An Open Letter to Superintendent Griffith by Patrick Firth

Dear Dr. Griffith,

My name is Patrick Firth and I am a proud product of TCPS’ Class of 2013. Though I did not attend TCPS for elementary school, I don’t believe I could have received a better middle and high school education from anywhere else in Talbot County other than Easton Middle School and Easton High School. I am proud to call myself a Warrior but today, I am hurting and I am scared. I worry that one day I will wake up to learn a Talbot County school has fallen victim to gun violence much like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and, most recently, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, have. I truly hope that TCPS never joins the history books as yet another location of a horrific school shooting. Dr. Griffith, with the incredible amount of love and dedication that you put into making our school system the best in Maryland, I am confident that, especially in a county with a history and culture of gun ownership, this is a nightmare scenario that has also crossed your mind in recent times.

I am a gun owner myself. Personally, I think my family owns enough guns to field that militia our founding fathers were talking about in the Second Amendment! That said, it’s time to recognize the fact that enough is enough. There is no need for a person, and if we cannot agree to that term, at least a child, to have access to high-powered weapons, such as the AR-15. President Reagan once said in a cabinet meeting, “if not us, who? If not now, when?” I think that quote is more relevant today than it ever has been before. This should not be a politically divisive subject. Though my TCPS education drilled math into me, surely we don’t measure the value of our second amendment rights in units of dead schoolchildren? Neither I, nor any other political leader of either party is an advocate for fully banning all guns – the second amendment clearly endows that right to Americans. But the second amendment also clearly includes the phrase, “well-regulated.” How can this be so controversial?

Dr. Griffith, we need to do something. We need to do something now and we cannot just angrily post to Facebook about it until we forget. An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. That figure, which comes from a review of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures and news stories, is a conservative calculation and does not include dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults that have also exposed youths to gunfire. In fact, I’m certain that number has gone up due to the fact that as I write this letter, schools in Stark County, Ohio are under lockdown as a 7th grader has just shot himself inside Jackson Memorial Middle School. Easton High School had a bomb scare just about a month ago and, though it may simply be a tangential event, it is a stark reminder that just because we are a small town, we are not immune to this nation-wide epidemic of gun violence.

I am writing to you, Dr. Griffith, because you are our county’s educational leader. Your voice, your knowledge, and your compassion for Talbot County’s future generations turns peoples’ heads and shapes children’s minds. I’m asking you and to support and encourage, should individual students and faculty desire, the 17-minute student and teacher walkout that is planned for March 14, 2018. In addition, on April 20, 2018, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting, there will be a day-long walkout that students and faculty should be encouraged, and excused from class, to participate in to protest congressional inaction – inaction that is literally killing our children. Most importantly, however, given Talbot County’s proximity to our nation’s capital, I strongly encourage you to publicize, excuse, and perhaps even facilitate, students’ and faculty’s voluntary participation in the March 24, 2018 planned protest in Washington, D.C. alongside survivors of the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. I realize allowing students to skip three days of class may seem difficult from a logistical standpoint. However, not only could this action potentially save lives, consider what an incredible civics lesson it would be. Some of my greatest memories at Easton High School come from my membership in Junior State of America. One of the core lessons my experiences through that club taught me was that while the Constitution begins with, “We the People,” that only matters when we uphold our duty to, “Be the People.” It is my hope that, under your leadership, TCPS will continue teaching their students to ‘be the people’ and encourage students to use their voice and stand up for their rights.

Finally, to any student who may potentially be reading this, regardless of what action Talbot County Public Schools decides to take on this issue, I plead with you not to accept the explanations from people in power that a student’s upbringing or mental capacity is the core reason for mass shootings in our schools. Do not let individuals with a special interest in the sales of high-powered weaponry, like certain members of Congress, for example, convince you this is a cultural problem with our misguided or morally corrupt generation. Heavily-researched, evidence-based findings from the American Psychiatric Association state that mass shootings by people with a serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides. Additionally, only 3% of all violent crimes are committed by people with a serious mental illness and when those crimes are examined in detail, an even smaller percentage of them are found to have even involved firearms. From 2007 to 2013, less than 1% of all firearm purchase denials due to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System were based off mental health record submissions. The FBI’s study of active shooters during this time period, on the other hand, demonstrated an increasing trend of mass shootings. While mental illness is a legitimate public health issue, it is both illogical and dangerous to label it as the reason for gun violence in America and pursue that rationale legislatively. As the same report from the American Psychiatric Association notes, a law aimed at a population responsible for 3% of the issue will result in an extremely low yield and be ineffective.

Assigning blame to people who suffer from mental illnesses, whom by the way, as it isn’t discussed enough, are often high-functioning, active, and productive members of society, will only perpetuate myths of a correlation between gun violence and mental illness, further stigmatize an already taboo societal issue, and push individuals who would otherwise feel confident finally seeking help back into the shadows. As intelligent, hardworking, and passionate TCPS students and graduates, our incredible educators taught us to respect and accept fact-based research when presented with it and disregard meritless, unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence or heresay. Just as we no longer accept that the Sun orbits the Earth, we can no longer accept that mental illness or a student’s upbringing is the core reason for gun violence – it is clearly the access to high-powered guns.

Dr. Griffith, thank you for the opportunity to raise this important issue with you. I believe you are and always have been a fantastic educator, principal, superintendent, and community leader. You have consistently stood up and advocated for what is best for your students and I hope that you will do the same here. Please use your position of power and influence within the Talbot County Public School system to encourage and help facilitate student and faculty participation in the upcoming, nation-wide demonstrations of our first amendment rights. Fellow TCPS students, I likewise encourage you to stand up, walk out, and be heard. Consider this crucial moment in your lives as a civics test in school. Make your educators, friends, and family proud by doing due academic diligence through researching and learning about this issue and then taking the test: “if not us, then who and if not now, then when?” It may only be a two-question test, but your answers could save lives.

Patrick Firth graduated from Easton High School and now a legislative assistant at Michael Best Strategies in Washington, D.C. 

Op-Ed: A Disease of the Soul by George Merrill

“I’ll give you the gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands.” This statement has appeared variously over the years. It’s been canonized (no pun intended) in America recently when then president of the NRA, Charlton Heston concluded a fiery speech with this same phrase while he triumphantly raised an old flintlock in his hand high in the air.

The message is clear, but the deeper meaning of it is more hidden and insidious. I have not read or seen any media coverage of conversations about where the passion originates for owning firearms, especially the kind designed exclusively to kill other human beings. They are not for target practice, skeet shooting or for hunting deer or rabbits. The assault weapons are for war and conquest, not for a for a day’s shoot at the gun club. Their primary purpose is to kill an enemy efficiently and quickly.

If you’re not in combat where the passion for having the gun makes sense, in a civilized society this passion seems odd, out of place, as if it’s addressing an unacknowledged need that has been kept hidden and only expressed obliquely.

Is there some driving force about this disturbing trend in gun violence – so far perpetrated exclusively by men or boys – that has not reached the light of day? I suspect there’s a strong possibility that some of the same priapic obsessions that have recently come to light as the sexual abuse epidemic has exposed wealthy and powerful men, also relates to the sense of power and dominance that owning and shooting guns may produce in some gun enthusiasts. Men are three times as likely to possess guns than women, and from all appearances, the ones mostly inclined to use them in mass shootings.

As vigorously as the NRA tries to recruit gun ownership among women, guns remain a guy thing.

Human sexuality has always been a delicate matter to examine openly. Historically women have been more candid than men have and Freud’s revelations, while informing us, rocked society for generations. If human sexuality was a tidy matter, it would not be coming up today in ways that expose how little we have known about it and how our sexuality insinuates itself into all aspects of our lives, not infrequently through violence. In common banter, a man accused of shooting blanks is an insult to his virility. All of the variations in the themes of our sexuality are slowly being recognized and discussed but not all are comfortable in recognizing our discoveries or even talking about them.

What has characterized all the mass shootings is the powerful exercising their power over the powerless. The shooters are all male and each seems seem driven by dark forces of the soul of which they remain unaware. Essentially, having the weapon empowers the shooter. The victims have little if any means of protection. They’re sitting ducks. I suspect such power can be the ultimate aphrodisiac. Although not lethal, the sexual predator demonstrates a similar power by exercising his will over those who, who for a variety of social or professional reasons, cannot resist or fight back.

The mass killer and the sexual predator have this much in common: in addition to being male, a dread of psychological and social impotence and very likely other kinds as well.

I think we are talking here about a disease of the soul that is becoming a national epidemic.

Montaigne, the wise observer of our human condition wrote this four hundred years ago.

“ . . . the diseases of the soul, the greater they are keep themselves more obscure: the most sick are the least sensible of them . . . they must often be dragged into light by an unrelenting and pitiless hand. . . from the caverns and secret recesses of the heart.”

In order to treat diseases, they first have to be identified and then the public alerted and remedial action taken. Our congress may be our best hope right now. Congress has a majority of men with extraordinary social and economic capital who can exercise significant power on behalf of the powerless . . . like our children.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Clam Dredging: A Rebuttal to ShoreRivers by Marc Castelli

I am responding to the op-ed on clam dredging by Mr. Horstman. A reply is necessary because there were many missing and mishandled facts, to the point that it was beyond opinion and became erroneously misleading, which is a concern.

Beginning with some broad concepts, it is easy to take pot shots at an industry that few have ever taken the time to study and physically witness. Criticism outside the realm of actual knowledge becomes noise. But the public often responds quite well to noise, marching to it and cheering. So, while you have the freedom of speech to say what you want, there is a responsibility when speaking as an executive director to have facts for the public you are addressing. The reader likely looks to you, in your position, as an authority on the subject, but in fact, you are not sharing the whole story about clamming.

This is common in op-ed pieces: people set themselves up as an expert, but they aren’t. More often than not you end up misleading your membership with hysterical hyperbole. Why are simple facts about how the clam fishery interacts with the environment and natural resources so hard to find in the media? Is it because you, one of the Bay’s environmental “guardians” offer misinformed comments that will try to sway public opinion against clamming? Many of that industry’s best speakers are busy trying to make a living on the water and keep up with the pace of changes forced on it by outside pressures. Simply put they just do not have the time to respond to misleading op-ed pieces. I do.

I’m concerned that Mr. Horstman has never spent the day on a clam dredge asking questions of the very people he apparently wants to do away with. There is much to learn about clamming yet he hasn’t done the needed homework. Confirmation bias is not a healthy lifestyle. I will address the many issues in his latest op-ed on clamming. The quotes will be in their entirety. The italics are my words.

Photo by Marc Castelli

Hydraulic dredging for clams in our rivers is on the rise. This is accurate but carries the tone in his op-ed of a “problem,” as if clamming has increased upon a depressed population. Yet, dredging is on the rise because clam populations have risen significantly. A healthy harvest is supported by a healthy population. Many of us have witnessed the damage this practice causes. What damage? There are no specific details, only opinion. Who witnessed it? Where? This is noise. I hear the cheers and footsteps.

Clamming licenses in Maryland sharply increased over the past few years from just 8 in 2013 to over 30 in 2016, perhaps signifying a modest comeback of the softshell clam and reflecting the increasing popularity of clams as crabbing bait. There are numerous problems with Mr. Horstman’s “expertise” here. It is true that licenses have increased and this is due to an increase in clams. But he mentions a modest comeback. In fact, it is significant. He mentions soft shell clams, but in fact, razor clams have also increased. He links the increase in licenses to soft shell clams, but it is also due to razor clams. He mentions an increasing popularity of razor clams as crab bait, but in fact, they have been popular as crab bait for years.

Similar to oysters, clams are a vital filter feeder and a key component in the ecological food chain. While it is true that soft clams are filter feeders it is not correct about razor clams which are deposit feeders. Unlike oysters that live many years, even over 10, clams are short-lived and are difficult to “save” over time.

Historically the clam population has been decimated by overharvesting and disease. Not quite correct as the softshell clam industry was booming for many years since the 1950’s. Harvest was vigorous and the population didn’t decline from that. The steep decline in the late 1900’s to early 2000’s was due to the widespread and virulent disease, clam neoplasia, not overharvesting. High water temperatures have also depressed the softshell clam populations and caused die-offs at times, as the clam in Maryland is at the southern limit of its range.

Without a DNR management plan, the clam population is now at risk of another serious population downturn. Mr. Horstman offers no meaningful information for this claim, no evidence on the linkage between the clam stocks and the lack of a clam management plan, and no data about the imminent loss of clams. He states the population is NOW at risk. Data, please? In fact, the populations naturally vary, decreasing and increasing over time. Harvest numbers will reflect that. But to link a natural decrease to a lack of a clam management plan is nothing more than biased overreaching to sway the public. A discussion of the current clam management plan can be found further on in this piece. Downturns are related to many natural conditions already mentioned, including predation that can wipe clean many clam areas.

Clams are not like oysters – they do not live long. The soft shell clam reproduces twice a year.

Today’s clam population mirror those of oysters, resting at about 1% of historic levels. This is just hype. No one knows for certain what the clam population was or is. The oft-repeated 1% claim for oysters is not a set-in-stone statistic either. It is based on many unsupported assumptions. Linking clams with the oyster plight is a ploy. The marching continues.

The practice of harvesting clams with a hydraulic dredge is akin to underwater strip mining. While it is an aggressive form of harvesting it is not strip mining. Mr. Horstman’s linking the two just serves to heighten the hysteria he is trying to create.

He goes on further to claim that, high-velocity jets of water strip away the river bottom. No, they don’t. To strip away means that the river bottom no longer exists. High-velocity jets of water will actually crush the shells of clams. What right minded clammer would be so destructive? Clam rigs fluidize the bottom dislodging clams which will float and then be carried onto the conveyor belt. Much of the larger grain sediment (sand, grit, pebbles, for example) that is stirred up actually falls through the chain of the belt back to the bottom within seconds. Clamming is not a high-speed process. The boat and dredge move very slowly ahead. Pump and boat engines usually run a little more than idle. Too much power to either will destroy the rig’s pump and crush the clams. If Mr. Horstman knew better he could say that as the boat moves, large amounts of sediment dislodged by the dredge can actually settle back onto the river bottom, leaving a shallow depression. But then I doubt that he has ever actually been on a clam dredge. I have and have spent many an hour nursing a backache from picking clams from the conveyor. It is long, repetitive back-breaking work with few if any breaks. Reading, asking questions of everyone concerned and hands-on experience with first-hand observations is how I have learned the little I do know about clams.

He goes on to claim that a clam dredge will leave a trench that can be two feet deep and three feet wide. It is obvious he did not talk with a clammer. First off, he describes the path of a clam dredge that will dig down two feet and be three feet wide as a trench. He leaves the reader with the notion that a dredge digs a trench and does not replace sediment along the dredge’s path. But as stated above, sediment partially refills the affected area. Most clam bottom is not suitable for dredges that are three feet wide, some dredge heads are 18 inches in width. While there are 36-inch dredges, such pieces of equipment are suitable for sandy bottom only. Not all clam bottom is sandy.

He claims, the action of the dredge causes major damage to the river floor. That is an exaggeration and is not accurate. The bottom does not sustain major damage. Instead, it is emulsified, but then the sediment quickly resettles. Benthic organisms then recolonize the bottom. The river floor is not “gone” or “dead” after clamming. Clams can even come back and in some instances are thicker. Who would know this? A clammer would be able to see this. The first-hand empirical knowledge of a waterman is vast.

He asserts that dredging causes irreversible damage to submerged aquatic vegetation(SAV). Yes, grasses will be uprooted, but this is why clamming is prohibited in SAV beds. Safeguards are in place. Additionally, clam rigs don’t work well in grass beds. The grass not only clogs the belt but the intake as well and takes too much time to clear away the grasses in order to pick the clams from the belt. Officials in his position should not use op-ed opportunities to misinform the public. Executive directors should value opportunities to factually inform the public, not raise the temperature on these issues. Facts are stubborn creatures. They do not go away.

He does state factually, that sediment plumes are visible from clammers. Yes, there are sediment plumes. Depending on the type of bottom, the plumes will not stay suspended for any great length of time. But, has he ever spent the time to watch just how long such a plume remains suspended in the water column?

Mr. Horstman states that according to multiple studies, hydraulic dredging is catastrophic to SAV beds and that the sediment plumes kill oyster spat in surrounding areas. SAV beds are seriously impacted IF a dredge goes in them, but designated SAV beds are legally off limits to clamming and as stated above clammers avoid clogging their rigs with grass. Additionally, note that SAV has increased over the past few years during which clamming has also increased, significantly. The two can co-exist. In fact, long-term trends in SAV (available online) show no linkage with clam harvest levels. As for oyster spat mortality, there is no definition of “surrounding areas”, leading the reader to think that spat in a large area is killed by clamming. In fact, a study was done to determine limits on clamming found that impacts on oysters occurred up to 75 feet away from the dredge. Maryland decided to create 150 ft. setbacks from oyster beds. That is actually twice the distance noted in the study. But, in reality, there is even a greater safeguard. The boundary line of an oyster bar is from where the 150 ft. is measured. The actual oyster bar population is within the boundary of the bar such that the oyster population is likely hundreds of feet more away. If a clammer is found to have an oyster on his boat, he is ticketed and faces a huge fine. Very crafty writing Mr. Horstman: sparse on facts, but a lot of noise.

He further claims that while there are regulations aimed at prohibiting hydraulic dredging in SAV beds, some dredging is allowed in and near oyster sanctuaries. He obviously chooses to be ignorant and to keep his readers ignorant of the setback distances and regulations mentioned above that protect oysters and oyster bars, including those in sanctuaries. Why?

He goes on to say, additionally, it is getting more and more difficult to determine where SAV beds are located as they continually change and many large SAV beds are not mapped at all, leaving them vulnerable to this destructive practice. Hidden in his message is actually the need to better manage SAV beds. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe his association could let go of some of the many thousands of dollars they have and fund a state survey of SAV beds. What he barely conceals is that he wants clamming prohibited.

Horstman states that hydraulic harvesting is currently allowed year-round and the practice is increasing without any assessment of the growing environmental damage it’s causing. Day after day these hydraulic machines scour, scrape and gouge the river bottoms, producing thousands of pounds of sediment pollution. What a picture he has painted with these adjectives. He is sadly mistaken in portraying the clam industry as being in operation day after day. It is only for 6 days a week (Mon.-Sat.), weather and market permitting, from May 14 to Nov. 1 they get to start at sunrise and have to put the clams out by no later than 3 in the afternoon to avoid unhealthy spoilage and no later than 1 hour after sunset from Nov. 1 to May 14. This is a market-driven industry and the winter months do not see a consistent market for soft shells. I have already discussed the fact that while there is a plume, much of the dislodged sediment actually settles back to the affected areas. Does Mr. Horstman know that a strong blow, lasting for days will suspend silt over huge areas of rivers, far more than clamming will? That resuspended silt came from the land (not clamming). Most associations such as the newly formed one he is the executive officer of, have projects already in place to investigate and mitigate land sources of silt. Perhaps a more vigorous pursuit of those would be more productive than these op-eds.

We think, he states, it’s time to develop a clear management plan for this valuable species, taking into consideration clam populations, their immense value to the ecosystem, the residual damage of hydraulic harvest and the views of all stakeholders. What damage? He doesn’t cite details. SAV damage is regulated already by the closing of SAV areas where no hydraulic harvesting is allowed, and oyster bars are separated from clamming. There has been a successful clam management plan in existence for many decades. There is a boogeyman under the bed. Noise, cheers, and marching.

Clams today, he says, represents a tiny portion of the Bay’s seafood harvest. He doesn’t even speak to the immense value of clams for crab bait. He missed discussing a major importance of clamming. I’m sure he is an excellently skilled director, but he has much to learn about clamming. As the demand for clams increases, we should answer some important questions before clam dredging grows into an even larger problem. I have to wonder if he knows the differences between soft clams, piss clams, hard clams, white clams, mannose and razor clams? Warning – it is partly a trick question. These are just the market clams that live in the Bay and the tributaries. All together clams represent a huge economic value chain that runs from many of Maryland’s fishing communities out through the state. Instead of recognizing this value, and the safeguards that lessen various issues, clamming is by definition, according to Mr. Horstman, a “problem” from the get-go. I think the problem is unsubstantiated comments and open bias when good judgment, data, and reason should prevail.

Our rivers are virtually choking from sediment. How is that possible when we have been reading for the past year or so that water quality is the best it has been in years? Watermen can see it firsthand. I guess it is hard to see such things from behind a computer in an office.

Our rivers are already listed by the EPA as impaired for sediment pollution, among other pollutants. Is he claiming clam dredging is responsible for the sediment overload and other pollutants? Try checking land-based sources of sediment.

Our rivers are virtually choking from sediment. So, the first question we might ask is: Should we continue to allow hydraulic dredging in impaired rivers when we know it causes catastrophic SAV damage and creates large areas of sediment pollution capable of killing oyster spat and all the underwater life it chokes out? The second question might become: Are there better ways to protect our natural resources, to benefit all stakeholders while ensuring a healthy and sustainable clam population? When these policy and executive directors have doubts about the issues they always trot out the same old tired arguments and go over the top with their hyperbole. Where are the factual components of their arguments? You can’t have a discussion with someone who just wants to set the world on fire all the time. He talks about a sustainable clam population but he never even hints at a sustainable fishery. By all appearances, his goal is to put an end to clamming. Also, where is “all” the underwater life that gets choked out? All? That’s total. There is no data in his piece that any gets choked out.

The most confusing statement is his conclusion. Our rivers belong to all of us. The current hydraulic practices hurt more of us than they help. Bizarre to say the least. Who is “us” in his mind? Sounds like it is people opposed to clamming. His piece clearly casts clammers as the enemy and not part of “us”, but in fact, the Bay belongs to them too. They are part of us.

He encourages action for the benefit of all of the stakeholders. What action does he want his readers to consider? I would hope that self-educating from many different angles would be part of that process. But here he is minimizing and marginalizing the incredible economic benefits that are woven all through the value chain that is Maryland’s commercial fishery. The word resource has never in my years of researching Bay resources been used to describe sea nettles. Yes, they have a part in the ecosystem but no one wants to interact with or protect them. That fact alone tells you that the words, natural resource, implies human need and interaction. I can only assume that Mr. Horstman does not eat crab or clams and would like for others to follow his example.

Make your own mind up after doing the research. Do not just got to websites that confirm your bias. Question your assumptions, try to find the facts for the larger picture. It is never as simple as Mr. Horstman would have you believe.

Marc Castelli is an award winning painter and photographer of the Chesapeake Bay and those who work on the water.

Op-Ed: Hydraulic Dredging for Clams on the Rise as is the Damage by Jeff Horstman

Hydraulic dredging for clams in our rivers is on the rise. Many of us have witnessed the damage this practice causes.

Clamming licenses in Maryland have sharply increased over the past few years, from just eight in 2013 to over 30 in 2016, perhaps signifying a modest comeback of the soft-shell clam and reflecting the increasing popularity of clams as crabbing bait. Similar to oysters, clams are a vital filter feeder and key component in the ecological food chain. Historically, the clam population has been decimated by overharvesting and disease, and, without a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) management plan, is now at risk of another serious population downturn. Today’s clam populations mirror those of oysters, resting at only about 1 percent of historic levels.

The practice of harvesting clams with a hydraulic dredge is akin to underwater strip mining. High velocity jets of water strip away the river bottom, leaving trenches that can be two feet deep and three feet wide, while a mechanical conveyor belt attached to a long metal arm churns through the newly cut river bottom collecting clams. This action causes major damage to the river floor and irreversible damage to submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) beds, ripping up their roots and leaving large sediment pollution plumes in its wake.

According to multiple studies, hydraulic dredging is catastrophic to SAV beds and the sediment kills oyster spat in surrounding areas. While there are regulations aimed at prohibiting hydraulic dredging in SAV beds, some dredging is allowed in and near oyster sanctuaries. Additionally, it is getting much more difficult to determine where SAV beds are located as they continually change and many large SAV beds are frequently not mapped at all, leaving them vulnerable to this destructive practice.

Hydraulic clam harvesting currently is allowed year-round and the practice is increasing without any assessment of the growing environmental damage it’s causing. Day after day, these hydraulic machines scour, scrape and gouge the river bottoms, producing thousands of pounds of sediment pollution. We think it’s time to develop a clear management plan for this valuable species, taking into consideration clam populations, their immense value to the ecosystem, the residual damage of hydraulic harvest, and the views of all stakeholders. Clams, today, represent a tiny portion of the Bay’s seafood harvest. As the demand for clams increases, we should answer some important questions before clam dredging grows into an even larger problem.

Our rivers are already listed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as impaired for sediment pollution, among other pollutants.

Our rivers are virtually choking from sediment. So, the first question we might ask is: Should we continue to allow hydraulic dredging in impaired rivers when we know it causes catastrophic SAV damage and creates large areas of sediment pollution capable of killing oyster spat and all the underwater life it chokes out? The second question might become: Are there better ways to protect and manage our natural resources, to benefit all stakeholders, while insuring a healthy and sustainable clam population?

Our rivers belong to all of us. The current hydraulic harvesting practices hurt more of us than they help.

Jeff Horstman is executive director of ShoreRivers, Inc.

Op-Ed: Political Earthquakes are Cruel and Avoidable by Rev. Dr. Thomas G. Sinnott

A truly devastating 2001 earthquake prompted our government to grant “Temporary Protected Status” to homeless families from El Salvador.

Today, some 260,000 Salvadorans work and live in our country. About 20,000 of these men. women, and children, live right here in Maryland. Republican and Democratic administrations extended the program, for humanitarian reasons.

These residents, who live peacefully among us, are law abiding, have been demonstrably productive workers, paid taxes, raised families, bought homes, bolstered economic development of their communities, and graduated from schools and universities.

For example, I have known a Salvadoran family who came here after the earthquake. Since then, their five children have grown into model Americans and are now in the work force. All have graduated from high school. One attends university and is also an office manager in an insurance firm, two work in agricultural related concerns, and two are managers in service and food businesses. All attend church. All are kind, generous, capable and caring people of whom I’m very proud. They are testimony to what makes us a great nation.

But those decent people are in danger, and very afraid. Now a political earthquake is threatening both them and the Eastern Shore itself.

Out of the blue, on Jan. 8, Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen M. Nielsen, announced she would end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for El Salvador, with a delayed effective date of 18 months, to allow for an “orderly transition”, before the designation terminates totally on Sept. 9, 2019.” (www.uscis.gov retrieved January 11, 2018.)

So, ask yourself, “What is a family who has lived here for 16 years to do now? Should they leave all that they have built and achieved and move back to a country that is not ready to receive them? Should they leave their children, many of whom are in fact U.S. citizens, behind?”

Ask too: “Who will replace the workers forced to leave their jobs?

Above all, ask: “Why is this sudden change of policy necessary?” It is an affront to our fundamental values as an immigrant nation. It is mean-spirited. Don’t we value the “American Dream?”

Don’t we want to keep families together, not split them apart? Can’t we give our Salvadoran neighbors, who have given so much to this nation, a path to obtaining a Green Card and eventually become citizens? Terminating this program is not in our own self-interest.

Please join me in asking our Maryland Senators to work toward a humane and comprehensive immigration policy. Senators Van Hollen and Cardin are doing their best to protect all of the people in Maryland.

The real problem is on the Republican side of the aisle. The Republicans and the Trump administration just bequeathed to our children and grandchildren a $1.5 trillion deficit to pay off, so that the rich and corporations have even more largesse. They are dismantling programs that give working and middle class people a fair chance to improve their lives. They are fostering division between classes, races, and nationalities.

For the Eastern Shore, one of the biggest problems in Washington is Dr. Andy Harris our Congressional representative. He votes against anything that helps us — for example, to name just one matter, Federal aid to help Eastern Shore Marylanders to recover from Hurricane Sandy. He votes for legislation which helps the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class citizens, like the recent tax scam.

Join me in asking Dr. Harris, to stop hurting the Eastern Shore business community because of his punitive and mean ideology. Most of all, ask Dr. Harris to stop punishing the Eastern Shore

by raising our taxes, depleting our workforce, supporting regressive immigration policies, and undermining the democracy we all hold so dear.

 

Rev. Dr. Thomas G. Sinnott is affiliated with Kent and Queen Anne’s Indivisible

I Didn’t Know about Mental Illness until I Did By Liz Freedlander

For most of my life, like many of my friends and family, I knew hardly anything about mental illness until I started a consulting relationship for a few hours a month with Channel Marker. This piece about my experience has been writing itself in my head for a while.

I have had my heart broken open by the people who Channel Marker serves. I now know about persons diagnosed with severe, persistent mental illness and their families. Please read these words again: SEVERE and PERSISTENT. You can often tell by looking that people living with mental illness do not fit our definition of normal. We want to look away. I don’t look away any more because I now know about mental illness.

The chemistry of the brain of mentally ill persons usually has been changed. In some cases, by exposure to terrible things as a child that have resulted in PTSD. All this time, I thought PTSD was relegated to war experiences. Channel Marker does serve war veterans. (One Vietnam vet still hears the screams of men and the sounds of gun-fire). It also serves children and youth diagnosed with PTSD.

Many of these ill persons suffer from schizophrenia, often occurring out of the blue while in their twenties. They hear voices or have visual hallucinations – often – sometimes constantly.

During a conversation at the Channel Marker Holiday Party, one of these young men and I were having a pleasant conversation when he apologized for wearing his sunglasses. He said, “They help me with the voices.” This was once a young boy, like any young boy, who grew up riding bikes with pals in his neighborhood and enjoying family vacations. Now, he can look a little scary.

For some reason the tattoos, including the one in the middle of his forehead, give him meaning in his difficult life. He is polite and sweet and has a sense of humor. He religiously takes his meds although the side effects make him feel debilitated. They help him cope.

I have met parents. The heartache never goes away. One mother said, “The stigma of mental illness makes me feel as if my son spends each day out in the middle of a field where he is pecked to death.” One father’s sadness was palpable as he explained that his son does not take his meds so his symptoms, out of control, make it very difficult to have a relationship.  Still this father  faithfully makes an effort. You can see the pain in this man’s eyes as he describes the vibrant young man with a blossoming career who was once his son.

Lisa is a grown woman whose children live with other families. She has pretty red hair like I once did. She has PTSD with symptoms of chronic depression and anxiety disorders. She told me her life story. I cried. Her childhood with a cruel, narcissistic mother portended poor choices of men in her life. The ultimate result was fleeing for her own survival from a marriage so abusive that she had to leave her children behind with their father. She mourns the loss of her kids. I leave it to your imagination as to what might be part of her story – when she wears a skirt, she always wears pants under it. Her anxiety causes her to be unable to work in an environment where she might be alone with a man.

But this is not the totality of my experience. I have experienced hope and help delivered in the most compassionate and professional manner by Channel Marker. While mental illness may not be curable; it is treatable. The caring staff see beyond the illness into the hearts and personhood of their clients. They provide emotional support, life-skills, goal setting, job-training and placement, triage for health problems, places to live, a peer group and just plain normal laughter. There are success stories.

Only the brave and the optimistic can do this work every day. I think they are heroes. Marty Cassell, a therapist who has worked at Channel Marker for 25 years and a married father of four boys, is tall and attractive but rarely smiles. I asked him one day if the work is heavy. He said, “I love my work because I can see positive changes in my clients. Do you know that in addition to my day job here at Channel Marker, I work evenings for Mid-shore Council on Family Violence to provide one-to-one counseling for battered women. I also have a support group for men who are batterers.” He answered my question.

There are victories to be celebrated because of Marty and his colleagues at Channel Marker. Lisa who lost her children is strong and clear about her past and her future. Her goal is to have a job in an agricultural setting and be an advocate for sustainable farming. She has poured her maternal love into her cats and has a fiancé. She is a student at Chesapeake College and was recently invited to take an honors course. She, like many others, credit their successes to Channel Marker.

Channel Marker annually serves about 400 individuals almost 50% of whom are ages 21 and younger, in Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester Counties.

Liz Freedlander has been a resident of Talbot County for 41 years. She was executive director of Talbot Hospice from 1990 to 2004 and recently retired as director of development from the Horn Point Laboratory after 10 years. She has been a fundraising consultant to a number of local nonprofits. Liz has been raising money for nonprofits since the age of 9 when she canvassed her neighborhood with a tin can and collected $5.94 for the Baltimore Symphony.

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Exelon: Analysis Shows Conowingo Revenues Insufficient to Fund Additional Sediment Mitigation

Providing clean, reliable and affordable electricity has been the paramount focus for Exelon Generation and the Conowingo Dam for the last 90 years.

In December 2017, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy released a statement and accompanying report by Energy & Environmental Economics (E3) that incorrectly assessed the economic status of the Conowingo Dam. The NorthBridge Group, performed a detailed analysis of the E3 report and found that the E3 conclusions are fundamentally flawed due to a gross over-estimation of the future revenues of the Conowingo Dam.

The E3 report inaccurately inflates future revenues in two ways. First, the report greatly overestimates the dam’s capacity revenue, which Conowingo earns for being available as an electricity resource. The dam’s capacity revenue going forward is expected to be roughly 80 percent less than the E3 report estimate. Second, the report bases Conowingo’s future revenues on 2013 energy prices, which are much higher than today’s prices and expected future energy prices. Energy prices in the market available to Conowingo were 30-45 percent lower in 2016 and 2017 versus 2013, yet the E3 report ignored this fact.

When the E3 analysis is run using current information, the analysis demonstrates that Conowingo’s revenues are not even high enough to cover costs plus an adequate return, let alone sufficient to fund additional contributions for sediment. Conowingo provides significant benefits to the region, as confirmed by more than 50 studies since 2010.

As a member of the Chesapeake Bay community, Exelon Generation remains steadfast in our commitment to helping identify the most effective ways to address the health of the Bay.

Exelon Generation
Kennett Square, PA

 

NorthBridge Group Report

Exelon’s Share for Mitigation on the Conowingo Dam by Tom Zolper

The Conowingo Dam 20 miles north of the mouth of the Susquehanna River has been the focus of scientific scrutiny and concern since the 1990s, and public worry for the past five years. The reason is simple: the pond behind the dam that trapped dirt for decades now has filled up.

More of the dirt (also called sediment) and phosphorus clinging to the dirt are reaching downstream water. In addition, storms scour sediment and associated nutrients from the pond and flush it downstream.

These additional pollutant loads are a problem because we already have too much phosphorus and nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay – from farms, sewage plants, and other sources. These chemicals are plant food, causing algae blooms that suck oxygen from the water when they die and decompose. The added sediment coming through the dam also is a concern for effects on downstream habitats.

When Bay states and the federal government agreed in 2010 to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake —the so-called Bay pollution diet—they thought we had more time to deal with the situation at the Conowingo. We don’t. What to do?

In 2015 the U.S. Army Corps said the most cost-effective solution was to reduce pollution reaching the dam from upstream in Pennsylvania and New York. Governor Hogan has also proposed a small $4 million pilot program to see if dredging at the pond could also be a part of the solution.

Whatever is determined to be the best solution or set of solutions, one thing is clear: it will cost more money. That’s why a new report commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) offers some good news: The owner of the dam can help chip in.

The report, “An Economic Analysis of the Conowingo Hydroelectric Generating Station,” concluded Exelon can afford to contribute $27 million to $44 million a year to help fix or mitigate the problem and still make a healthy profit. The study used publicly available finance numbers about Exelon’s operations at the dam, as well as standard industry information. It was prepared for Water Power Law Group and CBF and TNC but researched and written by Energy+Environmental Economics in California. Exelon to date has offered to contribute only $200,000.

The company shouldn’t be responsible for the whole solution. It didn’t cause pollution from upstream farms, sewage plants and other sources to discharge into the Susquehanna and flow downstream.

While it is important to hold Exelon accountable for the impact of the dam on downstream water quality and habitat, it’s important to keep the Conowingo issue in context. First, the impacts of the lost trapping capacity and scouring during storm events are significant but not catastrophic. In fact, as the situation at the dam has worsened for the past few years, the water quality in the Bay has steadily been improving.

Also, studies show that the slug of new pollution moving past the dam will cause effects primarily on the mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay. Most rivers that feed the Bay such as the Choptank, Nanticoke and others will not be impacted, nor will the thousands of fresh water streams in Maryland. Local counties and communities will remain responsible for cleaning up pollution in their backyards.

So, we can’t blame Conowingo for all our water woes. The dam is only one of many problems we face trying to clean up the Bay. But we can ask Exelon to do its share, just as we ask everyone else to pitch in. We know the company can afford it.

Tom Zolper is the assistant media director at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The Virtue of Slow By Tom Horton

My bike has but one speed, unfashionable in a high-geared, tech-fueled world that now affords cyclists push-button shifting through a range of gears sufficient to conquer the Alps and pass Porsches.

Single-speeding is limiting — but also liberating. It makes you respect the lay of the land, seek the gentler slopes that meander alongside the hills, value the wooded corridors that block headwinds. Your pedaling becomes more efficient, your legs stronger. There is more to the joy of bicycling than more gears, more mileage, higher speeds.

The virtues of slow are especially relevant now to saving the Chesapeake Bay and the larger environment, as Congress debates major tax reforms based on a single, awful premise: We must grow the economy faster and bigger than ever.

“We face a crushing burden of debt which will take down our economy,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said. But his tax plan will add an acknowledged $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion to national indebtedness. It’s the only way “to get faster economic growth,” Ryan said. And “faster economic growth is necessary for us to get our debt under control.”

Never mind the circularity of that argument, or the fact that economists across the political spectrum think the level of growth Republicans are counting on is unachievable. The real dirty secret is that virtually no one on either side of the political aisle thinks that roaring faith-based growth would be undesirable; just unrealistic.

But environmentally, such growth would be disastrous, as will be Congress’s all-out, desperate attempts to achieve it if the tax package passes with its present, pedal-to-the-metal economic expansionism — think repeal of regulations, fast-tracking fossil fuel energy projects, suppressing troublesome climate science.

And what’s bad for the planet is bad for the Chesapeake, where a warming climate and sea level rise threaten wetlands, water quality and habitat. Plus, even under the best of circumstances we’re going to be hard-pressed to meet air and water quality goals by 2025.

And, environmental success is linked to economics as surely as my rear wheel is chained to my pedals.

The day may come when we achieve the inspiring vision articulated by green architect and designer William McDonough: “Imagine they announce a major new mall and your reaction is, ‘great’ that will mean cleaner air and water and more habitat for wildlife.”

In the meantime, despite progress in greening our economy, we still can’t grow without a negative impact on air and water, without depleting the habitats and natural resources we share with a shrinking array of other species, without adding to climate change.

And we scarcely even know how to hold a meaningful conversation about the broad implications of economic growth and environmental quality. Nor how to talk about the very real alternatives to high growth, and the benefits of steady-state economies that put no premium on growth at all.

An economy not devoted to growth is usually disparaged in grow-or-die terms, but it is more about quality over quantity. It emphasizes moderation of the rampant depletion of natural resources or filling the air and water with wastes like carbon dioxide. Education, innovation, community, time to ride a bicycle — all these can still grow. Population would not need to.

We need such conversations — not just because of growth’s environmental impacts — but because uncritically chasing after high growth as the path to greater national well-being is a dead-end strategy.

Consider the 4- to 6-percent annual economic growth projections spouted wishfully by supporters of current tax reforms — the way Congress pledges to atone for all the loss of revenue.

There were several decades where growth did come at least near the current, wild projections, writes economist Robert J. Gordon in his epic, The Rise and Fall of American Growth (2016; Princeton University Press).

But that ended by the 1970s, and was fueled by truly fundamental innovations, such as the automobile, the electrification of the United States and antibiotics, as well as the kind of world-shaking events we always capitalize: World War II and the New Deal that followed the Great Depression.

That period is not repeatable, Gordon and others argue, and the modest economic growth of recent decades bears him out. Productivity, or output per unit of labor and capital, is key to real growth, and it has been comparatively sluggish for decades.

But Congress persists in chasing high growth like an old dog that in puppyhood found something gloriously stinky to roll in, then revisits the spot daily with undiminished expectation.

An old dog may be indulged, but the crew in the U.S. Capitol would profoundly change our economy, environment be damned, addicted to growth that can’t happen.

Let them ride single-speeds.

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

“Talk Sense to a Fool and He Calls you Foolish” by Joseph Prud’homme

When the moral perversity of the Hollywood culture-crats is bemoaned by modern liberals, I can’t help but exclaim, in the same way, Dionysus replied to Pentheus in the classic play The Bacchae: wisdom is foolish—most especially to a fool.

How foolish it was to think the very same men who gave us Magic Mike and Bad Moms—obscene filth with degraded trash on nearly every scene—could be paragons of moral virtue. Sleaze is what sleaze does. Only the fool fails to see.

Yet, mugged by recalcitrant reality (to paraphrase Irving Kristol), liberalism’s leading lights now denounce the predations of Harvey Weinstein and similarly sleazy scoundrels. But, I hasten to ask, how can liberals denounce with moral or intellectual consistency the depraved actions of Weinstein and his Hollywood hoodlums yet still praise the vile porn these men push in the malls and cineplexes, from Seattle to Sarasota? They can do so only by becoming even greater fools.

The greatest of fools, in fact.

Indeed, it was Chelsea Clinton’s favorite hack-site, Common Sense Media—a Hollywood-celebrating “review” rag purporting to “improve[e] the media landscape for kids and families”—that suborned moms to see the disgusting skin flick Bad Christmas Moms 2 with their teenage daughters. Yet Chelsea Clinton lionizes the (often quite necessary) #Metoo advocacy ascendant in the cultural zeitgeist.

It’s high time liberals not only decry the sexual perversities of the men who run the Hollywood movie houses, but also decry the very filth these men spew in theatres across the country. To condemn one without the other is to be blind to the toxic culture Hollywood pedals—and the negative consequences the smut they merchandize has on our nation’s moral conscience.

The pop-Media moguls and all the politicos dependent on their ill-gotten cash will no doubt cast me a prude for asserting a tight nexus between the smut these men pander and the vice these ogres live. However, the social science data on mainstream smut is staggering. Social psychologist Ross O’Hara, for example, has documented that highly sexualized content—especially when created or viewed in a mainstream setting and in the normalized context of a close circle of friends—has a powerful impact on one’s sense of propriety and forges sexual scripts in the minds of makers and viewers that heighten risks for aggressive and offensive behavior.

These men on the tops of the Hollywood Hills scarcely do much more than rehash smut upon smut upon smut. That that they should be smutty scumbags themselves only heightens a truism we all used to know, before these Titans of Titillation convinced us otherwise: “monkey see”—your mother, your minister, your teacher knew too well—“monkey do.” Indeed, it was no unctuous preachiness that led St. Paul to instruct all individuals of moral seriousness to “set one’s eyes on higher things.”

Proverbs, moreover, tells us that “doing wrong is like a joke to a fool.” “Oh, it’s all escapist fun; it’s simply raunchy humor”:

The last refuge of a Hollywood porn pusher—and a sexual harasser—or worse. Proverbs, however, also reminds us that “the wise will inherit honor, but fools only get disgrace.”

Better words scarcely have been spoken.

Joseph Prud’homme is a professor at Washington College, and founder of the school’s Institute for the Study of Religion, Politics, and Culture. He lives with his wife and family in Easton, Maryland.