Tip of the hat to DNR's McLean, utility



April 07, 2002|By CANDUS THOMSON

How about if we start with some good news?

Fisherman's Park at the Conowingo Dam, which closed six months ago after the terrorist attacks, is again living up to its name.

Last Monday, the park downstream of the hydroelectric plant reopened to the public, and the timing couldn't have been better.

The hickory shad season is starting, migrating birds are passing through on their way to their warm-weather homes and hiking along the Susquehanna Greenway trail is picture perfect.

The reopening didn't happen on its own and it wasn't as simple as some executive in a suit having a change of heart. It took a state official with the anglers' best interests at heart working with a power company willing to spend some money to pull it off.

On Sept. 11 last year, many places that had been favorite fishing spots were suddenly off-limits: reservoirs, portions of the Potomac River, the waters around nuclear and hydro facilities. Little by little, some of those restrictions were lifted, but not those involving power plants.

Fisherman's Park in Harford County was perhaps the biggest loss because of its varied constituency and the fact that it was a great spot for shoreline anglers. It hurt, for sure, but given the headlines, who could argue?

A guard shack at the foot of Shure's Landing Road cut off access to the parking lot and trail. Only those with security clearance and official business were allowed beyond.

Rich McLean, the Department of Natural Resources' manager of hydro facilities and an avid fisherman, went to work with officials of Exelon Generation to find a solution.

The utility agreed to include the park as part of its company-wide security assessment.

"We found we could establish a different security perimeter with a new gate and guard house and a number of security measures that can't even be seen," said utility spokesman Ben Armstrong.

The improvements cost Exelon $45,000, but Armstrong said it was worth it to be a good neighbor.

"It's not the way it was, but we opened it the best we could," he said. "And we tried to make sure that we could get it done in time for the highlight of the fishing season there."

Utility officials have been monitoring the site "and it's run flawlessly. So far, everything has gone according to plan," Armstrong said.

McLean is thrilled with the cooperation.

"It didn't look like it was going to happen, but the utility bent over backward," he said. "For the shoreline fishermen and the hikers who use the trails below the dam, it's just as it was."

The catwalk across the dam and the boat launch remain closed because of security concerns, but that's to be expected.

DNR will have the new security boundaries - I say we call them McLean's Line - posted on its Web site (www.dnr.state.md.us) to help orient all of us to the changes.

If you have a boat, it's best to put in at Port Deposit or Susquehanna State Park and motor upstream. But for safety's sake, stay on the south side of Rowland Island to avoid the turbulent discharge.

Word of the reopening is getting around. On Thursday, about a half-dozen fishermen were chest-deep in the water or standing on the rocks, casting shad darts to the early-spawning arrivals. The bite wasn't terrific, but the sun was warm and fishing sure beat working, if you know what I mean.

Rockfish disease not new

We got a lot of phone calls and such last week after two newspapers - not this one - sounded the alarm about a disease attacking Chesapeake Bay rockfish. With trophy season set to start April 20, folks said they were worried about touching or eating stripers.

I wandered over to the desk of Heather Dewar, The Sun's resident expert on icky things on fish, for the true poop.

Seems this paper has written the story several times, starting in 1998. What's new? Very little, it seems.

Here's what Dewar told me:

Scientists have been tracking the rockfish infections since 1997, when anglers reported catching a lot of strikingly thin fish with sores. That year, researchers in Maryland and Virginia identified mycobacteria as the source of the infections.

State biologists have gone back to rockfish samples that were frozen in the mid-1980s and have found mycobacteria in some of them, said Eric Schwaab, DNR's director of fisheries.

"This isn't brand new," Schwaab said. "What we don't know is the frequency or intensity of the infections compared to what historically might have happened in the bay."

Bay researchers have not come up with any major new findings on the problem in the past two years, DNR officials said.

At DNR's Oxford labs, scientists are studying mycobacteria's effect on rockfish. The work is in an early stage but so far, it hasn't shown that the disease is lethal, Schwaab said.

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