Dock of the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 39

September26- October 2, 2002

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Articles for this Week:

Poplar Island Rises — But Not Too High

Gov. Parris Glendening finally tasted a pie in which he’s long had his finger: He visited the huge public works project that’s rebuilding Poplar Island.

The re-emerging island sits in the middle of the Chesapeake, eight miles east of Deale and a mile north of Tilghman Island. A thousand-acre crescent in 1846, Poplar was home to 100 residents by 1900, but the population began to dwindle as the Bay ate away at the island’s real estate. Bootleggers used the diminishing island in the 1920s, before a group of sporting Democrats bought it and Franklin Roosevelt turned it into a presidential retreat.

The Smithsonian Institute owned Poplar Island until 1980, and the last inhabitant was Smithsonian employee Mike Passo, who lived alone on the island for three years.

“I saw about 15 feet of my front yard vanish in 15 hours during Hurricane David,” Passo told Bay Weekly in 1996.

By then Poplar had dwindled away to five acres, and the Army Corps of Engineers had already devised a plan to restore the island to its former shape and size. Economy would benefit as well as environment, for they would rebuild Poplar with silt dredged from Bay shipping lanes.

Once restored, the island would serve as a wildlife refuge. The plan united six dozen agencies, from the Maryland Port Administration to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and secured federal funding of $255 million.

Army engineers began building nearly seven miles of containment dikes, using sand and rock. The dikes formed several cells, arranged in two rows. Clean dredged material was pumped into the cells, and they slowly began to fill. The construction continued into the night, beneath lights that radiated to both shores. Since 2001, 7,000 cubic yards of silt have been pumped into the island’s cells. The Army Corps expects to add 26,000 more cubic yards of silt over the next decade.

The eastern cells will rise mere inches from the Bay, creating a wetland wildlife habitat. The western cells will rise higher, shielding the marsh from future erosion.

Wetland plants can only survive at particular elevations, so the engineers must wait years for the silt to settle before creating habitats. They’ve developed mathematical models to predict how the silt might settle, and use one small cell as a sort of outdoor laboratory to test those models.

What the governor saw — with the dikes raised, the cells partially filled and the silt slowly settling — looks more like the moon than an earthly habitat. There are reminders of the island’s terrestrial nature, however. Tractors and pick-up trucks turn the lunar landscape into a giant child’s sandbox. The crooked arms of steam shovels reach above the horizon. A string of abandoned barges, left in 1994 to protect what was left of the island, crumble into a brackish pool. Creeks cut through mud flats, creating miniature canyons littered with seagull feathers.

Wildlife hasn’t waited for Poplar’s completion. Sixty species of birds now call the island home. The snowy egret population has already tripled. Turtle’s nests, ringed by aluminum and marked with yellow flags, line the gravel roads.

photos courtesy of Maryland Department of Transportation
While the Poplar Island Restoration Project, above, has rebuilt the dwindling land mass, erosion has eaten away neighboring islands visible in 1998, left.
Not all of the island’s recent immigrants are welcome. Deer swim over from nearby islands and eat the engineers’ sapling oaks. Local hunters are lining up to solve the problem.

Poplar Island’s former inhabitants left little trace. Army engineers have found little besides bricks and ballast, an anchor and an old pump handle. They’ve determined the location of the abandoned settlement’s cemetery, though, and there’s Talbot County interest in installing headstones.

All this Glendening saw and heard as he toured the island. He paused to help kids from Centreville Middle School plant native grasses and release tiny terrapins into a shallow pool. The turtles fled between the feet of the governor’s entourage.

Glendening has always believed that environmental responsibility can actually strengthen the economy. Poplar’s restoration seems to prove that faith. Tens of thousands of jobs depend directly and indirectly on the Bay’s shipping lanes staying silt free. Getting rid of the dredged material has always been a problem, but the restoration of Poplar Island provides a solution.

“I’m hoping this becomes a model for future activity,” Glendening said. “Not just in Maryland, but across the country and around the world.”

The state will manage the island once the restoration is complete, though which department will be responsible hasn’t been determined. Unlike another dredge island, Hart-Miller Island just south of the Baltimore harbor, Poplar isn’t for people. Public use will most likely be limited to research and education.

“One thing I know for sure,” project manager Scott Johnson said. “There won’t be any condos out here.”

— Brent Seabrook

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Glendening: Protecting Water a ‘Sacred’ Obligation

In his final months in office, Gov. Parris Glendening has become the favorite whipping boy of Republican candidates and a forgotten leader of his own Democratic Party.

Editorial writers find the lame-duck governor a sitting duck when dispensing blame for the state’s economic ills. And Marylanders find it fashionable to disparage the man who has run their state for nearly eight years.

You can sum up the feeling about Glendening in the lyric of that song: “I don’t like the color of your sweater any more.”

But nationally, Glendening still has a reputation as a forward-thinking leader committed to the environment and unafraid to do battle with those who would profit from destroying natural resources.

photo by Brent Seabrook
Gov. Parris Glendening helps students from Centreville Middle School release tiny terrapins on partially-restored Poplar Island.
Last week, Glendening was one of two politicians to receive awards from the national Sierra Club. In awarding Glendening its Edgar Wayburn Award, Sierra Club president Jennifer Ferenstein said that “governors, legislatures and communities across the country are following his lead” in curbing development with smart-growth initiatives.

The Sierra Club also presented its John Muir Award to Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., who changed the dynamics of national policy by switching his allegiance from the Republican Party and in so doing giving Democrats control of the Senate.

Also last week, as Glendening delivered a keynote speech at the National Water Resources Policy Dialogue in Washington, Glendening’s environmental advocacy and his unapologetic view of Maryland’s successes were on display for a national audience.

“Maryland, perhaps more than any other state, sees our obligation to protect and preserve our water resources as an almost sacred obligation. As home to Chesapeake Bay, we have a unique responsibility and relationship with water,” he said, speaking to 400 local planners and water experts at a two-day gathering sponsored by the American Water Resources Association.

Maryland is in the same boat as about half the states, struggling to withstand persistent drought. Indeed, the nation is fast approaching its driest times since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, and Glendening said he knew why.

“The nationwide drought is a result of global climate change and development decisions that simultaneously destroyed the open space needed to control run-off and that encouraged greater consumption of our water,” he said.

Saving water must begin on land, he added, spelling out what might be regarded as a challenge to his successor.

“If we do not act to change the way we grow,” he said, “development will consume as much land in central Maryland alone over the next 25 years as it has during the entire 368-year history of our state.”

Rampant sprawl, the governor added, has side effects: Loss of open spaces, fields and forests that retain and filter water and replenish aquifers; and creation of still more impervious surfaces that speed the water runoff and waste.

As Glendening’s time in office ticks swiftly away, he continues to invest in protecting water by preserving land. Back home last week, he shepherded $7.5 million to Central Maryland in four Rural Legacy grants covering 2,126 acres.

As voters consider the policies and plans of their would-be governors, it might be worth their while to ponder words of the man they hope to replace.

“Looking back from the year 2100, we’ll see a period when our creations — technological, social, ecological — outstripped our understanding and we lost control of our destiny,” he said, quoting a favorite author, Thomas Homer-Dixon. “And we will think: if only we’d had the ingenuity and will to choose a different course.”

— Bay Weekly

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Singing for Schooling at Woods Church

As Grammy-nominated African Children’s Choir sang a Ugandan-English version of “God Bless America” in a Severna Park church, an audience that suddenly understood a foreign language rose to its feet.

Two dozen colorfully clad children — 13 boys and 11 girls — from Uganda are touring the United States to raise money to build schools in Africa’s poorer countries, such as Kenya, Nigeria and Sudan.

“They were dancing like crazy,” said five-year-old Chloe Grace Krehnbrink of Chester.

Arms waved, legs bounced and wide smiles beamed throughout the evening performance September 13 in a full Woods Church sanctuary on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard.

Uplifting African rhythms and beats kept the audience smiling throughout the lively song and dance program. The internationally acclaimed choir, ages five through 12, performed ethnic and children’s songs as well as familiar tunes like the encore, “Oh Happy Day.”

During the performance, Chloe crawled up to the front of the stage with a handful of other children and followed the synchronized motions of the African children with her arms.

The children’s contagious glee made it easy to forget that the glory of center stage is not part of their daily life. The performers are poor children who auditioned and trained for the African Children’s Choir so they could afford to attend school.

photo by Paul Yates
Thirteen boys and 11 girls from Uganda make up the African Children’s Choir, which travels the world with uplifting African rhythms and beats, raising money for school.
In 1984, the choir was launched to raise money for African children while spreading the flavor of ethnic music to America, Canada and Europe. It initially sponsored 31 children by paying for their tuition, but the Choir now finances 6,000 young students in seven schools throughout Africa.

Education in the United States is government-funded through grade 12, but being a student in developing countries costs money, African Children’s Choir spokesman David Austin said. Many children turn to the choir’s organization for tuition assistance.

“There is no child who knocks on our door and is turned away,” Austin said.

Woods Church discovered the African Children’s Choir through parishioner Cindy Howard of Baltimore. Pediatrician Howard, who spends two months of the year in Uganda researching the AIDS epidemic, met a choir official on her travels. She was also responsible for bringing six-month-old Ugandan Siamese twins to the University of Maryland Hospital for Children for life-saving surgery in May.

The free Severna Park performance helped the choir raise money through a free-will offering, CD and product sales and sponsorship programs for individual children. After the performance, audience members swarmed around the sponsor table to sign on to pay $25 per month toward a specific child’s education.

“People were moved by the ambitions of the choir and the desires of the choir,” said Woods Church Mission Coordinator Carol Wiles. “Several people commented that they were inspired by the fact that the kids said they wanted to be scientists or sound technicians.”

Indeed, former African Children’s Choir singers have become doctors and teachers; some have even returned to conduct the choir, Austin said.

The children spent Friday and Saturday night in pairs with 11 Woods Church families who volunteered to provide food and a place to sleep for the travelers. The host families entertained the children on their Saturday off, taking them to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, local sports events and even other concerts at Woods Church, Wiles said.

The African Children’s Choir has performed on “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show” and “CBS This Morning” to promote awareness of the need for schools in Africa. They have danced and sung around the world with hundreds of concerts in Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States, including performances with the Belgium Symphony Orchestra at Ground Zero New York and the Pentagon.

More than 80 percent of the profits go directly to help the children in Africa, Austin said. Along with funding education and school construction, profits provide food, housing and emergency assistance to orphans or poor children in such areas as the Southern Sudan, Ghana or Liberia.

The African Children’s Choir began helping Rwandan children after the 1994 genocide left nearly a million people dead and thousands orphaned. Many Rwandan orphans received trauma counseling and education on the choir’s dime.

On tour, the choir children travel with a team of chaperones on a bus that frequently doubles as their school. At each venue — mostly churches — the choir requests a day’s worth of classroom space where the students follow a Ugandan school program, Austin said.

Children who complete their choir tour are educated by the choir for the rest of their school days.

From Woods Church, the choir — one of two touring the United States — headed south to North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. The African Children’s Choir returns for four more shows in Maryland in October in Baltimore, Secretary, Phoenix and Pasadena (7pm Wed. Oct. 16 at George Fox Middle School).

This year’s group will return to Africa in December, when a new group will begin singing and dancing its way to an education.

— Rebecca McClay

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Way Downstream …

On Kent Island, locals won a huge victory earlier this month when the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that county commissioners in Queen Anne’s County acted properly in denying sewer service for a proposed new shopping center anchored by Wal-Mart. Such victories against the world’s biggest retailer are rare …

In Virginia, the state is moving young criminal offenders from an on-board boot camp program operated by a Florida company after reports that teens were ordered to routinely dump garbage and human waste from a Navy-donated ship into the Elizabeth River

In Austin, Whole Foods, the nation’s biggest organic retailer (and owner of Fresh Fields stores) announced last week that it would not sell genetically engineered salmon when they come on the market. Many environmental advocates and scientists worry about the consequences to wild salmon if the gene-altered varieties escape into the wild and breed …

In Illinois, West Nile apparently has claimed the life of a dog, spreading new worries about the reach of the mosquito-borne disease. The College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois said that an Irish setter-golden retriever mix was believed to be the first canine victim of West Nile in the country …

Our Creature Feature is tale of “virgin birth” from Detroit, where a female shark with no contact whatsoever with a male shark has given birth to three babies and is expecting a fourth.

Baffled zoo officials at Belle Isle Aquarium think the answer might be parthenogenesis, the rare case of an unfertilized egg developing into an embryo without sperm. The other explanation is that the female might also have been born with part of a male sex organ. “Either way you look at it, it’s pretty weird,” zoo spokesman Doug Sweet told Reuters.

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Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly