Protest 104: Don't Muck Up Our Bay
Pumping muck dredged from the Baltimore harbor channels into Poplar Island is mostly credited as a good idea. But pump the same kind of muck into Site 104, a deep ditch up the Bay a bit off Kent Island, and you raise the devil's own ruckus.
Our neighbor, engineer Ed Becke, took a ride over Poplar Island recently with pilot and fellow Fairhavener Thomas Clancy in a 1964 Moonie.
From over 1,000 acres, Poplar Island has shrunk to a little strip of mud. "There's not a bit of vegetation left," said 72-year-old Becke of the disappearing island. "I used to go over there when it was dense with forests. It was huge."
Restoring Poplar Island at a cost of $400 million, said Becke, "is a great idea. It will make a new area of wildlife habitat and recreation, and it's contained." Well, mostly contained.
Despite barriers to contain the spoils, a vast plume of mud ran north from the island on the in-coming tide.
We asked Becke about Site 104, the four-mile stretch where the Maryland Port Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to dump 18 million cubic yards of Baltimore Harbor muck.
"A terrible idea. It will cover up miles of oysters and clams and pollute miles and miles north and south of the dumpsite, depending on which way the tide is running," said Becke.
Becke speaks for much of Maryland this spring.
So strong is popular sentiment against Site 104 that no less than six bills have been introduced in the General Assembly to regulate or prohibit open-Bay dumping.
Closest to home, three members of the Anne Arundel County delegation - freshmen Richard D'Amato and Mary Rosso along with Virginia Clagett - would require the prior approval of the General Assembly before any "earth, rock, soil, waste matter, muck or other material" could be dumped, deposited or scattered. Other bills would stop dumping at 104 or allow dumping only in contained areas for beneficial uses.
Public hearings will be held in March in Annapolis, Kent Island and Chestertown to further air the issue.
All that's a good sign, we think. When citizens are informed and lawmakers alert and responsive, it's just possible that the final decision will be one we can all live with.
But we're not endorsing any legislation yet. Not until the lawmakers have sat down with the technology wizards.
We've spent some time over the years leafing through catalogues of alternative technology. In case you haven't read the Whole Earth Catalogue or its sequels, we want to remind you that there's a means to just about every end.
You read about one of those alternative wonders in Dock of the Bay last week.
Geo-tubes, or geo-textile tubes, are huge plastic encasements - they could be hundreds of feet long - in which the silt and mud would be pumped. When these giant stuffed "hot dogs" are dumped overboard, the dredge materials are contained.
We learned about geo-tubes from Bill Goldsborough of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who recommended them for another reason. "This could be a nice marriage," Goldsborough said. "We'd be creating hills on which you plant oyster shells to mimic the way oyster reefs used to grow."
The economics would be appealing, too, with the Army Corps paying $1 per yard of the spoils - that's $18 million - to mitigate the potential harm caused by this open-water dumping. With open channels, the Port of Baltimore could rebuild the city and state's maritime economy.
So we say it's not good enough to stop a potential problem. We want it both ways. We want a win-win solution where economy and environment both prosper. We hope that's what our lawmakers want, too.