October 6, 2008

Wondering What That Hole Off Governor Bridge Road Is?

By E.B. FURGURSON III Staff Writer

What is that big hole in the ground off Governor Bridge Road?

Concerned residents are wondering what that huge pile of dirt and corresponding hole is all about.

"Are they putting in a road, or a shopping center? It's huge," said Linda Garroway of Davidsonville after she passed the mound of earth carved from the ground.

Actually it's neither. Local garden haven Homestead Gardens is building a 1.5-acre pond to help feed a 5-acre tree-growing operation on the roughly 100 acres it owns on that stretch of road.

The huge gardening supply outfit already has another facility off the same road, closer to Davidsonville Road, where it grows a majority of its annual and perennial plants under acres of glass.

"It was a meteor," joked Tim Hamilton, marketing director for Homestead Gardens. "No, it will be an irrigation pond. We already grow produce on the farm and have a tree growing operation starting there."

That is what most of the water gathered in the pond will feed, a "pot-in-pot" tree growing operation, now about 5 acres that they hope willblossom into 20 acres.

Like the massive greenhouse operation down the road the tree- growing system is all about efficiency, Mr. Hamilton said.

"The program is an efficient way to grow trees, it helps stretch out the season," he said.

The "pot-in-pot" system, he explained, consists of rows and rows of pots buried in the ground into which other pots with young trees are placed. An irrigation line runs between the rows with a nozzle feeding water to each potted tree.

"By watering each pot individually there is little wasted water," he said. "Many growers around the country are using pot-in-pot. We have been for a little bit and now we are diving into it."

Mr. Hamilton said Homestead is seeking to become as self- sufficient as possible.

"Now that Farm One is humming along we are now expanding our nursery stock. There is a push for locally grown products and we are dedicated to it. We already grow about 80 percent of what we sell."

Another advantage is transportation cost savings. "You don't have to add shipping costs into the price," he added.

Some in the area worry if the pond will draw so much water that neighboring properties would be affected.

Farmer Martin Zehner, whose Patuxent River Road property borders Homestead farm is concerned the new pond and irrigation might impact the natural water flow into a stream his operation relies on.

"It may affect the water that comes down through here," he said. "In a heavy rain the water flows down and helps recharge our pond. We might get less water."

A check with county and state officials found that no agency was overseeing this huge grading operation because it falls under an agricultural activity.

The Department of Inspections and Permits made a determination, based on input from previous county Soil Conservation District manager Jeff Opel, that the pond would be agricultural activity and be exempt from grading plan requirements. That is provided for in county code.

Usually that occurs when the property in question has a "farm plan" on file with the soil conservation office.

But there is no such plan on file for the Homestead property, current District Manager Robert Miller said.

Defining what agricultural activity, or an agricultural structure, is has been the subject of some debate at the Soil Conservation District. Last year, the district board issued a new policy narrowing those definitions.

Even under the new policy, the Homestead grading and pond construction would likely be exempt, Mr. Miller explained.

Maryland Department of the Environment officials also said the project does not require any permitting or oversight from their agency.

A visit to the site in July found no violations, MDE reported. {Corrections:} {Status:}


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