Volume 12, Issue 37 ~ September 9-15, 2004
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Dock of the Bay

Preparedness, vigilance, communication key to storm response

With nine major storms already in 2004, are we ready?

Hurricane Charley and Tropical Storm Bonnie hit Florida and points along the East Coast last month, but were no-shows around here.

Hurricane Frances battered an already devastated Florida. Our skies darkened, rain fell and Labor Day cookouts were canceled, but once again we were spared.

Now it seems that Ivan, the ninth major named storm of the 2004 hurricane season, is headed for a third round with the Sunshine State. According to early forecasts, after hitting Florida it will head off into the Gulf of Mexico.

As the first anniversary of Isabel approaches, the question worrying Chesapeake Country is Are we ready if our ticket is punched?

The answer to that question is a resounding: We hope so.

Throughout the region, the lessons of Isabel are still fresh.

“From Isabel, we learned a lot,” said Anne Arundel County spokesman Matt Diehl, who says the county won’t have a cost total on the damage from last year’s storm for at least three years. “Some of it has to do with the way we communicate with people. We’re finding the most effective way to reach people.”

Baltimore Gas and Electric also says it’s learned an elementary lesson in communications. “We have always tried to communicate with our customers when a storm is headed our way,” said Linda Foy spokeswoman for the company.
“But we have definitely stepped it up since Isabel.”

BG&E places advisories on its website as well as asking the media to publish the alerts.

As Charley skirted the East Coast last month, post-Isabel Chesapeake Country put the lessons it learned to work.

Calvert County, where the storm would have hit first, put its Emergency Management team on alert and opened the preparedness center.

“We were there monitoring the storm,” said Sandy Simmons, an emergency management specialist for Calvert. “We coordinated with the state and FEMA to track paths and to make sure we were prepared for whatever was to come.”

With Simmons were representatives of the police and fire departments and the Red Cross.

Updates were passed on to local cable television companies and news outlets and were posted on the county’s website (www.co.cal.md.us).

Anne Arundel County opened its Emergency Operation Center to monitor the storms’ progress early Thursday, August 12, and activated its “reverse-911” which calls to alert residents in low-lying communities in the county about potential flooding.

In Annapolis, “We went through our entire drill,” said city spokeswoman Jan Hardesty after Charley had blown out into the north Atlantic. “Being a harbor town, we have vulnerabilities that need to be addressed long before the storm hits.”

Staff locked down at City Hall so they could, Hardesty said, “monitor the storm from its tropical depression days and start the warning process accordingly.”

The city’s monitor is an experimental FEMA imaging program called HAZUS-MH that calculates just what impact storms have on low-lying areas.

By watching computer projections of what’s coming, Hardesty said, the city expects to “better predict, prepare for and mitigate storms coming our way.”

When a hurricane watch is on, Annapolis Harbormaster Rick Dahlgren has city boats fueled up, fresh batteries put in every flashlight and warnings out to captains who would have to move their boats had the storm hit.

“We’re serious watchdogs,” he said. “We talk to people and try to give a measure of comfort.”

Officials have been planning for the worst for months.

Earlier this year, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens filmed a public service announcement broadcast on radio and television that will run through the end of hurricane season in November to warn us of what to do with an impending storm. For the very nervous, the county urges citizens to log onto the County website (www.aacounty.org) or call (410-222-7000) for a free guide on how to prepare for high winds and flooding.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer also uses the airwaves to get her message out, urging residents to go on-line (www.annapolis.gov) for safety checklists, storm updates and advice on making disaster supply kits.

Midway through hurricane season, it looks like Annapolis and Calvert and Anne Arundel counties and Dahlgren’s teams will stay busy.

As the 2004 hurricane season began June 1, NOAA predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms, with six to eight becoming hurricanes, and two to four of those becoming major hurricanes.

Already 2004 has produced nine tropical storms, five of which have become hurricanes, according to Frank Lepore of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Three of those hurricanes have been categorized as major, which means winds have exceed 110 miles per hour at some point during its life cycle.

With an already hyperactive hurricane season lasting until November 30, how long can Chesapeake Country hold off?

“Even if most storms end up passing us like these did,” said Dahlgren, “there is always a possibility. So we need to be vigilant.”

—Louis Llovio

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Only the voracious northern variety exiled

Even the name snakehead sparks fear; never mind its powerful body, cavernous jaws and carnivorous habits.
With good reason, the state is anxious to put ecology-saving measures into law, preventing new generations of snakeheads from walking from pond to river to devour all that lives there. Fine-tuning these measures, however, is taking time.

After a month-long public comment period, regulations slated to ban possession of 27 varieties of live snakeheads are on hold. Comments from the public kept the regulations from being passed this week as promised.

Pet owners who keep tropical snakeheads rallied during the summer’s public comment period. DNR’s proposed ban on possession of all 27 species of snakehead is too strict, said owners of snakeheads.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources heard their cry.

“Regulations are going through,” says the department’s Mike Slattery. “We’ve just modified our approach. The tropical species of snakeheads cannot survive in the wild, so these varieties don’t pose a threat to the ecology. It makes sense to us to just ban the northern snakehead.”

The northern snakehead, with jaws opening as wide as its body, seizes its prey with tiny sharp teeth angled inward.
Since the discovery of over 2,000 northern snakeheads in Maryland over the last two years, including thousands of juveniles caught in a Crofton pond, the state has responded to protect native aquatic life. The new regulation will be ready for public review in October and is set to go into effect later this year.

—Carrie Steele

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Osprey Get the Bum’s Rush from Coast Guard

Nests Demolished, Leaving Families Homeless

As fall nears, osprey that summered on the Chesapeake take flight, returning to their winter homes in Central and South America. Many birds have already left. Apparently none too soon for the U.S. Coast Guard, which has already demolished their nests on Rockhold Creek and will continue removing nests throughout the Bay.

Now the fish hawks eat the last dinners of summer on empty channel markers where they built their nests of big sticks and assorted findings, laid their eggs and raised their babies.

“The young are still here, and I have seen the young birds perched on the markers where their nests used to be,” said Jim Brincefield. A charter captain, Brincefield takes the Jil Carrie in and out of Rockhold Creek, where nests were removed during the third week of August.

More than 3,000 osprey pairs nest in the Chesapeake region. “More than 53 percent of the Chesapeake’s nesting pairs prefer to nest on channel markers,” said Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary.

Osprey are as focused on their nests as homing pigeons, returning to them as long as they live.

“The osprey are very attached to the nest itself, the structure that the nest is built on and the surrounding territory. That structure is pretty much their meeting place in the world,” said Watts.

Nests are rebuilt annually and remain the center of family life. The male osprey arrives in mid March to begin building a nest for its mate, who arrives soon after. In April or early May, the female lays eggs that hatch after 36 or 37 days. After hatching, the young are nest bound and dependent on their parents for food for seven to eight weeks. By mid to late August, they’ve learned to fly and fish. Parents and young return to the nest to eat and roost, until the nests are abandoned for the fall migration. Or until they’re removed by a storm or via human intervention.

Human intervention comes at the hands of the Coast Guard, which maintains the system of aids to navigation that include channel markers.

“We are the ones who did it,” said Preston Logan of the Coast Guard’s local Aids to Navigation Units. By we, he means the seven-person crew that sails from St. Inigoes in St. Mary’s County and that maintains navigation aids on much of the Bay’s Western Shore.

“We remove osprey nests if no eggs are present, fledglings have left the nest at the end of the season or if the nest is no longer in use,” Logan said. “But if there are any signs of new nesting, nest building or any indication that a nest appears to be active, we will leave the nest in place.”

Logan estimates the Coast Guard removes hundreds of nests throughout the Bay each year. “The nests seem to be more prevalent in small creeks or tributaries than in the main stem,” he said.

Years ago, the Coast Guard dismantled all osprey nests on channel markers. But that policy changed in the 1970s, which “is one reason the osprey has rebounded from near extinction,” Watts said.

The Coast Guard’s current policy is aimed at balancing protection for the birds and boaters, who depends on the markers on which osprey like to nest.

“As long as the timing of removal is set after the breeding season, I don’t feel that it will impact the population,” Watts said.

Still, it’s like saying here’s your hat, what’s your hurry to the Chesapeake’s most successful recovered avian species.

“In my opinion, the Coast Guard should wait until the young leave if there is no obstruction of the marker, which there wasn’t,” Brincefield said of the destroyed nests on Rockhold Creek.

Even if the nest has been removed by the Coast Guard, when an osprey returns to the Bay next March, Watt says, “chances are that it will nest on the same aid to navigation as the prior year and with the same mate.”

—Jim Bright

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Ask the Plant Professor

What to Do When Wild Things Come Calling

Q How do I most effectively repel snakes from my property, more specifically, my basement? Are commercial repellents effective?

A Commercial snake repellents contain sulfur and naphthalene. Mothballs can be used or ammonia-soaked rags in enclosed areas. However repellents are not entirely effective and should be used in addition to management practices. Eliminate snake hiding places beside the house, such as stacked firewood, excessive mulch, clutter and high weeds. Caulk or weatherstrip crevices, especially gaps between the top of the basement wall and siding. Do not kill snakes. They are beneficial, ridding your landscape of rodents. See our fact sheet, “Snakes.”

Q Tomatoes are being nibbled on the vine, probably by rats or raccoons. Some people say it’s okay to cut away the bad part and eat them. What do you say?

A We do not recommend eating fruit nibbled by animals. Both animals you mention are notorious carriers of disease. Deter the animals from eating your crop with a repellent spray labeled for vegetable use. Fences, startling devices or lime sprinkled all over the plant will discourage visits. Rats stay within 150 foot of their home. Eliminate their food, water and hiding places.

Ask the Plant and Pest Professor is compiled from questions sent to the website of the Home and Garden Information Center, part of Maryland Cooperative Extension, an educational outreach of the University of Maryland. Ask a home gardening or pest control question and find other help: 800-342-2507 (Mon.-Fri. 8am-1pm) • www.hgic.umd.edu.

Ask the Plant and Pest Professor is compiled from questions sent to the website of the Home and Garden Information Center, part of Maryland Cooperative Extension, an educational outreach of the University of Maryland. Ask a home gardening or pest control question and find other help: 800-342-2507 (Mon.-Fri. 8am-1pm) • www.hgic.umd.edu.
Ask the Plant and Pest Professor is compiled from questions sent to the website of the Home and Garden Information Center, part of Maryland Cooperative Extension, an educational outreach of the University of Maryland. Ask a home gardening or pest control question and find other help: 800-342-2507 (Mon.-Fri. 8am-1pm) • www.hgic.umd.edu.

Way Downstream

In Louisiana, watermen are worried about plans to plant Asian oysters in Chesapeake Bay. At the Louisiana Oyster Convention last month, Mike Voisin, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, questioned whether the supposedly sterile oysters might wind up reproducing in the Gulf of Mexico. “Stranger things have happened; we got nutria from Brazil, and they exploded along the coast,” he told the Associated Press …

In Illinois, a bus driver working for the Dave Matthews Band could be in trouble for allegedly dumping the contents of the vehicle’s toilet off a bridge and onto a tour boat that happened to be sailing up the Chicago River August 8. Disgusted boat passengers filed a lawsuit against the band, which was not on board at the time …

Our Creature Feature comes from Britain, where scientists considered it a marvelous technological advance to be able
to track endangered loggerhead turtles from space.

But it grew painful last month when they monitored the illegal capture and death of a female loggerhead named Solade when fading radio signals from her implanted transmitter and other intelligence suggested strongly that the turtle perished on the deck of a fishing boat off the coast of Western Africa.

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