Governor offers $300,000 to clean state waterways Debris left by floods after snowmelt poses hazard to boaters

April 19, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is opening the boating season with a campaign to remove from Maryland waterways an estimated 150,000 tons of natural debris carried by the floods after this year's blizzard.

The governor yesterday pledged $300,000, which will be matched by grants from the counties, for debris cleanup along the state's hardest-hit stretches of shoreline. The state already has provided more than $450,000 for local refuse removal, and by the end of the year will have spent nearly three times what it normally does on the problem.

At a news conference on Kent Island, Mr. Glendening discussed the dangers of partially submerged logs and timbers that could smash hulls and prove fatal to boaters.

"What we have here is a very serious and potentially dangerous situation," Mr. Glendening said after trudging over driftwood on Terrapin Beach and surveying the area by helicopter. "A boat traveling 10 knots that hits a submerged log -- [it] will almost certainly destroy that boat."

The state's most debris-laden areas are between Rock Hall and Kent Island, where mounds of sticks, logs and tree trunks have taken over the shoreline. Mr. Glendening will join a cleanup effort Saturday at Terrapin Beach, where 3,000 tons of debris has turned the public beach into an impassable mess.

The Department of Natural Resources is trying to enlist more than 100,000 volunteers throughout the Chesapeake Bay region to clean up the worst of the mess before the boating and rockfishing seasons get under way this month.

"We've got to get the logs now, while they're visible," said Col. Steven Blum of the Army National Guard, which is joining the state's cleanup campaign. "Otherwise, these things are going to act like wooden torpedoes out there."

More than 350 Maryland marina operators have volunteered their properties as debris dumping grounds, from which state crews would collect the refuse. Several state agencies, businesses and community groups also are volunteering to clean up the beaches and flag submerged logs in the waterways.

To that end, DNR has established a debris hot line and is encouraging people to report sightings of large, hazardous refuse so its work crews can pick it up. The number is (800) 865-1899. For information on local cleanup events, many of which are scheduled for Saturday, Sunday and Monday, call (410) 974-3015.

The problem stems from the severe flooding Jan. 20, when a sudden melt of snowfalls of the previous week overwhelmed the dam system on the Susquehanna River, leaving the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries with roughly 10 times the normal volume of debris for this time of year. While most of the debris is natural and can be placed in landfills or burned on beaches, the garbage also included everything from derelict boats to a bowling ball.

While the state Natural Resources Police have not received any reports of smashed hulls, broken propellers or debris-related accidents, up to 10 police boats have been damaged as crews tried to remove the biggest logs.

Col. John W. Rhoads, superintendent of the Natural Resources Police, said he recreational boaters are likely to suffer worse problems as the state's 180,000 registered vessels begin to fill the waterways.

"We haven't had any sinkings or damage, but the boating season is just starting," he said. "By 15 May, it could be a much different story."

The debris problem hasn't been this bad since 1972, when Hurricane Agnes pounded the region. Costs for private contractors to clean the mess have increased since then, tallying sometimes $5,000 a day.

While the natural debris can provide food and habitat for shoreline wildlife, the same cannot be said of much of the garbage that has washed downstream alongside it.

The Coast Guard and the Maryland Department of Environment plan to remove from local waters more than 250 drums filled with unidentified chemicals. And DNR officials are scrambling to pick up the fishing lines, soda rings and plastic bags that can kill turtles, fish and waterfowl.

"Some of this is good -- it's part of nature's way of cleansing itself," said Carolyn Watson, director of the DNR's Regional Chesapeake Bay Program. "But from a whole lot of other perspectives, this is pretty dangerous stuff."

Pub Date: 4/19/96

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