Dock of the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 47
Nov. 22-29, 2000
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West Nile Virus in Maryland: To Be Continued

With colder weather, mosquito season - and with it this year's West Nile virus season - comes to a close in Chesapeake Country. Spraying against mosquitoes - redoubled after they became carriers of the potentially fatal disease - has also ended for the season. But all will return next year. With a vengeance.

No longer are mosquitoes just pesky warm-weather nuisances. They are the enemy. For in 2000, Chesapeake Country was invaded. The invasion was certified in September, when West Nile turned up in two crow carcasses, one in Anne Arundel County, one in Baltimore County.

No human Marylanders were diagnosed as West Nile victims in the virus' first season in Maryland, though the disease has been widely suspected. In two other states, New York and New Jersey, 16 people have tested positive.

Still, researchers know the virus is spreading relentlessly through the Eastern seaboard. They track it by following five indicators: humans, mosquitoes, veterinary animals (like horses), wild birds (including crows) and sentinel chickens. Wild birds have been the hottest indicator - in terms of both number of states reporting and number of infections - as well as Maryland's only sign that the virus is here.

As of November 10, 4,091 infected birds had been counted along the seaboard from Maine to North Carolina, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York. Each topped a thousand. Next was Maine with 366. Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Maryland each had fewer than 100. The District of Columbia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Vermont and Virginia each had less than 10.

Maryland's 50 birds turned up in Baltimore and eight counties, including Anne Arundel with two. None have been found in Calvert County. In six other states - though not in Maryland - mosquitoes and veterinary animals have tested positive. Only one sentinel chicken has been infected, in New York.

Calvert County entomologist V. Wilson Freeland was right on the money last August - when Maryland was still West Nile free - in predicting it was only a matter of time before evidence of the virus crossed the state border. He and Patricia Ferrao of Anne Arundel's Mosquito Control Section knew they had their work cut out for them with so many marshlands in their two counties. Freeland had to wait only a month before his prediction about Maryland came true. We're now a pinprick on the map of the virus spread.

Responding to the virus in its first season has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars: between $600,000 and $1 million according to the "guestimate" of state veterinarian Clifford Johnson. Costs are hard to determine. Take for instance the hotline to report suspicious dead birds run by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources. This hotline was already up and running, so there was no additional cost to set up a new line. However, as thousands of West Nile-related calls flooded the line, staff had to be increased.

The Center for Disease Control invested $340,000 in Maryland's battle with West Nile virus, with the lion's share going to upgrading the state biosafety testing laboratory. Maryland's lab is now among the top few dozen pathogen-testing labs nationwide to have a 'level 3' rating, qualifying it to test for West Nile.

That high-tech lab will have its work cut out for it next year, when mosquitoes, the virus and the lengthening list of susceptible birds return. Then, too, we'll have to make many local and personal decisions about the community spraying and personal mosquito repellents.

Invasion may mobilize us all as combatants.

-Patricia Kirby

Arundel Mills: No Bigfoot, But 1.3 Million Big Square Feet

Bigfoot may have come and gone, but the footprint he left behind is enormous.

Some three months ago, a few construction workers and an off-duty policeman swore they saw bigfoot's figure lurking in the dark, its eyes aglow, at Arundel Mills' construction site in Hanover. Sensationalists were disappointed when it seemed Sasquatch was a bear. But what eventually rose from its footprint is something less ordinary.

Arundel Mills - a 1.3-million-square-foot outlet mall opened to much fanfare November 17 - has thrown wide its doors and welcomed all to see its amiable weirdness, a colorful mix of Disney theme park with a touch of Vegas glitz. Using such embedded novelties as cartoonish indoor abstractions of Maryland scenes to a walk-through pinball machine to the massive neon-trimmed Egyptian temple of a movie theater, it intends to lure in about 18 million people, including tourists, each year. Thousands already turned out for the opening weekend - putting enough demand on parking that the Mills paved 4,000 new parking spaces over the weekend to keep cars out of the dirt.

Though not all are entirely finished, the mall boasts 200 stores and venues along both sides of a looping promenade. Among them is Jillian's, a 65,000-square-foot entertainment and dining megaplex that includes bowling alleys, a hibachi grill, virtual reality games, a night club, bars and more.

It's all a project of The Mills Corporation, based in Arlington, Virginia, which has so far developed only 101 of 400 acres. Another 133 acres are planned for more commercial development within the next two years. The remaining 166 acres, which includes wetlands, will be preserved.

-Mark Burns

The Weather is Appealing to Appeal Students

The three R's are now four at Appeal Elementary in southern Calvert County. Along with Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic, Radar - as in weather radar - makes a fourth R.

Last month, Appeal became an official 4-WINDS weather station for News 4 in Washington D.C. 4-WINDS stands for Channel 4-Weather INteractive Demonstration SchoolNet.

4-WINDS is an educational partnership that brings the power of real-time weather into the classroom, creating a network of school weather stations linked to each other and the NBC 4 Weather Center.

The cost for the equipment is $4,000, but News4 offers a grant to pay half. The school used money from the state to pay the balance.

"We are just thrilled that it is here," said fourth-grade teacher Anne McKimmie. She and last year's fifth-grade teacher Jamie Webster worked together to bring the weather station to Appeal. The link couldn't be made until the board of education could schedule a maintenance person to put the system in place up on the roof of the school.

Now that the link has been made, temperature, barometric pressure and wind speed and direction are recorded up there and wired down to the station's computer link in the school media center. The data also feeds to News 4, to be called up and reported by chief meteorologist Bob Ryan - with credit to Appeal - in his broadcast.

The fourth and fifth graders read the just-recorded weather on the computer and report it over the public address system twice a day to over 500 fellow students. They're also linked to other weather stations all over the country, so they can read the weather in Denver, for example, as readily as their own.

"All students will view and work with the new equipment," said media specialist Sharon Campbell, who also hopes that the library will see more children checking out the weather books that line a shelf not too far from the weather station.

"This is so exciting," said vice principal Chris Jensen as he took Bay Weekly up to view the outdoors apparatus that gathers the data. "It's like our own little weather channel.

"With this program, we can bring the children lessons in not only science, but math and geography as well," Jensen said.

Three other schools in Chesapeake Country join in the network: Southern Middle School at Lothian, Calvert Middle School at Prince Frederick and Kenilworth Elementary School at Bowie.

In Channel 4's viewing area of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District, over 300 schools are linked together and to a Worldwide School Network of over 2,300 members. Together, students from all over the country can work on projects, sharing ideas and data.

-Lori L. Sikorski

At Ecosystem Farm, Forget the Frost: Crops Keep Coming

photos by Jennifer Dawicki
Amir Flesher and Fred Beddall of Ecosytem Farm wash their winter organic root vegetables.

It's Thanksgiving twice a week at the Ecosystem Farm. Nestled in Piscataway Park, just across the Potomac River from Mt. Vernon, this quaint, quiet organic farm is bringing in a late November harvest of celery, turnips, lettuce, cabbage, kale and culinary herbs - while giving new meaning to sustainable farming.

That's only a fraction of the five or six dozen vegetables coaxed from March to late January out of these five acres. Almost year round, Ecosystem Farm nourishes its community's body and soul. Some 100 hundred families make up the community called Sustainable Harvest, Adaptive Research and Education or SHARE. Each week, they share in a harvest that varies with the season. This week's box brimmed with butternut squash, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, collards, leeks, lettuce, tat soi - an Asian green like spinach, celery and turnips.

"A couple of weeks ago, we were swimming in broccoli," said farm manager Shane LaBrake.

Last week's first frost did not freeze the hopes of celery, leeks, red Russian kale, collard greens, broccoli, purple cauliflower and carrots that, says LaBrake, are the farm's pride. Cardoon, a large leafy Mediterranean vegetable, cabbage and artichokes also have their roots firmly planted, for they intend to stay until 2001. All of these cold weather, hardy vegetables are thriving in the heavy, moist soil under the watchful eyes and tender weathered hands of the keepers of the Thanksgiving bounty.

Not only do Ecosystem Farm's shareholders eat fresh, local food that varies from season to season; their eating ensures the farmers a guaranteed income. LaBrake, farm manager and three farm apprentices, Fred Beddall, Amir Flesher and Gabrielle Lajoie, are partners with the eaters in the food cooperative.

"Here is a complex interaction of everything," says LaBrake, "seeds, vigor, flavor, and high nutrient value." The interaction stretches from the fields to the board room. Piscataway Park houses the Ecosystem Farm, which is sponsored and partially funded by The Accokeek Foundation. The Foundation is an educational non-profit that practices and teaches good land stewardship in hope of demonstrating that "The land shapes the people and the people shape the land, over time."

Land stewardship is the vegetable du jour in Maryland. As people lose touch with the land, the Ecosystem Farm is cooperating with the state's Middle Potomac Tributaries Team to research and discover ways to reap sustainable benefits from the land.

One way is the eater-farmer partnership, which, under the title of Community Supported Agriculture, spread across the nation in the 1990s. Another is the farm's sustainable irrigation system, with water piped in directly from the Potomac River. By way of a solar-powered motor, the water is distributed throughout the 200-acre plot with no post-setup cost to the farm or the foundation.

As the frost dapples our windshields, cover crops such as rye and fava beans will act as a fur coat in the fields, preventing erosion and re-nourishing the soil through the winter months. A Gore-Tex jacket of a greenhouse under construction will reap more harvests in coming years.

For now, the Ecosystem Farm is providing many with the fixin's for a feast and a share in the risk and reward of farming.

-Jennifer A. Dawicki

Cove Point Update: Calvert Collects Another Lighthouse

photo by Connie Darago

If the game were Monopoly, Calvert County would have all the lighthouses. Maryland's smallest county now owns two and one-third lighthouses, more than any other county in Maryland. Perhaps in the country, said Senator Paul Sarbanes when he joined county commissioners, politicians and lighthouse keeper descendants in the celebration of the acquisition last month.

Calvert didn't have to move Cove Point Lighthouse to claim it. Ownership of the 172-year-old lighthouse was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard, putting Calvert in the forefront of counties working to preserve maritime history.

Its other lighthouse treasures, Drum Point and parts of delapidated Cedar Point, already draw more tourists to Calvert Marine Museum than to any other county attraction. Cove Point ices the cake.

It took four years to transfer Maryland's longest continually operating light station (See "Still Shining the Way," Vol. VIII. No. 29: July 20-26) from the Coast Guard to the Calvert County government. But it's paying off quickly, according to Calvert County Commissioner, Linda Kelly, who reported that the lighthouse received the "best new product award" at the fall tourism convention in Ocean City.

The Marine Museum and the Coast Guard had been negotiating since early 1996. Later that year, Senators Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski secured a no-cost transfer from the federal government to Calvert County. But the wheels of progress tangled in red tape.

Engineering designs for a new riprap sea wall were slow to appear. Building the wall took longer than expected. The environmental assessment dragged. Who would retain ownership of the various buildings and how the leases would work added more time and frustration.

Official transfer papers were finally signed just this September. Calvert County now owns the lighthouse, but the Coast Guard retains ownership and operation of the foghorn and the radio control building and has a 20-year lease on the lantern room of the lighthouse. The Coast Guard also continues to operate the aids to navigation.

Calvert Marine Museum will maintain the lighthouse as a historical attraction. Hopes are it will become one of the county's most important maritime heritage centers. Plans include housing a caretaker on site; converting the interior of the 1901 fog signal building to a permanent exhibit of the history of the light station; and erecting signs around the complex to interpret buildings, their usage and surrounding geographical features.

"It's a win-win scenario for all," said Doug Alves Jr., director of Calvert Marine Museum. "A win for Coast Guard, who can continue to watch the waters but not have the financial responsibility. A win for the public, who will have a chance to visit the lighthouse. And a win for Calvert County, which has preserved a maritime treasure and a part of history."

For the citizens and visitors of Calvert County, the long wait to visit the treasured icon ends in 2001. Buses will carry visitors from the Marine Museum to the lighthouse, which will be open weekends and holidays, May through October from 10am to 4pm and daily in July and August.

So all seems smooth sailing ahead for Cove Point Lighthouse as it continues to shine the way in the Chesapeake under its new keeper of the light, Calvert County.

-Connie Darago

Way Downstream ...

In Baltimore, the Department of the Environment has twiddled its thumbs while Bethlehem Steel discharged tons of toxic chemicals into Chesapeake Bay since the mid-1980s under a loophole in the law, The Baltimore Sun reported last week. In one year alone, the Sparrows Point plant discharged 15,000 pounds of lead and other dangerous chemicals into the Patapsco River, according to EPA records ...

In Boston, the city council cracked down on mercury pollution last week by banning the sale and distribution of thermometers containing the toxic substance. A gram of mercury - the amount in one thermometer - can pollute five million gallons of water ...

In Idaho, state officials are not enthusiastic about plans by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to re-introduce grizzlies into the Bitterroot Mountains in Idaho and Montana. Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican, said he would fight against "bringing these massive, flesh-eating carnivores into Idaho. This is perhaps the first federal land management action in history likely to result in injury or death of members of the public" ...

Our Creature Feature comes from South Africa, where a modern day Noah's Ark returned last week with 22 giraffes and three rhinos after 40 days of sailing around the world. The animals were captured Oct. 5 and put on board a freighter to Spain. But Spain ordered the ship to return home after an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in Africa.

In case you ever need to know this for your boat, rhinos handle the sea better than giraffes. While the skittish giraffes had trouble adapting, the rhinos were calm. "They got a shower once a day and they just relaxed," said one of the mates.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly