From the day he went to prison in 1995, Robert Walker was preparing for his release.
A painter by trade, the New Jersey native earned certificates in software development, auto body repair, desktop publishing, plumbing, floor covering and interior renovation. He even landed a spot on a highway landscaping crew and got a taste for working outside prison walls.
And yet, when Walker was released in March after 21 years and six months in a Virginia prison, he knew his incarceration for armed robbery would loom larger for employers than his skills. And at 53, he would need more than his teen-age competition: health benefits, a living wage, a pathway to a career.
This summer, Walker got that. As a restoration technician for Blue Water Baltimore, he’s part of a crew planting 450 trees along North Avenue, one of the city’s longest and most blighted streets. He is outside, free. He has, he said, learned to smile again.
- Rona Kobell
- August 29, 2016
- People + Society
- 4 Comments
A quarter century ago, Norfolk’s Lafayette River was in a miserable state, fouled with sewage spills, pet waste and a toxic mixture of other pollutants in one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most degraded tributaries. Authorities warned city dwellers against any contact with the water that sloshed against the shoreline.
Fed up and under regulatory pressure, the city and concerned residents of the Hampton Roads community came together five years ago around an ambitious plan to restore the 13-mile urban river.
In June, the effort marked a major milestone, when Virginia regulators declared that harmful bacteria levels in the Lafayette had declined enough to make it safe for boating, fishing and getting splashed, except in areas close to the Elizabeth River.
- Jeff Day
- October 07, 2016
- 2 Comments
An unusual strategy designed to slash the amount of stormwater pouring off the District of Columbia’s buildings and pavement into its streams and rivers is bearing fruit and might be poised for major growth.
Since 2014, newly planned large developments in the nation’s capital have been required to contain the first 1.2 inches of rain that falls on their property in a storm. Most of the projects built since then have met that requirement; some have not.
Using a market-oriented provision in the District’s stormwater control regulation, seven developments have met the runoff-capture requirement by purchasing “stormwater retention credits” given for rain gardens and other rain-soaking projects done elsewhere in the city, according to Mathew Espie, an environmental protection specialist in the District Department of Energy and Environment.
- Jeff Day
- September 28, 2016
- 1 Comment
Foreigners are taking over the Chesapeake Bay region, but not the ones some politicians are talking about this election season.
Largely unnoticed and even abetted by unwitting residents, legions of plants from Asia, Europe and other parts of the world are spreading across the 64,000-square-mile watershed, gradually replacing many of the grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and even trees that have grown here for millennia. Aquatic invaders, such as the northern snakehead and blue catfish, seem to capture all the attention. Less noticed are invasive plants in upland areas, such as the mile-a-minute weed and Japanese stiltgrass.
This spring was another season of ups and downs for the Chesapeake’s troubled American shad as recent monitoring and stocking reports show that restoration of the once-abundant migratory fish to Bay tributaries remains an elusive goal.
Spawning shad surged to another record high in the Potomac River this spring, even as they hit record lows for the second straight year in Virginia’s largest tributaries.
To the north, the number of shad migrating up the Susquehanna River ticked up a bit after three consecutive record-low years, but remained a fraction of levels seen in the early 2000s.
- Karl Blankenship
- September 25, 2016
- 3 Comments
During his 36 years with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, John Arway has repeatedly faced off against those he sees threatening the state’s waterways. Once, he said, a coal miner attacked him across a boardroom table. Another time, a gas driller tried to run over him with a backhoe. Through it all, the mild-mannered biologist persevered, using the facts and his agency’s authority under the law to protect the state’s treasured streams and the fish that call them home.
But for the last 11 years, since young smallmouth bass with lesions began appearing in the Susquehanna River, Arway, now the commission’s executive director, has tangled with a more vexing adversary — one that is supposed to be his partner.
- Rona Kobell
- September 22, 2016
- 9 Comments
The Hogan administration is rolling back a 4-year-old regulation that required less-polluting but costlier septic systems for all new homes in Maryland that aren’t connected to sewers. The move seems sure to please builders, rural politicians and their constituents, but critics say it’s a step backward in trying to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
Gov. Larry Hogan told the Maryland Association of Counties annual meeting in Ocean City that his administration would exempt new homes and commercial dwellings in most of the state from having to install the high-tech septic systems, which are designed to reduce the amount of nitrogen from human waste that’s allowed to escape. Last week, the state Department of the Environment published the proposed regulatory change in the Maryland Register.
Imagine driving into a parking lot on a rainy day and trying to find that spot where you can get out of your car without stepping into a puddle. Happens all the time, right?
Not always. A small, but growing number of parking lots remain puddle-free in wet weather because they have porous pavement that soaks up the rain. And it does more than keep one’s shoes dry.
Though compressed to a fraction of their original size, a small stack of foam logs at the ProFish warehouse in he District of Columbia still smelled of their original purpose: foam containers for schlepping seafood.
That reek was one of the reasons it took years to find a second home — other than the landfill — for the hundreds of used, polystyrene boxes that bring fish and shellfish to the city’s largest seafood distributor each week.
But, with the help of a new in-house compactor that can handle soggy material, and a new recycling contractor, ProFish has in recent months been able to divert 99.5 percent of its waste to other uses. That’s not quite zero waste, but it’s close.
- Whitney Pipkin
- September 15, 2016
- Conservation + Land Use
- 1 Comment
Maryland agriculture officials are weighing whether they should relax a 4-year-old pollution regulation aimed at reducing nutrient runoff from farms after farmers and some municipal sewage agencies complained about its cost and complexities.
The regulation, which took effect July 1, mainly affects dairy farmers and municipal wastewater agencies that generate treated sewage sludge, also known as biosolids.
The rule forbids spreading manure or biosolids after Nov. 1 on the Eastern Shore and after Nov. 16 on farms west of the Chesapeake. It also requires that the nutrient-rich material be incorporated into the soil when spread on fields so that it won’t wash into nearby waterways with rainfall or snowmelt.
The rule essentially requires farms and sewage facilities to build or expand storage facilities to hold their manure or sludge through winter until it can be applied in spring, when growing crops will absorb the nutrients. Many of the state’s 431 dairy farms have already complied, but some indicated to the department that they could not meet the deadline, which triggered an emergency meeting in early July.
Environmental activists and some local residents are pressing Maryland regulators to impose stricter water-quality safeguards on an aging power plant in the Baltimore area that’s periodically releasing “bottom ash” from its coal-fired boilers into a Chesapeake Bay tributary.
The owner of the C. P. Crane Generating Station, which sits on a peninsula east of the city, is seeking state permission to keep discharging “bottom ash transport water” as well as stormwater collected from the 156-acre facility. Much of the discharge lands in two creeks, Seneca and Saltpeter, that are between the Gunpowder and Middle rivers. The Maryland Department of the Environment has issued a draft five-year permit, and has been taking public comments on it this summer. A final decision is due soon, MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said.
- Rona Kobell
- September 10, 2016
- 1 Comment
After a seven-month delay, oyster restoration work is back on track — for the moment, at least — in Maryland’s Tred Avon River sanctuary. But the future course of the state’s efforts to revive the Chesapeake Bay’s iconic bivalves remains very much up in the air, as watermen press for changes to aid their industry.
The Hogan administration in August lifted its hold on the federally funded project in the Choptank River tributary, which had drawn fierce opposition from many watermen, after a state study showed that oysters were thriving in many of the sanctuaries established in Maryland’s portion of the Bay to protect them from harvest.
- Timothy B. Wheeler
- September 07, 2016
- Fisheries,Politics + Policy
- 0 Comments
Though he grew up on the Potomac River eating Chesapeake Bay seafood, Luke Morgan had never prepared blue catfish or soft-shell crabs in his own kitchen before this summer.
“My wife laughed at me, because I had to look up a beer batter recipe for the soft shells,” said Morgan, a dentist from Edgewater, as he stopped by the parking lot of an Annapolis hotel to pick up his biweekly bag of seafood through the Bay region’s newest “community-supported fishery” program.
An important American Indian site on the York River in Virginia, lost to historians for centuries, has been purchased by the National Park Service as part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
The 264-acre tract on Purtan Bay in Gloucester County — where more than 400 years ago the English colonist Smith first met the Algonquian leader Powhatan — was acquired in June from a Virginia couple for $7.1 million, according to the park service.
Four hundred years ago, the Indian town at this location was called Werowocomoco. While its name is not well known today, the events associated with it certainly are.