Opposition Grows to Seismic Testing For Offshore Oil Reserves

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Scientists are worried that an executive order issued by President Trump earlier this year that seeks to open large portions of the mid-Atlantic and other coastal areas to oil and gas exploration would harm the endangered North Atlantic right whale and other species that occasionally visit the Chesapeake Bay.

Trump’s order, issued April 28, would reverse a 2016 policy from the Obama administration that outlawed drilling in federal waters off portions of the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific coasts and the Gulf of Mexico. The order also instructed federal agencies to streamline the permitting process to speed approval of seismic testing to locate oil and gas reserves in those areas.

But the action is increasingly unpopular with many elected officials along the East Coast. In July, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced his opposition to further offshore exploration. And the attorneys general from nine East Coast jurisdictions — including those from Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and Delaware — submitted comments opposing additional surveys.

“The proposed seismic tests are themselves disruptive and harmful,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a statement. “Worse, they are the precursors to offshore drilling that would put the Chesapeake Bay at risk to drilling-related contamination. That contamination would have catastrophic impacts on fragile ecosystems and important economies. This is a foolish gamble with our precious natural resources.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia is the lone Southeastern governor supporting marine oil exploration, saying he “never had a problem” with seismic testing. While 127 municipalities have passed resolutions against the tests, only five are in Virginia.

But coastal Virginians’ unease with seismic tests appears to be growing. In July, the city council of Norfolk passed a unanimous resolution opposing both offshore drilling and seismic testing, citing threats to marine life, local fisheries and wetlands that offer vital protection from rising seas. The previous month, the city council of Virginia Beach also voted to oppose offshore drilling.

The seismic testing has raised particular concern because of its potential impact on marine life. The tests are conducted by firing seismic air guns from ships “every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, at a noise level that would rupture a human eardrum,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that was among 10 organizations that filed suit May 3 over the executive order. Among the plaintiffs’ contentions is that seismic blasts “could deafen and even kill whales, dolphins and other animals.”

The University of Rhode Island, in partnership with NOAA, has created a website called “sound in the sea,” through which visitors can click to hear what seismic air guns actually sound like when heard several thousand kilometers away underwater.

Cetaceans — whales and their relatives — use specialized echolocation for almost all of their activities, including hunting, migration, courtship and communication, but they are extremely sensitive to underwater sound vibrations, scientists say. Right whales, whose population is thought to number only around 500, could be at particular risk, they say.

Last spring, 28 top marine mammal scientists specializing in right whales signed a statement declaring unequivocally that for this species, already facing a “desperate level of endangerment,” widespread seismic surveys may well represent a tipping point toward extinction.

To locate new sources of undersea oil, companies employ compressed-air guns that blast powerful acoustic waves through the water and into the seafloor. Each seismic test can affect an area of more than 2,500 square nautical miles, raising background noise levels to 260 decibels, approximately equaling the epicenter of a grenade blast. This can go on continuously for weeks or even months, according to a 2013 report released by the international body carrying out the United Nations sponsored Convention on Biodiversity.

Scientists say potential harm is not limited to large marine mammals. The testing could also harm zooplankton — microscopic invertebrates that constitute the core of the marine food chain for everything from shrimp to baleen whales. In a June 2017 study published in the journal Nature, a team of marine ecologists found that their air gun tests decreased zooplankton abundance and caused a two–to threefold increase in dead adult and larval zooplankton. The study concluded that there was significant potential for negative impacts on the ocean ecosystem’s functions and productivity.

In May, 133 environmental and civic organizations sent a joint letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, asking him not to proceed with the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling and related seismic testing, citing “unacceptable risks” to ocean wildlife and ecosystems as well as human populations on the coast.

But Zinke followed up on the president’s executive order with an order of his own on May 11, setting the seismic testing in motion. “Seismic surveying helps a variety of federal and state partners better understand our nation’s offshore areas, including locating offshore hazards, siting of wind turbines, as well as offshore energy development,” Zinke said in a statement. “Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources that belong to the American people.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service has also proposed authorizing more than 90,000 miles of active seismic blasting which, based on the results of the Nature report, would constitute “approximately 135,000 square miles,” according to the Natural Resource Defense Council.

Reflection seismology, as the geophysical exploratory process is called, uses concussive compressed air to send a sudden shock of sound beneath the ocean surface. Oil deposits can be detected by a geological interpretation of sounds, or reflections, that bounce back. Reflections are gathered and collated by floating hydrophones, also called towed arrays or streamers.

“When a mammal is exposed to an audible sound of high intensity and long duration,” said Maria Morell, a specialist in marine mammal acoustics in the University of British Columbia’s zoology. “The sensory cells of the inner ear can suffer mechanical and metabolical fatigue.” This can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss, she said.

The seismic testing, she said, just adds to the cacophony that Atlantic’s marine mammals endure every day, including everything from ship engine noise and military activities to acoustic deterrent and harassment devices.

Ingrid Biedron, a marine biologist with the conservation group Oceana, said that Trump’s call for offshore drilling may be difficult to enact under federal law. “Current proposals conflict with the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” she said. “They also conflict with the Endangered Species Act because several endangered whale species use the area proposed for seismic air gun blasting.” Citing a federal study, she said that as many as 138,000 whales and dolphins could be harmed and up to 13 million disturbed if the seismic testing is allowed.

The recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Noise Roadmap recognizes that “sound is a fundamental component of the physical and biological habitat that many aquatic animals and ecosystems have evolved to rely on over millions of years.”

By William H. Funk

William H. (Bill) Funk is a freelance environmental journalist whose work for the Bay Journal centers on wildlife, forestry, rivers, farming and other land use issues in the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley.

Fountain Park Vigil Honors Charlottesville Victims

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An estimated 300 residents gathered in Chestertown’s Fountain Park Wednesday evening in a vigil to remember victims of violence in Charlottesville, Va. last weekend. The vigil drew residents of all ages, from a nine-month-old baby to retirees, ministers and Washington College students and professors, and others from all over the county.

Called together by Indivisible of Kent and Queen Anne’s County, attendees sang, lit candles, and heard excerpts from the writings of Heather Heyer, Rep, Kamala Harris of California, and others. Heyer was killed and 19 others were injured when a car slammed into a crowd gathered to protest white supremacist marchers who came to the city. A young man from Ohio, identified as the driver of the car, has been charged with second-degree murder. He was allegedly one of the so-called “alt-right” marchers who came to Charlottesville to protest removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

The vigil began at 6 p.m when Erin Anderson, one of the leaders of the local Indivisible group, gave a brief description of the group’s origins and purpose. She said the purpose of the groups is to oppose hate and violence. She quoted Hayer’s mother who said, “They tried to kill Heather to shut her up, but they just magnified her.”

Speakers read inspirational selections from several authors.

Kitty Maynard, another of the Indivisible leaders, asked attendees to look around the crowd and greet someone they didn’t know. This  acted as an icebreaker and there was a short buzz of conversation and laughter as people introduced themselves to each other.  She said that Indivisible will not tolerate white supremacy, Nazis or other hate groups. “Hate has no  home here,” she said.  “Love wins; mutual respect wins; democracy wins.”

After a short series of readings, Indivisible members passed out candles which attendees lit and passed along. Members of the Chester River Chorale then led the singing of “America the Beautiful,” “We Shall Overcome,” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

The vigil was peaceful and low-key with no disturbances. There was no visible uniformed police presence. Only one sign was displayed.  While there were a few occasional on-lookers, there was no organized opposition.  As the organizers said, this was a vigil in honor of the victims of violence and in solidarity with the citizens of Charlottesville.

A long moment of silence concluded the scheduled ceremonies, after which Maynard invited participants to stay and converse.   Most of the crowd did so; the last participants left at around 7:30.

Vigil to Honor Heather Heyer Set for Wednesday at 6 pm in Fountain Park

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Heather Heyer, age 32, killed in car attack in Charlottesville, VA, August 12, 2017

A vigil is planned to honor Heather Heyer who gave her life for what she believed in.  Heather, 32, was killed in the car attack that injured at least 19 others in Charlottesville, VA, on Saturday, Aug 12, 2017.

According to an email from the Kent and Queen Anne’s County chapter of Indivisible:

“This week, on Wednesday (Aug. 16), we will gather in Fountain Park at 6 p.m. for a vigil to honor the lives of those who were killed or injured this past weekend in Charlottesville, VA, as they stood up for equality and civil rights and acted against hate in their community and in our nation. Please spread the word. Invite friends, family, neighbors, co-workers. We’re all in this together. Let’s stand together. Hate has no home in our communities, in our state, in our country.”

For more information, see Kent & Queen Anne’s Indivisible’s website and FaceBook.

Cerino: “I Will Run”

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Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino

Mayor Chris Cerino announced at Monday’s Chestertown Council meeting that he will run for a second term.

Cerino cited unfinished business, in particular, ongoing renovations to the town-owned marina, as his reason for seeking re-election. “I’m a stubborn S.O.B,” he said, comparing himself to Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

The announcement ended a period of uncertainty after council members Liz Gross and Sam Shoge both announced they would not seek another term in this Fall’s election. If Cerino had decided not to run, that would have left three of the five council positions up for grabs.

Cerino, age 48, is Vice President of Sultana Education Foundation. Before his election as mayor in 2013, he served on the town’s planning commission, of which he was chairman for several years. At the time of his first run, he identified the waterfront and Washington College as two key ingredients in the town’s success. He won election by a clear majority in a seven-person race,

During Cerino’s first term, the town completed construction of Phase II of the Gilchrest Rail Trail, built Gateway Park and the Ajax playground, and won grants for work on the marina, which is ongoing. The town also won designation of the Arts & Entertainment District. And it annexed nearly 80 acres that are to be developed as a commercial center by KRM Development, including a new warehouse and headquarters for Dixon Valve and Coupling and an apartment complex.

Responding to a FaceBook post reporting Cerino’s decision, Councilman Marty Stetson wrote, “I have never formally endorsed anyone for Mayor, but Chris Cerino has my support and endorsement. The Council has accomplished much under his leadership.”

At present, Cerino is the only announced candidate for mayor. The town office will begin accepting candidate filings Aug. 31, and the slate will remain open until October 6. Election Day is Nov. 7. See the town website for election details.

 

 

 

Marina Building Plans Hit Bump

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Mayor Chris Cerino and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll

Plans for the Chestertown Marina may have to be scaled back, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll announced after a bid opening for construction of the marina store and interpretive center.

At the town council meeting Aug. 7, Ingersoll said the town received only two bids on the project. The building is to be sited near the Cannon Street side of the parking lot the town-owned marina shares with the Fish Whistle restaurant. Bids were received from Yerkes Construction, Chestertown, and Emory Hill, New Castle, Del. Yerkes submitted the low bid at $1.1 million for the first phase of the project and $825,000 for the second phase. However, both bids were “higher than expected,” Ingersoll said. He suggested going back to the architect and revising the plans to remove the second floor, which would have held a meeting space the town could have rented out.

“We’re disappointed the bids were this high,” Mayor Chris Cerino said. He said the town hoped for a range between $1 million and $1.2 million for the entire project. He said the town has $480,000 on hand for the project. The second floor would have been “an amazing space,” overlooking the river, he said. “But we have to live within our means..”

Ingersoll said removing the second story would allow for more usable space on the first floor since stairways and elevators could be eliminated. He asked the council to approve Yerkes as the low bidder, but to negotiate a contract for the redesigned building based on unit pricing. After a brief discussion, the council voted its approval.

Councilwoman Liz Gross

Also at the meeting, Councilwoman Liz Gross asked residents of her ward to be aware of a recent increase in suspicious activities. She told residents to be certain doors are locked and windows secured and suggested they leave lights on when they go out.

Tim O’Brian said there had been several incidents involving Amberley Park, the trailer park just off Philosophers Terrace.  He said his daughter’s  bike was stolen from their home on the other end of  Philosophers Terrace from Amberley Park.  The bicycle was later recovered in the park near a unit that has been the scene of other problems. He said there was also drug use and vagrancy in the area of the park, along with trash heaps. He asked the town to investigate whether the property is in compliance with code.

Ingersoll said he would talk to the property owners and ask the town zoning inspector to look into possible violations of code.

Police Chief Adrian Baker said his officers do regular patrols. He asked residents to call his department if they see suspicious activity.

Gross said increased patrol presence would help curtail the problems.

Also at the meeting, the council appointed Amy Meeks as chairman of the Recreation Commission.

 

A John Smith Historic Discovery or a Double-Cross by Tom Horton

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Coastal geologist Darrin Lowery, among the Bay region’s premier finders of ancient artifacts, tells cautionary tales about how discoveries are not always as they seem.

There was the fork inscribed “Davy Crockett” that he found poking out of an eroding Delmarva Peninsula coastline, which turned out to be a 1955 Disney commemorative product, and a 4,500-year-old spear point penetrating a castoff Frigidaire. Go figure.

“Proving anything from the archaeology of a single day is virtually impossible,” Lowery said.

The two-and-a-half inch brass cross found on Mockhorn Island was determined to at least 400 years old, but later tests showed it contained an epoxy that wasn’t developed until 1937. (Dave Harp)

But then there came the blistering, buggy day Lowery and two colleagues virtually tripped over a small brass cross as they surveyed one of the Eastern Shore’s remotest shorelines on Mockhorn Island, VA.

If the little cross was what they had reason to think it might be, it would be one of the most significant archaeological finds made around the Chesapeake.

They found it on June 20, 2010 — 402 years and 17 days after Capt. John Smith sailed into the area near the Chesapeake’s mouth. A day out from Jamestown, Smith had just embarked on his famous voyages of exploration during the spring and summer of 1608 that literally put the Bay on the map.

Smith’s map, remarkably accurate by standards of the time, was further distinguished by showing where Smith had nailed up metal crosses to mark where he and his crew had actually explored.

Before this, none of the crosses had ever been found. According to the map, though, one such cross had been placed just south of the modern-day town of Oyster, which is just across a narrow bay from Mockhorn Island. For years, Lowery had been developing a hypothesis that Smith had not gone ashore near Oyster, as historians had long assumed, but a few miles east, on Mockhorn.

An authenticated John Smith cross where Lowery’s team found it would have dramatically boosted his theory. As Lowery would have been the first to tell you —though findings since the discovery have raised at least as many questions as they’ve answered.

Katherine Ridgway, the conservator at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, shows a cross found at Mockhorn Island and the original X-ray she made that revealed the second hole in the cross’s base. (Dave Harp)

It was a compelling discovery. As a coastal geologist, Lowery knew the sandy barrier islands lining Virginia’s Atlantic coast are among the most dynamic of all landforms, changing shapes at the whim of storms, currents and rising sea levels on time scales as short as decades.

By dating marsh sediment cores, old oyster beds, dune soils and other features around Mockhorn and Smith Island just to the southeast, he was fairly sure that John Smith had sailed into a very different landscape than exists there now.

Back then, Smith Island (named for the explorer, unlike the Smith Island in the Maryland Chesapeake, which is named for an early settler) was shaped and oriented differently from today. According to Lowery’s research, deep water flowed up the eastern side of Mockhorn, where now it would be difficult to paddle a kayak. On the island’s western side, where a broad channel now separates it from the mainland, only a narrow, barely discernible opening existed in 1608.

By Lowery’s reckoning, Smith most likely came around the tip of Delmarva and ventured up the eastern, Atlantic-facing side of Mockhorn. The island’s forested ridges, shown on Smith’s map, would have prevented his landing party from seeing that it was separated by water from the mainland (that is, the Eastern Shore).

Darrin Lowery, right, discusses an artifact with Norm Brady in Lowery’s study. (Dave Harp)

But it all happened a long time ago, in a dynamic, ever-shifting environment. And other than the map, there is no record or description of the 24 or so crosses that Smith said he nailed up (or, in places, carved into tree trunks) throughout the Chesapeake and its rivers.

But despite Lowery’s published theory, and close to a hundred visits to Mockhorn, which is rich in artifacts from 13,000 years of human habitation, the geologist said he was never on a “cross hunt.”

“We were just doing coastal archaeology, surveys under contract to the state of Virginia . . . doing our business,” explained Norm Brady, a retired arborist and longtime sidekick of Lowery on his expeditions. “We’d kid about it sometimes: ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we found the cross?’ But not seriously.”

Then, in June of 2010, Brady recalled, he literally stepped on it. He was walking along the shore ahead of Lowery and another assistant, and never noticed the ancient-looking brass cross lying there. It was about 2.5 inches in height and width, blackened by exposure and showing the imprint where a barnacle had been attached.

Lowery, coming up behind, plucked it from Brady’s boot print. “They caught up and said, ‘Norm, you just stepped on John Smith’s cross’ ” Brady remembers. “I wasn’t happy because I’d broken it.”

Now, seven years later, Lowery often seems to wish he’d never found the cross. Even the moment of discovery that day in 2010, he explained, was not the “eureka” moment the casual beachcomber might assume.

“I guess after finding tens of thousands of artifacts over the decades, I don’t get excited much anymore, especially when I find an object that is outside of my knowledge base (i.e. historic vs. prehistoric),” Lowery said in an email. “As always, you have to go back home and put all the pieces together before you know what you have.”

Lowery notified Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources, which agreed that he should seek to have it tested for possible authenticity. That was when things did get exciting, he said.

In 2011, testing by the Smithsonian Institution found that the cross was old enough to be from John Smith’s time. It was about half copper, a quarter to a third lead, mixed with tin, zinc and iron in lesser amounts. Subsequent research indicated it might even date to the 9th century — possibly a “pilgrim’s badge,” worn by someone making a religious pilgrimage. A hole in the top of the cross might have enabled someone to insert a metal ring and wear it.

Lowery was advised by Virginia officials to hold onto the cross. It was 2014 before he would turn it over to the state, which by law owns artifacts found on public lands like Mockhorn. More testing by Virginia’s historic resources department would confirm the Smithsonian’s finding about its age.

“We had people on both sides of [whether the cross was authentic], but it seemed a real possibility that it might be John Smith’s cross,” said Michael Barber, Virginia’s state archeologist. “It was exciting.”

Last October, though, that excitement turn into something that Lowery said he felt bordered on accusation. He and Brady were in Williamsburg to present results of contractual survey work to archaeologists. The day before, the two had uncovered some previously unknown archaeological sites on Virginia’s Rappahannock River. Brady mentioned to Barber that “he wouldn’t believe” what they had found.

“I probably won’t,” Barber replied, according to a lengthy account of the cross affair Lowery has recently published online, called “Coastal Geomorphology and the Search for John Smith’s First Landing Site.” Lowery said he thought the comment “odd, but I shrugged it off.”

Later that day, Barber showed Lowery and Brady an X-ray of the cross done as part of Virginia’s further authentication process. It showed a hole in the bottom of the cross, which had been filled, apparently to conceal it. The X-ray analysis determined that the bottom hole, the same diameter as the visible top hole, was as old as the rest of the cross. But what had been used to fill it was not. More tests had revealed the hole had been plugged with a mix of clay and a modern epoxy, invented in Germany in 1937 and still in use. In fact, epoxy coated the whole cross.

“The meeting took on the aura of an investigation,” Lowery wrote in his online account. He recalled that Michael Madden, a federal archeologist present with Barber during the discussion, advised him that “we know you have a lot of enemies in archaeology and you should find out who might have planted the metal cross.”

In an interview, Madden said, “[Being tricked] has happened to other archaeologists. People screw with people all the time, and archaeology is no different.”

Barber, in a separate interview, added: “All we can say for sure is the science was done, and the cross didn’t stand up as authentic. We’re done with it — time to move on.”

Lowery acknowledged that his “bubbly personality,” as he puts it, has rubbed some people the wrong way in the relatively small and sometimes competitive world of Chesapeake archaeology. “The one course I failed miserably in all my years of training” — he holds a Ph.D. in coastal geology — “was kiss-ass 101,” he said.

His friends will confirm that. “Darrin is from Tilghman Island,” said Brady, “and down there they say what they think, and if you’ve got an ego, you might get pissed off.”

Could someone have played a nasty trick? Brady and Lowery both think it’s wildly unlikely someone might have taken a John Smith era cross, cleverly altered it so that it would eventually be found a fake, and then actually have been able to “plant” it in a wave-washed shoreline zone on remote and inaccessible Mockhorn Island, so that it would be discovered that day.

“There was no one else in sight that day,” Brady said. “No one even knew we’d be out there looking then.”

Lowery wondered out loud in his online paper whether the cross might have been altered once it passed from his hands for testing. The Smithsonian appears to have no documentation of how it did its analysis, and the woman who did the tests retired soon thereafter to Boston. Brady says he was told she was ill, and his attempts to contact her have proven fruitless.

Katherine Ridgway, a conservator with the Virginia archaeologist’s office who handled the state’s analyses, says the Smithsonian testing was a non-invasive process (i.e. it wouldn’t have required drilling a hole or destroying a sliver of the cross). She said it would not have necessarily revealed the second hole or the epoxy.

The epoxy finding, she said, was made by Winterthur, a DuPont museum of decorative arts in Delaware that has “some of the best” facilities for such an analysis.

“Their finding is solid,” Ridgway said, “and unfortunately it means there is no way that cross can ever be linked to John Smith.”

No one has ever publicly suggested the almost unthinkable — that Lowery might have obtained and planted the cross, not knowing of the epoxy in it. He has always been a prolific discoverer of artifacts, and from time to time one hears that Lowery seems uncommonly “lucky.”

My own observation, based on trips afield with Lowery over the last couple decades, is that for both work and pleasure he spends more time exploring the region’s coastal edges than most. He uses his considerable expertise in coastal processes, such as erosion and sea-level rise, to deduce where Americans Indians likely ranged through the millennia. He knows where to look and when — after big storms have exposed new soils, for instance.

“I’ve asked Darrin, what is it he looks for to find artifacts — shapes, colors, textures.” Brady explained. “He basically seems to just integrate it all at once. . . . Sometimes I’ll try to fool him, bring him an artifact I showed him years ago, and he always recognizes it.”

Barber said that Virginia will hold onto the cross, “put it with the bottle caps and other detritus of history.” Lowery and Brady, who tried unsuccessfully to get it back for more testing, seem resigned.

“I’ve moved on,” Lowery said. “You find lots of weird stuff along the shoreline…let’s just call it that.”

By Tom Horton

Tom Horton has written about Chesapeake Bay for more than 40 years, including eight books. He lives in Salisbury, where he is also a professor of Environmental Studies at Salisbury University.

Mainstay Names Carol Colgate Managing Director

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Carol Colgate

When Carol Colgate first attended a concert at the Mainstay, the intimate storefront performing arts center in the waterfront village of Rock Hall,  her initial impression was, “It felt like home.” Today, as the managing director of the friendly and popular live music venue on Main Street, Colgate says that first impression continues, and she would like everyone to feel that they have a home here.

“What I love about the Mainstay is that it grew organically from the time it was founded by Tom McHugh and the core group of original stakeholders, and that the synergy between the music, the audience, the room and the performers has been a natural development. It really is the home of musical magic,” she said, referring to the tagline that accompanies the venue’s logo.

The new managing director position, created in a management reorganization by the Mainstay’s board of directors, is a natural progression for Colgate. She has 30 years of business and arts administrative experience, having worked primarily in theater. Recently, she was a team member in the Kent County production of the new musical, “Red Devil Moon,” where some of her original paintings were featured.

Colgate’s tenure with the Mainstay began as administrative assistant to former executive director Rory Trainor a year ago.  “Rory re-invigorated my love of performance and gave me the opportunity to combine my management skills with imaginative concepts and creativity,” she notes.  All the while, she took on more and more administrative responsibility.

She is enthusiastic to be working with The Mainstay’s very motivated board members on all the operations that keep the venue a vital, thriving part of the local arts scene.  She sees her job as “maintaining the artistic integrity of a long-standing tradition while continuing to grow and expand by keeping our pulse on what’s exciting in the larger community.” Now that the managing director position is filled, Colgate and the board will be hiring staff to work on the programming and marketing for The Mainstay.

Mainstay board president Dan Seikaly says Colgate was a natural fit for The Mainstay.  “For the first 20 years, The Mainstay operated on the energy of Tom McHugh and a few volunteers,” Seikaly noted. “Following Tom’s departure, everyone became aware of the complexity of running a non-profit entertainment venue that presented over 50 concerts a year.  Carol was undaunted and enthusiastic. She learned, adapted or developed methods to grow The Mainstay without losing sight of what made it unique.”

Beyond her demonstrated executive skills, grants management experience and flexible approach to the multi-faceted needs of The Mainstay, Colgate has an innate understanding of the culture that marks the Mainstay’s popularity with its audience and supporters. “Maintaining that culture is important as we continue to move forward with all the creative strengths that bring everyone together,” she said.

Come Meet Alec Ross, Candidate for Governor of Maryland

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Alec Ross, Democratic candidate for Governor of Maryland

Come meet Alec Ross, Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland on Saturday, August 12.  Ross will be at the Chestertown Farmers Market at the Democrats’ booth for an hour from 11 a.m. to noon.  Following that, he will be at the nearby Democratic Club Headquarters at 357 High Street from noon to 2 p.m. This is the latest in the Candidate Meet & Greet Series sponsored by the Democratic Club of Kent County.

Ross’s background includes experience in government, education, and private business.  He has focused on technology.  Recognizing the inequities that made it nearly impossible for low-income families to get ahead, Alec co-founded a non-profit startup called One Economy, which helped deliver high-speed Internet access, educational content and education to low-income communities. One Economy started in a basement and grew into a global organization serving millions of low-income families. After serving on the Obama-Biden Transition Team, Alec was appointed Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In that role, he developed new and creative ways to use technology and innovation to serve America’s diplomatic agenda around the world and was the diplomatic lead on a range of issues including Internet Freedom and the use of network technologies in conflict zones. Alec currently serves as a Senior Fellow at Johns Hopkins University, resides in Baltimore City with his wife, Felicity, and their three children who all proudly attend Baltimore City public schools.

Candidate Meet & Greet Series: Alec Ross, Democratic Candidate for Maryland Governor,  Saturday, August 12, 11 a.m. – Noon at the Chestertown Farmers Market, and Noon – 2 p.m. at the Democratic Club of Kent County Headquarters, 357 High St. Chestertown.

Bay Ecosystem: Lake Bonnie Pollution Saga back in Court

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A former Maryland woman who sued the state and the Eastern Shore town of Goldsboro, blaming them for the loss of her family campground from unchecked septic pollution, will find out soon if she’ll finally get her day in court.

Last week, in the latest twist of Gail Litz’s 7-year legal quest, a Caroline County Circuit Court judge heard arguments from attorneys for all sides on whether to set a trial date for the lawsuit – or dismiss the case.

ce the central attraction of an Eastern Shore family campground, Lake Bonnie was ordered closed to swimming in 1996. The Caroline County health officer declared it contaminated with unsafe levels of fecal bacteria from failing septic systems in the nearby town of Goldsboro. (Litz family)

The litigation centers around Lake Bonnie, a 28-acre impoundment on more than 100 acres of land that Litz’s family owned for several decades and operated as a campground. In 1996, the Caroline County Health Department closed the campground’s lake to swimming, citing unsafe fecal coliform levels in the water, which were traced to failing septic systems in nearby Goldsboro.

That same year, the town signed a consent order with the Maryland Department of the Environment acknowledging that residents’ septic systems were failing. The order outlined a schedule for the town to install a public sewer system and said Goldsboro would be fined $100 a day if it did not comply.

A brochure for ‘Lake Bonnie campsites’ promotes fishing, boating and swimming. Business fell off after the Caroline County health department declared the lake contaminated by septic pollution. A state order to clean it up went unenforced for decades. (Litz family)

But the town never undertook a wholesale fix of its system, and the state didn’t enforce the order. In 2010, Litz lost her property to foreclosure and filed a lawsuit, alleging the town and county’s negligence cost her the property. She asked for $7 million in compensation.

Over the next seven years, in various courtrooms, Goldsboro’s attorneys said that the town had no money to fix the problem, and that Litz had waited too long under Maryland law to file suit. The state also argued that it was not legally obligated to enforce the consent order. Lawyers for MDE contended that they could not force Goldsboro to pay.

Those arguments prevailed in lower court hearings, but in February 2016, Maryland’s highest court said that the state’s failure to enforce the consent order could be viewed as “inverse condemnation” if Litz could prove it was the septic pollution that caused her loss. The case was sent back to Caroline County Circuit Court for a trial.

Since then, Litz’ attorneys, Phil Hoon of Chestertown and G. Macy Nelson of Towson, said they have attempted to settle the case, and even brought Litz up from Florida — where she now lives — because they thought they were close. MDE attorneys Matthew Zimmerman and Patrick Smith declined to talk about the case, but MDE secretary Ben Grumbles said that he would like to settle it.

“We need to agree to the facts,” he said. “I want to move forward. I want to bring closure to this.”

But the state is now raising new arguments. After years of not disputing Litz’s claim that Goldsboro’s failing septic systems contaminated Lake Bonnie, MDE’s attorneys at the July 20 hearing questioned how much of the lake’s problem could be laid on the town – and, by extension, on the state’s failure to enforce its consent order.

The MDE attorneys pointed to other possible sources of pollution, including a small llama herd and a chicken farm, which they argued could have contaminated the lake. In motions filed before the hearing, they also contended that Litz lost her property because of poor business decisions — such as taking out a loan against the campground to make improvements to her home — and not because of contamination.

“The state denies that Goldsboro was the proximate cause. The data simply isn’t there,” Smith said.

Nelson, Litz’s lawyer, was incredulous, pointing out that the state’s consent order had blamed the pollution on Goldsboro’s septic tanks, as had the 1996 warning from the Caroline County health officer, who said that the town desperately needed a fix for its sewage problems.

“From the very first pleading in this case, the state admitted that the septic systems were a cause. They admitted it. Now they are reaching back into the past. You can’t walk that back,” Nelson argued.

Joseph B. Wolf, the town’s lawyer, said that the municipal government of the small community of 400 or so homes was “not obligated” to fix residents’ septic tanks. That obligation rested with the affected individuals, he said, and the county health department.

Judge Sidney Campen questioned how that was supposed to work. Wasn’t the town responsible for its residents’ systems? Did Wolf’s reasoning mean that “Lake Bonnie was used as a sewage lagoon for the town,” the judge asked, and the town was fine with that outcome?

Litz’s attorney responded and said yes. He recalled that in 1985, and again in 1988, Goldsboro residents voted against building a sewage plant that would have raised their rates. The plant would have cost several million dollars, but the federal government was willing to fund 90 percent of it.

“They could have solved this problem for 39 cents a day, or if they wanted to be big spenders, 62 cents a day,” Nelson said. “They chose not to.”

Judge Campen told the attorneys he would take the arguments under advisement and reach a decision in a few weeks. At the end, he asked both parties about setting a trial date. A trial date was the very thing Litz wanted, but Hoon and Nelson said they take nothing for granted.

After the bank foreclosed on Litz’s property, it sold the campground and lake for $400,000 to a family that now maintains it as a private residence. And three decades after the county health department declared that Goldsboro desperately needed a wastewater treatment system, the state and federal government finally came together to fund a solution. In 2015, the county broke ground on a $19 million wastewater plant in Greensboro that will connect to the 100 or so homes in Goldsboro, about 10 miles away, next year. The state hopes eventually to extend the system to other nearby Caroline County towns with failing residential septic systems.

Litz waits in Florida for the judge’s ruling; after losing her Maryland property, she moved in with her children and grandchildren. She relives the memories of her campground through a Lake Bonnie Facebook page, where she posts updates on the case.

“I have been trying for over 20 years to get the pollution, human waste, stopped from being discharged into the stream feeding my former property,” she wrote recently. “I am still not a patient person. I am frankly mad that it was allowed to happen.”

by Rona Kobell
Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Baltimore Sun.