SPCA seeking donations for wildlife rescue facility But appeal for funds includes false claim

December 01, 1997|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The SPCA of Anne Arundel County wants help paying for a facility it falsely claims is unique in this area.

The nonprofit Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is seeking government grants, corporate gifts and private donations -- in addition to selling bricks in a memorial pathway for $150 each -- to help repay $200,000 it borrowed to finance its new Oiled Wildlife Rescue Facility.

"We're the only facility like this in the Chesapeake Bay area," Frank Branchini, the SPCA's executive director, said last month.

But the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team, with a building that can accommodate 250 birds, is based at the Chesapeake Wildlife Sanctuary in Bowie, less than 30 miles from the SPCA's property in Annapolis. The team has been the state's designated agency to handle oiled wildlife emergencies since 1984.

"We are the only one right on the shore around here," amended Lou Sullivan Carter, an SPCA board member for 18 years.

It was Carter who got the SPCA thinking about rescuing oiled wildlife in 1989, after the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground and dumped about 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound near Anchorage, Alaska. The spill -- the nation's largest -- killed an estimated 250,000 birds, 300 harbor seals and 2,800 otters. Carter wondered what would happen if a similar spill happened in the Chesapeake.

"We looked around and sort of thought that surely somebody was doing something about it," Branchini recounted. "But no one was."

The shelter began sponsoring classes to train volunteers to clean and care for animals caught in an oil spill, which got the attention of Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research.

The internationally known facility, based in Wilmington, Del., approached the SPCA to set up a place to treat oiled wildlife.

"Tri-State came to us," said Carter. "We did it because we wanted to help. I hope we never use it."

Working with Tri-State, the SPCA turned its former animal shelter -- abandoned in 1986 for a new building on the society's 11 acres in Eastport -- into a place where oiled wildlife could be rehabilitated.

It borrowed $200,000 from Sandy Spring National Bank last year and, with the help of volunteers, began renovations that were completed this spring.

The 4,000-square-foot facility has a room for washing oil-drenched animals, and a warehouselike room for drying and treating oiled wildlife. Recuperating animals would be housed in converted dog runs.

An SPCA flier soliciting funds to help pay the loan hails the building as the "first and only oiled wildlife rescue facility on the entire Chesapeake Bay."

That was news to Dianne D. Pearce, executive director of the wildlife sanctuary and a volunteer at the SPCA.

"I was shocked, because they acted like we didn't exist," she said.

The SPCA's facility "really isn't very big and it isn't outfitted to handle much of an oil spill," said Pearce, who has worked as part of an environmental rapid-response team to oil spills in Virginia, Washington, New York, California and Maryland. She estimated it could accommodate only 10 birds at a time.

Glenn Gavry, a longtime environmental activist who helped design the SPCA facility when he worked for Tri-State, said a rivalry exists between his old company and the Chesapeake Wildlife Sanctuary, though both do good work and are respected among people who deal with oiled wildlife. He said the SPCA facility easily could handle 100 small birds, such as mallards, at one time.

Tri-State would provide all professional staff and equipment at the SPCA's facility, and the SPCA would provide the building and 600 trained volunteers.

"It's an important partnership," said Virginia Pierce, Tri-State's executive director.

"We know now we have a facility and know exactly what the condition of that facility is," Pierce said. "You can waste a lot of time trying to identify an appropriate site."

One thing the rival agencies and others agree on, however, is that it is only a matter time before there is a big oil spill in Chesapeake Bay, where an estimated 900,000 waterfowl land during spring and fall migrations.

"We're long overdue. It's inevitable," said Guy Hodge of the Humane Society of the United States. He has worked for more than 20 years rescuing oiled animals, and often trains others.

The largest spill recorded in the Chesapeake Bay was in 1976, when a barge dumped about 250,000 gallons of oil near the mouth of the Potomac River. An estimated 10,000 waterfowl died.

Spills "happen every day, but most of them are very small and you never hear about them," said Lt. Cmdr. Brooks Minnick of the Coast Guard in Baltimore.

According to Coast Guard records, about 2.8 billion gallons of petroleum products were transported on the Chesapeake in 1994, the most recent year for which numbers were available.

Last year, 55,694 gallons of petroleum products spilled into the bay, primarily because of a Liberian tanker that dumped about 38,000 gallons of fuel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor when the ship lost engine power while docking during heavy seas and rammed a pier.

"As soon as one major oil spill occurs, [the SPCA's Oiled Wildlife Rescue Facility] will more than have paid for itself," Hodge said.

Gavry, who now operates his own nonprofit organization dedicated to finding ways to prevent oil spills or mitigate their effects, said that neither Tri-State -- operating through the local SPCA -- nor Chesapeake Wildlife Sanctuary is prepared to handle a major spill in the bay.

"If there were a major spill," he said, "I would hope that they would work together."

Bay fuel spills

Year, Amount spilled

1994, 18,559 gallons

1995, 12,050 gallons

1996, 55,694 gallons

SOURCE: Coast Guard

Pub Date: 12/01/97

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