Dock of the Bay

 Vol. 11, No. 1

January 2-8, 2003

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This Week's Articles:

New Year Traffic Concerns: Tankers in Chesapeake Bay

In a decision that will change the habits of Bay boaters and fisherman, the Coast Guard this week removed one more obstacle to a Virginia company’s opening a new Bay port for tankers at Cove Point in Calvert County.

After an 18-month study, the Coast Guard sent Dominion Resources Inc. a letter saying that Chesapeake Bay could be used for shipments of liquefied natural gas, LNG.

The Coast Guard said it would issue new guidelines for security later that take into account the threat of terrorist attack. But one measure is already in place. Closing the fish-rich gas docks to fishing will change the destinations of many Bay anglers next season.

“That’s why they call them rockfish,” said Captain Glenn James, president of the Maryland Charter Boat Association, explaining why the Chesapeake’s icon fish is sought at rocks and pilings.

Following the fish, charter boats have clustered at the biggest structure on the Bay, the famed Gas Docks. If the massive, metal superstructure of the Docks mirror what lies beneath, there’s plenty there to attract rockfish.

photo by Sandra Martin
Huge 900-foot tankers full of liquid natural gas, above, could soon be plying Bay waters enroute to the long-dormant Gas Docks at Cove Point in Calvert County.
But 2003 is almost certain to bring a new kind of boat — tankers big as three football fields — to what’s been Calvert County’s best fishing hole. Charter boats have already been exiled, as the Coast Guard and the Docks’ owner resume enforcement of the long-ignored security zone surrounding the structure.

As soon as this spring, tankers will travel the waters familiar to Bay fishing boats, ferrying foreign-import LNG up the Chesapeake to the two unloading docks at the receiving pier a mile and a quarter from Calvert’s shore.

“As many as a tanker a day could be unloading,” said Dan Donovan, spokesman for Dominion, one of the largest energy providers in the northeast United States. Its holdings range from nuclear power plants to the Gas Dock and storage at Cove Point.

LNG will be piped to four towering holding tanks that are landmarks on Calvert’s lower eastern shore. From there, the gas is transported along 87 miles of pipeline to Loudon County, Virginia, and then to buyers.

Application for the many permits required by a long list of federal and state agencies began before Dominion bought the property last year after the original applicant, Williams Cos. of Tulsa, Oklahoma, turned up short of cash.

As well as refitting the docks and their pumps — disused since 1980 — a fifth on-land storage tank will be erected to expand the plant’s storage capacity by 850,000 barrels. Even as the off-shore docks stood empty, the tanks have been full, receiving and storing gas transported by pipelines from around the nation. When the tankers start coming, the flow will reverse.

Gas flow and fishing holes are not the only changes to come with the reopening of a Bay port for foreign gas at Cove Point.

Tankers will be the most noticeable change. Even fully loaded with 34 million gallons of LNG and riding low, the 900-foot-long tankers look like blocks of sideways office buildings steaming up the Bay. Now, instead of staying in the deep shipping channel in the middle of the Bay until docking at Baltimore, the giants will be turning left about the time they see the Cove Point Lighthouse and heading toward Calvert County’s long, straight shore.

As local mariners see what’s coming, Cornell Maritime Press over in Centreville might well see a run on its classic How to Avoid Huge Ships.

Safety’s an issue for more than small boaters. LNG is said to be less flammable than some fuels; still, dangers are posed by both the LNG and the super-cooling hydrogen used in changing states between gas and liquid. Risk assessments of shipping such fuels estimate some 50 hazards, including fires and shipboard epidemics, lightning, collision, war and sabotage.

Among Maryland critics, terrorism has been the biggest cause for alarm. When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave the plan its go-ahead in 2001, Sen. Barbara Mikulski called the decision “premature.” Fears of calamity at Cove Point are heightened because the docks rise some three miles south of Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, also on the Bay. After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the Coast Guard set up an exclusion zone around that plant.

Mikulski has now said that she accepts “the view of the Coast Guard and these experts that the risk of shipments into Cove Point can be managed by strong security measures.”

Nowadays, a boat hanging out in either exclusion zone would probably get warned away, but neither zone is patrolled round the clock. That’s another change tankers are likely to bring. LNG shipments to other high-security areas get Coast Guard escorts with both patrol and chase boats keeping each tanker company. Shipments to Cove Point could have such escorts, traveling in a rolling exclusion zone as the tankers make their way up the Bay.

Coast Guard safety and security missions are routinely taxpayer funded, but spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Brendan McPherson said the Coast Guard is “looking at working with industry to develop partnerships so we can provide an appropriate level of security in the most fiscally responsible way.”

Catastrophe, collision and rising cost are risks that remain hypothetical. A certain consequence of reopening the Gas Docks is increased air pollution. New gas heaters and boilers at the expanded plant will pump nearly 225 additional tons of pollutants into Calvert County’s air, the operation’s application for an air permit disclosed.

The loss of a reliable fishing hole means fishermen, both charter captains and recreational anglers, will be looking for fish elsewhere.

“It is going to take away yet another area where the rockfish congregate, which is going to hurt things. The Charter Boat Association has a committee to try to establish a series of underwater reefs up and down the Bay to give us more habitat,” said Capt. James. “But it’s going to take a while.”

But rockfish don’t pump as much money into the economy as do tankers full of gas.

Dominion has already committed over $120 million in construction to the plant. Reactivated, the Gas Docks stand to be Calvert County’s second biggest taxpayer, after the Calvert Cliff Nuclear Power Plant.


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Eastern Shore New Year’s Wish: Don’t Tarry on Ferry

James Dodson sends his backfin crab meat from the Eastern Shore to the swankiest of places, among them the Palm Beach Hotel and the posh Greenbrier in West Virginia.

But costly transportation is one of many problems in the Maryland seafood industry these days, one of the reasons why Dodson, of Crisfield, is pushing for ferry service connecting the Eastern and Western shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

“This town used to have 35,000 people, three opera houses and two movie theaters. Now there’s nothing; everything is torn down,” said Dodson, speaking last week at his Captain’s Table restaurant, which he operates in Crisfield, along with one of the last crab-picking operations in Maryland.

photo by Bill Lambrecht
James Dodson, of Crisfield, looks to a new ferry between the Bay’s shores to revitalize foundering Eastern shore towns and businesses.
Dodson is among a host of community leaders on the Eastern Shore pushing for a fast ferry connection for freight and passenger cars. They’re looking favorably on Reedsville, Virginia, as the site for the Western Shore hookup, given opposition by legislators to Maryland’s hosting a ferry terminal in Calvert or St. Mary’s counties.

Wherever the terminal is located, a Chesapeake Bay ferry would have enormous implications for Bay Bridge traffic and businesses along Route 50.

The issue is far from decided. Instead of finishing a ferry study by last week as originally planned, the Department of Transportation now says it will wait until spring or even early summer to announce its findings.

The state is looking at both the feasibility of a ferry and where it would be located. Crisfield is among the finalists still in the running out of an original list of nearly 60.

Kenny Smith of Cambridge, the proprietor of Taylors Island Marina, says that negotiations with an Alabama businessman to lease a part of his marina as a ferry landing appear to be on hold. The marina, on Slaughter Creek off of the Little Choptank River, was viewed as a possible Eastern Shore landing because of its proximity to Route 50, 16 miles west, in Cambridge.

Other Eastern Shore civic leaders and elected officials are acting fast to keep from missing the ferry. Delegate-elect Page Elmore said last week that he plans to introduce legislation that would give Somerset County the authority to grant a franchise for ferry service.

“A lot of people want that ferry and are putting great hope in it,” he said.

That hope is abundant on the main streets of Crisfield. “I think it would be a big improvement to the area,” said Morris D. Tawes, part of the family who has operated the J.P. Tawes and Bros. Hardware store, a stone’s throw from the Bay, since the 1880s.

“What we need is support from over your way,” added Tawes, pointing to the Western Shore.

Those sentiments were echoed by Capt. Larry Laird Sr., who runs cruises between Crisfield and Smith Island aboard Jason II. But Laird noted the need for extensive highway improvements “to make the dream work,” as he put it.

“Unless they put a dual highway out there, it would be a mess,” he said. “There would be a lot of accidents.”

—Bay Weekly with Kathy Bergren Smith

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Way Downstream …

Along Chesapeake Bay, nearly 90 percent of 2,000 people interviewed in a vast new poll said they are worried about the health of the Bay and its tributaries.

Rebecca Hammer, who directs the government-funded Chesapeake Bay Program, said the survey “confirms that the people of the Chesapeake Bay watershed see the Bay as a special place — a national treasure that deserves to be protected and restored.”

In Delaware, environmental authorities discovered a nasty holiday surprise: manure seeping from a closed veal farm, more nutrient pollution headed for Chesapeake Bay via the Choptank River. The New Jersey businessman who owns the defunct Delaware Veal Farms said he would pay for the $150-an-hour emergency cleanup now underway, the Wilmington News Journal reported …

In Germany, holiday revelers are having quite a party thanks to beer selling for as little as a nickel a can. “Germany foams over with joy!” trumpeted Bild newspaper last weekend, describing how merchants are clearing their shelves of old bottles and cans to get ready for a new national law requiring deposits of a quarter or 50 cents for every container …

Our Creature Feature comes from India, the only country we know that could produce a news story that began as follows: “A herd of drunken elephants driven berserk by country liquor trampled to death six people.”

The Reuters story, published just before Christmas, went on to say that development has destroyed the habitat for hundreds of elephants. It added this odd note: When invading rural villages, the elephants head straight for barrels of home-brewed rice liquor.

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Copyright 2003
Bay Weekly