Volume 12, Issue 47 ~ November 18 - November 24, 2004
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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

What Everyone Wants to Know About Chesapeake Bay
And Isn't Afraid to Ask
It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.
-James Thurber: 1894-1961

Though I was among Thurber's most avid followers in the New Yorker and elsewhere - and miss his cartoons as well as his prose - I must disagree with him on the matter of questions and answers. Especially when it comes to the woes of Chesapeake Bay.

We all know the questions, but I fear few - if any - know the answers, or dare put the answers down in black and white. Meanwhile, among us who value the Chesapeake dearly, there are many who want those answers. Bay watchers are tiring of those with clout acting like they are walking through a maze of eggshells.

Fishing without a Hook
Know what? More than a few of us who are increasingly concerned about the health of the Bay would like to know what the bottom line is, not just the problems. Sometimes, I get to thinking the bottom line should be the top line. You lay it all on the line at the beginning, let you-know-what hit the fan. Then you get to work on coming up with - and implementing - remedies.

If toes are stepped on, so be it. If heads roll, let there be more Ichabod Cranes. To see the perfect example of how cheap talk is, one needs only to take a gander at all the verbal balderdash we're subjected to when up comes the subject of contemporary Bay woes.

Oh, there's finger pointing, enough of that to wear out the nails at the tips of the digits; so much so that some would think just identifying the culprits is sufficient to solve the problems - which we Bay watchers know is hogwash. To put it bluntly: What in hell are we waiting for? Christmas?

Even Santa's big bag that carries enough toys for all the kids in the world can't cart enough money to fix the Bay. But if nearly bankrupt California can come up with $3 billion for stem cell research because it must be done, then it stands to reason that those who shepherd the Bay should start sharpening their pencils and come up with some fiscal recommendations to take us from talk, finger pointing and gripes to plain old action.

Methinks the time has come. The piecemeal approach over the past four or five decades has been about as successful as trying to catch a rockfish with neither hook nor net. What are we - they - waiting for?

Drag your foot long enough, and heels or soles will wear out. Figuratively, drag a foot long enough in doctoring the Chesapeake, and it will end up as little more than an avenue for ships of commerce to reach the Port of Baltimore - or a dispersal system for municipal sewage.

When or if that comes, gone would be the rockfish, oysters, clams, crabs, bluefish, sea trout, hardheads, spot, perch - you name it. Even the toadfish, eels and carp would pack up and leave if they could not find enough dissolved oxygen to energize them for the move elsewhere.

If and when this occurs, the Bay could become a septic waterway, one harmful to the health of those in the communities along its shores as it contaminates the atmosphere.

I'm trying not to be a doomsday Chicken Little. I'm just repeating what Jess W. Malcolm, director of Chesapeake Bay Foundation about four decades ago, told me could happen to the Delaware River unless it was cleaned up. Keep in mind, the Bay is just a bigger version of that river, with bigger problems, more talk and less action.

Lay It on the Line
So when and where do we start to ensure this doesn't come about? Perhaps a good kickoff would be a new twist on the old popular book titles What Everyone Wants to Know, But Is Afraid To Ask. But let's call ours What Everyone Wants to Know About Chesapeake Bay And Isn't Afraid to Ask. Also, we want to know the sacrifices, monetary and otherwise, that are called for to bring about a healthy Bay.

Seeing we're paying the bill and enduring whatever sacrifices, then we can make the decisions. Of course, there is only one reasonable decision, which is to pay the bill and make the sacrifices - though we should have input in prioritizing what must be done.

Hey, lay it on us; we're not kids. All the sidestepping of the past has gotten us where we are today.

We're smart enough to know if the Bay is to be saved, what we put off today will cost us even more tomorrow. Forget about governors, departments, bureaucracies, special-interest groups like farmers and those who harvest from the Bay commercially or recreationally, businesses, municipalities laggard in updating wastewater facilities - and so many others adversely impacting the Bay. We can't wait for other states or the feds to get a kick in the fanny before we do our thing - though a combined effort would be a better ticket.

Twenty Questions
Among the questions we want answered:

Are Asian oysters the answer to bringing back filter-cleansers of the bay?

How long can we wait for native oysters to rebound and do their thing?

What about menhaden stocks that also filter Chesapeake waters? How much more time can be wasted before we cap the catches of the Virginia commercial menhaden fleet?

We want to know which municipalities are dumping insufficiently treated waste waters into the Bay.

We want to know the impact of gas-guzzling vehicle emissions on the Bay.

We're also more than curious about what can be reasonably be done about the impact of agricultural practices on the Bay.

And what about dredging to boost commerce on the Bay?

Here's another touchy one: What about overboard disposal of wastewaters into the Chesapeake from boats?

What's got to be done to cure the increasingly evident problem of too little dissolved oxygen in Bay waters?

What must be done to restore vital aquatic vegetation?

Why aren't there more meaningful curtailments on development along the shores of the Bay and its tributaries?

Tell us why Bay waters are so cloudy we can't see five feet down and what must be done to improve clarity.

That's just a sampling of our questions, and we want direct step-on-toes answers. Put it all in one big package, a package we can understand. Forget about special-interest groups, political consequences, budgets, the bad publicity. Just tell it like it is, and tell us how much it will cost.

'Tis said, impatience is for the young. I'm old, very old, and I'm frustrated and increasingly impatient when it comes to Bay restoration. The motto of the Navy SeaBees is Can Do, and with the Bay, we can do if the powers that be will finally lay it on the line.

Enough said...

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