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Last week Swan Point residents spoke in favor of wetlands permits that would allow their community’s developer to continue with plans to construct a marina and observation piers on the Potomac River, but several others asked the state to deny approval until public access was provided to a mile-long stretch of restored beachfront.

The state granted a six-year permit to The Swan Point Development Co., a co-venture between U.S. Steel and Brookfield Homes, in May 2008, but the company’s plans stalled in step with the Great Recession, forcing it to reapply.

The company is seeking to build a marina on the Potomac River with 143 boat slips, five observation piers — three on Potomac and two on Cuckold Creek — 7,050 feet of shoreline stabilization measures on the Potomac, a 326-foot replacement bulkhead on Cuba Island, a bridge over Weir Creek, and a stormwater management system that would discharge directly into the tidal wetlands.

The Maryland Department of the Environment held a public hearing on the permit application Feb. 27 at the Charles County government building in La Plata. About two dozen testified, including eight Swan Point residents, the majority in favor of the permits’ approval.

“What is envisioned is to make a project that everybody can be proud of, that the county can look to as a jewel,” said Charles R. Schaller Jr., an environmental attorney representing Swan Point. “It’s intended to be an environmentally sensitive and sustainable community that will include a golf course, tennis, marina, beach club and residences. It’s designed to be a destination location.”

Schaller touted the mile-long stretch of Potomac beach restored by the developer and deemed the remaining work environmentally friendly.

Several Swan Point resident expressed concern about the future of their community should the permits be denied.

“Living in Swan Point is wonderful, but our community has amenities that are supported by the developer. For example, our golf course, tennis courts etc. They will continue to be available to us as long as the remainder of the land is developed into other residences that will provide the income needed to support what we love here in Swan Point,” said Cathy Warfield, whose family has lived in Swan Point for more than 15 years. “The developer has been subsidizing the community for many years. How much longer will they continue to do this if unreasonable blocks are put in their way? They’ve tried to comply with everything requested of them. We should be enticing this kind of quality homes in our county.”

Newburg couple Nancy Shertler and Howard Dent, who live on Cuckold Creek across from Swan Point, have been vocal advocates on the public access issue. Both spoke at the hearing.

“We have heard several things from Swan Point residents. What concerns me is their fear,” Dent said. “Somehow they’ve gotten the idea that if we insist on public access, that the Swan Point Development corporation is going to pull out and leave them high and dry. Now, I don’t know where that came from, but I would certainly hate to live in a community that thrives on fear like that.”

Some residents were skeptical of those citing public access concerns as their reason for opposing the permits. Even if the developer agreed to set aside a portion of the shoreline for public use, “the same group of people here tonight pushing for public access would be out in force trying to stop this project, citing environmental concerns,” said Florence Dement, a 23-year Swan Point resident.

“They would pull out all the stops to try and derail the project. The group opposing the renewal of this permit could care less about public access to the shoreline and river at Swan Point,” she said. “This is another tool, another tactic to try to delay or stop development.”

jnewman@somdnews.com