Dock of the Bay
Volume VII Number 27
July 8-14, 1999
Taking Our Test as We Take Theirs
photos by Mark Burns A fan pushes air - and emissions gases - through the automobile being inspected, while a hose funnels the exhaust into a computer to be tested for efficiency. The vehicle's wheels rest on a treadmill allowing testing at different simulated speeds.
They say it's random, but when your Vehicle Emissions Inspection deadline coincides with your birthday, it still feels like an unwelcome reminder that both you and your new car are getting older.
So you treat your Official Notice like taxes and death, postponing the day of reckoning until the last possible moment. Which adds a visit to the Maryland Vehicle Emissions Inspection station to your list of birthday treats.
We know that all the hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and tailpipe gases we pump into the air are more agreeable to Venus' atmosphere than Earth's.
We also know that Maryland is one of 22 states attempting to improve the quality of our air and water by requiring an enhanced inspection regimen to make sure that our cars and trucks run clean.
And, yes, we know that we all have to do our part for our air, our Bay and our families. And no, we're not worried that the inspection is going to suck the soul out of our auto or otherwise maim it.
Even so, showing up is something you dread. Especially on your birthday.
Our mood was stressed and sour as we made our way to one of Maryland's 19 centers spread among 14 counties. Not that we had so very far to go. Unlike the folks in Garrett or Worcester counties - who must cross five counties to have their tailpipe gases tested - we had four choices within 25 miles.
We chose Calvert County, in Prince Frederick, as the route with potentially the least traffic and the shortest waiting line.
We had not, in the two months it sat in our possession, glanced at the very readable brochure included with our Official Notice. Had we read "Everything You Need to Know Before, During & After Your Emissions Test," we would not have overshot our destination by a few miles. Inside are maps to each of the 19 stations.
Nor, had we read before rushing off, would we have worried that the station would close before we arrived. Instead of government hours, these stations stay open 7am to 7pm weekdays and 7am to 1pm Saturdays.
If only we had followed directions, we would have known that Vehicle Emissions Inspection is now customer friendly.
Instead, we found out on the spot. Pulling in with three hours and five minutes to spare, we eased into a very short line. Only two cars waited in front of us, and the first of those was not waiting but working out on a treadmill.
Calvert tests only 100 or 125 cars a day. Other stations test hundreds, and the wait may be longer.
Twelve dollars seems a reasonable price to pay, especially since we would not be assessed the late fee of $10 per month in arrears. (Which others we know had to pay for their dallying.) And the young attendant wearing the Station Manager orange vest is both courteous and efficient.
So as we advance into the chamber, as into a car wash, we're feeling less stressed and more curious. Indeed, friendly.
When the inspector asks, "Would you like to go along for the ride?" we're up for it. Though we're a little taken aback when we're told to fasten our seatbelt.
The ride is more than a little like the road rally video game. The inspector's working the gas pedal like a teenager wanting a driver's license, flooring it to zoom ahead, letting up to take a turn, settling into what seems an illegal cruising speed. A computer outside the driver's window charts every twist and turn.
Of course we're going nowhere.
We're racing on a treadmill while a giant vacuum cleaner sucks up our tail pipe fumes. Before we know it, we're back in the driver's seat. Our 1997 Saturn has passed with flying colors, spewing nothing but a mere 0.1 gram per minute of carbon monoxide in a state that tolerates 15 grams.
Had we failed, we'd have been sent to the repair shop to get in better shape, then retested within 60 days. Maybe our test result would help guide the mechanic to the problem. Maybe not. If we couldn't pass on a second or third try, a mechanic's certification that we'd spend $150 or more on emissions-related repairs would keep us on the road.
Not bad, we say, considering that it's all over in 11 minutes. We've joined the procession of 2.4 million Marylanders who are driving more - 135 million miles annually - but polluting less.
Not everyone is quite so charmed by Maryland's new "customer friendly" Vehicle Emissions Inspection program. Tested the same holiday week in one of Montgomery County's three stations, Gaithersburg, Kevin Litkowski says he found it "a lot different than I thought it would be.
"It takes longer than the old way," Litkowski said, close to 20 minutes, while the old test, where "they stuck something in your tailpipe," took only five minutes.
Worse, he said, "when you look at it, you wonder if your car is going to be okay."
But the value, Litkowski concluded, was worth it: "It takes longer, but the dynamometer is a longer test so you get better results."
NBT Update Shrinking Boat
Anne Arundel Partnership Wraps It Up
photo by Russ Pellicot
This is the season when boats frolic on the Bay like butterflies on daylilies.
Hard to believe that not long ago both emerged from cocoons.
While the caterpillar's cocoon biodegrades nicely, boat cocoons are not part of nature's cycle. The cocoons of polyethylene that protect boats from winter weather have until now been destined for a long life in county landfills.
"Shrink-wrap takes up valuable space in landfills," said David Minges, director of Chesapeake Bay Trust.
Shrink-wrap can be recycled into worthwhile products.But you've got to have lots and lots of the popcorn-light stuff.
"It's hard for individual marinas to collect enough shrink wrap to recycle on their own," explained Minges.
This year, Anne Arundel County found a solution to its shrink wrap problem. Following the lead of two-year old programs in Baltimore and Kent counties, it began collecting shrink-wrap at three of the county's largest marinas: Pasadena Boatel & Beach Club, Herrington Harbour North and Port Annapolis Marina.
Six- thousand pounds of last winter's shrink-wrap were rerouted from landfills.
Getting that far took partnership. One partner, Minges' Chesapeake Bay Trust, gave a grant to get the ball rolling.
"What made this program particularly attractive was that it was the first attempt to solve a real problem. Anne Arundel County is the demonstration for the rest of the state," Minges said.
Anne Arundel County's Department of Public Works pitched in, trucking dumpsters to marinas with lots of boats and lots of shrink-wrap.
The Anne Arundel Marine Trades Association accepted a share of the burden, performing legwork, alerting members and locating sites for dumpsters. The County Public Works Department hauled the filled dumpsters to another partner, Giant Foods in Jessup, where it was baled and weighed.
From there, Manner Resins found buyers who would recycle the polyethylene into garbage bags, plastic lumber and garden edgings.
Now the partners feel pleased as they await the upcoming seasons.
"We're very proud of the amount we collected," said Ted Ruegg, president of Marine Trades Association. "Four bales is more than has been collected at any other time. We got a good start in reducing the waste stream."
-Mary Catherine Ball
Cool Spots: Chesapeake Beach
As the temperature climbed above the high 90s, we scrambled out of the oppressive car. Whew! We were finally there; relief was in sight.
Chesapeake Beach Water Park is a haven in the heat wave.
This park is a little place that offers big waves of fun. It's for all ages but especially caters to the two- to 12-year-old set. The big lagoon, with depths of one to three feet, has four small slides and one larger slide with a big splash for little bottoms. The kids can wrestle an anaconda, ride astride an alligator and roll down the back of a Maryland blue crab.
In the diaper pool, babies can play by a whale that spouts water. A secure fence and gate keep the little whales in keeping.
There are height requirements for going solo on the two big slides, but even pre-schoolers can careen down, luge-style, on a tube with an adult. The first time left my chatterbox six-year-old son speechless - sort of.
"That was so, so fun! That was so unbelievably fun I can't tell you how much fun it was!" he said with glee.
The big guys won't be bored either. There is a two-story tunnel slide that I didn't have the courage to try. The kids say its blue chute has drops and darkness. The daredevils are breathless as they torpedo out the bottom.
For teens and adults, water volleyball is in continuous progress.
As the heat cooked the walkways around the park, we dipped in and out of various regions of cool. The palms scattered throughout dribbled icy cold water. Once in a while, a coconut fills till it tips. A small bucket of icy water might land on walkers below. Take that, you heat wave.
Moms and dads can cool down and relax with a float on Dreamland River. My usually kinetic five-year-old girl took a long rest nestled on my lap as we bobbed around.
Float devices, orange donuts and blue figure eight tubes, are part of the admission price. There are enough tubes if everyone shares. I was struck by how this breaks down barriers and adds to the friendly tone of the park.
"I just love it here," said regular visitor Tesa Holland. She found the park because relatives live in the area, but she comes all the way from Laurel. "It's clean and well-run. I pass up other places on my way here, and it's worth it."
"It's such a relaxing and calming place," Tesa said as she gestured to her children reclining on their floats as they flowed down river.
First-timer Heather James drove more than an hour to get to the park. She likes the small-town feeling of a setting more intimate than the mammoth Six Flags or King's Dominion.
"They are too much, too big. And this place has more for the younger kids," she said. Her children are six and 11.
"Plus, there's an over-abundance of life guards here," she added.
Park manager Kerrie Phalen says that more guards mean plenty of breaks. Without the usual 15-minute breaks many community pools require because of conservative staffing, parents avoid the hassle of policing young swimmers while they're out of the water.
I also loved the parent-friendly service by concession staff who take your order and fetch your food. It's not only good business for the park but also makes it much easier for an adult to watch the kids and get food, too. Choose from a reasonably priced menu of the usual beach grill items, featuring Boardwalk Fries. Neither food nor drink can be brought in from outside.
If you need to cool the kids - and this heat wave may be only the beginning of a tough summer - Chesapeake Water Park is a good bet. Just watch out for the coconuts or you'll get a splashy chill on your head.
Chesapeake Beach Water Park is located 30 minutes from Annapolis, via Rt. 2 to 260 East to 261 South. From the Washington area, take Rt. 4 east to Rt. 2: 410/257-1404.
Open daily 11am to 8pm.
Rates by the day: General admission, $13: 42 in. or taller; $11: under 42 inches and seniors · Calvert County residents-$8 & $6. Chesapeake Beach residents, $7 & $6. (Rates lower for season pass holders and for groups.)
Way Downstream ...
In Virginia, the Good Earth Farm School near Buena Vista has been opened to teach environment-friendly farming methods. Organic farmers Andy Lee and Patricia Foreman are teaching classes in growing livestock, poultry and produce without hormones, chemicals and other additives that people mistakenly think they need ...
A Texas teenager named Quinton Crocker recently caught a fat, toothy fish that he'd never seen before in Stillhouse Hollow near Killeen. Good thing he didn't reach in its mouth to pull out the hook; it was a foot-long piranha, probably released from a home aquarium ...
In California, a study released last week has this reassuring message: Kitty litter won't kill you. The state conducted a variety of tests letting the clay-based, granular material become airborne before pronouncing it safe ...
In Seattle, people decided that it was unfair that the only noise Puget Sound whales get from humans is engine noise from ships. So last week, the director of a choir decided to serenade the whales with underwater speakers that presented everything from classical waltzes to folk music. It was unclear whether the whales were pleased, but none of them piped up with criticism ...
Our Creature Feature comes from San Francisco, where a new company called Goats R Us is eating up the competition.
The workers are a band of four-legged munching machines, in the words of the San Francisco Chronicle, hired to make fire-hazard underbrush disappear. Their boss is Terri Holleman, who is known as the "goat queen of the Bay Area."
Said she: "It's a good job for them. God made goats to do this - eat. They're happy. We're happy."
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Volume VII Number 27
July 8-14, 1999
New Bay Times
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