Bay Ecosystem: Tangier mayor hopes that Trump Call leads to a Seawall

Tangier Island sits like a fishhook in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, a fishing village known for its distinct local accent and eroding shoreline. Every now and again, it makes the news for a quirky event, like when the mayor found some oysters attached to a crab, or a tragic one, as when a longtime resident drowned.

James “Ooker” Eskridge (left), mayor of Tangier, gives Col. Jason Kelly, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District, a tour of the island in late 2016. Kelly came to brief the town on the status of the Corps’ projects around their island.

That changed in June, when President Donald Trump called Tangier Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge. The president, who has suggested in the past that climate change is a hoax, told Eskridge not to worry about rising sea levels. “Your island has been there for hundreds of years,” he told Eskridge, “and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more.”

Trump offered such reassurance after seeing a CNN report about the island, home to about 400 souls, many of whom trace their roots to three families that arrived from England in the 1600s. CNN’s Jennifer Gray reported that 87 percent of the island voted for Trump. Eskridge said he loved Trump “as much as any family member I got.” If Gray saw Trump, Eskridge pleaded, let the president know they needed help.

“You talk about a wall? We’ll take a wall. We’d like to have a wall all the way around Tangier,” Eskridge said in the CNN clip.

He didn’t mean a barrier against illegal immigration. The island had been waiting close to 25 years for a seawall. They probably don’t have 25 more. Every hurricane season, residents pray that the coming winds and tides will not destroy their home. In 1989, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a wall to protect the island’s west side and its airport, and that has held back the waters. But the east side, which includes the island’s busy harbor and most of its homes, is exposed. Neighboring Smith Island in Maryland, the Chesapeake’s other inhabited isle, has expansive marshlands as partial buffers and has received close to $20 million in state and federal aid for bulkheading and erosion control. Tangier has neither natural protections or government money.

Now they’ve got a new problem: political backlash.

After Trump’s call, people started phoning the mayor’s office, the town restaurant, even the ferry service. “I hope you sink!” one caller said. “You’re racist,” said another. “We’re going to boycott you!”

“I don’t understand it,” Eskridge told me when I interviewed him after the call from the White House. “They don’t like [Trump], and they don’t like you if you support him, and we got a taste of it . . . . Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with Donald Trump, but it’s because we’re asking for help to save our island, which is only natural to me. I would expect anyone to try to save their home.”

Indeed, Tangier has helped others save theirs, collecting money for hurricane relief and even sending firefighters and boat captains to disaster areas. Never once, he said, did the islanders question whether those places were worth saving.

Eskridge, for the record, does think the climate is changing. He sees it every day. He is “not totally convinced” that it is caused by humans, and believes erosion, rather than rising sea levels, is to blame for his island’s receding shoreline. Eskridge said he likes Trump because he thinks the president is looking out for the little guy and is willing to cut red tape. For a man who has been waiting 25 years for the government to build a seawall, that seems like a good deal.

It’s not particularly enjoyable to have strangers call you at home and accuse you of racism. It was especially painful for Eskridge who, with his wife, adopted four girls from India. Watermen typically name their boats after their daughters. Eskridge’s skiff is called the Sreedevi.

“People make comments about us. They don’t know us. They don’t understand us,” he said. “If we disagree, or we have a different way of thinking, that’s no reason to hate somebody, or wish him dead.”

Three years ago, one of my daughters and I spent three days on Tangier, much of it in the company of Eskridge aboard the Sreedevi. He took us to his crab shanty, and to the “Uppards,” another town on the island that was abandoned in the 1920s. He could name every bird we saw, discuss their range and list their food sources. He even has a pet osprey that returns to his shanty every spring. As we strolled the Uppards, Eskridge marveled at how the U.S. government could spend billions on rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan, but had no money for a U.S. town.

There was a time, said Northampton County planner Curt Smith, when Tangier’s problem seemed scalable. But now, Miami, Norfolk and New York City are all contending with serious sea-level rise, and they are all competing for the same limited federal resources.

In 2015, I helped organize a tour of Tangier Island for journalists. Just before we left, Eskridge told them he did not believe sea-level rise was happening, and was not sure human beings caused climate change. I’d heard the same refrains in other vulnerable Eastern Shore communities, including Toddville, Saxis, Crocheron and Taylor’s Island. Their residents didn’t want to talk about ice melt or glaciers or coal-fired power plants or greenhouse gas emissions. They just wanted someone to help them get the water out of their yards.

Scientists overwhelmingly disagree with the islanders’ assessment of climate change and sea level rise. But as far as what these communities need is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether erosion or rising water is to blame. The solutions are the same: Build a wall now, or figure out how to make an orderly retreat and settle elsewhere. The most important question isn’t what the Tangier islanders believe; it’s at what point the costs rise too high to save them.

It might seem to be the easiest solution to give up now. Indeed, a columnist for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot suggested as much: Just give every resident $8,000 — the cost of the seawall divided by the 400 residents — and call it a day, he argued.

The scientists and planners I interviewed in my sea-level rise reporting don’t advocate for such a mass evacuation at so low a price. Zoe Johnson, a coastal planner for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that if a community is going to retreat, it should be orderly, planned and their idea. Though not as populous as they once were, Tangier and Smith islands are still vibrant communities. They’re not ready to give up. They’re trying to re-invent themselves as tourist destinations, particularly for nature-lovers. And, Johnson said, we should do what we can to help them stay as long as it’s feasible.

Tom Horton is a Bay Journal columnist who lived on Smith Island for three years and wrote a book about his experience, An Island Out of Time. Now environmental writing professor at Salisbury University, he brings his students to Tangier to meet with Eskridge. Horton has great affection for the islands. They need to be saved, he says: for the nature held within and the culture they sustain.

Give Ooker his rock, Horton said. How much could it cost? Twenty five million? Fifty? It’s worth it. But his students aren’t so sure. That’s because, according to the scientific predictions, Ooker’s rock won’t protect the island until the end of their days; it will, at best, buy them one more century. At what point, they ask, are too many Ookers asking for too much rock? At what point are they all going to run out of time?

Many would point out that, in supporting Trump, Eskridge’s island voted against its own interests. The Trump administration has proposed multiple cuts to government agencies that deal with climate change and help communities adapt to sea level rise. If what you do is more important than what you believe, Eskridge might have struck out on both counts: a president who neither believes in sea-level rise, nor is willing to push for the funding to shore up the island suffering from the one-two punch of rising waters and battering erosion.

But the fact is, when it comes to Trump, little is predictable. With rumors of a visit from Marine One swirling, there is hope that maybe Trump will make an exception for the island that embraced him. A man of faith, Eskridge chooses to believe.

After all, he told me: “I didn’t call him. He called me.”

by Rona Kobell

Bay Journal staff writer Rona Kobell is a former Baltimore Sun reporter.

Rock solid: Oysters Abound on Restored Reefs in Harris Creek

You may not be able to get blood from a stone, but it appears you can get a lot of oysters.

Biologists checking reefs restored in 2013 in Maryland’s Harris Creek found the vast majority crowded with oysters, according to a new report. And those reefs built by piling granite rocks on the creek’s bottom had four times as many oysters clinging to them, on average, as did any of the other reefs that had been treated.

The report, released this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) provides further evidence that the controversial effort to restore oysters in Harris Creek is meeting advocates’ expectations, at least for the time being.

Of 30 reefs surveyed last fall, all but one had at least the minimum hoped-for density of oysters growing on them, while 80 percent reached or surpassed the restoration goal of hosting 50 or more bivalves per square meter, the NOAA report said. Densities among reefs varied, but those built with stone bases had the most by far, averaging more than 200 oysters per square meter.

“You’re looking at densities there that the Maryland part of the Bay has not seen since there have been oyster harvests,” said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. He called it a “spectacular demonstration” of the viability of alternative materials for rebuilding reefs when oyster shells are not available.

Harris Creek, a tidal offshoot of the Choptank River, was one of the first areas selected for large-scale restoration in Maryland, and work was finished there in 2015. Restoration is under way on two other Maryland rivers, the Tred Avon and Little Choptank, as well as in the Lafayette, Piankatank and Lynnhaven rivers in Virginia. The 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement calls for rebuilding oyster populations in 10 tributaries by 2025.

Harris Creek is the largest project so far. About 2 billion hatchery-spawned baby oysters were planted on 350 acres’ worth of reefs in Harris Creek, an area covering roughly 8 percent of the tributary’s bottom.

“Restoration at this scale just hasn’t happened before,” noted Sean Corson, acting head of NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay office.

Corson said that monitoring done by NOAA and other partners in the Harris Creek project offers preliminary evidence the experiment is working. The results reported this week echo findings by NOAA last year that all of the initial batch of reefs built in the creek, which had been seeded in 2012, had the minimum density of shellfish established by scientists. Half of those reefs had met or exceeded the target level of 50 bivalves per square meter.

“If your goal is to restore oysters in Harris Creek, it has been very successful,” Corson said.

But watermen and their supporters remain skeptical. They opposed Harris Creek’s designation as an oyster sanctuary in 2010, which deprived them of a once-productive harvest area. They insist that the restoration work there, which cost $26 million, has been a costly boondoggle, and they have questioned reports of abundant oyster growth on the rebuilt reefs.

They did so again Monday night, when the latest NOAA monitoring results were presented at a meeting of the state’s Oyster Advisory Commission.

Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, said he and other oyster harvesters feel officials have hyped the benefits of oyster sanctuaries and of restoration projects like the one in Harris Creek.

“We were sold a bill of goods when these sanctuaries went in,” he said, contending that proponents had predicted that the restored reefs would produce enough oyster larvae to repopulate nearby waters. But he noted that Talbot County watermen saw no increase in spat settling on a reef just outside the Harris Creek sanctuary that they’d replenished with shell in hopes of benefiting from the restoration.

Others, though, pointed out that free-floating oyster larvae can drift dozens or even hundreds of miles from where they were spawned before settling to the bottom. There is no easy way to tell where a particular oyster was spawned.

Still, watermen and supporters on the oyster commission demanded further information about the NOAA report — particularly on the productivity of the granite reefs, which have been a focus of complaints.

Some of the stone-based reefs were built too high, they said, damaging vessels that hit them. Crabbers also have complained that the rocky underwater structures have interfered with their gear; one suggested Monday night that the manmade structures have attracted so many fish that crabs have been scared away.

“I just can’t get it in my head how anyone can look at this as a good project, as a successful project,” said Ron Fithian, a Kent County commissioner and former waterman.

Others have suggested there’s another, unstated reason for watermen’s hostility to stone reefs — they hope to be able to get back into some of the state’s sanctuaries, and oysters attached to rocks can’t be harvested using traditional gear.

While oyster shells are widely considered the best reef material, they are in short supply, and research has found that in the right circumstances, oyster larvae will attach themselves to almost any hard surface.

But Maryland officials, yielding to the watermen’s objections, have barred the use of any more granite stone on the federally funded restoration project in the Tred Avon River. The Army Corps of Engineers is attempting to build the rest of the planned reefs there using only clam shells, but had to pause work this summer on a 10-acre portion of the restoration project because the supply ran out.

A hiatus also looms on the Little Choptank River, Maryland’s third tributary getting restoration, which is state-funded. With work more than halfway done, the Department of Natural Resources initially asked that its request for a needed federal permit be put on hold so state officials could remove any mention of possibly using “alternate substrate” such as rocks or concrete, in building reefs.

Now, state officials say they are looking to make even more substantial revisions, tweaking the location of planned reefs to reduce the acreage to be built in shallower water. The changes could delay work there for months, possibly even a year or more, acknowledged Chris Judy, DNR’s shellfish program manager.

Watermen and their supporters insist that Maryland wouldn’t need to use alternative reef material if the Army Corps would just let the state dredge Man-O-War Shoal, a massive old reef near the mouth of the Patapsco River with millions of bushels of fossil shells and relatively few live oysters these days. The DNR applied without success years ago for federal permission to dredge up shells, and reapplied in 2015. State officials want to remove up to 5 million bushels of shells over five years for use in replenishing reefs in waters open to commercial harvest, for helping private oyster growers, and for restoring reefs in sanctuary areas.

But the state’s request for a federal permit to dredge shell from Man-O-War has drawn widespread opposition from environmentalists and recreational anglers, who say the shoal is a fish magnet and spawning area for striped bass. It is also opposed by some commercial watermen.

The Army Corps Baltimore District has yet to decide on the dredging request. But the federal project manager for the permit recently wrote the DNR spelling out a series of conditions that would be put on the work if it is allowed. Among other things, dredging would be off limits for 7 ½ months a year to protect fish spawning in the spring and to avoid disrupting natural oyster reproduction in summer. The DNR has until Aug. 22 to say whether it will accept the conditions. DNR’s Chris Judy said they did not seem too onerous.

But critics warn that even if dredging shell from Man-O-War is approved, it won’t be enough to meet the need. Restoration work planned in the Little Choptank alone, for instance, calls for constructing 118 acres of reefs. Building those to a height of one foot off the bottom, as done in other restoration projects, would require 4.1 million bushels of shells. That would appear to leave little for other uses, and none for reef construction in the other two tributaries that Maryland has pledged to target for large-scale oyster restoration under the Bay agreement.

“It would barely scratch the surface,” Allison Colden, fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said of the shells the DNR wants to dredge from Man-O-War Shoal.

The cost of acquiring widely available granite stone is roughly on par with estimates the DNR has made for dredging up the old oyster shells. But Colden, pointed out, “stone is outperforming other substrates by a wide margin.”

Colden warned that Maryland’s reluctance to use alternate materials threatens to stall or even kill the oyster restoration effort in the state.

“It’s this hump we have to get over,” she said, “if we’re going to move forward.”

By Timothy B. Wheeler

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for the Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

CBEC Launches STEM Program

Hanna Spongberg, ROVER instructor, assists Wye River Upper Schools students who are launching a ROVER for a water monitoring mission.

The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center (CBEC) in a cooperative agreement with NASA added a cutting-edge STEM educational program to its educational endeavors.  This program is designed for Middle and High School students.

The program consists of environmental sampling techniques using NASA  approved equipment and associated technology.  Students will learn types of equipment and computer-related devices for sampling the local atmosphere and water.  The students will collect, interpret, and record data for use by scientists, institutions, agencies and general citizenry.  The local data will be downloaded to the GLOBE website (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment- GLOBE.gov) and be available for researchers world-wide.

The students will collect atmospheric data on CBEC property by following guidelines in the  AEROKAT program.  The AEROKAT program involves flying kites outfitted with data collecting technologies and cameras.  They will capture and process their own data about near-surface rates of temperature, pressure, relative humidity and remote sensing.  They will be exposed to the ‘world of digital literacy’ through use of the equipment and data collection.  This skill set will benefit students in both academic and work experiences.

The ROVER program is associated with local water monitoring.  The ROVER is a remotely operated aquatic platform to measure and analyze data, such as oxygen levels, temperature, nutrients, and pH of water.  Students will operate the Rover on local waterways and collect data for downloading to the GLOBE website.

Students will learn how to interpret the data and determine local atmospheric and water conditions, identify potential problems and solutions under the guidance of CBEC staff and NASA resource partners.  Students will have the opportunity to work with professionals in the field.

Field trips to CBEC will give students the opportunity for hands-on experience with the AEROKATS and ROVERS and meet STEM requirements.  All activities are NGSS aligned and incorporate STEM education using real-world settings.  For more information go to bayrestoration.org/AREN and see what activities are available or contact jwink@bayrestoration.org.

The Collaborative Turtle Research of WC Student and Professor Earns the Cover of “Animal Conservation”

After Hannah O’Malley proposed that her senior thesis be based on research with Washington College Biology Associate Professor Aaron Krochmal, the results of her original hypothesis and the pair’s collaboration to test it are helping conservation managers reassess the role of learning when it comes to moving endangered animals from one habitat to another.

The results of their study are featured in a manuscript entitled “An Empirical Test of the Role of Learning in Translocation” published this summer in the online edition of Animal Conservation. Coauthored by Krochmal’s research associate Timothy C. Roth of Franklin & Marshall College, the paper will be the print edition’s cover story in February 2018.

Hannah O’Malley ’12 in the field radio-tracking Eastern painted turtles.

For O’Malley ’12, a biology major who minored in secondary education and has gone on to become a key member of Walt Disney’s Animals Sciences and Environment education team, co-authorship of her first peer-reviewed paper “feels great, and I’m very excited to officially see it in writing, (and) that my thesis has a purpose beyond just being my Senior Capstone Experience. I love that it has implications for conserving species.”

Although many researchers have studied translocation—the practice of moving an animal from one location to another to protect it from habitat loss or other extinction risks—this research is the first that examines the practice experientially through the lens of cognition and learning. Wildlife managers have long used “soft release”—giving an animal time to learn a new habitat by penning or otherwise protecting it for a period of time before turning it loose—but this research shows that for some species, even soft-release translocation can only succeed if the animals are able to learn the new habitat.

For Eastern painted turtles, whose migratory patterns and navigational methods Krochmal and his students have been studying for eight years, that critical window of learning only happens within their first three years of life. O’Malley was one of Krochmal’s Summer Research students who had worked with him on turtle research at DuPont’s Chesapeake Farms, a 3,300-acre agriculture and wildlife management property near the College.

An Eastern painted turtle with radio tag attached sets off in search of a new water source.

“This project was Hannah’s idea. She was looking into the conservation education side of things but with a strong science background,” Krochmal says. “She suggested the idea of translocating animals with both a short time window and a long time window to compare their behavior against animals that live in that habitat, asking ‘Can you, as newly introduced animal, catch up to their culture?’ And the answer is no, unless you do it when you’re young.”

These data, Krochmal says, encourage more research into this question for other species that are likely to need translocation. And, it can help conservation managers better allocate limited resources—for instance, they may want to spend their money and efforts only on juvenile and newly hatched turtles, rather than adults, since the former are clearly able to learn a new environment while the latter will likely die in the attempt.

“I remember Dr. K saying, ‘What do you think is going to happen?’ and I said, ‘We’re going to translocate turtles and they’re not going to know what the heck is going on,’ ” says O’Malley. “I had already watched how the resident turtles know so clearly what they’re doing. It’s like us waking up in the morning and saying, ‘It’s wintertime and I guess I need to put my coat on.’ They just know what to do.”

Asking newly introduced adult turtles to learn the new habitat “was like moving someone from Florida up north—‘Whoa! I don’t know how to handle this!’ It would have been cool if they miraculously have this sense of direction without having to learn that, but we definitely saw that was not the case.”

In her career with Disney, O’Malley works with other teams to connect children and families to the global environment, creating outdoor education experiences at Walt Disney World in Florida, as well as curricula and resources for educators. For instance, while working with content from the film “Moana,” O’Malley helped develop an activity packet and teacher resource guide that included lessons on sea turtle conservation, while with the new film “Born in China,” she worked on materials related to education and conservation of pandas, snow leopards, and golden snub nosed monkeys—key species featured in the film.

Her work with Krochmal, she says, taught her that the purpose of research is less to find answers than to learn what are the next questions to ask. As an educator now, she also has realized fully the value of his method of mentorship.

“Dr. Krochmal was one of the first educators who treated me as an equal,” she says. “It was, ‘OK, we have this question, let’s work on it together and see where it goes and where it takes us.’ He would say, ‘This is as much your project as it is my project.’ Over time I became more and more invested and empowered and more confident, and I definitely felt like I was contributing, which as a student you don’t always get.”

See the Animal Conservation abstract here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1469-1795/earlyview

Read the entire paper: here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317719204_An_empirical_test_of_the_role_of_learning_in_translocation

Learn more about the turtle research here: https://www.facebook.com/taskforceturtle1/

About Washington College

Founded in 1782, Washington College is the tenth oldest college in the nation and the first chartered under the new Republic. It enrolls approximately 1,450 undergraduates from more than 35 states and a dozen nations. With an emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning in the arts and sciences, and more than 40 multidisciplinary areas of study, the College is home to nationally recognized academic centers in the environment, history, and writing. Learn more at washcoll.edu.

Op-Ed: The Good and Bad News on Oyster Restoration by CBF’s Tom Zolper

New scientific information unveiled Monday, July 10 provides yet more encouraging news that the largest man-made oyster restoration project in the Chesapeake Bay is working. The project is in Harris Creek.

Unfortunately, just as the investment in Harris Creek seems to be paying off, efforts to duplicate that success in two other tributaries of the Choptank River are hitting snags. Political pressure and substrate shortages threaten to bring restoration efforts to a screeching halt if the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does not act quickly.

First the good news. New monitoring data indicate that 30 oyster reefs created in 2013 in Harris Creek have high densities of oysters, reported Stephanie Reynolds Westby, Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Westby reported the findings at the monthly meeting of the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC). The NOAA report can be found here.

Scientists have developed specific metrics to determine when an oyster reef can be officially called “restored.” About 97 percent of the 30 reefs planted in 2013 in Harris Creek met the minimum metric for oyster density, and 80 percent met a higher “targeted” density. In fact, only one of the 30 reefs failed to meet the metrics. OAC members speculated someone could have poached oysters off that reef, or that the seabed underneath could have been too muddy for the oysters to thrive.

Despite data to the contrary, some OAC members challenged the conclusion that a restoration project is successful simply because it achieves metrics such as oyster density and biomass. They said putting oysters in the water and having them grow and prosper is not enough. The real success will be if oysters at Harris Creek reproduce, and their larvae help seed oyster bars miles away where oystermen harvest. Some scientific modeling from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has suggested that could happen.

Scientists at the OAC meeting said a restored reef is successful even if it doesn’t seed far-away oyster reefs. They said a massive network of reefs such as in Harris Creek will attract fish, filter the water and provide other ecological benefits. Harris Creek is a “sanctuary reef,” meaning oysters can’t be harvested there.
Now the bad news. Also at the OAC meeting, officials with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) revealed oyster restoration in the Little Choptank and Tred Avon Rivers have hit political snags. Those two projects were meant to duplicate the success in Harris Creek – building large networks of man-made reefs where oysters had once thrived.

Chris Judy of DNR reported that the plan for Maryland to restore 118 acres in the shallow reaches of Little Choptank is still on hold. For several years DNR has delayed requesting a permit for the work, most recently after complaints from watermen representatives. Restoration work at the mouth of the river has nearly been completed by various partners, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, but DNR has long delayed doing its part.

DNR recently asked NOAA experts to further survey the bottom of the river where restoration was planned to find additional suitable acres for restoration in deeper water. Initial estimates suggest that there may be as few as 20-30 acres of suitable area in deeper water, meaning a permit would still be required to complete the project. Because of these political delays and additional surveys, Judy estimated that construction in the Little Choptank won’t begin for a least a year, bringing restoration in the Little Choptank to a halt.

Also at the OAC meeting, Angie Sowers of USACE said her agency had to stop construction in the Tred Avon because of a shortage of mixed shell substrate. The Corps’ contractor was only able to complete 6 out of 10 planned acres. The use of mixed shell instead of other materials in the Tred Avon was a result of negotiations at the OAC after watermen halted restoration work there in 2016. When questioned at the OAC meeting, Sowers said the work could have proceeded with stone.

Ironically, within the new data on Harris Creek was a finding that oysters were growing to densities four times greater on rock substrate than they were on traditional oyster shell. The very thing that watermen object to in reef construction might be the best substance. A recent article in the Chesapeake Bay Journal reported that watermen in Virginia also have discovered the benefit of rock foundations for reefs. But Maryland watermen remain resistant because they claim rock substrate makes it difficult to catch crabs in the area with trot lines, or causes other problems.

Tom Zolper is Assistant Director of Media Relations at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. For more information about CBF please go here.

Easton Utilities enters Phase III of Sustainability Campus

To continue moving toward resource conservation and protecting the environment, Easton Utilities is pleased to announce the third phase of the Easton Sustainability Campus with the installment of a two megawatt photo voltaic solar array. The solar component of the overall project is being partially funded by a $3 million grant from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). “The investment by MDE will enable Easton Utilities to create a unique facility highlighting Easton and Maryland as leading innovators in sustainability and the use of renewable energy,” said Hugh E. Grunden, President and CEO of Easton Utilities. “It is a perfect example of state and local governments working together to protect our environment and serve our community.”

The addition of a solar array to the current renewable energy sources located at the Enhanced Nutrient Removal Wastewater Treatment Facility brings significant benefits to Easton Utilities customers, as well as the Easton community. Utilizing alternative forms of energy helps offset costs allowing Easton Utilities to generate locally instead of purchasing energy off the grid. “With new standards for Maryland energy companies, we are required to provide a significant percentage of our overall portfolio from renewable energy sources annually,” said John J. Horner, VP of Operations for Easton Utilities.

The solar array portion of the project allows everyone to benefit from shared renewable energy and alleviates a national issue on a local level. Regardless of housing situation, location and whether one is a homeowner or renter, anyone can participate without any incurred costs. “The Sustainability Campus is a significant step to demonstrate Easton Utilities commitment to environmental stewardship in our community benefiting all citizens,” stated Grunden.

Prior to the solar array installment, Easton Utilities recently completed the installation of a generator to convert methane gas from the Mid-Shore Regional Landfill to electricity. It is notable, by capturing methane gas and converting it a fuel source, Easton Utilities is removing this greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere. Methane gas is estimated to have a global warming impact 25 times greater than CO2.

Co-located at the ENR Wastewater Treatment Facility, these projects create a system of multiple, diverse, renewable energy sources within our own community. And there is more on the horizon – Easton Utilities is currently collecting wind data to determine the feasibility of adding a wind turbine to the Campus. The possibility of incorporating battery storage is also being considered.

Easton Utilities is a community-owned, not-for-profit utility and telecommunications company operating the Electric, Natural Gas, Water, Wastewater, Cable Television, and Internet services for the Town of Easton and portions of the surrounding area. Please visit www.eastonutilities.com or call 410-822-6110 to learn more.

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy’s Ride for Clean Rivers

On Sunday, September 17, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) will hold the 13th Annual Ride for Clean Rivers at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, Maryland. MRC is excited to partner with Chesapeake College for the third year in a row to bring this cycling event to the Midshore region. Chesapeake College aligns with MRC’s mission by being proactive in campus environmental initiatives, including wind and solar power, native grass plantings, car charging stations, and stormwater projects being implemented in partnership with MRC.

Team MRC (L-R) Tim Rosen, Matt Pluta, Elle O’Brien, Suzanne Sullivan, Jeff Horstman, Ann Frock, Elizabeth Brown, Beth Horstman, Dana Diefenbach, Keitasha Royal, Kristin Junkin, Tim Junkin, and Sarah Boynton. Photo © Tony J Photography

Riders can enjoy Maryland’s scenic Eastern Shore along three routes—62 miles (metric century), 35 miles, and 20 miles. Routes follow the flat, picturesque backroads of Queen Anne’s, Caroline, and Talbot Counties, with rest stops exploring Tuckahoe State Park, Tuckahoe Creek, and the banks of the Choptank River. All routes start and finish at Chesapeake College, and have rest stops and SAG (support and gear) support. There will be morning snacks and coffee at the registration tables, and an outdoor barbeque and live music when riders return to campus. Registration includes food, drinks, barbeque, and event tee-shirt.

Last year, over 400 registered riders of all abilities helped to raise over $55,000. Come out and help reach this year’s goal of 500+ riders. This is a great opportunity to create a bike team with friends, family, bike clubs, or officemates.

Discounted early bird registration ends July 31. Riders may register, raise funds, procure rider sponsors, and win prizes at the event website, rideforcleanrivers.org.

Ride for Clean Rivers supports the work of MRC to protect and restore the Miles, Wye, and Choptank Rivers and Eastern Bay. For more information, visit midshoreriverkeeper.org or contact Sarah at sarah@midshoreriverkeeper.org or 443.385.0511.

Thank you to our 2017 sponsors Agency of Record, Bicycling magazine, The Brewer’s Art, Chesapeake College, C-Jam Yacht Sales, Dock Street Foundation, S.E.W. Friel, KELLY Benefit Strategies, Sprout, and Solar Energy Services.

For more information about becoming a sponsor or supporter of Ride for Clean Rivers, contact Sarah at sarah@midshoreriverkeeper.org or call 443.385.0511.

MRC Breaks Ground on Restoration and Stormwater Projects at Chesapeake College

On June 28, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) and Chesapeake College jointly hosted a groundbreaking ceremony on the college’s Wye Mills campus. MRC has been leading an effort in collaboration with the college and funding partners to develop a comprehensive initiative to address major stormwater challenges on the campus. A suite of 14 projects will materially improve water quality in the Wye River. The projects include a wetland restoration, bioretention facilities that filter stormwater, and a stream restoration that will reduce erosion and treat pollutants coming off hard surfaces and the agriculture fields surrounding the campus.

Kristin Junkin, director of operations for MRC, led the ceremony by describing the projects and the valuable partnerships with both Chesapeake College and the funders that are supporting the work. These funders include Maryland Department of Natural Resources, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and Queen Anne’s County. She thanked all of these partners and emphasized the importance and necessity of local leaders taking responsibility for restoring and protecting our rivers and Chesapeake Bay.

Photo: Pictured at the groundbreaking ceremony are (left to right) Rob Gunter (Queens Anne’s County Planning & Zoning), Ben Hutzell (Resource Restoration Group), Michael Mulligan (Chesapeake College), Sarah Hilderbrandt (Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources), Steve & Julie Burleson (MRC Advisory Committee), Barbara Viniar (former Chesapeake College president), Jim Moran (Queen Anne’s County Commissioner), Kristin Junkin (MRC Director of Operations), Evan Blessing (Blessings Environmental Concepts), Greg Farley (Chesapeake College), Bill Anderson (MRC Board), Timothy Jones (Chesapeake College), Michael Wiznosky (Queen Anne’s County Planning & Zoning), Dr. Clayton Railey (Chesapeake College), Lucie Hughes (Chesapeake College), Chris Oakes and Jess Lister (Environmental Concern), Tim Junkin (MRC founder) and Gus (Tim’s puppy). 

The college’s vice president of finance, Tim Jones,thanked MRC and all of the funder partners, saying,“Chesapeake College’s mission is to educate the residents of our five county region. Not only will these watershed projects allow us to enhance our classroom programs, they will also allow the college to serve as a working model of best practices for all residents on the Eastern Shore. The college is very appreciative of our partners on these projects. It is through partnerships like these that the college has become a nationally recognized leader in sustainability.”

Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Jim Moran applauded the well-organized and thoughtful proposal MRC brought to the county, adding that,“Queen Anne’s County is ready to do our part in cleaning up our waterways. We are delighted to work with MRC and we look forward to more projects down the road.”

The attendees at the ceremony had the unique opportunity to explore with the contractors the keystone project in the group, a Regenerative Step Pool Stormwater Conveyance. This project uses shallow pools to slow down and treat runoff from the college’s hard surfaces and surrounding agricultural fields before the water empties into the headwaters of the Wye East River. Attendees got a behind-the-scenes tour on how these types of projects are engineered and constructed.

The Chesapeake Bay Trust funded MRC’s Wye River Assessment that identified the project opportunities, Queen Anne’s County and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded the design work, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Queen Anne’s County are funding the construction. All of these projects are scheduled for completion by 2018.

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration, protection, and celebration of the watersheds of the Choptank River, Eastern Bay, Miles River, and Wye River. For more information on these projects, contact Kristin Junkin at kristin@midshoreriverkeeper.org or 443-385-0511.

Midshore Riverkeepers & Oakland View Farms Win U.S. Sustainability Award

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) and Oakland View Farms in Ridgely, Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay, were recently awarded the national Outstanding Achievement in Community Partnerships by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy for their collaboration focused on cleaning up our local waters. The award was given during the annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards in Chicago, Illinois this past June.Timothy Rosen, MRC’s watershed scientist, Matt Pluta, its Choptank Riverkeeper, and Dick and Jan Edward, owners of Oakland View Farms, accepted this prestigious prize.

Pictured (L-R) are Choptank Riverkeeper Matt Pluta, Jan and Dick Edwards from Oakland View Farms, Watershed Scientist Tim Rosen and Matt Nuckols, emcee for the awards ceremony.

The partnership between MRC and Oakview Farms began in 2010 and culminated in the construction of the first denitrifying bioreactor in Maryland. The partnership reflected another important achievement as it signified a continuing shift in Riverkeeper-farmer relations in the Delmarva region. Previous to this partnership, relations between the environmental and agriculture communities had often been strained. Eschewing traditional contentious paths such as litigation or combative legislation, the parties decided to work cooperatively. The partnership began with the design and installation of the bioreactor, and progressed as the parties began working together on research to quantify nitrogen removal from bioreactors. This led to opportunities for an approved nitrogen removal efficiency in the Chesapeake Bay Model, potential phosphorus removal technologies for slurry (manure wastewater), and a conservation drainage program. As a result of this successful partnership, MRC has been able to successfully collaborate with seven more farmers and has designed, developed, and installed nine more projects, including the first bioreactor in Delaware.

Since its installation in 2013, the initial bioreactor has reduced nitrate concentrations of water being treated through the system by nearly 100 percent, which helps prevent water quality issues like algae blooms.

“Sustainability in agriculture is about partnering with organizations in our area and contributing to bettering our community,” said Richard Edwards, owner of Oakland View Farms. “We’ve seen a lot of great results, which help us stay in business longer. We’re excited about the future of ag and are always looking for new technology that will help us become better, more sustainable farmers down the road.”

“Oakland View Farms’ partnership with Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy to restore and protect the waterways of Maryland’s Eastern Shore serves as a model for others across the country,” said Chad Frahm, senior vice president, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “Their use of woodchip bioreactors to mitigate nitrogen runoff from manure is both practical and effective.”

Each of MRC’s watersheds is approximately 60% agricultural. “It is imperative that we work hand in hand with the agricultural community to bring smart solutions to nonpoint source pollution,” said Rosen. “MRC is proud of our partnership with Oakland View Farms and their willingness to work with us to solve some of the toughest pollution issues in our watersheds.”

For more information, contact Tim Rosen at trosen@midshoreriverkeeper.org or 443.385.0511.

Memories still Alive and Thriving at Horton Homestead by Tom Horton

The smell of the piney woods and the call of bobwhite quail; tracks of my toy wagon in the soft sand road bordered by ditches alive with tadpoles; the warm odors of the grain bin where mom stashed me as she rolled it through the chicken houses at feeding time; racing to pick up bloody squirrels as they tumbled to the ground after blasts from dad’s shotgun.

Tom Horton rides his hobby horse in front of the log cabin circa 1948. (Horton archives)

These are some of my earliest memories — from the 1940s — of the old log cabin where we lived when I was born, eight miles outside Salisbury on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore.

And you may suspect that I’m about to spin another variation on a theme all too familiar: of better, greener times past, and returning, dismayed, to find all that was dear has been steamrollered by “progress.”

But sometimes you really can go home again. The log cabin 72 years later stands square and sturdy amid blooming shrubs and flowers. The forest has reclaimed several acres of what was open, scrubby field in my childhood. Some of the pines are becoming giants, up to 14 feet around; woodland orchids, sweet magnolias and ferns abound in the understory.

Betty Lou Davis has lived 60 years in the cabin where the Horton family was living when Tom was born. She and Rob dug deep to buy adjacent woodlands to save them from imminent logging. (Dave Harp)

Luckily, the cabin’s current tenant has taken a shine to me. Across the fireplace mantel, in a pine-paneled living room that has changed little, is a wooden board inscribed: “birthplace of Tom Horton, environmentalist.” A Washington Monument would not be as pleasing.

Betty Lou Davis greets me at the door. Going on 89, she’s just back from her regular hour-long swim at the Salisbury YMCA. I’ve learned when calling for a visit to let her phone, a landline with no answering machine, ring “about 13 times” because she’s always outside working in the yard, and that’s how long it takes her to pick up.

The real monument here is the well-maintained, modest cabin and the opulent nature surrounding it, testament to the long and caring stewardship of Betty Lou and her late husband, Rob, a nationally noted bow hunter. Rob once told a local newspaper it was the sight of an eight-point buck munching acorns behind the cabin that sealed its sale to the Davises in 1958 (for $6,800).

The cabin was built on 18 acres in 1934 for a New York man, Robert Cleland, who put $5 as down payment and moved here thinking he might “get a foothold in a small place,” his widow told Betty Lou. The logs were cut from the property and hauled out by mule team, skinned of bark and creosoted, then chinked with mortar and brick. My parents bought the place from Cleland in 1945 — “lucky to get it,” my mom told me, as housing after World War II was scarce.

After almost 60 years at the log cabin, Betty Lou says she can’t imagine being anyplace else. She and Rob dug deep to buy adjacent woodlands to save them from imminent logging, expanding the property to its present 45 acres. Betty Lou and her son maintain trails throughout, with benches placed at scenic points, sharing the nature there with visitors year-round.

The resplendent greenery here is far more beautiful and diverse than in my childhood. Betty Lou took every course on botany offered at Salisbury University during the 18 years she spent earning her degree. (She is no slow learner, but life was busy — and she and Rob had different views on women and education, she said.)

Some changes: The bobwhites that I recall fondly, and the whip-poor-wills whose night calling terrified me, are both heard no more, their species in serious decline because of environmental degradation. “The bird sound when we came here was just thunderous,” Betty Lou said. “Now, not nearly so much.”

Recently, we have been figuring out how she can arrange her affairs to permanently protect the old cabin and its surrounds, a fitting legacy for a remarkable woman and her late husband.

And selfishly, it would mean I can keep going home again, and again. In 1986, when I left off full-time environmental reporting at the Baltimore Sun to move to tiny Smith Island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, I wrote that after trekking the Amazon and following famines across Africa, I was feeling “a need to shrink my prospects, narrow my horizons, move on to smaller endeavors.”

I have happily maintained that course, living now three blocks from the hospital where I was born, biking to teach at Salisbury University a few blocks in the other direction, on the same streets where my grandfather, the college’s dean of education, launched me on my first tricycle in 1948. Not so long ago, after I gave a talk, a very old man came up from the audience. “You won’t remember me, but I delivered you,” he said.

The log cabin, and its inimitable spirit of place, one Betty Lou Davis, are the icing on that cake.

Bay Journal staff writer 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. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.