Harbor emerges from tide of muck

Paddle boat rental closes for second day as cleanup continues

July 24, 1999|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The Inner Harbor was reclaimed from a thick coat of muck yesterday, one day after more than 40 tons of debris nearly grounded the paddle boat business and left onlookers aghast at what looked like a flooded dump.

Yesterday, children were once again spotting crabs and fish, and some paddle boats -- though hindered by the occasional bobbing bottle -- left their docks.

"Today it looks beautiful," said Rhonda B. Suliano, on vacation from Long Island, N.Y. "Yesterday, I looked out the car window and thought I saw ducks on the water and then realized it was just trash."

But everything was not back to normal yesterday for Trident Electric Boats. For the first time in its 18 years, the business was closed for a second straight day as workers continued cleaning the boats, said owner Sophia A. Gilland.

"We just want to please the tourists and make sure everything is clean," Gilland said, adding she plans to open today.

Despite murky water, Gilland said dozens of tourists wanted to ride her boats. She praised the city for a quick cleanup.

More than 20 public works department employees in boats and on land spent two days scooping trash and tree limbs into dump trucks and hauling it to be burned at the city's southern Baltimore incinerator.

The emergency cleanup, which cost $3,000 in overtime, occurred after the rain-swollen Jones Falls spilled three months of sewer and creek-bed trash into the harbor after thunderstorms dropped more than three inches of rain in two hours Thursday morning.

"We saw fish today, and we were amazed," said E. Brook Wheeler, 20, of Roland Park, who returned to the harbor yesterday to watch the cleanup. "It was totally gross, and I thought nothing could survive in this water."

But her neighbor, 5-year-old Joseph Scott, still thinks the fish "are eating junk."

Officials at the National Aquarium in Baltimore agree.

Lori L. Denno, an aquarium conservation policy analyst, suspects a lot of the mess settled to the harbor floor, where marine life can mistake it for food.

"Plastic looks like jelly. Cigarette butts look like little twigs," Denno said.

Aquarium officials -- stunned and embarrassed by the caldron of slop -- hope to use pictures of floating refrigerators and televisions to alert residents in Maryland and neighboring states to the results of littering and illegal dumping.

The 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed includes parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

"Its like your bathtub," Denno said. "The drain is the bay and everything in the water will eventually go through it."

Baltimore public works department spokesman Kurt L. Kocher said the city tries to prevent litter from entering the Inner Harbor by positioning several booms along the Jones Falls -- one is in front of the ESPN Sports Zone off Pratt Street -- but they become overwhelmed during heavy rain.

The Jones Falls begins in southern Pennsylvania, and the city periodically cleans its banks, but needs more help from other neighboring towns, Kocher said.

"We can't clean the entire way up to Pennsylvania," Kocher said.

Yesterday, as Inner Harbor visitors once again photographed ducks instead of trash, some visitors blasted litter bugs for keeping the waterways strewn with trash.

"The problem rests with people being pigs," said Mark Klaus, of Hampden, who works at the World Trade Center. "People use the Jones Falls as a dumping ground."

Pub Date: 7/24/99

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