Ballerinas, Tights, and the Myth of the Conowingo Boogeyman by William Herb

Motherhood, apple pie, and the Clean Chesapeake Coalition! What kind of curmudgeon could possibly find fault with such righteous-sounding institutions? But as Neal Hagburg writes in his song, If it ain’t you: “You ain’t a ballerina just because you like to wear tights when you dance”. Wearing the mantle of a clean Chesapeake doesn’t automatically make you a protector of the Bay.

The Clean Chesapeake Coalition (CCC), organized in 2012, comprises Caroline, Cecil, Carroll, Dorchester, Kent, and Queen Anne’s Counties. Membership consists entirely of government officials from these six counties. CCC’s stated objective is “to pursue improvements to the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay in the most prudent and fiscally responsible manner-through research, coordination, and advocacy.”

I just viewed the latest video produced by the CCC. While I wholeheartedly agree with their purported desire to have a clean Bay, I find that the video is quite misleading, and serves mainly to promote the hidden CCC agenda of reducing pollution-management efforts (but not pollution) in its member counties, while continually raising the specter of the mythical Conowingo Boogeyman. This is “whataboutism” writ environmentally. You know: “Yes, we do pollute our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, but what about (insert Conowingo or your own favorite villain here)?” The parochial CCC view seems to be that preventing pollution locally is a waste of money, but it is money well spent if someone else foots the bill, regardless of culpability.

If the video is to be taken at face value, the only resource in danger in the Bay is the oyster, and watermen who harvest that particular bi-valve are the only stakeholders damaged by the Bay’s condition. Perhaps it is only Commissioner Fithian’s biases speaking. Yet he and the other Kent County Commissioners are willing to spend $25,000 per year of our tax dollars to promote such bogus ideas while, at the same time, proposing to eliminate fines for certain Critical Area violations. A clean Chesapeake, indeed!

The subject video is misleadingly entitled “The Conowingo Factor”, when in fact it should be titled “The Pennsylvania (and maybe New York) Factor”. I will admit that the new title doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but accuracy should count for something even in a time when truth isn’t truth. At the very end of the slick propaganda piece, after the talking heads are blessedly silenced, a text box does grudgingly grant that Pennsylvania is not doing enough to clean up the river before it reaches the Bay. Even that admission is prefaced by a cheap shot at Exelon for not taking part in a pilot dredging study begun by Maryland; a study with some promise, but one also fraught with pitfalls.

The Susquehanna River –the main tributary and source of the Chesapeake Bay–runs through New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland before emptying into the northern, top end of the Chesapeake Bay.     Map courtesy of Bay Journal

Let’s face it. Pennsylvania’s and New York’s contaminants are horrendous problems, and the CCC deserves props for pointing that out, as well as for flagging EPA’s blunder in failing to recognize the future impact of zero sediment trap efficiency of the Conowingo Dam and pond.

On the other hand, review the past tributary and Bay health scorecards and you will see that we residents along the Bay have not covered ourselves in glory when it comes to pollution. The best water in the Bay is just downstream from the mouth of the Susquehanna River. This relatively good quality owes no thanks to efforts by upstream states to cut sediment, nutrients, and other pollution, but rather is a testament to the free remediation that has been provided by the Conowingo Dam and pond for the past 8 decades. It seems that the CCC and many others simply want to disregard this happy coincidence. The power generation facility does not require clean water, but, as a by-product of its design, it has remediated the upstream mess for 80 years at no cost to the upstream polluters or the downstream beneficial users.

The same scorecards will reveal that when the relatively clean water enters the Bay, we Marylanders, including the residents of the six CCC Counties (C4), immediately begin to degrade it, and Virginians and DC residents are no better. Most of the contamination from the C4 is caused by agriculture, which does not have enforceable discharge limits (but which offers the most cost-effective way to reduce sediment and nutrient TMDLs). The Bay score stays low until the waterbody experiences flushing from the ocean via tides. Once again, a free remediation (natural, this time) helps clean up our misdeeds. We are all to blame for the quality of water in the Bay, and it is unconscionable to deflect the blame to others while trying to avoid our own responsibilities.

“The Susquehanna River, the Bay’s largest tributary, carries nutrient and sediment pollution from Pennsylvania and New York. Efforts to curtail a key nutrient, nitrogen, have fallen behind because of lagging cleanup progress in those two states, EPA says.” (Photo with caption from  Bay Journal article June 2016)

There are 3 major contaminants coming down the Susquehanna and all the other Bay tributaries: sediment, phosphorus, and nitrogen. These are produced by processes and activities (natural or human) in the watersheds. Human activities predominate as causes of the contamination.

Assuming that cleaning up our own act here in Maryland makes sense, how should we view what is going to be happening in the near future when the Conowingo Dam and pond will no longer trap sediment as they have in the past? Let’s look at energy production as well as sediment and nutrient delivery to the Bay.

It is doubtful that there will be a significant impact on energy production. In a “run of the river” system such as Conowingo, energy production depends on the head (elevation) of water above the turbines, not on the scant amount of water stored behind the dam. Also, as previously noted, nutrients do not affect electricity production. So cleanup of other people’s pollution is not a driving economic factor for the owner and operator of Conowingo or for its customers and shareholders.

A reduction of nutrients in Bay waters will help promote the long-term increase in underwater grasses, which support fish, crabs, and waterfowl. (Photo by Dave Harp,  Courtesy of Bay Journal)

Nitrogen, which should be controlled at its upstream sources, is largely in solution, so the presence of the dam and pond have had no significant impact on delivery to the Bay, and if the dam’s sediment trap efficiency is reduced to zero, that will not change the situation.

Sediment is a huge problem. But the source of the problem is in the production of sediment in Pennsylvania and New York, and not a problem inherent in the dam and pond. The CCC makes much of the highly visible plume of sediment that passed through the dam following Tropical Storm Lee, but they conveniently neglect to mention that that plume would have been there without the dam or even if the dam had the trap efficiency of its heyday. Those extremely fine silts and clays pass through the Conowingo pond and dam like crap through a goose and remain suspended for miles downstream due to basic physics.

CCC also emphasizes the fact that 4 million tons of sediment were scoured out of the pond in Lee, but minimizes the fact that an additional 15 million tons came down from Pennsylvania and New York in the same flood event. They also tend to ignore the fact that 4 million tons of scour restored some of the sediment trapping capacity for future storms.

Phosphorus, which should be controlled at its upstream sources, is carried on the surface of sediments, and will be delivered to the Bay in increasing amounts if nothing happens at the dam. But the impact will look almost exactly like what would happen if no dam were in place at all. During its previous history of free remediation, the Conowingo Dam and pond captured about 40 per cent of the phosphorus coming down the Susquehanna.

The proposed pilot dredging study may provide some useful information. However, there are a number of questions that must be answered before large-scale dredging should be considered as a viable solution. Is there a beneficial use for 280 million tons of sediment contaminated with phosphorus, coal, PCBs, radio-nuclides from Three Mile Island, heavy metals, and other potentially hazardous materials? Is there any place, within practical distance, that will accept the materials? Will any beneficial uses offset the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers estimate of $4 billion for complete dredging?

If these questions can be positively answered, and the cost is considered to be acceptable, the question is: who should pay for the dredging? Is it billed to the potentially responsible parties in Pennsylvania and New York, the beneficiaries of the cleanup in Maryland (including the C4) and Virginia, the Federal Government (good luck taking money from the 1-percenters in the current political climate!), or a corporation whose main environmental crimes seems to be having deep pockets and tone-deaf ears to public sentiment?

The Boogeyman that we really need to address is the reduction of pollution from Pennsylvania and New York. That should be addressed and funded by those states (while we continue to do our share). Perhaps dredging is a viable solution. Perhaps Exelon should be a better corporate citizen. But I do not see where we, the public, should depend upon the largesse of private corporations to take care of what are public problems.

Likewise, I object to my county tax dollars being spent tilting at windmills, especially when CCC can’t even pick the right windmill. Furthermore, I object to my county tax dollars supporting what I consider quasi-extortion in squeezing funding from Exelon through threats from the State of Maryland by Governor Hogan and MDE Secretary Grumbles, aided and abetted by the CCC. And to my everlasting dismay, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an organization which I greatly admire, seems quite willing to trade its scientific integrity for a handful of silver.

Well, I guess $172 million a year to the Bay cleanup is quite a few handfuls; at least we know their integrity doesn’t come cheap). Of course, the 35,000 Pennsylvania farms in the Susquehanna basin could contribute about $4,900 each, or each resident of the basin could kick in a paltry $38 to raise the same amount. But it is much more politically expedient to deflect the blame to a corporation.

I can almost see the movie scene in my head. An Exelon executive is waking up one morning and finds a bloodied and beheaded American shad in his bed, along with a note saying: “Nice hydropower license you have there. It would be a shame if something happened to it.”

Come to think of it, if the penalty imposed on Exelon for not cleaning up the problems caused by the polluters in Pennsylvania and New York is $172,000,000 per year, perhaps Exelon should consider sending a bill to Maryland and Virginia (maybe Pennsylvania and New York, too) for reimbursement for its gratis efforts over the past 80 years. Fourteen billion dollars would be a tidy sum that could be “donated” to Bay cleanup efforts.

William Herb has B.S. (Forestry) and M.S. degrees (Forest Hydrology) from the Pennsylvania State University and did additional graduate school studies in the Environmental Engineering program at Johns Hopkins. He was a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in College Park and Towson, Maryland, where he specialized in sediment studies, including sediment trap efficiency and sediment production in urbanizing areas. He relocated with the USGS to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and worked on projects characterizing the hydrology and water chemistry in bituminous coal mining areas and statistical hydrology.  He moved on to Texas and supervised a team of about a dozen hydrologists and technicians in extensive hydrologic data-collection programs.

Bill then returned to Maryland as the USGS liaison to the Army Environmental Command (AEC) at Aberdeen Proving Ground.  He managed several divisions within the AEC, and also served as the Chief of the Army’s Northern Regional Environmental Office and the Department of Defense Regional Environmental Coordinator for Federal Region V.  After retirement from the USGS, he joined Booz Allen Hamilton and supported AEC and the Installation Management Command (IMCOM) in managing the testing of Army environmental software and took a lead role in hiring computer scientists and related staff for the newly formed Information Management Division of IMCOM.


The War of 1812, Frederick Douglass, and Wedding Crashers: A Spy Chat with St. Michaels Museum’s Kate Fones

Spy columnist Howard Freedlander often makes the point that most national news can be seen through the local lens of journalism, and the same could also be said for American history and perhaps the thousands of small-town history museums that are scattered around the country.

This is undoubtedly true at the St. Michaels Museum where the arc of American history and culture, from the War of 1812, the travails of St. Michaels resident Frederick Douglass, or documenting the filming of Wedding Crashers at Perry Cabin, all find the way to the doorstep of the museum on East Chestnut Street.

The Spy visited the museum last month to talk to volunteer board president Kate Fones about the museum and some of the nation’s most important moments in history.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the St. Michaels Museum, please go here

John O’Brien on Leadership and Self-Awareness in the Trump Era

Given the seemingly endless use of President Donald Trump’s Twitter account to attack political opponents and publically humiliate his own cabinet members, it is unfortunate that the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution does not include a clause that allows the country to formally intervene and send their CEO to a leadership training program before any talk about giving them the heave-ho.

But if the US did have those powers, it is quite likely the our Donald would have been sent to an executive leadership retreat which was run by John O’Brien.

For much of his professional life, Johnny O’Brien has had a very small niche segment in the leadership training industry. O’Brien developed specialized programs for the very elite corporate leaders of Fortune 500 companies. It also didn’t hurt that John had “walked the walk” himself for several years as the CEO of the Hershey School and its $14 billion endowment.

Given the national and local conversation we are now having on what leadership means, we thought it would be a good idea to have a check in with Johnny about the state of our union and its leaders.

This video is approximately five minutes in length.




The Late Ed Garbisch and his Legacy of Environmental Concern for Wetland Protection

The Eastern Shore has had a number of well-known environmental heroes which have spanned generations with the likes of the Gilbert Byron, William Warner, Harry Hughes, Rogers Morton, or more recently, Wayne Gilcrest, but for every one of these very special leaders are dozens of others who may never share this kind of public recognition.

One of those heroes passed away a few years ago.

Dr. Edgar Garblish, who spent half of his childhood on Eastern Shore, returned home in 1971 while on sabbatical from the University of Minnesota and found himself drawn to the remarkable healing properties that wetlands create for habitat along the Chesapeake Bay. In short order, Garblish resigned from his tenured position, moved his family back east to the old family home, and concentrated his efforts to research and develop techniques of marsh construction using native plants.

And by 1972, Garbisch had become founder and president of Environmental Concern in St. Michaels. There, he became one of the earliest proponents of a technique of marsh construction fine-tuned over the years known as “nonstructural shoreline control.” Wetlands were reclaimed or created using native plants, propagated in greenhouses at EC. Planting these many grasses produced a living shoreline to protect against erosion, provide habitat for animals, and also serve as a filtering system to help clean the polluted waters. Such work was and continues to be done by Environmental Concern up and down the east coast.

Before retiring from EC in 2005, Dr. Garbisch shifted his focus toward the educational side of wetland development, creating materials and programs aimed at everyone from professionals to the general public. The creation and preservation of wetlands are now recognized as a vital component of the global ecology. Planting his first marsh grass, Dr. Garbisch never thought his work would be pioneering. He simply thought it was useful and necessary for the world.

The Spy ventured out to St. Michaels to visit the Environmental Concern campus to talk to its current president, Suzanne Pittenger-Slear, about Dr. Garbisch’s legacy and the ongoing impact the organization he founded has had on restoring critical wetlands in every part of the country.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about Environmental Concern please go here

Mid-Shore Profiles: Lyon Distillery Company’s Jaime Windon

From the moment the Lyon Distillery Company opened its doors in St. Michaels five years, the Spy has had an great interest in its unique progression. Founded by Jaime Windon and Ben Lyon at the very end of 2013 on a small side street of the historic town, Lyon has become not only a successful and award-winning rum business but an extraordinary role model for young entrepreneurs throughout the Eastern Shore.

With a passion for rum and a special love for a small town lifestyle, Jaime and Ben had a conviction the Md-Shore community would be willing to support this kind of enterprise. Five years later, Lyon is not only highly sought after locally but is now building a national following as well.

But what makes Jaime so unique is that this busy CEO also has invested significantly in her community. In her Spy interview, she talks about the importance of St. Michaels in making Lyon successful, but also from the perspective of an elected commissioner for the Town of St. Michaels. Jaime also talks about what it takes to build a successful business as well as a town.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Lyon Distillery please go here

Mid-Shore Arts: The Eyes of Three Generations

It can only be reassuring to many who love photography that even in this age of digital cameras and software, the tradition of using film, film paper, and spending hours in a darkroom to develop images still lives on.

That is indeed the case with the three photographers participating in a new exhibition at the Trippe Gallery in Easton. Representatives from very different generations, starting with the work of award-winning George Merrill as the group’s elder, gallery owner, and photographer Nanny Trippe in the middle, followed by her daughter, Charlotte Cutts, who is a recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Set to open on First Friday in August, the three photographers compared notes recently at the Trippe to talk about the concept behind “The Eyes of Three Generations,” technique, and their passion for preserving the act of “developing” film.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information “The Eyes of Three Generations” please go here


BAAM Booming: The Future Plans of BAAM with Derick Daly

It’s hard to tell what was in the minds of Derick Daly and his wife, Dina, when they conceived the idea of Talbot County’s youth education program, Building African-American Minds, otherwise known as BAAM, but it is unlikely that the original concept would have included the creation of a BAAM campus that would consist of a “state of the art”academic building as well as athletic center.

But given BAAM’s unique track record since it launched in 2004, which has positively impacted hundreds of young boys in and around Easton, it now looks in hindsight as almost inevitable that this highly respected project would evolve into a remarkably sophisticated and financially stable institution worthy of these kinds of capital investment.

The Spy sat down withDerick last week to review the current status of BAAM’s strategic plan, the groundbreaking the athletic center, and the vision and design of the new academic center.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about BAAM please go here

Port Street Perspectives: The Neighborhood Service Center with Corey Pack

It seems only natural given all the zoning, governance, and commercial interests at stake with a future Easton Point, that there has been an extraordinary focus over the last year or so on that rare piece of Easton waterfront and how it will be used in the next decade or so. But as anyone one from the Easton Economic Development Corporation will tell you, the segment of Port Street between the Easton By-pass (Route 322) and West Street is just as complicated and filled with an equal number of opportunities as well.

For within that one-mile zone consists of a community that has existed long before Port Street lost its historic purpose of providing a transportation axis between the town’s waterfront and the merchants located downtown.  It has also become one of Easton’s most diverse neighborhoods.

And one institution that has been there for decades has been the Neighborhood Service Center, which exists to improve the quality of life both socially and economically for low-income residents in Talbot County. The spy had an opportunity to talk to the president of that service agency’s board, County Council member Corey Pack.  In our interview, we discuss both the current and future vision for Port Street and the unique opportunities and challenges it brings to its residents, and to Easton at large.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. The production was co-sponsored by the Easton Economic Development Corporation. For more information about their mission or on the Port Street project, please go here

Profiles in Spirituality: A New Temple Rises for the Mid-Shore

There are many ways in which people can serve their church or synagogue. They can direct music programs, help with Sunday school, volunteer to assist those in need of food or shelter in the community, or sign on to take charge of flowers for weekly services.

But there is nothing comparable to the extraordinary feeling that comes with building a new scared place to serve the faithful. Whether it be a temple, a cathedral, or a small rural church, to be involved intimately in its design, its concept, its fundraising, and overall leadership is a typically once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That certainly is the case with Rabbi Peter Hyman with the Temple B’nai Israel’s construction of an almost 10,000 square-foot temple just off the Easton Bypass.

But luckily for Rabbi Hyman, one of his most key partners in this endeavor has been around the block before. Arna Mickelson,
who currently is serving as the president of the temple, had already been directly involved in another temple construction project in the Washington, D.C. area.

The Spy sat down with both Arna and Rabbi Hyman for a brief introduction to this valuable new addition to the Mid-Shore that should open its doors within the next few months.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about Temple B’nai Israel please go here

Profiles of Our Community’s YMCA: Shania Gregory

Over the course of the next twelve months, the Spy will be presenting several profiles of individuals who make up the YMCA family on the Mid-Shore. Almost since the Spy started in 2009, we have been exceptionally impressed by the unique success story of the YMCA of the Chesapeake and its leadership, programming, and sense of civic responsibility. From chess classes near Chincoteague to rumba instruction in Cambridge, diabetes prevention in Denton, yoga in Centreville, swimming in Elkton, senior fitness in St. Michaels or even pickleball in Easton, the Y stands alone in the scope and scale of their work.

We decided to start our series with one of the more moving examples of how this regional resource has changed lives with the story of Shania Gregory. Growing up in Easton with her three brothers and a single mom with multiple jobs, Shania’s family had limited recreational options until her mother, determined to give her children a safe place to play, reached out the YMCA and found an organization eager to help make that happen regardless of costs.

So it was particularly exciting to note Shania returned to her beloved YMCA as part of the staff and more recently she was named as the Y’s membership director whose primary responsibility is to encourage families, like her own years ago, to become involved and stay active.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the YMCA of the Chesapeake please go here

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