Archive for the 'environment' Category

16
Jul
13

Proposed Harbor Point Tower on Chromium site could make Baltimore an Environmental Crash Test Dummy with real lives at stake

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Underneath lies stored Chromium 6, a carcinogen that officials say will be contained when builders are allowed to penetrate the cap.

Opinion *copyright and published by Eyesore Productions*

Baltimore may be the first  city in the country to knowingly puncture a capped chromium dump in order to build a 23 story tower, making city folks either guinea pigs or participants in a pioneering remidation project, depending on your perspective.

If it works then the nation’s developers will suddenly have a way to build heavy on what was seen as taboo territory, highly toxic brown fields such as the 25 acre Allied Signal Chromium site on the Harbor. But if it fails the city, the Maryland Department of Environment and the EPA would have willingly broken open the cap designed to protect the public from hexavalent chromium or Chromium 6, an officially recognized carcinogen. And that public has gotten increasingly crowded around this site as the city’s waterfront has been built up since the cap was completed in the early 1990s with corporate headquarters, condominiums and a high end shopping district, Inner Harbor East pressing on all sides.

Dubbed Harbor Point, the proposed development comes in at $1 billions for the Exelon Headquarters and has generated much rumbling from City Councilman Carl Stokes after a last minute proposal asks for 108 million in bond advance to draw investors.

Harbor Point sits on a political fault line that could draw diverse interest from civil rights advocates angered that developers are utilizing incentives but giving nothing and environmentalists to whatever is left of the Occupy Movement, but Baltimore’s street politics is a pretty tepid place to be sure.

The project, under the aspices of developer Michael S. Beatty’s Harbor Point Development Group LLC, with 9 acres of  green space, is a far cry from the original perceptions of relatively low impact develoment and more than 11 acres of development.

Indeed the bewildering pace of  the  win-win push behind the  proposal ,at least as seen from citizens of the streets , can be summed up by  the gushing of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings -Blake official statement in the Baltimore Sun on June 3.   “Like the Inner Harbor revitalization effort of 30 years ago, the Harbor Point project represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grow Baltimore by attracting new jobs, new residents, new tax revenue, and new public amenities,”

But Baltimore may be breaking ground in more ways than one.

Baltimore’s distinction as a trailblazer or guinea pig, depending on your perspective, has yet to be varrified,but that hasn’t gone without trying. For the last several months I have gone to the EPA as a citizen, a resident who lives two blocks asking if there is an example of any development of this size that has been completed  on an urban toxic site. They have offered none. In the meantime I’ve searched libraries and the internet for development protocols such as exist for say lead paint removal, detailing how can builders send 27 foot pilings safely into a clay cap and found nothing.

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Developers informally presented plans to the Fells Point Homeowners Association

I had a chance to ask representatives of the developers of the proposed new home for the new Exelon Headquarters, The Beatty Group. He said that the pilings will have a point that would reduce any dust. Just how the pillions will be inserted into a toxic site without disturbing the containment system that prevents groundwater contamination that remains to be seen.

EPA officials assured that strict monitors will be in place and although the developers have gotten preliminary approval, the procedure of how the site will be development has yet to get final approval.

But that doesn’t fill me with confidence especially since Baltimore seems to be set up as a test case.

In fact in Jersey City, which was facing a similar chromium site, owned by Honeywell, the same company charged with overseeing the Allied site, the contents of the toxic dump was  removed. That is in Jersey, there is no issue of buiding on or penetrating a cap because the chromium was shipped off to an already established  toxic waste site. Of course the removal only  occurred after a law suite forced New Jersey’s government to remove the site.

Known as the former Rosevelt Drive-in, the site encompassed 30 acres of chromium and slag. The slag would pop up or heave from the chromium underneath, according to reports in the New York TImes.  Concerns were both about  air-born contamination as well as groundwater.

Rev.Willard Ashley,pastor of the Abundant Joy Community Church in Jersey City part of the group that successfully sued Honeywell, told the New York Times in 2006,

“I very much believe in economic development, but I want it done in a way that’s safe,” Mr. Ashley says that allowing developers to cap a site, build housing on it which serves as a cap, is asimilar  to description put forth by the Baltimore group and Maryland Department of The Environment officials. He said dubbing the development as a working cap is what  environmentalists call “pave and wave” and just postpones the problems.  He wanted all the hazardous waste removed.

In 2003,  a federal court found that the way chromium waste heaved under the slag made capping impossible and ordered the contaminants, a half million tons worth,  removed.  That didn’t stop Honeywell from appealing the  decision, coming up with a containment solution to prevent the slag from heaving.  According to the New York Times article, they said ground water was making the chromium bond together pushing up against the surface. In the end the courts were not buying it and ordered Honeywell to remove all the chromium (see link to law suit).

And yet in Baltimore right in the middle of the City’s gold coast, with Harbor East on one side, Fells Point on the  other and Inner Harbor to the West and Tide Point and Federal Hill to the South, that’s exactly what we get. We get the very toxic site that the courts in New Jersey found unacceptable.

The question is why did Baltimore  which was hammering out a remedial plan with Honeywell in 1989, allow a toxic waste dump to be built on such prime real estate, a peninsula in the Harbor.

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A law suite forced Honeywell to remove Chromium to make way for development in Jersey City, but in Baltimore the same company was allowed to cap the waste, a process that was rejected in Jersey Courts.

According to a source who worked in New Jersey government and has knowledge of the Baltimore sites,  the government understood that the Maryland Port Authority, which oversaw other  chromium sites, could be made liable. The person indicated that the Maryland  enforcement was soft but  also noted in Jersey, “it took a suite by  a citizen group.”

Thus far in  Baltimore, the environmental concern is at best on the fringe of public discussion. While many talk about the promise, the jobs, the risk of doing what amounts to be exploratory surgery in the cap of  a chromium six is getting scant public airing and no talk of the risks.

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11
May
11

Daytrippin’ No 1. Matoaka Cabins an old Time Chesapeake Experience

Beach Front Experience just an 1 hour and half out of Baltimore

Time 1.5 hrs. to 2 hr depending on traffic.

Directions: I-97 to Md. 50 East. About two miles and get off on Md. 2 south. For about 30 miles.  Left on Calvert Beach Road and then you’ll see the driveway with a sign for Matoaka Cabins on the Left. A day pass costs $4 per person. $2 per kid. 410-586-0269

When it comes to day-trips  there lingers the urge to go back in time, but truly it’s gettig harder to do, mainly because we can’t help but mess with the few diminishing remains that we can still visit. We turn them in into museums or we build a gleaming visitors’ center in the middle of a bucolic enclave. We mess with the old ways, always updating and congratulating  ourselves that changes have been camouflaged as  historic preservation.

Thankfully time, developers or  a tourist onslaught  hasn’t done a thing to  Matoaka Cabins in St. Leonard down in Calvert County. Named after Pocahontas real name, Matoaka looks very much as it did back in 1960 when Larry and Connie Smith bought the waterfront bluff. Back then it was camp that dated to the 1930s. The place still has that vibe with its slapsided-planked cabins with the bowed screen porches, the dirt basketball court with the makeshift nets.

Eight Cabins for about $240 a weekend, offers a rare rustic Chesapeake Treat

The rutted entrance itself evokes a charm as you notice the homemade maintainance, an open lots cut away in the brush, a rustic shed overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, perfect for the aspiring water colorist. A simple sign asks you to pay at the house got to by a curved shell path. $4 per adult, $2 per child and the third of a mile beach front is all yours. Making the turn from the house lies the best view from a cut lawn that rolls out towards a steep drop i.e. Calvert Cliffs.  The beach holds promise of fossils from Miocine epoch, 15 million years old. Sometimes there’s pieces of old boats washed up on the shore, inspiring my  daughters, Ellie and Lilah to play shipwrecked for the afternoon, ducking hostile natives and searching for food before nightfall. After a good hour I was praying for rescue. Back to reality, sharks teeth is a top find and a pretty tough score and the searching, an afternoon spent in an old man’s stooping position turns into a kind of meditative act. Last year I did swim in the  Bay, but I’d wear some surf shoes when otherwise on a clear bottom I came across something big and metal. Clunk. No damage

There isn’t any restrooms along the beach, perhaps an outhouse stands back up the long climb to the Matoaka Camp. Hey like I said it’s rustic. Despite the raw look of the cabins, the proprietors know they offer a rare opportunity to wake up under a wooded canopy overlooking the Bay. Cabins run about $240 per weekend.

We haven’t taken the plunge. Besides we get a  kick from paying $12 for some beach experience and zooming home missing the bay bridge traffic.

I had a chance for a quick interview of the Smith’s daughter, Becky Barney now 50ish. She grew up in Matoaka with her four brothers and sisters, meaning there was no need to go to camp. The camp came to her. Each week would bring a new set of kids to play with.

“We go to know a lot of the people,” she said. “They came back because us kids were  here.”

She also saw the demise of  the Bay, the decline in fish and crabs and the runoff  is on dramatic display on these cliffs as mature trees miraculous hang to nothing but topsoil jutting over the edge,  before joining the woodpile that has since fallen over. Luckily Matoaka still offers a chance of what an old Chesapeake excursion felt like. 

07
May
11

New circulating Funny money is actually legal competition to the Mighty Buck

Witney Webre of Zeke's displays a 5 B-note now being accepted throughout Baltimore

After all this jabbering about sustainable economy — buy local, support urban farming, rediscover craft industry — a group is putting money where the big ideas are. They have created a local currency — The B-note to be more specific, legal tender that functions in same way the good ole greenback works, passing bucks from one hand to the next, except for one thing. The B-note stays in B-More Not true with the dollar, which is at the whim of the big spender who could buy a beer for the house at the corner bar or plunk some cash on an overpriced pair of sunglasses guaranteeing that the money zips out to some corporate headquarters.

“The whole purpose of this is to benefit the small independent businesses, to get people thinking about where they spend their money,” said Jeff Dicken, a member of Baltimore Green Currency Association, the group behind the currency project.

The idea was in the making for a year, as the group planned the distribution, designed the 1 and 5 B notes and raised about $8,000 to print 100,000 Bs of tender. The B-note hit the streets three weeks ago and is now being accepted by 64 business citywide all listed on Baltimoregreencurrency.com. The acceptance is far larger than the currency architects imagined.  Dicken said he had hoped that maybe they’d recruit 30 to  50 businesses in a year’s time. Now they’re looking to cap 100 business by the end of the summer.

The local currency movement basically enforces the buy local cred. That is the B-note is worthless (so far) unless spent in the community in Baltimore, forcing the consumer to think or search out where they can plunk down their B-Buck.

Damien Nichols, one of the organizers, found that explaining the mechanism is behind the currency can be difficult, but Baltimore with its tight network of indigenous business understands the power of buying local.

“You’re surround the community with a fence and all the energy and the money stays here,” said Nichols.

The idea is that people can exchange dollars for B-Notes at an exchange rate of 90 cents on a dollar or ten dollars for 11 B-notes. So the purchase incentive is built in. Secondly the Baltimore Green Currency worked to set up a lateral economy where businesses buy goods and services from each other such as  a store owner can get graphic from a designer, who have agreed to accept the notes, rather than just have a group of stores, a shoping center. Whats more no one stands to profit from the currency. There is no cut. Baltimore Green Currency as an organization raised the money as a way of responding to the Recession and the strain placed on local businesses.

“When you go and buy something from Walmart, all that money leaves town,” said Michael Tew, an organizer with Green Currency.

The money collected at exchance centers or what is formally known as Cambios ( Little  Shop of Hardware, Capital Mac in Fells Point and Murray Blum in Hampden ) is put in a bank account backing the currency, according to the organizers. The idea, according to association members, is that the B-notes stay in use much like the dollar and so far few people have been  cashing in Bs back to dollars.

Rooted in the buy local, grassroots, sustainable movement, the B-note made its debut along the independent heavy neighborhood of Hampden and has since spread throughout the city.

The Baltimore Note, artfully done with the Oriole Bird on Side A and Frederick Douglas on the other for the 1 B, and The Raven with the required portrait of Poe on the other for the Fiver follows the  lead of other communities, There’s the Ithaca Hours or BerkShares in Berkshire, Mass or The Plenty in Pittsboro or Brixton Pound in London and of course Seatle, home of the World Bank Riots, came out with Local-Bucks. And now Baltimore Green Currency stands ready about the 100,000 in cash notes, 6,000 on the streets.

You get the idea, progressives playing with money.   But the economics benefits is very tangible and cross-cuts the community.

“It gives you a real way to buy local and Baltimore as a community takes pride in that,” said Nichols.

Still adopting a new currency was a bit much for some businesses owners to handle. One owner laughed at the idea that someone came into her store with the idea of  printing their own money.

“I’m still coming around to it,” she said.

Others like Mickey Fried, owner of Belle Hardware in Bolton  Hill, locked on to the political ramifications of creating local money. When asked to accept the currency he considered what would happen if he was inundated with the B-note. Would he be able to use it and of course there’s overall concern: What if the B-note fails.?

“It’s a risk because if it fall flat on its face, then frankly we’ve basically given the stuff away,” he said.

But Fried also had faith in Baltimore’s tight network of small business and likes striking back at the ever  expanding move to bring in corporate stores where the profits leave the city for corporate headquarters.

“There are lot of people who  have put a lot of emphasis into what a slip of paper (dollar) is worth, but I don’t think they thought much about the circulation. If you don’t think about w here you spend your money, that money isn’t staying in your community.”

Jokingly called hippie money, the B-note has captured  the attention of the usual suspects, small businesses people already rooted in social consciousness that these days has been translated in that over-used word – “Sustainability.”.

But the real challenge is for the B-note to translate into the regular  sector, where money exchange hands in crumpled bills in quick pace, basically a place like a famous deli on Lombard Street or a popular movie house on Charles Street or how about a baseball stadium off  395. The day the B-note gets in the hands of the apathetic spenders, the greater the change. The organizers know this and are pushing on with goals like having the city accept the B-note. Last week Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake happily posed with a B-note. A sign of the future or bandwagon move by a politician.

This ain't funny money, it's the latest in the Buy Local Movement

25
Apr
11

Rhino Spotted on the Jones Falls, Baltimore, Maryland

Look carefully and you’ll spot an animal way out of its normal habitat.

On Saturday, just after a rain storm a rhino was spotted by yours truly. The rhino was seen in an obscured wooded area in what was Baltimore’s eariest industrial mill center now a struggling stream under I-83, a major expressway. The area lies not a mile away from The Maryland Zoo, which borders the stream. The zoo does have a rhino. All these thoughts came to mind when I was out on my bicycle and saw firemen looking down from a bridge. I figured it was probably a jumper until I saw them drive away, leaving me alone on this graffiti trail.

A graffiti Bridge along the Jones Falls in Baltimore

Then I turned to my left and saw this. My flee instinct kicked. Large Animal. I’m alone in woods. RUN. But I also was amazed. Am I seeing things. Was this a boulder with odd lighting. No. I scamped down and yes it was a rhino. How they got it down there is a mystery. The terraine ain’t easy by yourself never mind carting this thing down there. I talked to a passerby, a local Hamden guy and he said he goes by there ever day and hasn’t seen anything like this. I got closer and the detail was impressive. Notice the silica, the little hairs, the ribs.

Artist prank taken to its highest form.

This is why I prefer bike riding. I would never had seen this bit of wildlife. The placement of the art was impecable. not in the middle of a meridian strip but placed in urban wildnerness primed for discovery.

The closer I got the more impressive it became.

Indeed this was a Rhino, an excellent speciman.

11
Nov
10

Maryland Oyster-culture and the Good fight

Growing the oysters isn’t the first hurdle facing those who want to take up a new vocation being offered by the State of Maryland  along with  $2.2 million in loans. The applications process is also harrying prospective speculators into an aquaculture gambit that’s also fraught with disease that has bacially wiped out the private fishery, nevermind the specter of poaching. Currently, the application process has to run through three state agencies and then the Army Corps of Engineers. According to a source the Baltimore district of the Army Corps of Engineers is more tedious than its Norfolk counter-part which oversees a 30 million oyster-culture industry in Virginia. Maryland has none and that has Maryland officials scrambling to set up  new regulations to bring in new entreprenuers to try their hand at oyster-culture.

So far 17 people have applied for grounds covering more than 2000 acroes of bay bottom. Before the new regulations were inacted in September 485 people had leases, almost all of which sat fallow thanks to two deseases MSX and Dermo that kill the oysters before they grow to market size.

“There are new methods of oyster-culture and new strains of oyster that are resistant to disease that you can basically grow faster than the dissease can kill them,” said Mike Naylor, Assistant Director of Maryland Fisheries Service.

He said the trick is to get the oysters planted as soon as possible since investors will have to wait at least a year and half until their oysters are market ready. He said that officials are working to streamline the process and foresees an easier time for people in the future, “It doesn’t help anyone in the middle of it right now.”

After listening to the application details put forth by several state officials at a conference last week, Donald Merrit, a research biologist for the University of Maryland’s Horn Point Center for Environmental Studies, took his turn at the podium with a shake of his head: “Why in the hell would anybody would want to wade through this mess,” he said.  One Virginia oyster grow visiting the Maryland confernce said the idea of going through the application process “makes me sick.”

But most of those in the audience were still running on the fumes of their entrepreneurial hopes, some griping, others ratcheting up  the tint on their rose-colored glasses. There were fringe watermen, part-timers who see potential as well as marine business folk who construction of say piers have gone cold during this endless recession. There were speculators and a representative from the Accohannock Tribe in Somerset County, Md. “I think there is going to be opportunities, if you don’t jump in, you’re a fool,” said Will Gabeler who attended with his boss Apple Marine Construction, which right now focuses on bulkheads and development mitigation. One would be oyster-businessman who request anonymity because he may apply said it seemed that they were making it up as they are going on. And yet, these new regulations is being closely watched with checked hopes by industry insiders and environmentalists who all note that Maryland’s stab at oysterculture  took a hundred years of facing down a political culture who put up obstacles for  private growers. Even Merrit soften his acrimony for those hammering together the regulations, saying that state officials already worked on streamlining  the process, but urged — more like barked like a coach, “but there’s more work to be done.” Oyster-culture, the endeavor to grow oysters in rafts or in cages in the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay, is very much a marginalized industry in the very state that made the mollusk a national item almost 150 years ago. In the 1800s, the oyster was to the Chesapeake that gold was to California, spawning a massive canning industry in Baltimore shipped out across the country on the B&O. But while oyster fishery was decimated thanks to disease and overfishing,  Maryland has stubbornly kept to the public fisheries basically allowing a hunter and gather,first come first serve method, while the oyster population has plunged to less than 1 percent of its original population. In the 1880s the oyster fishery was producing about 10 million bushels annually. This year if the watermen pull more than 130,000 bushels than it will be seen as a good year. Oysters aren’t just good in a po-boy sandwich or on the half shell, they are seen by scientist as a keystone species, major filters that eat up the nasty algae responsible for large dead zones in the once bountiful bay. While officials don’t believe that creating a viable oysterculture fishery will be enough to mitigate  the decades pollution ranging from broken sewage treatment plants to lawn runoff to poultry pollution, it’s a start. At the very least it should offer some economic stability to a way of life that at times seems on the border of extinction.

The deadline to apply for a lease passed on Monday Nov. 15. The deadline for a loan is Nov. 30th.