Trash flushed into harbor, producing wave of disgust

Storm hurts tourism businesses

26,000 left without electricity

July 23, 1999|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

It was as if Baltimore had a shiny black eye yesterday, after heavy rains washed three months of sewer and creek-bed trash into the Inner Harbor.

Yesterday morning's west wind swept tires, tennis balls, golf clubs, plastic bottles -- even a refrigerator and a picnic table -- onto the shoreline, from the Light Street pavilion to Fells Point, creating a caldron of slop that practically beached paddle boat business and left tourists repeating one word.

Disgusting.

Baltimoreans had their own word for the mess.

Embarrassing.

"If you want to run tourists away, this is the way to do it," said Robert L. Nelson, 40, of Catonsville, who was having lunch at the Pratt Street pavilion.

Linda M. Young of Bloomsburg, Pa., visiting the Inner Harbor for the first time, said: "It's a bad first impression. You cannot recapture a first impression."

The Department of Public Works agreed that the image -- so bad that some children were crying because they thought all the fish and crabs were dead -- was not how Baltimore's showcase attraction should look.

George G. Balog, chief of public works, said a half-dozen boats and as many men on shore with crab nets worked past sunset to clean up the mess. Six dump trucks were filled with 40 tons of debris that had flushed into the harbor.

Public Works typically clears about 6 tons of trash from the Inner Harbor every two weeks, according to officials.

"We had a lot of logs and trees with the trash," said Balog, estimating that the job would cost the city about $3,000 in overtime pay. "Instead of using people to clean the streets, we did the harbor."

The cleanup will resume today with the work expected to be finished by this evening, said public works spokesman Kurt L. Kocher.

"I think instead of being embarrassed, everyone should be more aware of throwing items on the ground or into storm sewers," Kocher said.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport received 1.13 inches of rain, and the Maryland Science Center recorded 3.26 inches, during the severe thunderstorms that blew across the region between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. yesterday, said Howard Silverman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. It was the first time Baltimore received more than a half-inch of rain since April 9, when it recorded .54 inches.

The storm caused more than 26,000 Baltimore-area customers -- half of them in the city -- to lose power, said a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesman. By 11 p.m., power had been restored to all but 574 customers.

The swollen Jones Falls, which flows into the harbor from southern Pennsylvania, was responsible for much of the Harbor's debris, Kocher said.

"Anything that floats will come down the Jones Falls," said R. J. Birrane, 24, a public works employee who was scooping debris with a small fishing net.

But the cleanup was not occurring fast enough for some harbor merchants.

Roger L. Yeaton was operating the water taxi in front of Harbor Place and said his job was "a little tricky" as he navigated to and from Fells Point. His boat stalled several times after logs clogged his motor and damaged his rudder.

The Electric Boat Ride paddle boat business was closed because the boats were surrounded by 400 yards of debris, and some of the paddle boats had overturned. The paddle boat business in front of Pratt Street pavilion remained open, but employees said business was down 90 percent.

"I don't even want to ride a paddle boat. I would not want my daughter in that," said Denise Curry of Baltimore's Northwood section.

Though many families still managed to enjoy other Inner Harbor attractions, the swirling, cluttered water remained the focus of conversation.

Paul Cusick and his family, on vacation from Santa Barbara, Calif., were at the National Aquarium in Baltimore during a lecture on pollution-free oceans.

"They are talking about oceans, why not start with cleaning the shoreline," Cusick said while his grandchildren identified items in the water.

But while some joked and photographed the dumplike harbor, others reflected on the cause of the bobbing debris.

"It just illustrates to me that we are dirtying the planet," said Lisa A. Grover of Albuquerque, N.M. "What is sad is people have done this."

Rafael Alvarez contributed to this article.

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