Dock of the Bay

Volume VII Number 14
April 8-14 1999

Down the Drain? Gardeners Love Compro; Foes Say It Stinks

Time may be running out for Compro, the gardener's great friend.

"It's almost magic," boasted Compro advertisements. Indeed, Compro seemed too good to be true. One of those win-win products born of the Whole Earth thinking of the late 1970s, Compro turned a product nobody wanted - sludge - into a natural fertilizer and soil conditioner sold for $4 a 40-pound bag.

Compro is sewage sludge hauled from the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore sewage treatment plants and mixed with wood chips at a Silver Spring composting plant. The compost is pasteurized and cured to be sold in bulk and bags at nurseries and garden centers.

Compro was conceived by The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, United States Department of Agriculture and Maryland Environmental Service in response to the Clean Water Act, which demanded beneficial uses of community waste. It prospered for two decades as a miracle fertilizer and solution to an otherwise nasty problem.

Now Compro is in trouble for stinking.

When the Silver Spring composting plant opened in 1983, it had no near neighbors. When people came, problems began. Recently, residents petitioned for its closure. They were joined in their complaint by patrons of a new health spa constructed near the gate of the compost plant. Odor was their complaint.

Tait Saderholm, gardener and marketing specialist at Maryland Environmental Service, which makes the very natural fertilizer, says Compro's been wronged. Faced with this outcry of odorous nature, he said, officials found it "politically poisonous to support the facility's operations."

"The county maintains that they are doing it to save money and because of odors generated by the facility," said Saderholm.

Saderholm also maintains that a poll showed that a majority of the residents were even unaware of the plant's existence.

Compro isn't dead yet. Bureaucracy may yet preserve the $68-million Beltsville plant.

The Environmental Protection Agency funded a portion of the plant. If county money must be used to repay the money, closing would be expensive.

The plant is also being maintained by five federal court orders that helped open its doors in the first place. All of the court orders must be rescinded to end business.

Montgomery County, where the plant is located, would also need permission from its other partners, Prince George's County, Washington, D.C. and Fairfax County, to stop recycling sludge.

There's also a required public comment period.

It's even possible that the offensive odor could be eliminated. "Odors are prevented by delivering sufficient air to maintain both microbially favorable temperatures and through oxygenation," wrote Melvin Finstein in a letter to the Washington Post. In other words, give it air.

Whatever happens to Compro, Leafgro survives to continue the waste-to-garden-health legacy begun in the late 1970s. Leafgro is an organic earth enricher made from leaves composted with grass clippings. The leaves are collected in the fall from households in Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties. Grass clippings from the same counties are added in the spring.

Leafgro, which is also manufactured in Montgomery County, survives because nobody has complained of an odor or other problem. In fact, its consumer popularity is continuing to rise, especially with the threatened demise of its predecessor.

"There is serious pressure because there isn't another compost product in area. There may not be enough Leafgro to go around," Saderholm said.

Saderholm sells Compro in bulk and bags to at least 277 wholesale customers, all of whom will lose out if Compro goes under. Among them are Homestead Gardens and many other nurseries selling to gardeners.

Critically acclaimed Compro renovated the south lawn of the White House and the lawns of Washington's monuments, the State House in Annapolis and Mount Vernon. The grounds at Camden Yards, Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, the United States Naval Academy Baseball Stadium and BaySox Stadium are also nourished by Compro.

-Mary Catherine Ball

Players Storm Beaches, Tickle Audiences

All dressed up: The Twin Beach Players

It's not Broadway, but the Twin Beach Players, a local theater group, is taking Chesapeake and North Beaches by storm.

With their fifth show, Cinderella Waltz, the players put the traditional fairy tale on its ear. Long-time member Tom Coyle, a dockmaster by day, portrayed the absent-minded father of Rosey Snow, the newly named Cinderella. He spent the length of the production searching for his always missing pants.

Anne Remy's Mother Magee, the fairy godmother, added crass humor to the play. Between sips from her flask -revealed at the end to hold water - she suffered a hysterical emotional breakdown.

Daytime lawyer Luke Woods took the tale to new ends with his character, Zed, the village idiot. Besides munching plants, he wandered the town speaking garbled messages.

Playing Rosey Snow, Kelly Standridge learned that a handsome prince does not always satisfy a young girl's heart. She chose to spend time with Zed, transformed into an intellectual, and her stepsister ended up with the royal bachelor.

The Players began as the vision of Remy, owner of Lagoons Island Grille. As the 1997 holiday season approached, she felt something was lacking. She made some phone calls, and the project took off on its own.

"A small group of dedicated and highly motivated people realized a need for cultural entertainment in northern Calvert County," said Connie O'Dell, who sits on the Calvert County Tourism Advisory Committee and sponsors the Players.

The Players has grown to 15 core members who keep the dream alive. Jeff Larsen, director of Cinderella Waltz, was recruited after reading a flyer at Lagoon's. Close friend Kay Carver was encouraged by Remy to join the group.

Audience members howled with laughter during funny skits and empathized with Rosey Snow's plight. One person even found his knees Mother Magee's resting place during one act. After this production at the American Legion, everybody seemed to agree that cultural life in the Beaches was greatly improved.

"I think that the audience that has attended so far has enjoyed it as much if not more than we have," said Carver, formerly of The Missouri Concert Ballet.

The Players plan to begin auditions for a musical production during the summer. Volunteer or order tickets at 410/257-0610 or [email protected].


Deale Gets a Good Deale

Gettin' down in Deale - bluegrass style.

In a mostly empty strip complex in Deale sits a new deal.

Opened last month, Good Deale Bluegrass is the first acoustical music store to come to a community known for water recreation and quiet country life.

Seagull guitars, Deering banjos, mandolins and fiddles hang from carefully placed pegs. The opposite wall holds detailed instruction and music books for the guitar, fiddle and tin whistle, among other instruments.

Those who prefer listening to the sounds of other talent can choose a compact disc for pleasure. Between classic country tunes and Celtic selections, you can find the latest bluegrass, as good a selection as in metropolises.

"The prices are lower at my local shop and you can talk with your fellow musicians," said Tim Finch, a musician whose Good Deale is his first venture into the world of business.

"I've been playing music my whole life," said Finch. After eight years of assisting others at in just about every aspect of bluegrass, at festivals and in private businesses, he decided to make music his business and his life.

Finch not only sells instruments but also offers lessons to aspiring musicians in the area. He found Deale an appealing location for his business because of its sense of community. While he was window shopping, everybody was "nice and friendly." Now that his store is open, everybody drops by. Finch now plans to leave Montgomery County and make South County his permanent residence.

Already Tim Finch's new store is causing quite a stir.

"We're looking down here for businesses that fit in to our area and make a contribution not only to the economy but to the culture of South County. We should be honored that he chose Deale," said Ron Wolfe, Deale-Shady Side Small Area Planning Chair. "It's nice to have someone come in and not overlook available existing property," Wolfe added.

Dealite Joy Barrett passed Good Deale Music on her way home. Excited about the discovery, she could not contain the secret. Barrett drove her family to the store to share in her find. Friday evening they returned to enjoy the new store's third weekly Bluegrass Jam. Advertised only by word of mouth, the jams are rocking.

Barrett and her family arrived to an already packed house. Down-home country sounds filled the small store. Heart-wrenching ballads recalling lost love radiated through the room.

Above Friday's players hung a poster of Ricky Skaggs. The respected country singer and bluegrass musician was apparently installed as the store's patron saint.

Toes tapped. Heads nodded to the rhythm of the tunes. Mouths moved, joining in the singing but not knowing all the words. Jammers paused to drink coffee and munch on nachos and peanuts. Listeners walked around the room, sharing friendly smiles and a love for music.

No cowboy boots were to be seen in a crowd dressed in tennis shoes, Dockers and button-down shirts.

As the evening aged, people kept coming. Many traveled from La Plata, Waldorf and Indian Head in Charles County as well as Hollywood in St. Mary's. Some brought young children, who were welcome.

All are welcome as far as Tim Finch is concerned. He did not follow his dream only to fold up shop. He dreams of becoming a town landmark.

"I'm hoping when you think of Deale, you think of this bluegrass shop," Finch said.

"It could have a big impact on musical happenings in Deale," Barrett agreed.


Bay Life: Just Ducky on the Patuxent River

Scaups on the rise on the Patuxent.

For the birds of the Patuxent River, there's good news this spring - and bad.

The good news is that at least 48,000 birds of 42 varieties stopped on the Patuxent River in late February to rest their feathers.

That's the word from the first annual Patuxent River water bird census organized by scientists at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Lothian.

"The numbers emphasize the importance of the Patuxent River for a variety of birds, especially diving ducks," said Chris Swarth, the sanctuary's census coordinator. "We had 14 species of diving ducks that came in tremendous numbers: 2,000 to 3,000 of each variety." Diving ducks included canvasbacks, buffleheads and both greater and lesser scaups.

The first-ever land-based count on the Patuxent River establishes a baseline for future counts, Swarth explained. The Patuxent River is usually not included in the midwinter waterfowl count conducted by the Department of Natural Resources that concentrates on the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay.

For the Patuxent census, 60 observers counted birds at 161 different locations along the river. Of the 48,500 birds noted, most abundant were ruddy ducks, which at 12,200 got the edge over 12,110 Canada geese, Swarth reports.

At Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, four bird watchers scanned the still morning water with powerful scopes and binoculars to pick out telltale plumage and markings from over a quarter mile away. From vantage points around Jug Bay, staffer Beth Wright joined volunteers Dottie Mumford, Nancy and Paul McAllister to sweep the glass-smooth Jug Bay and its marshes, spying a pied-billed grebe, a red-breasted merganser, a northern pintail, green-winged teals, mallards and lots of black ducks.

A separate two-day aerial count complemented the ground census. Flying 200 feet above the water in a single-engine Cessna float plane fitted out with high-tech global positioning gear, three Fish and Wildlife Service observers searched along the Patuxent from its mouth to two miles below the Route 4 bridge, where the river becomes too narrow to see birds from the air.

"We need low winds and no rain," says Fish and Wildlife bird counter Doug Forsell. "Winds make it very hard to see birds and very uncomfortable for the three of us." The aerial count tallied a total 28,376 birds. Of those, 9,981 were ruddy ducks.

Ruddy ducks - small, stocky, white-cheeked ducks with broad, light blue bills - winter in large flocks along Southern coasts.

Other abundant varieties included greater and lesser scaups, buffleheads, canvasbacks, common goldeneyes, old squaws, and tundra swans - the black-billed American natives. Plus lots of ring-billed gulls.

"We also had a good number of bald eagles: 18, half of which were adults," added Swarth.

Rare species included a red-necked grebe, Barrow's goldeneye, and, perched on the bridge at Solomon's Island, one peregrine falcon.

Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary's mud flats and marshes attracted some 3,500 water birds, according to Swarth. Another favorite spot: a stretch of the river near the Pepco Power Plant, where a tributary from Charles County joins the Patuxent. There observers counted over 5,000 ruddy ducks.

"We were surprised. It looks like the highest concentration of birds was in a 15- mile stretch that runs 10 to 25 miles from the river's mouth. We counted 32,000 birds along there. It's clear that birds are finding a lot to eat on the river," Swarth said.

Not all the news is good. Some species are not faring so well as others. Populations of pintails seem to be down, Swarth said, possibly due to degradation in underwater grasses around which such species feed.

But Swarth hesitates to make generalizations about the river's waterbird population. "You have to look at all factors that affect bird populations here. That includes where the birds nest and conditions at other stopovers and breeding grounds, rainfall and habitat loss," he said. Swarth will compare the river numbers to the numbers released earlier this year by Natural Resources, which usually finds 25,000 to 30,000 ruddy ducks on the Potomac River.

"This count will put future data into perspective. We documented the variety of birds on the river in mid-winter. We learned where birds concentrate so we can choose key areas to place our observers. For the first time, we have a baseline with which to compare future counts," said Swarth.

-Don Kehne


Way Downstream ...

In Pennsylvania, the Forest Service has agreed to halt logging in the Allegheny National Forest to buy time to develop a strategy to protect the endangered Indian bats living there. The bat hibernates over the winter in caves and mine shafts but roosts in dead trees in the summer ...

In Wyoming, they put up tall fences around the Converse County Airport to keep out the antelope. But it seems that to many antelope, the grass is greener (and tastier) on the runway side of the fence. The runways are warm places to rest, too, which is why to arriving pilots the scene looks like an antelope preserve rather than a secure airport ...

Our Creature Feature comes to us from Brno, a city in the Czech Republic that seems to be short on vowels. But one thing Brno doesn't lack is frogs.

To keep it that way, police have been assigned to watch over the frogs' migration to their mating area. And that's not all Brno has done, the Christian Science Monitor reports. To make sure the frogs (and the police) are safe, a busy highway has been closed for mating season.

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Volume VII Number 14
April 8-14, 1999
New Bay Times

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