Virginia to make more surprise inspections of water polluters

Virginia environmental regulators will increase their surprise inspections of water-fouling factories, and recruit concerned citizens as volunteer water monitors, to cut pollution in rivers and streams, officials said.

It's an effort to clean up the estimated 2,166 miles of state waterways already polluted by such things as sewage and industrial discharges, fecal bacteria and toxic chemicals, the Department of Environmental Quality said in a report released April 29.

The agency estimated another 1,600 miles of waterways are in danger of being fouled.

Virginia has tracked water pollution for decades, but this is only the third water quality report that lists the dirtiest rivers and streams. The list includes parts of the James, Pagan, Pamunkey, South Anna, Elizabeth, Appomattox, Jackson, Rockfish and Shenandoah rivers.

"We are committed to improving the situation," said Dennis H. Treacy, DEQ director.

Treacy said the DEQ has 27 inspectors to check on the 1,308 businesses, sewage plants and other operations that hold permits to discharge into state rivers. About one-third of the inspections are already unannounced, but he said more surprise checks could be useful in getting polluters to clean up their act.

"This is where you go and knock on the door and say, 'DEQ's here. Take us to your discharge point,'" Treacy said. The DEQ also has about 30 scientists who monitor 17,000 miles of state rivers. In contrast, about 250 volunteer monitors slosh through streams, turn over rocks, examine plants and marine organisms, and check the oxygen levels in waterways - good gauges of a river's health.

The agency signed an agreement recently with the Virginia division of the Izaak Walton League, a conservation group, to use its monitors to supplement the information taken by the scientists. If the volunteers find a problem, the specialists will check behind them.

The report compiled by the DEQ has been forwarded to the EPA. The DEQ plans to hold public hearings on the report in June.

Tyson to pay $6 million for pollution of Kitts Branch

A Maryland chicken processor agreed May 8 to a $6 million pollution settlement, the largest in state history, for dumping ammonia, phosphorous and other pollutants into a river that drains into the Chincoteague Bay.

Tyson Foods Inc. will pay the federal government $4 million for the violations, which occurred at Hudson Foods plants near Berlin, MD, from 1993-97, before Tyson bought the company, said U.S. Attorney Lynne Battaglia.

The Arkansas-based company also pledged to spend $2 million to prevent runoff into the Chesapeake Bay watershed at plants and farms in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania, according to an agreement filed in U.S. District Court. Hudson Foods discharged wastewater with illegal amounts of fecal coliform, phosphorous, nitrogen, ammonia and other pollutants into Kitts Branch, which flows into Chincoteague Bay on the ocean side of the Delmarva Peninsula, according to federal documents.

The presence of such nutrients as phosphorous in Eastern Shore rivers has been blamed for last summer's outbreak of a fish-killing microbe, but the chicken plant's runoff did not reach those waterways.

The lawsuit also alleges that Hudson violated pollution monitoring, sampling and notification requirements in its Clean Water Act Permit. But the company did not falsify records and so will not be criminally charged, Battaglia said.

Tyson spokesman Archie Schaffer said his company bought Hudson's liabilities as well as its assets in January and is responsible for the fine and the pollution control projects.

"Some of the projects are things that we are doing in other parts of the country, but we're doing it on a little faster track with this agreement," he said.

Tyson agreed to carry out five projects in the next two years that are designed to reduce problems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

One project will reduce nitrogen levels by up to 30 percent with new equipment at facilities in New Holland, PA; Glen Allen and Temperanceville, VA, and Berlin.

The company will also build weatherproof poultry waste storage sheds at six company-owned farms and help poultry growers in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia prepare nutrient management plans.

"The cost should be borne by the processor so the cost to the farmers will be mitigated," Battaglia said.

The agreement also calls for two experimental projects that will be monitored by the EPA, said Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tyson will add the phytase enzyme to poultry feed at a feed mill within the Chesapeake Bay watershed to reduce phosphorous in poultry waste. It will also try to reduce phosphorous by using alum to treat waste generated by at least 14 million chickens.

Poplar Island restoration to begin

Maryland and federal officials are ready to move forward with plans to use tons of mud and muck dredged from shipping lanes to rebuild an island in the Chesapeake as a refuge for wildlife.

Gov. Parris Glendening said the plan "is really a national model for responsible disposal of dredged spoils. We are creating an environmentally beneficial project that also is beneficial to the port."

Glendening's comments came April 29 as the Board of Public Works approved a final contract needed for work to begin at Poplar Island off the Talbot County shoreline. It will be the largest habitat restoration project in the Bay.

The project developed by state and federal governments is part of a plan to take care of dredging needs to keep the Port of Baltimore open to large ships for the next 20 years. The initial phase, which will take about 18 months to complete, will cost $45.4 million.

The federal government has agreed to pay 75 percent of the cost of keeping shipping lanes open.

"With this project, two of our state's most important assets - the Chesapeake Bay and the Port of Baltimore - are being immeasurably enhanced," said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD, who led efforts in Congress to fund the project. Mud dredged from shipping lanes in the upper Bay will be transported south to four small dots of land off Talbot County that make up Poplar Island.

The island once totaled about 1,100 acres and sheltered bootleggers in the 1920s and an elite Democratic club in the 1930s, but incessant pounding from waves and wind has reduced it to less than four acres at low tide.

When the project is completed, Poplar Island will be restored to approximately its original size.

Channels leading to the Port of Baltimore are subject to frequent dredging to keep them deep enough to handle the larger ships used in world trade today. That presents state officials with a continual problem of finding places to put the dredged material.

Worth noting:

Up the creek: Pennsylvania has 29,000 more miles of creeks, streams and rivers than officials thought it had. The additional waterways turned up after data about Pennsylvania was fed into a Geographic Information System computer program which counted more small tributary streams. The state now has 83,000 miles of waterways, up from 54,000. Environmental officials have been trying to classify state waterways to satisfy federal Clean Water Act requirements. The larger total means that state officials have more work to do. So far, only 25,000 miles of waterways have been assessed.

Truitt award: Former Maryland Governor Harry Hughes has been selected to receive the Truitt award from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The award, named for pioneer Chesapeake Bay scientist Dr. Reginald V. Truitt, recognizes a Marylander whose dedication, efforts and achievements in the fields of public service, communication and management have resulted in the better understanding and stewardship of the state's aquatic environment. As governor from 1978-86, Hughes signed the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement, signed the phosphate detergent ban, approved the creation of the state's Critical Area Commission and approved the moratorium on striped bass fishing credited with helping the species recover. He has been active in a variety of issues since, most recently chairing the state's blue-ribbon pfiesteria commission.

No watermen: For the first time since the late 1970s, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which regulates seafood harvesting in the Bay and Atlantic surf, does not include a commercial fisherman. In replacing Tommy Leggett, the commission's lone fisherman, whose term had expired, Gov. Jim Gilmore bucked tradition. Instead of tapping another waterman, he named a retired Russian history professor and fellow Republican, Henry Lane Hull, to fill the seat. Gilmore's secretary of natural resources, J.P. Woodley, said the governor did not intend to slight the tradition of appointing watermen, only to delay it. He noted that two seats on the commission will open up in June 1999.

Pesticide notification: A new law signed by Gov. Parris Glendening will require all elementary schools to notify parents before schools are sprayed with pesticides, making Maryland the second state after Arizona with a mandatory notification law. It will give parents whose children might have health problems aggravated by chemicals the option of keeping their children at home or taking other steps to protect them. The law takes effect in July, but elementary schools will have until September 1999 to begin notifying parents. Parents of middle and high school students will get advance notice only if they request it.