Balto. County's Miami Beach deemed safe for swimming, is set to reopen Bacterial pollution shut beach last year

May 26, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's Miami Beach, forced to close last July because of bacterial pollution, is now safe for swimming and is set to re-open June 6, county environmental officials say.

One of two Chesapeake Bay beaches in the county, Miami Beach was closed to swimming July 7 and remained off limits for the rest of last summer after tests showed fecal coliform bacteria levels of up to 10 times the federal limit for safe bathing.

But tests done earlier this spring showed extremely low levels of the bacteria in areas typically open for swimming, said Ian Forrest, bureau chief for Waste Management and Community Services.

New samples were taken last week. "There's no reason to believe there's a problem for swimming at Miami Beach," said Forrest.

Located at the end of the Bowleys Quarters peninsula near Seneca Creek in the far eastern part of the county, Miami Beach typically draws about 500 visitors on weekends and 50 on weekdays. This year, it will be open only on weekends.

The county's other Chesapeake Bay beach, Rocky Point Beach, opened on schedule Memorial Day weekend.

Officials have never determined for certain what caused the high levels of bacteria, though they believe it was waste from ducks that frequent the area.

The ducks are less numerous now that county officials have persuaded a nearby beach resident to stop feeding them, Forrest said.

"We had 400 ducks coming in at one time," he said, adding that the fowl are better off feeding on natural foods anyway. "There's plenty of food for them now."

The accepted health standard is 200 fecal coliform per 100 milliliters of water, Forrest said. Several samples taken this spring were as low as 2 and 22 fecal coliform per 100 milliliters.

However, Forrest said that one sample taken in early May, in a marshy area south of the beach where the ducks gathered last year, registered a disturbing 1,600 fecal coliform -- eight times the acceptable threshold.

Tidal studies by a private consultant have found that water in that spot -- which is always closed to swimming -- tends to stagnate, allowing bacteria to grow.

Forrest also said that the extremely rainy weather in early May could have caused sewage overflows from failing septic systems.

Despite the one high reading in a spot where swimming is not allowed, "we feel comfortable opening the beach," Forrest said.

In preparation for the June 6 opening, "we're working on recruiting lifeguards," he said.

The county pays lifeguards just over minimum wage of $5.15 per hour and must compete with area pools, Ocean City businesses and other summer jobs.

Meanwhile, an enlarged Rocky Point beach, adorned with a new tent pavilion for group use, opened for swimmers again this holiday weekend, county recreation director John F. Weber says.

The beach is at the tip of the Back River Neck peninsula

The county is hoping to attract more groups to Rocky Point Park, which will remain open for swimmers all week.

The private, non-profit Baltimore County Sailing Academy has squeezed into smaller quarters a bit farther north on the Chesapeake Bay beach.

Admission to the beach is $5 for adults, $2 for children under 12, and $3 for seniors 62 and older.

Pub Date: 5/26/98

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