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On May 14th, many young helpers from Davidsonville Elementary School's green club braved the weather and joined South River Federation to plant herbaceous plants at the preserve at Broad Creek. Despite the rainy weather, fun was had by all while digging in the mud. Many cool animals were found in the dirt, such as worms, bugs and even frogs. Some of the helpers were even courageous enough to pick them up!

With their faculty advisor Ted Cook, the young environmentalists helped introduce more color and habitat to the step pools by the creek. Thanks to their help, the preserve at Broad Creek will now be a more beautiful place.

The South River holds the distinction of being the only tributary on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay which encompasses an existing oyster sanctuary area, private oyster aquaculture leaseholds, and public fishery areas. The South River is thus positioned to realize the broadest benefit from the oyster restoration work currently being considered by the Oyster Advisory Commission, as the contemplated work will generate both environmental and economic benefits.  Click here to read RiverKeeper Jesse Iliff's full letter to the Oyster Advisory Commision.

Kingbirds in the Oak Grove Forest Buffer

By Kirk Mantay

Recently, we had the treat of seeing the first significant bird use of our Oak Grove Forest Buffer project, which was planted in 2013 on an eroding slope covered in invasive vines. The bird was an Eastern Kingbird, common in area farms and meadows surrounded by trees, but not terribly common (as far as we can recall) to the Oak Grove boatyard and parking lots. Forest buffer plantings are a great management practice for eroding shorelines, slopes, and field-edges, however their benefits to wildlife, water quality and soil are often not noticeable for years or even decades.

So what were these birds doing? Kingbirds are collectively known as “tyrant flycatchers” which tells us a lot about what habitat needs they might have. Theastern kingbird howardpowelle Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) in particular likes to seek out tall perches where large insects (junebugs, dragonflies, and moths, for example) are flying just below them. The birds swoop down, catch a snack, and fly back to the same exact perch, where they wait for more food to come fluttering by.   Federation staff observed the birds moving from perch to perch, preferring our now 12’ tall pitch pines and 10’ tall redbuds over other trees. They returned, twice to a nearby mature oak, but it’s late in the year for an active nest. Whether they return next year to establish hunting perches will tell us a bit about how the large-insect population is growing.

In late June, I started an investigation of Anne Arundel County’s enforcement of its environmental code. I was motivated to do so after reporting a large sediment release from a construction project along Rt.2. Upon discussing it with County personnel, I learned that it is very rare for the County to issue a civil fine for incidents causing environmental damage.  Effectively, as long as a violator acknowledges that they have caused damage and informs the County that they will try to prevent it from happening again, there is no consequence for polluting County waterways.

It is time we stopped allowing environmental damage to occur without consequence.

 

Reality of violations

In order to assess the extent of this apparent flaw in the County’s enforcement system, the Federation has collected every environmental enforcement case opened by Anne Arundel County since 2014 and is analyzing how it was resolved. While the analysis is ongoing, some obvious trends have already emerged. In 2014 and 2015, the County opened 647 and 675 environmental compliance cases, respectively. A little less than a third of cases, opened by complaints, result in any action being taken. This makes sense, as many of these complaints are made by citizens who might not like how their neighbor is digging a garden, or who might make a complaint out of precaution, not knowing the specifics of the law. However, it appears that of the approximately 30% of complaints that do reflect a legitimate environmental violation, only about 50-60 receive a stop work order, fine, or referral to the Office of Law. In other words, less than a quarter of all violations, on which the County takes any action, receive any kind of consequence.

To be clear, remediation or deferral of a fine may be appropriate in some cases. If appropriate sediment controls, placed at a person’s property for home renovation/extension, were overwhelmed by a powerful storm, quickly repairing the problem may be all that is necessary. If a person tills the earth for a garden and genuinely didn’t know that a grading permit was required for their work, but then goes to obtain one, this corrective action may be sufficient. These are not the sort of violations our efforts are zeroing in on. Rather, it is the persistent violations by companies and individuals who knowingly act outside of the law, or the truly significant single violations that go without consequence that merit stronger enforcement action by the County.

                                           

These photos indicate environmental violations. The left shows sediment pollution from ineffective silt fencing placement and the right shows an illegal tire dump in the South River Watershed whose cleanup was complicated and delayed by the extensiveness of the dump. 

Ineffective penalties

Several County personnel and others have expressed that current penalties are not effective deterrents for environmental carelessness. Although the County might issue fines totaling tens of thousands of dollars for large projects, some firms may be able to simply absorb this into their budget as the cost of doing business. Some County personnel have opined that their best enforcement tool is a stop work order, but this tool has limitations too. It requires that a violation be noted while it is happening, which is often not the case. In addition, if a stop work order is issued, the violator will be required to fix up the condition which warrants the order, but damage already done is often unresolved.

The ongoing enforcement audit is intended to identify the shortcomings in the County’s enforcement apparatus. Stay tuned as the Federation establishes conclusively what those shortcomings are, who is responsible for them, and how we can fix it.

 

 

Yours for Clean Water,

--Jesse Iliff

The South River Federation is proud to announce receipt of a Green Grant from BGE/Exelon for $3,000 to continue our work in the Church Creek watershed - one of the most impaired creeks in the South River.

SRF is working with the READY (Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth) Program this summer providing hands-on environmental job training during an 8-week program. The READY Program provides hands-on environmental job training for minority youth (18-24). Many of the youth in this program are from the Church Creek watershed. 

This project is a critical piece of our Church Creek Initiative to improve water quality. The ultimate goal and benefit of this initiative is clean water - a goal that will be backed up by intensive tidal and non-tidal water quality monitoring efforts. While the primary beneficiaries will be the READY participants receiving hands on environmental job training partially funded by this grant, the 66,000 residents of the South River Watershed will ultimately benefit from improved water quality. 

We are very proud to partner with BGE in this very worthy program.