Dock of the Bay
 Vol. 10, No. 3
January 17 - 23, 2001
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In Annapolis, It’s an Actor’s Life for Former Mayor Dean Johnson

Former Annapolis mayor Dean Johnson is again under the spotlight — performing as the Harrison ticket agent in Colonial Players’ current offering, The Trip to Bountiful.
photo courtesy of Colonial Players, Inc.
When you see Colonial Players’ The Trip to Bountiful, you’re likely to miss part of Act II, wondering who it is you’re reminded of by that guy with the Stan Laurel smile.

Could it possibly be Dean Johnson, who was until last month Annapolis’ Mayor Johnson?

If that’s your guess, you’re right.

As the Harrison ticket agent, Johnson is making his first public appearance since exiting the stage in favor of Mayor Ellen Moyer.

And, apparently, doing his new job well.

“If you went into a Greyhound Bus station, he’s who you’d expect to find behind the counter,” says Bay Weekly reviewer Carol Glover.

Just so, says director Richard Wade, who’s known Johnson for over two decades and recruited him for the small part.

“The character he has worked through is delightful.” says Wade. “At first, he was stiff and self-conscious, but the more we got into rehearsals and he worked with other actors and caught the tone I set, the more he settled in. He was methodical and meticulous.”

Which is just how Johnson went at being mayor. He immersed himself in that role until the last day, leaving the future till it came.

“After the defeat,” says Johnson, “I didn’t have any other commitments.” So when the director asked, Johnson said, “Why not?”

“It’s been fun,” Johnson says, of returning to the stage of the theater company he’d guided as president and supported as stage hand.

But there’s a bit more to it than that, if you ask Wade.

“Dean’s looking for a way to get some balance back into his life after a job that swallows you,” says the director. “When you leave a job as intense as being mayor of a city, how do you reconnect with the things you really enjoyed?”

Apparently, by jumping right in. Which doesn’t make it easy. It’s been 28 years, by Johnson’s reckoning, since he’s been on the illuminated side of the footlights.

Reviewer Glover found him at home on stage and imagined that as mayor for four years, “he’d grown used to performing before audiences.”

In fact, it wasn’t the same at all.

“For the number of times I’ve been in front of crowds, I still get just as nervous as I can be,” Johnson says. “I get knots butterflies, the whole works.”

But with the jitters comes satisfaction.

“When I come off stage and haven’t dropped a line and delivered them all when I’m supposed to,” he says, “it feels very good.”

So good that the former mayor is thinking of acting as his new career?

“I’m still looking for a day job,” responds Johnson.


illustration by Gary Pendleton
For Nuclear Neighbors, Anti-Radiation Pills Prescribed

Since Sept. 11, Marylanders have redefined risk. In the vicinity of the Calvert Cliffs power plant in Lusby, jet fighters patrol the skies while Coast Guard vessels guard Chesapeake Bay waters and paramilitary forces roam the grounds surrounding nuclear reactors.

New precautions by land, sea and air provide a tacit admission of Marylanders’ vulnerability to radiation release should terrorists mount a successful attack.

But amid the new preparedness, Maryland state officials stubbornly refused to take a small but potentially life-saving step: stockpiling potassium iodide pills to protect people from thyroid cancer that could result from airborne radiation.

Last week, nearly a month after the Food and Drug Administration vouched for the pills’ effectiveness, Maryland relented. The drug is soon to be available to the 80,000 people who live in the shadow of both Calvert Cliffs and in northern Maryland near Pennsylvania’s Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station.

“In today’s world, any action we can take to ease the public’s anxiety is well worth the effort,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, who heads the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Local officials, among them the Calvert County Board of Commissioners and Del. George W. Owings III, had pressed for stockpiling the drug. On January 4, Owings wrote in a letter to Benjamin that he was “shocked” to hear excuses about why acquiring the pills was unnecessary. Maryland’s safety plan hinged solely on evacuating and sheltering people.

“I would certainly hope that citizens would be evacuated in the event of any problems,” Owings wrote, “but [I] would also hope that any protection they might glean from taking the tablets would also be made available to them — even if it only protects the thyroid.”

The value of potassium iodide, referred to as KI for its chemical symbol, has been debated for years by public health specialists. KI long has been known for its ability to protect the thyroid, a highly sensitive gland that helps control growth. The FDA reaffirmed KI’s effectiveness last month in girding the thyroid against cancer-causing radioactive iodines after spending years analyzing health records compiled in the former Soviet Union after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine in 1986.

The nuclear industry has been antagonistic toward KI in part because it reminded people of the dangers of nuclear power.

Despite the consensus supporting KI’s benefit to the thyroid, health officials in all but a handful of the 31 states with nuclear plants declined to take the initiative to obtain KI, citing its limited scope of protection and worries that it might instill a false sense of security in people living near nuclear plants. Many states also balked at the logistical feat of dispensing the drug to tens of thousands of people, a potentially burdensome task given the need to mount essentially full-time distribution and replenish supplies every few years.

State nuclear specialists across the country have voiced fears that children could be harmed if they discover the tablets. But even as they were playing down KI’s importance, state health officials in many states were keeping it for their own use in responding to a nuclear disaster.

Maryland followed Massachusetts by a few days in agreeing to obtain quantities of KI from a Nuclear Regulatory Commission stockpile. Tennessee, Arizona, Alabama and Maine already were keeping quantities on hand.

Maryland intends to acquire about 160,000 pills: two for every person within 10 miles of a nuclear plant. About three-fourths of those pills will end up in Calvert County, perhaps within 30 days, officials said.

Meetings are planned shortly to figure out how to distribute the pills, perhaps door-to-door or at schools or other central locations.

— BL

Farewell: Meg Mitchell

Meg Mitchell liked the sun. She liked welcoming a new day as the sun rose, sculling smoothly through the waters of College Creek.

“Everything seems to fall into place,” she wrote in “Welcoming a New Day,” a reflection for Bay Weekly [Vol. IX, No. 25, June 21, 2000].

The waters of her beloved College Creek were sunstruck as well on January 12, when hundreds of her family, friends and former students crammed into The Hodson Boathouse on the campus of St. John’s College to celebrate the life and to memorialize the death of Meg Mitchell.

Each one — son, friend, ex-husband, buddy, helper — knew her in a different way. She was a rower — indeed, with her husband Stan, a founder of the Annapolis Rowing Club — swimmer, poet, student, teacher, world traveler, devoted mother and wife, friend and caretaker.

We knew Meg as a writer who reflected those selves and many others in the clear pool of her words:

it’s here that each morning we meet, me and my dozens of friends.
They offer a medley of colors to the blanched, weathered wood of the long-fallen tree.
They’ve chosen the best in the creek for their home,
Stretching halfway across, arching high,
Giving space for each to perch.
Flapping their wings, swishing their tails,
Preening, stretching, swimming in groups for their breakfast,
Back to the tree for their naps,
Then on with their daily routine,
Tolerating my quiet intrusion,
Unaware of the gift that they bring,
This oneness with nature each morn.

Meg shared another aspect of her life as well: its transformation. After the stroke that paralyzed her husband, Stan, with the same fine intricacy she had navigated the waters of College Creek, she explored the new waters of disability, dependency and discontent.

Writing was to Meg Mitchell a seventh sense, the one by which she interpreted and celebrated life in all its richness of joy and sorrow. Whatever life brought, she rose to meet it, agreed all who spoke, with vitality.

The woman described by one friend as “the most alive person I have ever known” was taken by a sudden stroke on January 9, 2002. She leaves behind her husband, Stanley Mitchell, of Annapolis; two sons, John and Thomas Kicklighter; and the closely guarded secret of her age.


Wanted: Trumpeter Swan Spotters

The dozen trumpeter swans that began their lives in Alaska, hopped a plane to upstate New York and followed an ultralight to the Chesapeake Bay could soon be on the move again [“Getting to Know the New Birds on the Bay,” Vol. IX: No. 9, and “Update,” No. 29].

Behind their ultralight ‘parent,’ the swans, hatched in June 2000, followed a traditional migration route from New York to wintering grounds on the Bay. But last spring they refused to return on their own. In May, they went back to New York by truck.

Their transportation coordinators, scientists from the Trumpeter Swan Migration Project, hope the swans will begin their 2002 migration when open water in New York starts freezing, sometime this month. If they do, they’ll be bringing back lost history. Until the mid-1800s, when colonists hunted the swans out of existence on the Atlantic flyway, hundreds of thousands of trumpeters called the Bay home.

Now scientists are asking citizens to support their historic flight by watching the skies. How will you know them if you see them? The largest of the swans, trumpeters are white with black bills and legs. As their name suggests, they sound like the brass section of an orchestra.

If you spot one of the birds along the migration route between Buffalo and the Eastern Shore, report your sighting to the toll-free swan line at Environmental Studies at Airlie: 888/264-4728.

The birds are banded with U.S. Fish and Wildlife metal leg bands and yellow plastic neckbands. But you shouldn’t get close enough to check the bands unless you encounter birds in imminent danger.

— Martha Blume

Dredging Rockhold Creek’s Charybdis

Deale is the biggest Western Shore port of call between Annapolis and Solomons. But to get to its protected waters, boaters have had to pass Scylla and Charybdis. The modern-day incarnations of those Odyssean monsters have grounded many a boater.

Scylla, the rock, is the 900-foot stone jetty protecting the harbor from the north. If you get through Scylla, you’ve still got to tackle Charybdis. A whirlpool in her native Straits of Messina, Deale’s Charybdis is the shoal water of Rockhold Creek, the channel into Deale harbor.

Scylla is firmly entrenched, but every six years or so the Army Corps of Engineers tackles Charybdis, dredging Rockhold Creek some 7,000 feet from the harbor mouth to the bridge across Route 256. The federally designated channel was last dredged in 1994. It’s supposed to be seven feet deep.

Now, it’s as much as a foot and a half shallower in some places, according to Tom Wilhelm, marina manager of Herrington Harbour North, on the creek. Marinas like Herrington keep their own passages navigable.

Half a million dollars for the job is in this year’s federal budget, but where are the dredges? Dredging season, which runs from October through February, has only a month to go.

“The channel is silting up, and a lot of people won’t be able to get their boats out,” worries one of those people, sailor Jack Hanse, who docks on the creek at Shipwright Harbor.

Help is on the way, according to Congressman Steny Hoyer, who included the half million dollars in the House Energy and Water Appropriations bill passed last October.

“We’ve tried hard to get the job done as quickly as possible because it’s so important to the Deale water community,” Hoyer said.

Two companies bid, including local Southern Maryland Dredging of Friendship.

The winner, Bay West Inc. of St. Paul, Minn., with a bid of $438,000, will be trucking down its Mudcat 2000 by early February with a month to complete its dredging.

The Mudcat is a pontoon-borne hydraulic dredge that augers up the sediment and sends it through a pipeline to a dredge site. In this case, Herrington Harbour North is accepting the dredge spoils.

If they don’t finish by month’s end, the Corps hopes for a short extension beyond the deadline.


Way Downstream ...

In Annapolis, old antagonists have joined forces to back new legislation that could be important to Chesapeake Bay. At a committee hearing last week, representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Chemistry and Industrial Technology Alliance each testified on behalf of legislation to expand people’s rights to contest permits for airborne pollution. As now written, the law restricts that right of individuals …

In Canada, animals at the St. Felicien Zoo north of Quebec City have the last laugh. Zoo visitors, not the animals, are placed in cages. The motorized cages then traverse a 4.5-mile trail giving polar bears, bison and moose a good look at the strange creatures in their midst …

In Europe, officials issued a warning about euros, the continent’s new currency, that made us wonder about eating habits across the pond. Chew up more than 400 of the new notes, the European Central Bank said, and you might become ill due to toxic constituents in the ink …

Our Creature Feature comes from the University of Utah, where alligators have a New Year’s regimen that we might copy: walking on a treadmill. Researchers brought five from Florida and trained them to walk on the treadmill at one mph while wearing plastic masks that monitor breathing.

What’s been learned so far, according to the New Orleans Times Picayune, is that the gators breathe by rocking their pelvic bones. The experiment, which is designed to learn how dinosaurs breathed, is somewhat secret: The university will allow no photos of the alligators, contending that they are too sensitive. Our question is: How’d they get those masks on ’em?

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly