Bay Journal

November 2013 - Volume 24 - Number 8
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Conservancy restoring ‘absentee’ landowners’ sense of place

Joe Thompson wasn’t in the Armstrongs’ town-and-country-style living room long when riparian buffers came up.

The Armstrongs, whose family has lived on the almost 200-acre farm north of Upperville, VA, since the early 1940s, didn’t know they were talking about buffers when they mentioned their desire to mow down the “trash trees” that have grown along the creek in order to have a clearer view of the water.

Thompson, who was visiting the Armstrongs in his role as landowner adviser with the Potomac Conservancy, knows that tree- and brush-lined streams are one of the best ways to improve water quality. He was biding his time.

Marvin Gaye Park restoring community along with Watts Branch

Walking through Marvin Gaye Park, it’s hard to imagine the numbers that used to define this stretch of public land in the District of Columbia’s Ward 7.

Fifteen thousand hypodermic needles once littered its now grassy knoll. More than 7 million pounds of trash clogged the nearby stretch of Watts Branch, a tributary of the Anacostia River. And almost 100 vehicles had been abandoned in the stream and surrounding landscape, some of them doused in gasoline and set on fire.

But a nonprofit that was key to reviving this stream and park decided years ago that this spot — where the needles and numbers were just symptoms of poverty, crime and neglect — was the place to begin the restoration.

Clock hasn’t run out on Lake Bonnie pollution claims, top MD court rules

Gail B. Litz, the former owner of polluted Lake Bonnie, is getting another chance to argue for relief from the state of Maryland and Caroline County.

In September, Maryland’s highest court ruled unanimously that the lower courts erred when they refused to hear the merits of the case Litz vs. the Department of the Environment et al. on the grounds that it had been filed too late, and remanded the case to the Court of Special Appeals for continued argument on other issues.

It has yet to be determined if the case will go back to circuit court for trial.

Atlantic sturgeon jumps out of nowhere into boat on MD creek

Two years ago, Bill Harris and his daughter were fishing on Marshyhope Creek on the Eastern Shore when suddenly, across the river, a large sturgeon jumped out of the water.

“‘That is a once in a lifetime experience!’” Harris exclaimed to his daughter, Susan. “We’ll never see another sturgeon.”

He was wrong. During fishing trips last year with his friend, Randy Rowland, the two retired U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists saw sturgeon after sturgeon. They counted nearly 50 jumping sturgeon during their weekly fall fish trips on the creek, a tributary to the Nanticoke River.

Takoma Park bans ‘cosmetic’ lawn pesticides

Residents of a progressive Washington, DC, suburb can no longer use Roundup or similar pesticides to maintain the monoculture lawns that, for many, define suburbia.

Fueled by a group of concerned mothers, Takoma Park, MD, this summer was the first city of its size to pass a law that bans the cosmetic use of certain pesticides on privately owned properties.

Pesticides may still be used to control bug infestations or invasive and noxious weeds, but lawn owners must post a written notice.

New Virginia route would impact nearly 480 acres of wetlands

Concerns among environmental groups that a proposed 55-mile stretch of highway across the southeast corner of Virginia would impact more wetlands than originally estimated appear to be coming true.

Recent permit applications submitted by the Virginia Department of Transportation and its contractor show the proposed U.S. Route 460 replacement would impact nearly 480 acres of wetlands. If approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, it would be the largest loss of wetlands from a Virginia transportation project ever allowed under the Clean Water Act.

The mystery of the missing blue crabs

A year and a half ago, there seemed to be no shortage of good news about blue crabs. The annual winter dredge survey estimated 764 million blue crabs were in the Bay, the most in 19 years and a huge jump from the previous year.

The governors of Maryland and Virginia issued a joint news release talking about the “extraordinary explosion in juvenile blue crab abundance.” The 581 million juvenile blue crabs in the survey were the most ever seen, and were expected to result in increased catches as they reached legal harvest size last fall and this year.

MD pesticide group seeks database of chemicals sprayed in state

More than two decades ago, Ruth Berlin had a life-changing experience, and not in a good way. While living in Los Angeles, her son, then 4, went into anaphylactic shock. She also became gravely ill. Suddenly, Berlin, a psychotherapist, was too dizzy to stand, chronically exhausted, and was unable to remember details.

They weren’t the only ones. Many residents of Los Angeles reported similar symptoms that summer. The common link, it turned out, was Malathion, a pesticide that the state had been spraying to eradicate a fruit fly that was killing crops in California’s verdant central valley.

PA ag land preservation program marks 25th year, protects 4,452nd farm

The Spring House Farm in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley predates the Revolutionary War. Jere and Angela Hissong have owned it for less than a year, but they have secured its legacy far into the future.

In October, they sold the development rights to their 123-acre Franklin County farm, with its rolling croplands and pastures, to the state’s agricultural protection program.

“My grandfather preserved his farm, my father preserved his, and now we are preserving ours,” Jere Hissong said. “It’s kind of a tradition.”

Nitrogen removal credits explored for oyster aquaculture

Oysters are valued for their reefs, which provide habitat and shelter for an array of fish, clams and other Bay creatures. They’re appreciated for their ability to clear murky water by filtering out algae and silt. And, of course, many simply like to eat them.

But some are asking whether oysters have another value: as a nitrogen-removing best management practice, like a cover crop or filter strip.

In that case, and if the amount of nitrogen removed can be quantified, oyster growers and others who put the bivalves in the water might get financial credit for helping to meet nutrient reduction goals set by the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or pollution diet.

Phillips Wharf Center raises enough funds to purchase oyster house

The Phillips Wharf Environmental Center is the proud owner of Harrison’s Oyster House, bringing the center one step closer to a new and larger home on Tilghman Island.

The new property will help the center’s founder, Kelley Phillips Cox, fulfill her dream of turning the center into not just a place to touch and learn about the Chesapeake’s creatures, but also a place to celebrate and keep active the working waterfronts of the Chesapeake Bay.

Phillips Wharf will lease back the oyster house to the Harrison family, which will continue to use the property at the island’s gateway as a landing to buy and clean fish as well as shuck oysters. Cox will oversee the planting of a living shoreline, a repair to the crumbling bulkhead and a replanting of the area with native grasses.

Sturgeon study on tidal James offers evidence of fall spawn

Matthew Balazik has been getting e-mails from fish the last couple of months. Lots of them.

Every couple of days, one or more Atlantic sturgeon sends a message to his in box.

“I’m here now,” the message basically says. Receivers in the James River relay the coordinates and time of contact.

MD agencies criticize Charles County’s draft comprehensive plan

Eight Maryland cabinet secretaries have sent a sharply worded letter to Charles County’s commissioners, criticizing their comprehensive plan and urging the county to change course and conserve its natural lands.

It’s the first time the secretaries have written such a letter in Maryland. The state’s agencies largely serve as advisers when it comes to planning decisions.

Biologists concerned about dead round goby in Susquehanna

A dead, round goby — an aggressive fish native to the Black Sea that has become a major problem in the Great Lakes — was recently found in the Susquehanna River near Binghamton, NY.

An angler discovered the fish floating in the river not far from the Pennsylvania state line and reported it to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Biologists who examined the fish concluded it most likely had been used as bait, as a hook had been run through its side.

As a result, David Lemon, the DEC’s regional fisheries manager, said biologists do not believe the fish came from a breeding population in the river, but they are concerned that whoever used the goby for bait may have released others.

Pilgrim’s Pride, localities unite to build wastewater plant

Moorefield, WV, is a small town that faced a problem many small towns encounter: How to pay for a new, expensive wastewater treatment system when residents’ wallets are already stretched by high taxes and low salaries.

But the way it solved its problem makes Moorefield unique. The town of 5,000 residents partnered with a company, Pilgrim’s Pride, and two other nearby systems, all of which needed to improve their waste treatment.

Together they built a $40 million treatment system that will reduce total nitrogen loads by 90,000 pounds a year and total phosphorus by 93,000 pounds a year. The system will compost much of its own waste and sell the products, as well as reuse some of its water to save money.

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