Student's idea to aid the Chesapeake Bay nets $5,000 grant

AACC Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company fund project to curb runoff

February 07, 2013|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Robert Prettyman walked along the uneven ground surrounding Anne Arundel Community College's resource management building and pointed to soil erosion, storm runoff and other evidence that the area is losing its battle against the elements.

"You can see the erosion. It's a mess," said Prettyman, 51, a student at the college.

He then ventured down a series of weather-beaten steps in the woods to a small waterway known as Divided Creek. Runoff from the resource management building flows through underground pipes and spills into the creek before heading to the Magothy River and Chesapeake Bay.

Prettyman, a Glen Burnie resident studying ecosystem restoration and environmental monitoring, wants to stem that tide of erosion, and he recently came up with a project to reduce and naturally filter some of the runoff from the building.

His efforts have made him the first recipient of the CanU Scholarship, which includes $5,000 that Prettyman can use toward his education as well as a grant awarded by the Crofton-based Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company and the AACC Foundation that will be used for the erosion-control project.

The campus' resource management building is located next to two campus parking lots. Water comes down an incline and seeps beneath the building, with much of it running underground to the creek. Some of the runoff pools around the building and saturates the soil.

Prettyman said his project, which will be implemented in the spring and can't exceed a $5,000 budget for materials, calls for the grounds to be dug up and refilled with soil for three rain gardens around the building.

The gardens will be planted by preschoolers at the AACC Child Development Center.

The building sits at the foot of a hilly incline, and rainwater from the hill will be directed to four rain barrels that will gravity-feed water to the plants. Plantings on the front of the building will include black-eyed Susans, the state flower, he said.

Prettyman said getting such a projected done under a $5,000 budget meant seeking donations of equipment and materials.

"The biggest dilemma is that I have a $5,000 budget and I have a $50,000 problem," he said. "I had to be very creative."

"The main problem was that the soil is inert. It is basically a construction site, more or less," said Prettyman. "The [replacement] soil alone was going to run over $5,000. So I approached a landfill to get donations."

He also found willing volunteers at the school's Child Development Center. He said he hopes to use the project as a hands-on learning tool for the children.

"They really enjoyed the idea," he said.

The Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company says it will help Prettyman apply for a grant to get the funding to build his project.

Prettyman holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Virginia Tech and an associate's degree in nuclear medicine from Prince George's Community College. Previously, he worked on satellite ground systems at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and performed experiments on endangered bird species at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel.

Now self-employed, he returned school at AACC last fall.

He said his return to school and the AACC project mark his desire to pursue a passion for biology after being downsized from a job at a Columbia-based marketing research firm.

"I'd like people to realize how delicate an ecosystem the bay is," Prettyman said. "We're in a critical time period where, if we fail to take the correct steps, we could lose the bay."

"Robert is one of those exceptionally hard-working students who looks for opportunities to apply the knowledge and skills that he has gained," said AACC associate biology professor Susan Lamont.

She said he "approached the project in a systematic way… to research different methods of capturing and treating storm water, and to find ways to involve the campus community in the project."

Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company spokesman Michael Waldon said the coffee company plans to make the scholarship part of its H2O Initiative — the company's pledge to donate 2 percent of its sales to Chesapeake Bay cleanup, recovery and education projects.

The company furnished half of the $5,000 grant; the AACC Foundation provided the other half, which included $700 from the Magothy River Association, school officials said.

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