Bay beach debris deleted

Cleanup: An Anne Arundel lawmaker is behind a push to rid the bay shoreline of logs, tires and other junk, and to slow the flow of detritus from other states.

April 10, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

It's getting to be an unwelcome sign of spring in the communities in Maryland's upper Chesapeake Bay region -- the clotting of beaches and waterways with logs, tree stumps, tires, plastic foam junk and occasional needles.

The floating debris, washed in from as far away as Cooperstown, N.Y., is released into bay-bound waterways during winter months when floodgates are opened on dams along the Susquehanna River to reduce dangerously high water levels.

The price of averting flooding is the accumulated garbage of northeastern states landing hundreds of miles away on the shores of the bay and on local beaches.

Not only is the debris unsightly, but it's dangerous to recreational boaters and watermen, says freshman Democratic Del. C. Richard D'Amato, who pushed the state this year to allocate $30,000 to clean up 12 Anne Arundel waterfront neighborhoods hit particularly hard.

The effort began yesterday in Bay Ridge, where D'Amato lives, and is expected to continue for two weeks.

Bay Ridge resident Susan Barrett watched the beach cleanup from her living-room window. "I spent all day yesterday picking up logs on the jetty," she said. "It's a major problem. Somebody could get hurt. A small boat going 20 miles per hour could get ripped apart."

D'Amato noted that "these logs are just huge; they become battering rams for anything in sight. On the beach it's basically pollution, and I've heard from some watermen who didn't go out because they were afraid they'd ruin their motors and workboats."

With the governor's approval, the state Department of Natural Resources agreed to reimburse Anne Arundel County for the cost of removing debris from its communities. Highland Beach, where residents did their own cleanup, will also be reimbursed with the state money.

Debris removal is not an annual necessity, although the problem has been worsening for two decades. The last time the downstream waste caused major problems was on the Eastern Shore in 1996, when melting snow from that year's blizzard pushed reservoir water levels to new highs, county officials said.

D'Amato said some areas on Kent Island in Queen Anne's County were also strewn with debris.

"The communities have done some of the light stuff, but it's a huge amount of work to get their beaches cleaned up," D'Amato said.

Yesterday, workers hired by the county used a small boat to pluck logs -- some as long as 15 feet and as thick as 3 feet -- from near the Bay Ridge shoreline. Piles of logs and an occasional tire were scattered among the sailboats and canoes on the affluent neighborhood's small beach.

The workers took chain saws to the logs, loaded the pieces on a forklift and dumped the chunks into a trash bin.

Long-term solution sought

Although D'Amato is pleased that the immediate problem is being addressed, he argues that the responsibility for removing the debris lies with the utilities that operate the dams and the two commissions that oversee and regulate their operations.

The legislator said his attempts to convince the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to do a better job removing debris from the waterways have met with little success.

"What we've gotten is `It ain't our problem,' " D'Amato said. "Their explanation is `It's an act of God and we're doing the best we can.' "

Paul O. Swartz, executive director of the SRBC, which oversees the Susquehanna watershed, said the commissioners asked the utilities operating the dams to determine if more could be done. A report is due next month.

`Natural process'

"What we're dealing with is a largely natural process," Swartz said. "Trees age, mature and die, then fall into the streams every year."

He said debris can be removed when water levels are low, but utilities don't have the equipment to do the job during heavy river flows.

"The dams are being expected to stop all this material and they are not going to be able to do it," Swartz said.

Officials at FERC, which holds the operating licenses for the dams and approved their debris-removal policies, could not be reached for comment.

D'Amato said he has scheduled a meeting May 17 at Conowingo Dam in Darlington to look for solutions to the debris problem. Representatives from the governor's office, the utilities, SRBC, FERC and the state Department of Natural Resources are expected to attend, he said.

"We know what can happen if they let debris pile up behind these dams and then release it, and I think we were lucky this time," D'Amato said. "If it's going to be a regular occurrence, we've got to do something about it."

Pub Date: 4/10/99

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