Plan to kill snakeheads in pond gains trust of Crofton merchants

But state's proposal to use poison still needs owners' OK

August 09, 2002|By Jackie Powder and Rona Kobell | Jackie Powder and Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

As state environment officials move to eliminate the notorious northern snakehead from a Crofton pond, merchants close to the infested site have expressed indifference, skepticism and humor about the plan to kill the troublesome Chinese fish with herbicides and pesticides.

Business owners and employees haven't been notified by the state Department of Natural Resources about the pond poisoning, but they say they're not worried about the application of deadly chemicals to the water.

"We are not interested, we are vegetarians, and we do not eat fish," said Bharat Patel, who works at the Dunkin' Donuts near the pond. Many curious snakehead-seekers have visited the doughnut shop during the past month to ask for directions to the pond.

At the Family Bike Shop in the Route 3 Center, employee Craig Wharton said he was "not the least bit" concerned about the poisoning plans. "We trust the government," he said.

State Department of Natural Resources Secretary J. Charles Fox announced this week that he would follow the recommendations of a scientific panel to use herbicides to kill the pond's thick vegetation. State workers would then add plant-based rotenone to eradicate the snakehead, a fish that breathes air, slithers on its fins and can survive on land for up to three days. The substance also will kill the pond's other fish, which DNR officials will have to remove.

The plans hit a snag after the announcement because neither the MacQuilliam Organization, which owns the pond, nor William Berkshire, who owns two adjacent smaller ponds, have consented to the poisoning. Both owners said they want better protection from liability if a lawsuit should result.

Daniel MacQuilliam said yesterday that he was awaiting new language from DNR officials that addressed his concerns. John J. Klocko III, an attorney for Berkshire, said he thought DNR's latest draft satisfied his client. Klocko said he expected Berkshire to approve the draft by the end of the week.

The predator fish took up residence in the pond two years ago when a local resident tossed two adult snakeheads, a male and a female, into the water after they had grown too big for an aquarium. DNR officials have caught more than 100 juvenile snakeheads in the pond, and the agency hopes to go ahead with the poison plan to prevent the fish from migrating 75 yards to the Little Patuxent River.

As soon as DNR receives approval from the pond owners, it will send notices to all businesses in the area explaining the process and informing merchants that smells will result, said DNR spokeswoman Heather Lynch said.

"It's easier for me not to worry," said Family Bike Shop owner John Seibold. "I just hope it doesn't smell too bad."

Neither the rotenone nor the herbicides smell particularly bad, but the decaying fish might stink, said Bonnie Smith, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency in Philadelphia. While the chemicals will dissipate within a few weeks, Smith said, the dead-fish smell could linger. When applied correctly, the chemicals won't harm people, she said.

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