services for free.

Avoiding incompatible use by returning Bryans Road to a mixed-use village- concept. Residential development is generally regarded as incompatible with the risk and noise of aircraft operations.

When the runway was lengthened, it was also re-oriented. It now aims flights directly over an area zoned for 8000 dense housing units in the center of Bryans Road. (see zoning map above). This dense urban core is clearly incompatible with the airport. It is part of a highly unpopular scheme to turn Bryans Road into a new urban center and was once rationalized with the failed Cross County Connector. Permits for the CCC were denied because it is "contrary to the public interest." Now that permits for the CCC have been denied, and now that the runway aims at the proposed urban core, the land-use study should recommend returning Bryans Road to a mixed-use village. This concept was originally intended, and was recommended in the compromise "merged scenario" comprehensive plan that was rejected by a Planning Commission once controlled by a developers lobby.

If residential development is incompatible with an expanded airport, why did the Land-Use Study specifically exclude the proposed Guilford subdivision? Note only is this proposal near the airport, but part of it is in the area densely zoned for 8000 new units.

Damaging Mattawoman Creek.
  The runway expansion has already filled an entire tributary valley, and leveled well over 100 acres of forest, much of it on steep slopes. Commenting on the damage during a past permit review, the National Park Service said:2
"It is our opinion that the proposed airport improvements would cause significant long-term adverse effects to Mattawoman Creek… Such adverse effects would degrade the existing high-water quality…."

The National Marine Fisheries Service predicted the airport could spawn additional growth that would have adverse environmental effects:3

"The runway realignment will have devastating impacts on the subject watershed. We are particularly concerned with the destruction of the sloped, forested riparian zone, which will drastically alter instream hydrology… We are also concerned about cumulative impacts this proposal will have on wetlands and instream habitat throughout the local region."

The scheme to further industrialize a large area around the airport would devastate extremely sensitve land as discussed below.

Land of great ecological value.  As a stakeholder in the airport land-use study, MWS examined the natural assets of the study area. The area is simply too valuable ecologcially to be considered for intense development. In the maps below, the area within the black border is being considered in the airport land-use study.

Left map above: Nearly the entire study area is a Targeted Ecological Area. Maryland's Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) defines these areas as "...lands and watersheds of high ecological value that have been identified as conservation priorities by DNR. These areas represent the most ecologically valuable areas in the State: they are the ‘best of the best’.”

Middle map above: Most of the area comprises valuable hub and corridor forest. Hub forests are “vital to maintaining the state's ecological health. They provide habitat for native plants and animals, protect water quality and soils, regulate climate, and perform other critical functions.”

Corridor forests represent “linear remnants of natural land such as stream valleys… that allow animals, seeds, and pollen to move from one area to another. They also protect the health of streams and wetlands by maintaining adjacent vegetation. Preserving linkages between the remaining blocks of habitat will ensure the long-term survival and continued diversity of Maryland’s plants, wildlife, and environment.”

Right map above: The forest is also an Audubon Important Bird Area (red outline). The presence here of threatened bird species reflects the largely unfragmented "forest interior" (green).  This increasingly uncommon resource is prized because it is home to those species (for example the wood thrush) that can only live in deep woods (typically taken to be about 100 yards from the forest edge).


In the three maps below, the land-use-study area is marked by the outer black boundary. The inner black boundary outlines the area zoned for industry and business parks. The Tech-Park site is also outlined (in blue).


Left map above: Mattawoman Stream Valley (green) covers most of the land-use-study area (outer boundary) and much of the area within it zoned for industrial and business-park use (inner black boundary) and the Tech Park (blue outline).
In their Mattawoman Creek Watershed Management Plan, the Army Corps of Engineers
strongly recommended protection of the stream valley to the tops of slopes. The Army Corps included tributaries, and made this their single most important recommendation. The Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources subsequently mapped the topography using a sophisticated computer program, and Charles County superposed it onto a parcel map.

Middle map above: More than half the study area is within a Stronghold Watershed. A Wetland of Special State Concern (heavy green line) falls within the Tech Park site.
Maryland's Dept. of Natural Resources characterizes Stronghold Watersheds as “those watersheds in the state that are most important for the protection of Maryland’s aquatic biodiversity.”  In the maps, all of the land draining to Mattawoman directly feeds the Mattawoman where River Herring migrate from the Atlantic Ocean to spawn.


Right map above: Steep slopes abound in the study area.  In this map from the Army Corps of Engineers subwatershed profile, steep slopes appear darker brown. The prevalence of steep slopes calls into question the zoning for industrial and business parks within the inner boundary.


The two maps below are from the Watershed Resources Registry, a mapping tool that analyzes various land-values with an eye to locating opportunities for sustainable development and places better left preserved.  Note that analysis was not conducted for protected land, mapped as dark green.

Left map: Natural stormwater treatment. 
Stormwater processing is an important ecosystem service provided by forest, wetlands, and floodplains. These natural features filter out pollution, assist water infiltration, and reduce flooding by storing stormwater. Dark green areas are state-preserved lands and so were not analyzed.

Right map: Upland areas worthy of preservation. Upland areas exclude stream valleys and floodplains (as in the left map, dark green preserved areas are not analyzed). Note that the ecological values of the undeveloped uplands within the land-use-study makes these areas more suitable for conservation than development. Dark green areas are state-preserved lands and so were not analyzed.


1 Letter from Edith Patterson, then vice-president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, to the Mattawoman Watershed Society, November 17, 2010. Costs are based on sewer to the failed Science and Technology Park in two phases, plus interest. The airport would use the same sewer. The airport land-use study is considering the tech park in as part the industrial zone around the airport.

2 Letter in the record from Wink Hastings, National Park Service, to Maria Stevens, FAA, dated June 29, 2001.

3 Letter in the record from John Nichols, NMFS, to Rich Bulavinetz, ACOE, Baltimore District dated Oct. 12, 2001.