Burton on the Bay:
Chesapeake Bay Robbery
A Bigger and Busier Port of Baltimore

A politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man.

			-One Times One, 
			Edwin Estlin Cummings, 1944.


E.E. Cummings was right. Hold on to your hats. And your pocketbooks. And your temper. They're at it again.

Yet the truth is we're the arses, we elected 'em, thus we get what we deserve - though why do those who didn't vote for 'em have to pay an equal share of the bill?

If ever there was a classic case for impeachment - other than the current one in the U.S. Senate - it's on the horizon right here in Maryland, and with repercussions that promise an ominous, if not catastrophic, impact on Chesapeake Bay.

The stage is set for the most idiotic, short-sighted and thieving grab since I can't think at the moment of one that could beat it, so it must be the worst ever. The Teapot Dome pales in comparison.

First, they dipped into our pockets for the Oriole Stadium at Camden Yards, then that ugly piece of architecture that blights the Baltimore-Washington Expressway's gateway to good old Baltimore. Now they want to dig even deeper into our pockets and purses for the grandiose scheme of all schemes.

The figures they're batting around already equal the gouging from the two sports edifices combined. And we probably won't have a thing to say about it, as we didn't when pie-in-the-sky legislators, governors and mayors rammed the stadiums down our throats. Play it again, Sam.

Just the other day, the Sunday Sun took time and space out from its ongoing tirade against those who don't think Monica's former boyfriend is a reincarnated Abe Lincoln to inform us that the Port of Baltimore is scheming to play Robin Hood in reverse.

You know, not rob the rich to pay the poor, but as with the stadiums, rob the poor to pay the rich. Why, even Jesse James and Bonnie and Clyde would blush.

Rachel Carson; Teddy Roosevelt; Aldo (not AA County's Del. John) Leopold; John Muir; Maryland's own Dr. Reginald V. Truitt, the father of Chesapeake Bay science; his student and later successor Dr. L. Eugene Cronin and so many others who pioneered our conservation heritage are undoubtedly twirling in their graves.


Pay Up, People

Here's the pitch. The Ravens and Orioles in their outlandish public-financed spectator palaces aren't providing all the monetary revenues necessary to satisfy the greed of their promoters and the obliging politicians. So now there's talk of putting container cargo giants Maersk and Sea-Land in the class of our benefactors Peter Angelos and Art Modell.

It promises to be the biggest give-away since the land rushes of the past century. The Sun's Robert Little batted around figures of "hundreds of millions" as starters and suggested that other ports in competition are above the three Bs - Billion Buck Barrier.

The Ravens Stadium alone cost us $280 million, and now we're told that scratch-off lottery tickets aren't meeting their obligation, paying their share. And now could it be we're about to offer financial incentives to two of the biggest and richest giants in commerce? If you know the answer, it's not a question.

It ain't a done deal, we're told, but you know how it is when one city, backed by an overly generous state, starts bidding against another - whether it be a home for selfish and overpaid athletes or super ships. The ante keeps going up, up and away - and we probably won't even have veto power, as we didn't with the Great Stadium Heists.

It's bad enough that our spineless legislators can't resist the opportunity to dig into our pockets in their usual 'we know what's best for you (and us)' routine, but this latest version of the Great Train Robbery has dire consequences for our beloved Chesapeake and the creatures therein.

Just what we need, a bigger and busier Port of Baltimore and over-paid feather-bedding longshoremen and others who handle - but don't pay - the freight.

We're told we could be the second biggest port, second only to New York on the East Coast. Great, but the Hudson and other grimy waters thereabouts aren't Chesapeake Bay.

Bigger ships mean more dredging to keep channels open and deeper channels when shippers bemoan that their latest vessels require even deeper and wider channels. Cargo ships, they might promise (even those needed to deliver a total of possibly 750,000 big boxy containers annually) aren't that bad in themselves. But once the snowball starts downhill, it gets bigger and gains momentum.

Then the oil tankers get in on the act, maybe the super containers. Bigger, wider channels, more dredging, and where do those dredge spoils go? Back into the Bay of course, where else? The politicians, bureaucrats and shipping giants don't want all that smelly, toxic gunk. Heaven forbid.

So what happens when all that crap is dumped back into the Chesapeake?

Storms and tides wash it willy nilly, silt goes every which way, the poor oysters and clams can't escape it and become inundated and buried. It washes and suffocates the gills of aquatic creatures, blurs needed sunlight penetration for aquatic vegetation. In short, it screws up our Bay, where menhaden (at the base of the forage chain for gamefish like rock, trout and blues) already show signs of trouble that probably can be attributed to still undiagnosed water quality woes as well as overcatching.

And bring on those tankers whose oil spills can be one million times worse than crud from bilges of cargo carriers, courtesy of Ye Olde Port of Baltimore. Let one of them run aground or otherwise dump their crude or refined petrol into the Bay, and put away your fishing rods, crab traps, tongs, dredges and such. You won't need 'em for a long time to come.

Twenty five years ago, DNR's then waterfowl chief Vern Stotts worried that a tanker spill at the right (wrong?) time could devastate the Atlantic Flyway's canvasback population. That's just ducks. What about aquatic animals and vegetation?

This reminds me of 40 years ago, when I interviewed University of Delaware scientists who dug out old records with the suggestion - I recall by a once-mayor of Philadelphia - that Delaware Bay and River be used primarily for commerce, and trenches be dug alongside for fishermen, boaters, bathers and others seeking recreation. True story.

There's the old truism in print journalism (certainly not TV) that when one writes ugly commentary, it should be set aside and re-read a day or two later for more temperate reflection. I've long been an adherent, but there are times when it is appropriate that written and unwritten dictates be flaunted. I'll be as angry next week if not worse - and so you should be, as well.

So that's the story. As Honest Abe said: "Politicians are a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people."

Enough said...

| Issue 4 |

VolumeVII Number 4
January 28 - February 3, 1999
New Bay Times
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