Volume 12, Issue 9 ~ February 26-March 3, 2004

Powered by

Search bayweekly.com

Search WWW

Burton on the Bay

The Enemy is Us

Remember the Alamo!
— Rallying cry following the heroic battle that began on Feb. 23, 1836

When I was reminded by the daily press that the 12-day siege of the old Spanish mission at San Antonio started 168 years ago this week, the thought came to me that here in February of 2004, our Chesapeake Bay can be likened to the band of 187 fighting for Texas independence against Gen. Santa Anna and his force of 5,000 Mexican regulars.

We all know what happened to Cols. Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Travis and the other 184 valiant defenders. They were overwhelmed just like the once mighty Chesapeake is being overwhelmed by us, as in Us. As Pogo of comic strip fame said: “We have met the enemy and it is us.”

You, me and everyone else. Pogo was right.

Hoped-for reinforcements didn’t get to the Alamo in time. Unless backup forces soon come on the scene hereabouts, we will virtually wipe out the Chesapeake. Not only the body of water with 3,000 miles of shoreline that represents 22 percent of the total area of Maryland but also much of our quality of life.

Sadly though realistically, the woes of the Chesapeake are only an example of what’s going on most everywhere on this big sphere we call Mother Earth. It’s only the Bay and its tributaries we see; they are our next-door neighbors.

Elsewhere in this nation alone our woes are duplicated. Also in trouble are waters like the Gulf of Mexico, Delaware Bay, the Hudson, Puget Sound, the Mississippi and the Missouri. Our South, Severn, Magothy and Choptank rivers, even Western Maryland’s Deep Creek Lake are minuscule in comparison with the others. No, we and our Bay are not alone under siege.

Good Jobs; Bad Bay
I thought of that on the anniversary of the opening day of the Battle of the Alamo as, here on the shores of Stoney Creek in North County, I looked across the mouth of the creek, then farther across the widening Patapsco to Baltimore County on the other side. There was Sparrows Point, home of Bethlehem Steel. A tad farther to the northwest and also within view was Sparrows Point Shipyard.

Jubilation reigns. The defunct shipyard is about to be rejuvenated. Boston-based business interests envision a 250-acre plot upon which will be a huge industrial complex, which will include shipbuilding and repairs. Nearby Bethlehem Steel, or whatever it’s called these days under new ownership, isn’t nearly as busy as it once was, but its blast furnaces still belch.

The shipyard property, now separate from the steel plant, is figured to have the potential of 1,500 jobs as compared with zilch at present. Who knows what new ownership will mean in jobs with the adjacent steelmaker. Let’s face it: Clean waters, clean air and jobs are all badly needed these days.

Let’s also face this: The time has come when we and our government have to make some choices. Tough decisions. Several miles from the mouth of Stoney Creek to the east, the Patapsco flows into Chesapeake Bay. The air above moves on over the Bay where it deposits contaminants, not only on its waters but on waters, land and people elsewhere. Same old story everywhere.

I think back to my early days covering outdoors for the Sunpapers. In the late ’50s, there was a prolonged strike at then-booming Bethlehem Steel, the biggest employer in the state. Baltimore diver Joe Dorsey called to relate how things had changed on the Patapsco. In underwater work he’d done for the plant previously, he said he had found dank, green slimy waters. Out of curiosity he returned during the strike to find waters much cleaner. Underwater Patapsco visibility was improved tenfold or more.

That was in a matter of weeks. In recent years, the steel plant’s production has ebbed appreciably, prompting me to wonder if it is by coincidence that, in the meantime, there has been a resurgence of rockfishing in the Patapsco, and sea trout once again visit it. The Key Bridge not far upriver on some days can offer better striper catches than the heralded and distant Bay Bridge.

If so, this fishing hasn’t come cheaply. Thousands of jobs have gone down the drain; the health benefits, maybe even the pensions, of retirees are now threatened.

Don’t get me wrong. This is no indication I’m siding with industry. No way. Personally I like things quiet on the other side of the Patapsco. Waters are even better and more productive for fishing in the creek behind my house. But …

Just as Bad Is Us
And there are many Buts. Foremost is but, let’s crack down hard on polluters. Good idea, but … But we are among the polluters. Municipal sewage plants do their dirty work. But there is foot-dragging to correct that. Agriculture and farming are contributors, but again more foot-dragging. The same with development.

Then comes Us again. Boaters object to the costs and inconvenience of putting an end to overboard disposal that pollutes. Shoreside, half the vehicles sold are fuel guzzling SUVs and other low fuel mileage passenger trucks that pollute. Our gas-guzzling motor vehicles share with industry the blame for global warming.

We have a not insignificant presence of rockfish with red blemishes, but watermen and charterboat skippers prefer this worrisome woe be hushed. It’s bad for business. The same with netters concerned that publicity surrounding other contaminated species in industrialized tributaries will affect regional markets.

I could go on and on. But human nature dictates people only want to hear what the other half is doing wrong. Don’t blame me is our byword.

Change Will Cost Us
Meanwhile, oysters, menhaden, clams, yellow perch, sturgeon, black drum, shad, crabs, red drum and other species — possibly including rockfish with their sores some attribute to insufficient nutrition — are troubled, some to outrageous degrees. On an even larger scale, rising sea levels mean havoc for the Bay complex somewhere down the road. A few inches more water can corrupt the shorelines and marshes. The East Coast from Florida north is highly vulnerable. Whole ecosystems are at risk.

Some answers are evident now; many others demand more research. But bottom-line remedies, as well as studies to determine what’s needed, cost big money and demand changes in our lifestyles.

Every new or revitalized industry takes its toll. But (there we go again), so does dredging to dock a boat in the back yard. Or driving a big behemoth down the highway.

Which is more difficult to attain? The funds to implement restoration of the Bay at a time when government coffers here and across the nation are as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard? Or the willingness of people — whether individuals or industry and commerce moguls — to cut back on development of all kinds, pay more for environmentally wise changes and endure the sacrifices of a less wasteful and less damaging society?

The enemy is not Santa Anna. It is not just developers, industrialists and business. The enemy is All Of Us. Let’s not point fingers unless we can turn the index finger back toward ourselves. Enough said …

to the top

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated February 26, 2004 @ 1:12am.