Area merchants are unfazed by plan to kill snakeheads

Proposal to poison pond gains trust of businesses


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.

More than 100 caught

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."

Alex Yeung, who owns the Fortune Cookie Express restaurant, isn't losing sleep over the plan.

"It's very far away, over there," he said, gesturing toward the pond behind the strip shopping center.

But Mark Goldsborough, a stylist at Miracles salon, had some tongue-in-cheek questions: "Is it Agent Orange? Are we going to grow another ear?"

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.

"We have every confidence that Maryland is doing this carefully and will apply [the chemicals] properly," Smith said. "These are registered pesticides, and they will be used according to the label."

Emergency situation

Del. Mary M. Rosso of Glen Burnie said she is confident that DNR will take the appropriate safety precautions to eliminate the snakehead.

"I'm always concerned about the use of pesticides, but there are certain times when emergency situations arise, and DNR has to eradicate something before it becomes more hazardous," Rosso said. "As long as it doesn't migrate to any place, I'm sure it's going to be a very controlled plan to handle something I think is a major threat to waterways."

Ashley Holby, a Fortune Cookie Express waitress, said the chemicals' effect on humans doesn't concern her. But she worries about the other fish that will succumb to the chemicals.

"It doesn't seem right," she said. "But I guess if they have to do it, they have to do it."

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