The big event on the Nanticoke River this year had to be Hurricane Sandy, at least for the lower portion. The storm passed to the east of us, which meant we missed massive high tides and the damage that hit farther north, but high winds (50-60 kts sustained) blew from almost every direction on the high tide, and this had serious consequences. Roaring Point Park lost 7 large loblolly pines and about 10 feet of shoreline (see photos). This erosion would probably have been worse but for the Living Shoreline project we completed there in 2004. Many bulkheads and docks were also damaged or destroyed. As sea level rises, our banks will be further eroded by such major events, and natural return of sand in summer is not sufficient to restore the elevated sites. We are exploring the feasibility of another shoreline restoration project at Roaring Point.
Another less catastrophic event occurred near Bivalve this year: the crash of a naval unmanned aerial vehicle (a drone) in the marsh on the Dorchester County side of the river. The Navy assured us that environmental remediation had been performed and approved by the MD Dept. of the Environment. Our contacts with them led to an interesting presentation by their Atlantic Test Range (ATR) Team Leader, Chris Jarboe, to the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance Partner meeting in November, on the Navy’s Atlantic Test Range land conservation initiative in the Nanticoke River Watershed. The Navy has joined with The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in a Multi-Year Encroachment Protection Agreement that was signed in September 2009 to secure conservation easements on properties within the ATR Inner Range. The program identifies land parcels whose protection is both critical to preserving the range mission and meeting the conservation goals of the partner.
A first site has been protected in the Nanticoke Rural Legacy Area along the Marshyhope River that is also located in the heart of the ATR restricted airspace. The Waterkeeper Alliance lawsuit, charging Perdue Farms and individual poultry farmer Alan Hudson of Berlin with pollution of a nearby creek, has concluded. The federal judge ruled that the Alliance did not prove that the poultry operation was the cause of the pollution. Now, environmental groups in the region are left with a challenge – to maintain or restore dialogue with the agricultural community and to continue progress in managing nutrient inputs to our waterways. A key focus of the Friends is preserving rural land use, including active agriculture, as a means of retaining both a productive economic base and protecting the Nanticoke River and the Chesapeake Bay from damaging development. The Friends support the agricultural industry and individual farmers in their efforts to manage nutrient pollution and keep farms productive. More needs to be done on all fronts, but we must work together if we are to preserve both our environment and our rural way of life. Of key importance is continuing progress on the Bay’s “pollution diet” or Watershed Implementation Plan, which is designed to set real limits to pollution from all sources. The Bay’s water quality is showing signs of improvement, and now is the time to credit those who have contributed to this as well as commit ourselves to determined efforts to keep moving ahead.
The Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway, a massive new transmission grid that would have transected the Nanticoke River at Vienna, affecting pristine habitats across the shore, has been abandoned by Pepco Holdings. Here’s a summary from Audubon Magazine highlighting the threats to bird life that would have been posed by this project. The Friends of the Nanticoke River were among the environmentalists referred to in the article: “During the past decade, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has made the approval process for transmission lines more transparent, allowing stakeholders like state utility commissions and environmental groups to weigh in on its decisions. David Curson, director of bird conservation for Audubon Maryland-DC, submitted comments on one of the projects, pointing out that the wood thrush, the prothonotary warbler, and the Kentucky warbler—three neotropical migrants with declining populations—would have been particularly affected. Environmentalists also expressed concern for the potential effect on water quality in Chesapeake Bay. The arguments led to a new analysis, which showed a decrease in demand and other options for supplying electricity. Instead of building massive and expensive infrastructure, the utility companies will meet the region’s energy needs by paying high-demand companies to reduce their electricity use for specified amounts of time. " The Army Corps of Engineers will soon begin maintenance dredging of the navigation channel near Seaford, DE to a depth of 12 feet and a width of 100 feet. As a result of substantial public input (approximately 65 people attended a hearing last July), the US Army Corps of Engineers and Sussex County made a number of changes in their plans for dredging, spoil transport, and monitoring of the ground water in the area of the dump site. These included removal of dredge transport pipes after completion, testing of spoil water for contaminants before returning it to the River, establishment of contaminant-monitoring wells around the spoils dump site (including baseline testing before dumping), and periodic testing after dredging to ensure the area’s ground water is not contaminated. Sussex County will manage these efforts with oversight by DNREC. Further, if ground water contamination occurs at nearby homes, Sussex County will take action to address the contamination (such as installation of filters or treatment systems on residential wells). Thanks to Tom Darby, President of Nanticoke Watershed Preservation Group and Friends member, for keeping a watchful eye on the planning for this project and its associated spoil dumping site.
Major Wetland violation on the Nanticoke River
In October, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that Frederick W. Hertrich, III and his project manager, Charles Ernesto, would pay a $100,000 penalty for violating the Clean Water Act at Houston Branch, a tributary of Marshyhope Creek in Federalsburg, MD. The two were charged with converting 56 acres of forested wetlands to pasture for a racing horse farm. The defendants completed restoration of the impacted wetlands in 2011, including revegetation with native species and restoring the hydrology needed to support the wetland vegetation. Mr. Hertrich was also required to place a deed restriction, limiting future activities that might damage wetlands, on approximately 80 acres of the property. The US Army Corps of Engineers was closely involved in bringing this case to judgment. EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin noted, “Wetlands play a powerful role in our environment. This case sends a clear message that regulatory agencies will take the steps necessary to secure compliance with wetlands regulations and remedy the harm caused by illegal activity. The wetlands involved in this case provided sediment and nutrient control, which is especially important in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”
Edwin Lewis Update
The story that never dies did take a vacation for a couple of years. The hunting cabin complex in the marsh on Phillips Island (lower Nanticoke River) was ruled in violation of the Critical Areas Act, and Mr. Lewis was ordered to remove all buildings. He first ignored, then appealed this ruling, and now he is dismantling all of the buildings except for the main lodge, which he is again appealing to be able to retain.