Remnants of Ivan leave wave of trash

Cleanup: At Sandy Point State Park and other beaches, the left-over debris poses a challenge.

October 14, 2004|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

Debris left by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan has come back to shore, and it's piling up at Sandy Point State Park and other beaches.

A month after the storm tore through the southeastern United States and later flooded many state waterways, the state Department of Natural Resources has allocated $15,000 for cleanup at Sandy Point, the only state park to request aid. The debris is "more than what we can deal with," said Kenny Hartman, the assistant park manager.

Car tires, 55-gallon drums, driftwood and other trash have littered the shore, most noticeably on the northern portion where the beach forms an arc and extends out to a rock jetty on the Chesapeake Bay.

Along the beach, bits of driftwood mark the high-tide line. Small piles of branches were left on the beach after state officials realized last week that the efforts of three full-time maintenance workers were futile.

Other Anne Arundel beaches have also been hit, but some have been cleaned. Small amounts of debris that washed up at Baltimore County parks have been disposed of, according to county officials.

Ivan killed at least 70 people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to Caribbean islands such as Grenada and Jamaica before it blasted into the Florida panhandle on Sept. 16. The storm was responsible for about 45 deaths in the United States.

A weaker Ivan hit the Mid-Atlantic two days later, flooding streams and rivers throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed and causing more than $1 million damage to Port Deposit alone.

That influx of water increased the freshwater flow of the bay to 179,800 cubic feet of water per second, a record flow for September since the U.S. Geological Survey began making such calculations in 1937. About two-thirds of the flow came from the Susquehanna River.

The rush of water on the Susquehanna forced the opening of 33 of the 50 floodgates at Conowingo Dam on Sept. 19. As the water surged into the Chesapeake Bay, all sorts of debris followed.

"The timing of the debris was unusual, but it wasn't," said Jeff Welsh, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment. "When you have a very heavy rainfall, it's entirely plausible that you'll have a great amount of debris." A few days later, the Coast Guard warned boaters in the northern portion of the bay to be on the lookout for debris, which could linger for weeks.

Ken Wheeler, 54, of Sykesville took his 25-footer out from Sandy Point two weeks ago to fish but quickly returned because he said debris had turned the bay into a water obstacle course.

"You couldn't even drop a line" because of the trees and barrels in the water, Wheeler said. "There were railroad ties, uprooted trees, ... stuff that could sink your boat."

Another boater, Robert Hook, 66, of Glen Burnie, agreed. "I've never seen it so bad," he said. "The water was like chocolate out there."

Wheeler said he hadn't seen boating conditions this treacherous because of debris since Hurricane Agnes struck the East Coast in 1972. So much rain flowed into the Susquehanna because of that storm that all 50 of the Conowingo Dam floodgates were opened.

Debris is also strewn along a mile-long stretch of Beverly Triton Beach in southern Anne Arundel County.

Maintenance is likely to be delayed until the winter because of other demands, such as maintaining athletic fields, said Tom Haines, chief of natural and cultural programs for Anne Arundel's parks department.

Several large logs and several twigs came ashore at Downs Park in Pasadena a couple of weeks ago. That mess was disposed of by the park's four maintenance workers and volunteers, said Janet Aro, a park employee.

"This is not unusual," said Downs Park Superintendent Rick Holt. "There was a period the last couple of weeks when the Susquehanna dropped a ton of water" from dams.

"Where the debris will go just depends on the way the wind blows," he added.

Much of it ended up at Sandy Point.

The difference between Sandy Point and many other state parks is that "the primary attraction is the beach, and they are always working to keep the beach really clean," said Col. Rick Barton, superintendent of state forests and parks. "So this is a big deal."

It's not just the sheer quantity of items that has washed ashore at Sandy Point that presents a cleanup challenge, Hartman said. Safely getting out to the jetties to retrieve the items from the cracks and crevices is another serious concern, he said.

Hartman said debris typically washes up on the shore in the spring after the winter thaw, and that Naval Academy midshipmen make an annual trip in April to haul wood off the beach.

But this scene is more than the park can handle, and Hartman said that he might have to wait a while. He selected a contractor Wednesday.

"We got lots of private landowners on the water," he said, "and they all have the same debris washing up on the shore."

The saving grace, if there is one, Barton said, is that the storm did not occur during the summer and boating season. "Better to hit here [at Sandy Point] than go out to sea."

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