Bay Journal

December 2017 - Volume 27 - Number 9
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Maryland targets two Potomac River tributaries for oyster restoration

The Hogan administration has selected two Potomac River tributaries in southern Maryland for large-scale oyster restoration efforts, one of them poorly rated by state biologists, while holding out hope of opening some state oyster sanctuaries for limited commercial harvesting.

Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton announced Friday that he’s recommending Breton Bay and the upper St. Mary’s River, both in St. Mary’s County, as the fourth and fifth Bay tributaries where Maryland would work with federal agencies to try to restore oyster populations. They are across the Chesapeake from the state’s other three waterways targeted for restoration — Harris Creek and the Tred Avon and Little Choptank rivers.

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If you see a sea turtle in the Chesapeake, consider yourself very lucky

Sea turtles, large and lovable to their fans, have endured a long decline around the world and in the Chesapeake Bay. But a team of international scientists has delivered a bit of good news, at least on a global scale.

The results of their study, published in the September issue of Science Advances, show that some species of sea turtles, after years of decline from harvesting practices and lost habitat, are beginning a modest rebound on a global basis.

Whether or not that rebound extends to the Chesapeake remains to be seen.

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Bay water quality nears record high mark

Water quality in a little more than 39 percent of the Chesapeake was good enough during the last three years to support Bay creatures, from worms to crabs to fish, figures released Thursday show.

That was the second-best extent of good water quality seen in any three-year period since coordinated Chesapeake monitoring efforts began in 1985, according to the state-federal Bay Program partnership.  

Bay jurisdictions’ no-action climate policy puts restoration in peril

Despite research demonstrating that climate change is adding millions of pounds of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and his Bay states colleagues appear to be taking a page from the Trump playbook: Ignore this inconvenient truth.

Doubts about whether climate change is caused by humans and threatens the planet are rapidly going the way of urban legend. Just ask any resident of Puerto Rico, the Gulf Coast or California how life was during the three consecutive hurricanes or the wildfires that have plagued them this summer and fall. Reliable scientific research shows climate change is also compounding pollution in the Chesapeake. Rainfall exacerbated by these dire developments could mean millions of additional pounds of nitrogen and significantly more phosphorus reaching the Bay every year that will put restoration out of reach by 2025.

2018 marks the crucial midpoint assessment that should ensure restoration remains on track, saving the Bay from dead zones and protecting 18 million watershed residents from increased flooding and toxic algae blooms. Yet regional regulators and political leaders recently decided to let themselves ignore climate-induced pollution during this crucial reassessment, kicking this heavy can down the road until 2025 or later.

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Still waters reveal raft of deep-diving white-winged scoters

We arrived at the refuge at daybreak and had already spent an hour watching huge flocks of waterfowl in the coves at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Kent County, MD. Our attention shifted to the open waters leading away from the Chester River into the main body of the Chesapeake Bay. We weren’t disappointed.

Fifty yards offshore, a small raft of sea ducks was loafing on the still waters. I focused the spotting scope on the center of the group and pulled a large black duck into focus.

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Atlantic Coast Pipeline wins qualified VA go-ahead

A divided Virginia regulatory panel has given a qualified go-ahead to building a controversial natural gas pipeline across the state, but made its approval contingent on further review of the project’s water-quality impacts.

The State Water Control Board’s 4–3 vote on Tuesday, coming at the end of a tense two-day public meeting in Richmond, prompted opponents of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to claim a partial victory, though officials seemed at a loss to explain what the decision means.

Before granting the project a key approval, some of the board’s seven members questioned whether they had enough information to certify that water quality would not be harmed by construction of the 600-mile pipeline across wild, mountainous terrain and the state’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Therefore, the board conditioned approval on completion of several environmental impact studies.  

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MD trailer park sewage facility’s zoning violation upheld

A Maryland mobile home park operator whose wastewater discharge is causing problems for a farmer downstream violated local zoning laws by building his sewage treatment facility too close to the stream, an appeals board has ruled. It’s not clear, though, what the remedy is — or if there is to be one at all.

The Caroline County Board of Zoning Appeals has upheld a local official’s ruling that Frank Prettyman built the wastewater treatment plant for Prettyman Manor in the wrong location.

But the unanimous decision doesn’t get the Eastern Shore county any closer to declaring what to do about the problem created in 2016 when Prettyman constructed the treatment plant by Little Creek, a tributary to the Choptank River.

The past is alive in former mill town of Waterford, VA

On the outskirts of the sprawling suburbs to the nation’s capital, there’s a time machine of sorts that can transport you back a century or two. It’s a quaint village called Waterford.

You’ll find it preserved like a dragonfly in amber amid the cookie-cutter housing developments that are gradually consuming the rural remnants of Loudoun County, VA, one of the nation’s fastest-growing communities.

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Virginia board approves first of two pipeline projects despite fervent opposition

A proposed natural gas pipeline through mountainous western Virginia cleared a key hurdle last week, as the State Water Control Board approved water-related permits needed to begin building the 106-mile segment through the state.

The board’s approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline on Thursday, after two days of meetings in Richmond, was seen by environmentalists as an indicator of how the citizen regulatory body would rule next week on another gas conduit, the proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline, which would cut through the state’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The state Department of Environmental Quality had recommended that the board approve permits certifying that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would not harm state water quality, and the citizen board agreed — though not unanimously. Two of the board’s seven members, Nissa Dean and Roberta Kellam, cast dissenting votes.

If you see a sea turtle in the Chesapeake, consider yourself very lucky

Sea turtles, large and lovable to their fans, have endured a long decline around the world and in the Chesapeake Bay. But a team of international scientists has delivered a bit of good news, at least on a global scale.

The results of their study, published in the September issue of Science Advances, show that some species of sea turtles, after years of decline from harvesting practices and lost habitat, are beginning a modest rebound on a global basis.

Whether or not that rebound extends to the Chesapeake remains to be seen.

MD trailer park sewage facility’s zoning violation upheld

A Maryland mobile home park operator whose wastewater discharge is causing problems for a farmer downstream violated local zoning laws by building his sewage treatment facility too close to the stream, an appeals board has ruled. It’s not clear, though, what the remedy is — or if there is to be one at all.

The Caroline County Board of Zoning Appeals has upheld a local official’s ruling that Frank Prettyman built the wastewater treatment plant for Prettyman Manor in the wrong location.

But the unanimous decision doesn’t get the Eastern Shore county any closer to declaring what to do about the problem created in 2016 when Prettyman constructed the treatment plant by Little Creek, a tributary to the Choptank River.

Biologist fighting uphill battle to get eelways built on Potomac dams

Decades ago, as Ed Enamait and other biologists surveyed the Potomac River for walleye, smallmouth bass, muskie and other freshwater game fish, they discovered a disturbing trend.

Every year during the 1980s and ’90s, their electroshocking gear brought fewer stunned eels to the surface. “It was troubling,” said Enamait, then a fisheries biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “And it just kept going down.”

Enamait voiced his concern about the decline within the department, and when two small hydroelectric dams on the Potomac were up for relicensing in 2002, the DNR weighed in to help the eels. They asked that special passages be built for them at Dams No. 4 and No. 5, which are, respectively, about 23 and 45 miles northwest of the river’s confluence with the Shenandoah River at Harper's Ferry.

MD pays steep price for Hallowing Point site with access to the Patuxent

A one-time mobile home park in such poor condition that many of its dwellings violated livability codes is slated to be transformed into one of Maryland’s newest waterfront parks as well as offices for the Department of Natural Resources.

But some are questioning whether the state paid too much for a tract with marginal ecological value that had little chance of ever being developed.

Over the last three years, the DNR has used Program Open Space funding to buy three Calvert County parcels totaling nine acres at Hallowing Point on the Patuxent River. State and county officials plan to turn it into a waterfront park with a boat ramp, fulfilling a long-neglected need for more public access to the water.

‘I’ll never leave this place, and I hope this place will never leave me’

Like most high school seniors, Cameron Evans is at the edge of change. He’s anxious about whether to major in photography or politics, annoyed about having to go to the dentist, animated when talking about the Yankees, his favorite team.

But most seniors don’t worry if they’ll be able to go home after leaving for college; or if they’ll have a home at all after the next hurricane. Evans does; he lives on Tangier Island, or what’s left of it, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.

With no organized after-school sports to play at the Virginia island’s small combined school, and no girls to date because he’s known them all since kindergarten, Evans heads out most afternoons in a small skiff toward what remains of the Uppards, part of the Tangier settlement that was abandoned in the 1920s.

Industrial runoff in MD fouls Bay, threatens communities, report says

Unbeknownst to most Marylanders, many industrial facilities are polluting state waters and the Chesapeake Bay with their stormwater runoff, while also threatening the health of neighboring communities, says a new report by a pair of environmental groups. The groups blame weak state controls and lax enforcement.

More than one-third of the Maryland facilities that reported their stormwater discharges from 2014 to March of this year exceeded pollution limits for potentially harmful chemicals, according to records reviewed by the Center for Progressive Reform and the Environmental Integrity Project, both Washington-based nonprofits.

MD’s veteran sprawl fighter leaves the ring

Dru Schmidt-Perkins figured she’d put two years into launching a new nonprofit in Maryland dedicated to fighting suburban sprawl.

Nineteen years later, she’s finally left the helm of 1000 Friends of Maryland. Sprawl hasn’t been defeated, by any means, but it’s been slowed and even halted for the time being in some places.

Schmidt-Perkins doesn’t claim sole credit for that — the Great Recession that began a decade ago dampened development pressure considerably — but she does believe her group has played a key role in steering Maryland’s growth.

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