Lifeguard shortage closes park to bathers Bacteria that tainted Miami Beach last year no longer a danger

July 14, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's Miami Beach Park, closed to swimmers last July because of high bacteria counts in its Chesapeake Bay waters, won't re-open to bathers at all this year because of a different problem -- no lifeguards.

"The park is open, but there's no swimming," said Robert L. Bendler, deputy director of parks and recreation, about the beach on Bowleys Quarters peninsula.

The beach was to have re-opened on weekends starting June 6, but signs have been posted all summer directing swimmers to the county's Rocky Point Park farther south, in Essex.

Since the bacteria problem wasn't officially solved until tests were completed in May, the county got a late start in the search for lifeguards, Bendler says. In addition, the county pays starting lifeguards only $5.36 an hour, which is lower than most other area swimming facilities.

"At this point, there isn't much we can do," said Vicki Gentile, parks board chairwoman. "It's a competitive market."

Lifeguards at the state-owned Sandy Point State Park in Anne Arundel County start at $6.50, said Assistant Park Manager Wayne Suydan. Anne Arundel County pays $6 an hour, officials said, and the private Columbia Association in Howard County starts lifeguards at $6 an hour, said John Herdson, aquatics director there.

All say they've had trouble keeping all their slots filled this year. And Bendler said whatever new guards Baltimore County found this summer were used to plug vacancies at Rocky Point Park, located at the end of the Back River Neck peninsula.

County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat whose district includes both the county's Chesapeake Bay beaches, criticized county officials, saying "there's no excuse" for keeping the beach closed to swimmers. "They should have been prepared," he said.

Still, he and other county officials say they've had no complaints.

Last year, Miami Beach tested high for levels of fecal coliform bacteria -- up to 10 times the federal standard for safe bathing -- BTC which forced the beach's closing to swimmers. Officials said the bacteria came from waste from large gatherings of waterfowl attracted by a local woman who was feeding them.

Ian Forrest, bureau chief for Waste Management and Community Services, said tests this summer have shown low readings of the bacteria, except for one marshy spot just south of the beach where waterfowl are known to gather. Readings taken July 8 at five locations along the beach ranged from under 2 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 milliliters to 375 in one spot. The acceptable federal level is 200 bacteria per 100 milliliters, Forrest said, adding that the bacteria alone won't harm anyone.

"They're just indicator organisms, not pathogens themselves," he said.

The county is installing a sanitary sewer system on the peninsula to replace dozens of failing septic systems that also pollute the bay, but that work isn't expected to be completed until 2002, Forrest said.

Pub Date: 7/14/98

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