Out and About (sort of): ESLC Conference and Farms Balancing Act by Howard Freedlander

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An all-day conference organized by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) devoted to the future of agriculture on the Eastern Shore provided an excellent perspective about an industry critically important to the economy of the Delmarva peninsula.

A plot-line running throughout the day’s panel discussions was the pervasive tension between farmers and environmental groups. Conference planners hoped to address the often acrimonious debate and encourage a respectful dialogue.

The debate is simply about the health of the Chesapeake Bay. More specifically, are farmers doing enough in their daily operations to minimize damage to the pollution of the Bay?

The message given by farmers and the secretaries of agriculture in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia was more nuanced than cut and dry: farmers, coping with government regulations, are taking actions to protect the Bay while trying to be profitable. Community and environmental groups seem dissatisfied with the progress they are making, according to farmers.


Photos by Edwin Remsberg
Another message underscored the presentations made on Nov. 20, 2014 at the Tidewater Inn in Easton: both the agricultural community and the environmental groups need to talk. Lester Gray, a Perdue Farms executive, said, “We have too much confrontation today. We are responsive to our customers, consumers and communities.” Use of chicken litter currently divides the poultry industry and environmental groups.

At the end of a long day listening to a plethora of experts, the three agriculture secretaries provided an exclamation point to the underlying theme of the superbly well-organized conference: the need for cooperative, rather than confrontational discussion.

Maryland’s Buddy Hance said that the state needs to improve non-pollution and eliminate the “blame game.” He called for publicizing farmers’ best management practices, such as the use of cover crops.

Virginia’s Todd Haymore called for a partnership between the farming community, environmental groups and agri-businesses. He pointed to the creation in Virginia of a strategic economic development plan that included the agricultural industry.

And Delaware’s Ed Kee spoke about developing a dialogue based on trust and trying to solve problems, stressing objective, rather than zealous conversations. He pointed to a new farm and food policy in Delaware, creating a “healthy dialogue” and a road map for cooperation.

The question after any educational, sometimes provocative conference is where do we go from here?

As I listened to agricultural industry representatives, I clearly could hear the frustration with the perception on the part of some environmental groups that farmers are not doing enough and sufficiently speedily to save the Bay, to improve its health, to control pollution.

Responsible environmental groups, frustrated by the agonizingly slow improvement in Bay pollution, blame developers and farmers for failing to use best management practices to control the infusion of nitrogen and phosphorous in the Bay.

ESLC knowingly tackled a sensitive subject.

In his introductory remarks, Rob Etgen, ESLC’s executive director, referred to the proverbial “elephant in the room”—the controversy and animosity often voiced by agricultural and environmental groups.

The conference did not resolve the conflict. That was too much to ask. It did, however, highlight the agriculture industry’s efforts, whether undertaken by a farmer or a major agri-business like Perdue, to be responsive to environmental concerns.

At a time in history when our conversation and disagreements are often characterized by stridency and personal attacks, I hope that the more than 200 attendees at ESLC’s 15th annual conference left feeling a bit more informed—and maybe even willing to work together.

I realize I may be overly optimistic.

Councilman Sam Shoge: Leading Young Professionals and Firefighting

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Third Ward Councilman Sam Shoge is on a mission to introduce his generation to civic engagement—how a community functions—and the best way, he says, is to set an example for others. That includes putting out fires. And, no, that’s not a metaphor for solving business problems. It’s real fires. The house burning down kind.

At 25, aside from being Third Ward Councilman, Shoge, with Nina Burton, has been busy founding the Young Professionals of Kent County, an organization designed to help motivate young people get involved with the community that sustains them.

Shoge’s recent call to action on the group’s Facebook page states, “Our generations perspective, voice, concerns, and fresh ideas are totally lacking throughout many programs we take for granted. These institutions are looking to pass the mantle of leadership on but cannot find suitable replacements and are therefore forced to remain in their positions and apply outdated logic and planning. It is time that we step up.”

sam1

The Washington College Admissions counselor says that he was really motivated by Sabine Harvey during one of the council meetings when she expressed dismay over the lack of engagement in Tea Party organization by younger people. “As people retired from it and with only five or six volunteers left, the burden is too much. That takes a toll on everyone and endangers the success of the festival,” Shoge says.

The YPKC now boasts 120 members between the ages of 21-40 and is planning to hold their first meeting in December of January to talk about identifying non-profit organizations that might be contacted for employment possibilities.

“I’ve always had it in me to be involved with my community. When I was younger I considered the Naval Academy as a path to being of service to the larger ‘community’ of the nation but I made different choices and went to Elon University in North Carolina. But I’m still drawn to ‘active’ participation.

And that led Shoge to consider becoming a Chestertown volunteer firefighter after Circuit Court Clerk and friend Mark Mumford suggested it.

“That idea really struck me. Firefighting and emergency response work is service work on a fundamental level and if I can fit it into my life I really want to go through with the training,” he says.

And the training is not for the faint of heart.

Bill Duly, Deputy Chief of Chestertown’s Volunteer Fire Department says that new firefighters spend 24 hours familiarizing themselves with the equipment before they begin any field training.

“After that they will have 150 hours training on and off site. At that point they will have up until two years to complete all requirements to be approved as a Firefighter 1 status,” Duly says. “We encourage Sam and we’re always looking for new volunteers to work with the department,” he added.

Shoge says that even though his life is busy at the College, and as a ward councilman, he hopes to balance his schedule so that he can work on his Firefighter 1 rating.

“It really does resonate with my need to lead by example, be of service, and get more people in my generation involved in this great community,” he says.

The Spy encourages him to go for it!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Importance of Julia Child’s Kitchen and Mirrors with Architect Pamela Heyne

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St. Michaels architect Pamela Heyne believes her first link to Talbot County was through her friend David Morton, son of Eastern Shore hero Rogers Morton, when they were both at Yale School of Architecture together in the late 1960s. She had fond memories of the area, but it never occurred to her that she and her husband would one day be living on Mount Misery Road. That was until they decided to adopt two girls when they were seven and nine years old.

It has now been over ten years since they made the decision to trade in the urban life of Georgetown for a rural one for the girls teen years. But that has not stopped Pam as both an architect and author.

Even with an extraordinary client list, with the likes of the late Ben Bradlee, Oberlin College, and quite a few closer to home, it is her work in relation to kitchen design and the use of mirrors in residential houses that has lead her to collaborations with Julia Child and making presentations to executives of Saint Gobain, the glass & mirror company founded by Louis XIV.

In her Spy interview, Pam talks about she learned from Julia Child, her bias in kitchen design, not only in terms of design and function, but its impact of family life and what role it plays now in the American home.

This video is approximately five minutes in length

Corps of Engineers Report: New Understanding of Conowingo Dam Impact on Chesapeake Bay

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The Chesapeake Bay may have water quality issues, but according to a new study, the Conowingo Dam doesn’t seem to be a major cause of them.

A multi-agency report found that the Conowingo Dam is not the biggest culprit for water quality issues affecting the bay, and dredging sediment from the reservoir behind the dam should not be considered a cost-effective solution.

Rather, the report points to nutrients associated with the sediment, washed down from states upstream, and from other tributaries to the Chesapeake, that pass through the dam and are contributing to dead zones in the bay.

The Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment, made public Thursday, details the movement of sediment and nutrients through the river, reports how they may affect the Chesapeake Bay, and offers suggestions for how to best manage the problem.

Suggestions include continued research and monitoring of nutrients, stormwater management, and a recommendation that the EPA integrate findings of this study into their water quality assessment of the bay.

“The overwhelming majority of pollution entering the bay from the Susquehanna River comes not from behind the Conowingo Dam but from the 27,000-square-mile watershed upstream,” Alison Prost, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said in a statement Wednesday.

According to measurements taken from 2008 to 2011, only 13 percent of sediment pollution came from the Conowingo Reservoir—the other 87 percent came from the greater watershed area, said Anna Compton, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers biologist and manager of the study.

The Susquehanna begins in Cooperstown, New York, flows through central Pennsylvania and into Maryland where it winds its way down to the Chesapeake Bay.

Along the way, the river collects runoff—sediment and nutrients—from farms, cites, yards, and anywhere in between.

Sediment essentially means dirt—clay, silt and sand—but it has the potential to carry nutrients, pesticides, oil residue, manure and other toxic particles.

Dams are designed to hold back water, but they also collect and hold back this sediment—millions of tons of it.

Some of that sediment gets through the dam, and for dams in the greater Chesapeake Bay watershed, this means sediment will continue on to the bay, where it has the potential to harm the aquatic ecosystem.

Before the new assessment was completed, researchers thought that this sediment was causing major harm to the bay because an abundance of particles floating in the water could block out light or bury bottom-dwelling aquatic species.

The study concludes that this is not the case.

“When we ran the model simulations looking at removing a really large amount of sediment, we fully expected to see water quality improvements in the Chesapeake Bay,” said Compton.

“We were surprised. We simply didn’t see it.”

The reason for this is that sediment quickly settles and dissipates without burying bottom dwelling species.

The Spy Interview with Assessment team leader Colonel Richard Jordan of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers from August 2014

The assessment found that even in a major weather event, like Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, large sediment plumes in the Susquehanna and the Chesapeake dissipate quickly without affecting water clarity for long.

“(The satellite imagery) looks very catastrophic. You think ‘Oh my goodness. This has got to be impacting the bay.’ And it does, there are short-term impacts, but the sediment falls out quickly,” said Bruce Michael, the Resource Assessment Service Director for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The problem with sediment is that it carries nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, along with it.

These nutrients can stimulate the growth of algae, leading to low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. This can create dead zones—areas uninhabitable for aquatic species that need oxygen to survive.

Since the sediment itself is not harming the Chesapeake Bay, the study suggests, one way to improve water quality would be to reduce nutrient pollution upstream.

“The nutrients are more the driving factor in this and not the sediment alone. Further reductions in nutrients will have a larger impact on meeting our water quality standards,” Michael said.

This includes better management of storm water, agricultural runoff, and runoff from paved surfaces like roads, or residential areas.

For Marylanders, fees to pay for this kind of management have become known as the “rain tax.”

The bill, more formally known as a “stormwater management fee,” was signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2012, and requires nine counties and Baltimore City to implement watershed protection programs.

As part of the program, local governments charge landowners based on the amount of impervious surface on their property.

Despite political controversy about the tax, the new study recommends stormwater management as an important strategy to lower nutrients and protect the water quality of the bay.

The assessment (link: http:bit.ly/LSRWA), was released for public comment Thursday morning. The 185-page report was three years in the making and cost $1.4 million to complete. It involved several agencies, including the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Maryland Department of the Environment and The Nature Conservancy.

Another recommendation of the assessment is to continue long-term monitoring of the lower Susquehanna River system.

Exelon Generation Co., which owns and operates the Conowingo Dam, has offered to cover the $3.5 million price tag of this enhanced monitoring over the next few years.

Exelon currently leases the Conowingo Dam and Reservoir. The lease was issued on Aug. 14, 1980, but it expired on Sept. 1.

So now Exelon is in the process of negotiating a new leasing license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The final decision will be made by FERC in January, and a new lease would be effective for another 46 years.

Of course, what comes of the report could also depend largely on the opinion of governor-elect, Larry J. Hogan Jr. , who has pointed to upstream states as complicit in the pollution of the bay, and responsible for their shares of the cleanup.

“I think we can help clean up the bay by standing up for Maryland and fighting back against some of the upstream polluters,” Hogan said in a YouTube video (link: http://youtu.be/d3RNXzHKCAU) produced by his campaign on Aug. 19.

“We’ve got to push back against the EPA, the federal government has a role to play … and we’ve got to get the other states to pay their fair share.”

Hogan’s staff confirmed they received a copy of the report on Wednesday, but the governor-elect could not be reached for comment as of Thursday afternoon.

The Big Four—Important Findings from the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment

1. Before the completion of the assessment, it was thought that the Conowingo Dam would continue to trap sediment for 10 to 20 years. But the report found that the reservoir is essentially at full capacity for sediment.

• The assessment says the dam is in a state of “dynamic equilibrium”—meaning sediment continually accumulates, but every so often a large storm event will push enough sediment from the reservoir through the dam to leave extra room for additional trapping.

• Because of these storms, the reservoir never reaches a “full” capacity of sediment, but it also can’t be expected to trap much more. This means any additional sediment coming into the Conowingo Reservoir from upstream will pass through the dam and continue on to the Chesapeake Bay.

2. The nutrients carried with the additional sediment passing through Conowingo Dam is affecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

• Sediment contains nutrients that can stimulate the growth of algae, leading to low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. Low dissolved oxygen levels can cause dead zones—areas uninhabitable for aquatic species that need oxygen to survive.

• If nothing is done to mitigate the amount of sediment and associated nutrients flowing through the Conowingo Reservoir, water quality standards set for the Chesapeake Bay (intended to be met by 2025) will not be attainable.

3. Upstream sources of sediment and nutrients have more impact on the Chesapeake Bay than the sediment and nutrients collecting at the Conowingo Dam.

• The Susquehanna River watershed upstream of the Conowingo Dam is responsible for the majority of pollutants, which include phosphorous and nitrogen, associated with negative impacts on the Chesapeake Bay.

4. Dredging (removing) sediment from the Conowingo Reservoir would not be an effective method for improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

• Dredging would cost between $48 million and $267 million each year just to keep the sediment at its current levels. It would have to be done annually in order to make even a short-term difference in sediment storage capacity in the Conowingo Reservoir. To dredge enough sediment to return to 1996 levels, the assessment estimates it could cost as much as $2.8 billion.

Read the full report here:

http://mddnr.chesapeakebay.net/LSRWA/index.cfm

By Dani Shae Thompson

Maryland Politics: Clean Chesapeake Coalition at Odds with Corps of Engineers New Report on Conowingo Dam

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The 200 million tons of sediment trapped behind the Conowingo Dam is not a major threat to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, according to a three-year study by the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment.

“The study concluded that problems at the Conowingo Dam are not as bad as scientists previously thought,” said Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “The dam is one of many sources of pollution throughout the Bay’s drainage area. To clean up the Bay, we must clean up our local streams, creeks and rivers that feed it.”

The study conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland Department of the Environment found that 87% of sediment flowing to the Bay through Conowingo from 2008 to 2011 came from Pennsylvania and New York — and only 13% came from the sediment that already rests behind the dam.

The LSRWA study is released as the dam’s operator, Exelon Corp., is on the eve of renewing its license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the Dam through 2060. Exelon helped fund the study.

More pollution from the watershed

”The overwhelming majority of pollution entering the Bay from the Susquehanna River comes not from behind the Conowingo Dam but from the 27,000 square-mile watershed upstream,” Prost said. “That is why we call on New York, Pennsylvania and all the states to implement the Chesapeake Bay Blueprint.”

The study aligns with a cleanup plan mandated by EPA in 2010 – after the Bay Foundation sued the agency to enforce the Clean Water Act. The mandate puts the costs on local governments in the watershed states to reduce the Total Maximum Daily Load of sediment and nutrients that flow to the Bay from local sources. The TMDL places more emphasis on reducing nitrogen and phosphorus than sediment.

“Modeling work completed for this assessment estimated that the sediment loads comprised of sand, silt, and clay particles from scouring of Conowingo Reservoir during storm events, are not the major threat to Chesapeake Bay water quality and aquatic life,” the LSRWA report said. “It is the nutrients associated with the sediment that are the most detrimental factor from scoured loads.”

Conowingo released 42,000 tons of nitrogen, along with 19 million tons of sediment, over a week’s time during Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. The annual nitrogen discharge through the Conowingo without storm events is 71,000 tons.

At odds with Clean Chesapeake Coalition

The findings are at considerable odds with the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, an association of 10 Maryland counties that is challenging the efficacy of the TMDL blueprint — because it ignores the 200 million tons of sediment behind the dam as a significant threat to the health of the Bay.

The coalition advocates dredging the dam as the cheapest way to reduce sediments and nutrients that surge through the dam during storm events. They often cite science from a USGS report (see editor’s note below) that said 40% of the sediment discharge into the Bay from 2002 to 2011 resulted from Tropical Storm Lee alone.

The coalition insists that a multi-state commitment to dredge the dam should be the first priority to increase the dam’s storage capacity — before local governments are forced to pass drastic tax hikes to fund local Watershed Implementation Plans under the mandate.

For instance, tiny Kent County, Maryland’s smallest, would have to fund $60 million to meet its obligation under the mandate. The county’s commitment would amount to nearly 11% of its annual $47 million budget through 2025 and would result in “serious” tax increases in a challenged local economy, said Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian, who chairs the Clean Chesapeake Coalition.

Spy Interview with Clean Chesapeake Coalition’s Chip MacLeod from September 2014

The Maryland Department of Legislative Services has estimated local governments in Maryland will spend $14.4 billion to comply with the EPA mandate by 2025.

A recent report from the Maryland Public Policy Institute said that 2 million tons of sediment could be removed annually at a cost of $48 million — and would reduce nitrogen at a greater pace than the TMDL blueprint will yield through 2025.

But the just released watershed study says that the benefits of dredging would be “minimal and short-lived and the costs are high.”

“Attempting to dredge the 200 million tons of sediment behind the dam and relocate it safely could waste taxpayer money,” Prost said.

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr. had sided with the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. Timothy Wheeler in the Baltimore Sun quoted Hogan as saying that he had not read the report but questioned its findings, calling the Army Corps a biased source and accusing it of neglecting sediment above the dams for decades.

Dispute over harm from sediment

The coalition disagrees with the conclusion that sediment is not detrimental to aquatic life and blames massive discharges of sediment from the Conowingo for decimating the oyster population in the northern third of the Bay, north of the Bay Bridge, where only 183 bushels were harvested in 2012.

But while the study emphasizes local sources as the greatest threat to the Bay, it does consider the dam’s inability to stop hemorrhages during storm events.

The dam has reached an “end state of sediment storage capacity” and is “no longer trapping sediment and the associated nutrients over the long term,” the study said.

“These additional loads, due to the loss of sediment and associated nutrient trapping capacity in the Conowingo Reservoir, are causing adverse impacts to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem,” the study said. “These increased loads need to be prevented or offset to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.”

CBF says Exelon should be held accountable as a source of pollution

“Exelon should be held responsible for its share of the problem,” Prost said. “The buildup behind the Conowingo Dam is one source of pollution, and the dam’s owner should be accountable for reducing that pollution and its impact on the environment.”

The coalition responded late Thursday welcoming the conclusion that the dam had reached its storage capacity – but cautioned against taking dredging off the table by “a tenuous rush to judgment by federal and State agencies and leading environmental organizations.”

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Chesapeake Bay Program and the Nature Conservancy also participated in the study.

The coalition also said that the mandate was drafted on incorrect estimates that the dam was trapping 50% of the nutrient-laden sediment that drains into the Susquehanna from New York and Pennsylvania.

“The Bay TMDL will have to be recalibrated to account for this fact,” the coalition said.

Methods and modeling questioned

The coalition also questioned the methods and the modeling used in the study and pointed to three stakeholders that criticized the study for ignoring a USGS prediction that a storm at the magnitude of Hurricane Agnes in 1972 could most likely occur during Exelon’s 46-year re-licensing period.

“The direct impacts of scour of sediment and nutrients from the Project’s Conowingo Pond during the largest storm events expected during the license period have been ignored,” said a joint statement from Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and Waterkeepers Chesapeake to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September.  “These size storms were not thoroughly evaluated for their potential impact to the ecosystem of the lower Susquehanna River or Chesapeake Bay. Nor were they evaluated with respect to their potential for causing exceedances of water quality standards.”

Those three organizations are directly involved in the stewardship of the lower Susquehanna and intervened in Exelon’s license proceedings in July of 2013 to demand Exelon take action to mitigate damage from the dam.

The coalition also questioned why LSRWA’s model focused narrowly on the sediment flows from 2008 to 2011.

“Models are only as good as the data put into the models,” said the coalition’s lead counsel, Charles “Chip” MacLeod of Funk & Bolton P.A.

MacLeod also expressed concern that Exelon may have influenced the findings by contributing funds to conduct the study.

He quoted a letter from DNR Secretary John Griffin to then Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin in 2013, claiming that Exelon had “made a critical financial contribution to DNR to fill a Corps of Engineers’ funding gap.”

By Dan Menefee

 *Spy Editor Note: It is important to note that the U.S. Geological Survey (USFS) was a partner in the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment.

Cool Outdoor Stuff: The Chesapeake’s World of Clams

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With all the concerns recently related to the health of the Chesapeake Bay’s crab and oyster populations, the Upper Bay’s clams sometimes gets lost in the conversation. While it is important to note that these brackish water clams has no economic impact to speak off, due to the fact that it can only tolerate low levels of salt and therefore is not present bay wide, they are cool nonetheless.

In this latest installment of the Spy’s Cool Outdoor Stuff, Captain Andy McCown from Echo Hill Outdoor School puts the spotlight on the clam world found in the Upper Chesapeake the the wonders found in its survival skills.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Gibson Anthony is our videographer

Santé: Mobile Crisis Intervention at Your Door

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The Eastern Shore Mobile Crisis Team is a name—and Hotline number— everyone on the Eastern Shore should know. Simply put, they save lives.

Surprisingly, this free emergency service for people in crisis, now in its 5th year, remains unknown to many who could benefit from this life saving service,

According to Carol Masden, Eastern Shore Director of Operations of Santé Affiliated Group, the four years has been wisely spent perfecting its services for each individual county while amplifying strategies and coordination between disparate Crisis Teams.  Word of mouth and rack cards in high-density public areas and a high profile during health events have been their primary marketing tools.

And it has been busy.

593 dispatches were made in all the counties they served during the first quarter of this year alone. According to a state designed healthcare blue book, which rates the costs of emergency room visits, ESMC dispatches and interventions saved consumers (clients) over $1 million by providing alternatives to emergency room visits.

“Crisis is determined by the person in need. It could be a call for a mental health issue, substance abuse, domestic violence or family conflicts. We will assess each situation and provide links to needed services,” Masden says.

The Mobile Crisis teams are available 9am-midnight, seven days a week and serve all nine counties on the Eastern Shore.

Their Hotline is 1-888-407-8018.

Here is Director Carol Masden discussing Santé Affiliate Eastern Shore Mobile Crisis Teams.

The Possible Fall of Janes Church: A Chestertown Landmark at Risk

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Anyone who has ever owned a house knows no amount of home maintenance is more important than keeping the roof in good shape. That universal truth applies to most of Chestertown’s historic structures. If you don’t have a weatherproof roof, you can kiss the rest of your beloved asset goodbye.

For example, the Garfield Center found they had to invest $200,000 to renew their historic theater’s roof framing, insulation and roof membrane – a lot of construction and expense that is not very sexy but is essential to keeping their building standing.

And that is the problem Janes Church must face. Twenty years ago they installed a faux slate roof with a fifty-year guarantee. When these “slates” began to fail in ten years, they discovered the manufacturer had gone bankrupt. Since then the roof has begun to leak, staining the plaster inside, and repeatedly wetting the roof framing, which inevitably leads to rot.

In its Centennial Year, Janes Church is at risk of demise. It is the only African American Building on a prominent corner in Chestertown’s historic downtown, and it must raise $250,000 for a new roof, some of that immediately. The good news is the Maryland Historical Trust has set aside $95,000 for Janes new roof, but for that to be guaranteed, the Church must raise $30,000 by this year’s end.

The Spy talked to the church’s building committee head Ralph Deaton, along with volunteer building advisors, contractor Jay Yerkes and architect Peter Newlin, at what is at stake with Janes Church and the urgency needed to make sure that this remarkable landmark does not fall.

Janes Church Facts and Notes

Janes Church is the only African American structure on a “Main” street in Chestertown’s Historic Downtown. As such, it represents the historically African American neighborhoods which for two and a half centuries had occupied the third of Chestertown’s downtown along Cannon Street, including Scott’s Point, the home of many notable “Free Negros” before the Civil War. Janes Church is evidence of successes of these African Americans even when their neighborhoods, shops and jobs were subject to Jim Crow discrimination.

Current Conditions

Its concrete shingles are in such bad shape that “catchers” have had to be hung from the eaves to stop these disintegrating “slate” before they strike pedestrians below. One valley of the roof is already leaking to the extent that plaster inside is stained and the wood framing is repeatedly wet, a primary cause of rot.

Financial Summary

The total roof replacement cost is $258,000.

Last year, Janes Church competed for an African American Heritage Preservation grant to fund its new slate roof. In July, the Maryland Historical Trust confirmed that the State has set aside a $95,000 for that purpose.

However, Janes Church must demonstrate by this year’s end; it has at least $30,000 of matching funds in hand if that $95,000 grant is to be guaranteed.

Donations are being sought to help Janes Church clear this first and most critical hurdle. The Friends of Janes, a Community-Church partnership of twenty years ago, has been revived to raise the balance those funds, including Joyce B. Moody, Chair of the Church’s Administrative Council and Ralph Deaton, Chair of the Building and Finance Committees, their Project Architect Peter Newlin, their Construction Manager Jay Yerkes, Larry Samuels, and Pete Weed. Please contact them by clicking here. Here is the form for donations: Community Donations Form

Whither the Blue Crab? By John Lang

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Are the blue crabs of the Chesapeake going the way of the oysters, the shad and the herring? Once Maryland could joke if there were any more crabs in the bay they’d have to be smaller. And now where are they?

No one can say exactly how many of the bottom-crawling crustaceans there are surviving down there in the murk and the muck. What’s become evident to everybody trying to pull them up, though, is how many there aren’t.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” says Capt. Andy McCown of the Echo Hill Outdoor School. McCown points to a pound-netter on the Chester River who could haul up to six bushels of crabs in good times but caught less than two dozen the other day. He cites a crabber on Eastern Bay who set five lines and by day’s end had snagged just two crabs. Because of scarcity crab prices have soared. By late summer, the cost of a bushel of No. 1s had peaked at $240.

In July, outdoors writers for both The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun called for an immediate bay-wide moratorium on commercial and recreational crabbing. The Sun’s Dan Rodricks noted the estimated crab population of under 300 million is close to 1995’s, which was termed “perilously close to collapse,” and to 2008’s when, at the urging of the governor, the crab fishery was declared a federal disaster. Rodricks observed that last year’s harvest of 19 million pounds was the lowest on record. Angus Phillips of the Post noted that Canada geese, rockfish and yellow perch all made dramatic comebacks after moratoriums – “and the time has come to stop pussyfooting around and shut down crabbing for a few years.”

Their demands went down like two journalists in a bar full of watermen.

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 4.43.02 PMAs fall came on there was no clamor for a moratorium – not from the state, not by biologists studying the bay, certainly not by Maryland’s huge hardshell industry. After all it was only two springs ago that Gov. Martin O’Malley stood on a dock, behind a full bushel of steamed crabs and in front of a full catch of cameras,  declaring crab populations at a 19-year high and urging everyone to eat more of  them.

Then the very next winter survey showed crab numbers plunging 60 percent – from  an estimated 765 million to 300 million. “But there’s no reason to panic,” said John Bull of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, because, he explained, female crabs had increased from 95 million to 147 million. But uh-oh. Only 69 million female crabs turned up on the very next survey done this past winter. That’s below the number science has determined necessary to sustain the population. And crabbers on the upper bay haven’t been finding juveniles, either. McCown, who takes school children on expeditions aboard Echo Hill’s skipjack The Elsworth, reports, “A couple years ago little crabs were there in numbers I’ve not seen. Then, just gone.”

Estimates are only that and sometimes miss the mark. But an empty pot is indisputable. Many causes are suspected. It’s overharvesting. It’s die-offs from severe winters. It’s pollution, agricultural runoff, municipal discharges, algae blooms. It’s red drum, and it’s rockfish gobbling up baby crabs and the females as soon as they shed. It’s the state overprotecting the too-many and insatiable stripers.

This summer two studies made waves up and down the bay. At the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, professor Jeff Shields reported on a parasite called Hematodinium that infects crabs in high salinity waters and kills them all within 40 days.  He found up to 80 percent of juveniles are infected.

While Hematodinium is found only in salty southern waters of the Chesapeake, a virus known as RLV is turning up wherever scientists look. First identified in the 1970s, RLV popped up again, reported Eric Schott of University of Maryland Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 4.47.14 PMCenter for Environmental Science, “when we began investigating an unexplained mortality in soft shells.” Scientists then found the virus in many crabs dying in research hatcheries and labs.  Next they began looking for it in the wild and discovered RLV in about 20 percent of crabs taken along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to Virginia. “In captivity if they have the virus they die. But in the wild there are different stresses, a very different environment,” Schott explains. Researchers cannot monitor a crab life-long at the bottom of the bay – so they can suspect RLV of causing die-offs in the wild but can’t state it as scientific fact.

Where scientists will equivocate, watermen won’t. They know what they’re seeing, no doubts about it.

On the Chester

It’s the last day of July and the last pound-netter to work the middle reaches of the Chester pilots his workboat upriver from his anchorage at Quaker Neck Landing. It’s a day everybody’d want to be a waterman: temperature in the 70s, low humidity, steady breeze making sparkles far as eyes can see, the sky going blue as lost love. Dickie Manning Jr., has been doing this for 30 years, grew up on the river in fact, watched it change and never for better. “No grasses in the Chester. If there’s no place for crabs to hide, something will eat them. Everything eats crab.” He nods his head toward the landing: “I was a boy, I took swimming lessons there, in a patch of water where the grasses had been cut out. And you couldn’t swim out of it because the grasses all around it were so thick. There’s no grasses now.”

As his Margaret Ann chugs past Southeast Creek, Manning observes, “No lily pads either.” It used to be, he explains, that tributaries to the Chester had lily pads growing densely along the banks, leaving only a channel of open water. He remembers the Chester had beds of them. “Crabs hid in the lily pads. There’s no hiding places now.”

Manning’s sure of what killed the grasses and lily pads: pollution from agricultural runoff and municipal sewage lagoons, which he ticks off one by one: “Millington, Crumpton, Kennedyville, Chestertown, Church Hill, Centreville, Rock Hall, Grasonville and Kent Island.” Later, Chestertown zoning administrator Kees de Mooy counters that the town’s nutrient removal system installed in 2007 cut nitrogen and phosphorus discharges down to a level of what went into the river in the 1700s, when the town’s population was 400. Manning doesn’t dispute the improvements in filtering, just that, “I count nine lagoons discharging into the Chester. That’s a lot of lagoons for a little river.”

Manning’s older son Ryan started this season trot-lining but caught so few crabs he gave it up and went to work the pound nets with his dad. This morning he tried to go back to his lines but found his workboat’s hydraulics leaking and lost the day getting it fixed. Manning has his younger boy Logan helping him today. Pound nets – the Mannings work a dozen of them from above the mouth of the Chester to just below the Chester River Yacht & Country Club – consist of a single file of poles reaching out from shore, holding a net perpendicular to the current. This net directs fish to deeper water and to another net where they are trapped. By tugging lines running beneath this net, the Mannings lift the fish up close to the Margaret Ann.

To a waterman, the catch is as pretty as a mound of money. Again and again, Logan plunges a big dipper into the living glop and swings about 30 pounds of it onboard,  where his father sorts and discards. Yellow perch are flipped into this box, mud shad to that box, catfish in another, stripers go into a cooler, crabs to a basket. Eels, carp, undersized rockfish and dead and diseased horrors are scraped overboard to sink, drift on or swim away. By 10:30, the workboat is back at Quaker Neck Landing with a fair day’s haul of fish. But there’s just a bushel and a half of crabs, which Manning says is “about average” nowadays.

Moratorium?

Times sure changed. Waterman Clay Larrimore, who takes out crabbing charters, says, “The crabbing is the worst I’ve seen in my life.” Twenty-five years ago Larrimore trot-lined for crabs on the Chester and says he averaged 15 to 20 bushels a day. Today, on his charters, he limits his parties to two bushels and never keeps the females. “I think they definitely have to cut back on taking female crabs,” Larrimore says. “If you want more deer, stop shooting does. We have to put a moratorium on female crabs.”

A moratorium on crabbing would have enormous economic and political consequences, pinching not only watermen, but also buyers, pickers, restaurateurs, chefs, waiters, busboys, bankers, Realtors, really almost everyone who lives and works in communities around the bay.

That’s a key point made by DNR’s Glenn Davis, “the blue crab statistics guru,” in an interview with The Sun’s Dan Rodricks. Davis argues the short lifespan of crabs means a moratorium for them wouldn’t work as it did for the longer-lived rockfish. He says colder-than-average winters typically result in mortalities of up to 50 percent in adult crabs. He says their natural mortality increases when crabs become more dense, because they are more available to predators and also cannibalistic. And, Davis notes that crabs are key to the $600 million Maryland seafood industry, so “the potential benefit of a moratorium, which is not guaranteed, simply does not offset the detrimental impact of a complete ban on harvest.”

Up to this year, the dockside dollar value of crabs has ranged between $50 million and $60 million annually – and that comprises two-thirds of the worth of all the fish caught. With oysters down to one percent of historic populations, the beautiful swimmers are the iconic species of Maryland – crabs on license plates, crabs on decals colored like the state flag. To impose a moratorium would puncture the marketed myth of the Maryland Crab – although in truth that one has been leaking a long time.

“Sorry, Marylanders, Your Crab Is a Lie” taunted the headline last September in Slate online magazine. Writer Matthew Yglesias described watching truck after truck being loaded with crabs on the Gulf Coast for convoy to Maryland. “Crabs get shipped from far and wide to the Chesapeake area precisely because the Chesapeake has had crabs in it,” Yglesias wrote. He argued that the historically plentiful nature of Chesapeake crabs meant that, “over time, as the region’s population has grown, ferocious demand for crab has outstripped the local ecosystem’s sustainable level of crabbing.”

Moratorium or not, chances are high nowadays that the soft shell plated in a bayside crab shack is actually a sweetie bred and born in the Carolinas. And, anymore, the usual suspect in Maryland crab soup is some bottom-feeding lowlife dragged out of   a coastal bayou down in Louisiana.

And so it goes. Laissez les bon temps rouler, Hon.

Chestertown writer John Lang has reported for The Associated Press, Scripps Howard News Service, New York Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. A former journalism instructor at Washington College, he edited two anthologies of essays, “Here on the Chester” and “Athey’s Field” by Literary House Press. He was also the founding managing editor of The Chestertown Spy. 

This article first appeared in Currents, the annual journal of Chester River Association, and is reprinted with permission.