Dock of the Bay

Volume VI Number 50
December 17-23, 1998


  • 'Tis the Season to Be Careful: Give Wisely
  • Oysters Overboard: Your $6,500 Goes to Work for the Bay
  • Way Downstream ...

  • 'Tis the Season to Be Careful: Give Wisely

    You're in the mood. The season of giving has warmed your heart and opened your purse. Nobody on your list is going to be disappointed, and your list extends from Grandma and the kiddies out into the wide world.

    You're not alone. A third of all charitable donations are made in the months of November and December.

    Money flows freely this time of year for two reasons, we're told by Maryland Secretary of State John T. Willis. The first is altruistic: people in the holiday spirit are more inclined to give.

    The second is self-serving: at the end of the tax year, people are looking for deductions. Last year, says Willis, Marylanders deducted $2.2 billion from their tax bills.

    For givers and receivers alike, charity is a multi-billion dollar business. Registered Maryland-based charitable organizations brought in more than $8 billion to aid their good work in 1997. Misleading or fraudulent solicitations generated at least $40 million more.

    You're easy pickings. Your goodwill this time of year could make you vulnerable to con artists who know just what you're feeling.

    Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus comes to town for the scoundrel as well as the saint.

    Sometimes, even Santa is hard pressed to tell who's been naughty and who's been nice.

    In Southern Maryland two years ago, relates department spokesman John White, "a guy with a red bucket on a chain was ringing a bell outside a grocery store, like Salvation Army does."

    Alerted by a suspicious shopper, the Secretary of State's investigator uncovered a fraud.

    To keep your money out of some Grinch's pockets, you've got to work at "giving wisely," cautions Secretary Willis, who set out this week on his organization's annual holiday cautionary tour.

    "Use discretion when making charitable contributions, especially when solicited over the phone," adds Nikki Trella, director of the Secretary of State's Charitable Organizations Division. Because fast-talking phone solicitors can make a sow's ear seem a silk purse, "people should watch out for the name game: organizations that use names similar to traditional, well-known charities," Trella cautions.

    For example, any organization can claim to represent public safety workers like volunteer firefighters and law enforcement officers.

    Don't let your good will - or your eagerness to get rid of the thousandth solicitation call you've received this season - lull your better judgment. Before parting with your hard-earned money, find out who you're talking to. Check out 'sound-alikes' with local police or fire departments; if they are legitimate, the local departments will have heard of them.

    Better yet, simply avoid pledging money over the phone. "It's better to hand a check directly to your favorite fire department," advises spokesman White.

    Even if you've made a pledge over the phone, you're free to change your mind. A verbal pledge to donate money is never legally binding. "Many people receive what looks like an invoice in the mail, and they think they have to pay," says White. "But you have no obligation whatsoever."

    If you just can't bring yourself to say no, ask the caller seeking a donation to mail literature, including financial information, about the organization. If the organization is legitimate, they should be happy to send it to you.

    Time is on your side. Impulse is on theirs, so scam charities want to sign you up while you're hot. One organization, White reported, offered to send a courier to pick up the check from a potential donor. When the donor felt suspicious, she called the Charitable Organizations Division.

    "We told her to demand literature from the organization before giving anything - and then act only after she had time to think about it," Trella said.

    While you're thinking an appeal over, put in a call to the Charitable Organizations Division to verify that the organization is what and who it says it is. Not all legitimate charitable organizations are registered by law, but when they are registered, their financial and mission statements are on file. With your phone call, you can get that information, file a complaint or launch an investigation.

    "Most charities are very legitimate and worthy," concluded Trella. "We want you to continue to give - wisely."

    Reach the Charitable Organizations Division at 800/825-4510 or on the web at

    -Don Kehne with NBT staff

    Haley Hurson and Tony RolfesOysters Overboard: Your $6,500 Goes to Work for the Bay

    Haley Hurson and Tony Rolfes donned rubber overalls for the messy work of seeding oysters, left.

    Under a darkening sky and braving the threat of rain, eight volunteers gathered at the dock of historic Londontown Public House in Edgewater a couple weeks ago to help the Bay and to finish some business begun back in May.

    With the guidance of Bob Pfieffer of the Oyster Recovery Partnership and aboard the boats of captains Ken Watts and Bill Curry, the volunteers dumped one million oyster shells loaded with spat into a South River oyster sanctuary.

    "This was a lot of fun," said Tony Rolfes, a senior at Southern High School who lives in Shady Side. "My family has been growing oysters off our pier for a year."

    You may remember that at New Bay Times' Fifth Anniversary Birthday-Bivalve Bash at Cory PhillipsSurfside 7 in May, more than 500 people gathered to celebrate five years of NBT and to raise money for the Oyster Recovery Partnership. The partnership is a non-profit group solely devoted to rebuilding the oyster population in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Friends and guests dug and dug deep for a fund-raising auction that raised nearly $6,500 for the Partnership.

    Cory Phillips empties a bag of seed oysters into South River at right.

    In the months between that successful fundraising and the planting for which it paid, seed oysters were spawned at the University of Maryland's lab at Horn Point.

    Oysters enjoy mobility in only their earliest stage of life. As spat, they float through the water before settling down. In the wild, that's usually on an existing oyster bar, where they'll companionably live out the days of their lives.

    The spat oysters raised in a controlled environment at Horn Point settle on sterilized shell harvested just for this purpose. From then on, the only movement these seed oysters will experience is at the hands of people.Capt. Ken Watts and Haley Hurson

    Next, the seed oysters - spat, shell and all - are bagged in mesh bags two feet long and a foot in diameter. In the nursery, the bags of oysters grow until planting.

    "In the tank, the oysters are artificially fed. They should be moved out in six days," said Pfieffer.

    Moving them out were Haley Hurson, Angela Hulse and Tony Rolfes of Southern High School, Cory Phillips of South River High School and Alex Knoll of New Bay Times. Plus, of course, Pfieffer and captains Watts and Curry. Capt. Ken Watts directs Haley Hurson as she picks up oyster shells from the boat's deck, at left.

    Why so much fuss over these immobile creatures?

    For the health of the Bay.

    Oyster man Bob Pfieffer, at right.

    For millions of years, oysters have been Mother Nature's aquatic filters.

    Five hundred years ago, when John Smith sailed up Chesapeake Bay, scientists estimate, oysters filtered and cleansed the Chesapeake every seven days. Now, with more to filter and fewer oysters to do so, it takes the Bay's oysters a full year to filter the Bay.

    Oysters - and consequently the Bay - have fallen ill to the degree that in its recent "State of the Bay" report, Chesapeake Bay Foundation rated the health of oysters at one out of a possible 100 - the least healthy of all Bay indicators.

    For these reasons, scientists, watermen, regulators and concerned citizens joined together to form the Oyster Recovery Partnership, with Pfieffer as executive director. The Partnership's sole function is to plant oysters in the Bay.

    "We don't do a lot of research or write a lot of papers," said Captain Curry. "We put oysters in the water, and that's what we're supposed to do."

    Even so, it's not as easy as it might sound.

    The oysters planted on this day filled hundreds of the mesh bags aboard two working boats. Each bag, weighing maybe 20 pounds, had to be hefted from deck to gunwale and torn open before the seed oysters were dumped overboard. Even though volunteers were wearing gloves, the sharp shells' edges made their mark.

    Angela Hulse , at right, tears open a mesh bag holding the seed oysters.

    For the high school students, the afternoon's work counted toward their community service required for graduation. But they said the experience gave them more than extracurricular credit.Capt. Bill Curry

    "This was a good experience, something I'd never done," said Southern High School senior Hulse. "It's a lot more physical, but I think it's for a better cause."

    Capt. Bill Curry, at left.

    Classmate Hurson agreed: "I never get to do this sort of thing. It's hard. You really have to respect the people who do it all the time."

    The group had set out aboard two boats loaded with seed oysters. When the work was done, the empty bags collected for disposal and the decks cleaned, they headed back to shore filled with hope.

    "I think it's a good thing. More people should get involved," said Phillips, the South River senior. "If nobody does anything, the Bay's going to disappear."


    Way Downstream ...

    Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, a Republican, is getting high marks from conservationists after asking the General Assembly for $48 million to fight pollution in Virginia's rivers. River advocates see Gilmore as a godsend after Gov. George Allen, who was widely regarded as anti-environment in his policies ...

    In Washington State, park employees in the town of Pullman think they've discovered how to prevent theft of evergreens during the holiday season: They're coating the trees with a reeking mixture that includes skunk spray and coyote urine. Be glad you don't work for the city of Pullman ...

    In Alaska, the Nome Junior Achievement program has a fund-raising scheme that smells. In the first-ever "Nome Moose Nugget Drop," 3,000 hunks of moose-droppings with numbers painted by local jail inmates will be dropped from a plane, the Anchorage Daily News reports. The owner of the nugget closest to a bulls-eye wins two round-trip tickets on Alaska Airlines ...

    In Maine, folks really know how to have a good time. In a recent contest, judges sampled 29 different kinds of spring water to see which tasted best. Steve Levy, director of the Maine Rural Water Association, observed: "There's nothing duller than watching grown people drink water" ...

    Our Creature Feature comes to us from New Zealand where too much sex may be driving an endangered bird to extinction. The bird is the hihi, a species that's always been known for aggressive mating behavior.

    But now, the constant pressure from males to copulate is causing problems, scientists say. That's because the combination of male attention and a fungal disease is leaving females stressed and more susceptible to fatal infections. Males, on the other hand, are more resistant to the fungus precisely because of the sex urge. How can that be?

    All of that testosterone in the males provides immunization against the fungus, researchers say.

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    Volume VI Number 50
    December 17-23, 1998
    New Bay Times

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