Commercial watermen digging for clams in the Patapsco River are stirring up bottom sediments and waterfront residents.
Since the clamming boats, which employ hydraulic digging equipment and conveyor belts to harvest soft-shell clams, sailed into the river this spring, residents in Bayside Beach and other waterfront communities have worried that they could be churning up toxic chemicals that have been lying dormant on the river bottom.
Marvin Kelbaugh, a retired printing plant supervisor and Bayside Beach resident, said many of the same toxic, industrial chemicals that have fouled the Inner Harbor and Port of Baltimore have washed down the Patapsco and settled off their beaches. He said the residents have come to accept that.
"There is nothing you can do if it's already there, but, if it's dormant, why recirculate it?" said Charles "Bo" Rebstock, Mr. Kelbaugh's neighbor and a Baltimore City firefighter.
The Patapsco has not been a traditional harvest area for clammers. And, in recent years, the Maryland Department of the Environment had closed the river to clamming because of a bacteriologic contamination. The department lifted that ban last spring.
This spring, a fleet of clamming boats lined up off shore. "All of a sudden, we woke up at 6 o'clock one morning and there are 40 some boats out here," said Mr. Kelbaugh, their diesel engines and radios "making just an ungodly noise."
Complaints from the waterfront communities have reached the District 31 lawmakers who represent Pasadena in the General Assembly. They, in turn, have passed the concerns along to the state Department of Natural Resources.
Sen. Philip C. Jimeno and the three state delegates -- Joan Cadden, W. Ray Huff and Charles "Stokes" Kolodziejski -- have suggested that the state Department of Natural Resources ask rTC the University of Maryland or the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to do an independent study of the impact of clamming on the river.
Paul Massicot, director of Natural Resources' Tidewater Administration, said the state has investigated residents' concerns about the sediments and decided they are unfounded. John Goheen, an Environment Department spokesman, said his agency tested the clams taken from the Patapsco in April and found them in perfect health.
Commercial fishing in the Patapsco has caused increasing concern among waterfront residents in recent years. In the late 1980s, residents complained that commercial crabbers were choking off recreational boating there.
"It's not just in the Patapsco," said Joe Saddler, a board member of the Maryland Watermen's Association. "It's an increasing problem anywhere watermen are working. There are just some landowners who think they own everything they can see from their waterfront."
Mr. Saddler said residents have to understand "watermen are only out there trying to make a living."
"It's partly the watermen's fault, too," he conceded. "They have to realize that the residents don't always understand what they're doing."