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April 2012

Norfolk Councilmembers Stand Against Coal Plant

Kudos to Norfolk City Councilmembers Tommy Smigiel, Andy Protogyrou, Barclay Winn, and Theresa Whibley, who put the health and well-being of Norfolk citizens ahead of corporate influence and political pressure.

SmigielAt a meeting of the Norfolk City Council this week, the four voted in favor of a city resolution formally opposing a mega coal-fired power plant proposed in nearby Surry County. This despite considerable lobbying pressure from power plant supporters to dissuade the city from taking a position on the controversial project.

In the end, the resolution opposing the plant failed to win a majority of votes. AnWhibley alternative resolution was adopted stating Norfolk is “provisionally opposed” because of a host of health, environmental, and economic concerns. The approved resolution suggests the city will revisit the issue after additional study and perhaps remove the “provisional” language.

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Fertilizer Industry Lobby Points Finger at the Chesapeake Bay Oyster

DSC_0283Blame oysters for the Bay's troubles. Who would make such an argument?

Curiously enough, the Fertilizer Institute, a lobbying organization for the fertilizer industry. These Washington DC-based fertilizer lobbyists have joined with other agricultural and development industry groups in suing EPA to stop new pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay (also called the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load).

During a forum with farm radio broadcasters in Southern Maryland on Tuesday, Bill Herz, a vice president of the Fertilizer Institute, tried to muddy the waters about the significant role of fertilizer in the Bay’s health problems. Herz (shown above at right) claimed that the science is too uncertain, and the whole subject is so complex, these new federal pollution limits should be put on hold. His assertion is disputed by EPA, leading scientists, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which on Friday asked the courts to dismiss the Fertilizer Institute’s lawsuit.

One of Herz’ more curious suggestions was that EPA should not focus so much on fertilizer runoff pollution because of the Bay’s oyster problem.  (Fertilier pollution is also called "nutrient" pollution, because fertilizers nourish not only crops on farms, but also excessive growth of algae that chokes the Bay and other waterways).

“One of the complexities about nutrient pollution in general is that... there are many other factors that come into play,” Herz told about 40 radio reporters and others during a panel discussion. “And one of the complications in the Chesapeake Bay is these factors. It's the same in the Gulf of Mexico. As we change these ecosystems, we lose 90 percent of the filter feeding population in the Bay. If we have that oyster population back, what would that mean in terms of the nutrient load?”

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A Perfect Storm for Blue Crabs

BabybluecrabHere’s a paradox about the Chesapeake Bay.

A report by the University of Maryland revealed the Bay had the murkiest waters on record last year and declined in overall health to a grade of D plus. Heavy spring rains and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 flushed tons of mud and pollutants into the estuary.

A second report, however, paints an entirely different picture. At press conference last week, Governor Martin O’Malley released the results of a scientific survey showing that blue crab populations have tripled over the last five years. Despite the polluted waters, the number of juvenile blue crabs last year set a record.

This was good news for the Bay -- but a challenge to logic.  How could the crabs do better when the water got worse?

Dr. Thomas Miller, Director of the Chesapeake Biological Lab, explained that water quality was not a factor in the crab resurgence of the last five years. The comeback of the once-troubled species was caused, he said, mostly by restrictions on catching female crabs imposed by Virginia and Maryland in 2008. The protection of mothers allowed more reproduction.

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Will Norfolk Flip Flop on Coal Plant?

Power plant
Norfolk City Council members have a great opportunity to do the right thing for Norfolk residents, citizens across Hampton Roads, and the Chesapeake Bay – provided they don’t cave in to pressure from Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC).

Here’s the deal and how you can help. The City Council is poised to vote Tuesday on a resolution putting Norfolk on record opposing an ODEC coal-fired power plant proposed in nearby Surry County. If built, the ODEC plant would be the largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia and spew thousands of tons of additional pollution into the Hampton Roads environment, threatening public health, local rivers and the Bay, and jeopardizing future economic development.

That’s why numerous organizations and thousands of citizens, many of which reside in Hampton Roads, oppose the plant. These include the Consortium for Infant and Child Health (CINCH) at Eastern Virginia Medical School, which wrote a letter this week to Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim bluntly describing the plant’s threat to children, the elderly, and those with lung ailments.

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Earth Weekend

EarthGet your green on.  A host of events are scheduled for Earth Day this weekend.  The festivities range from the “Earth, Water, and Faith Festival" in Annapolis (featuring Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley) to the “Blue Ridge Oyster Festival” in Nelson County, Virginia.  For details, click here

Blue Crabs in Chesapeake Bay Have Tripled Since Crisis of 2007

TotalestimateThe number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay has tripled over the last five years to the highest total in nearly two decades. The dramatic rebound was caused by restrictions on catching female crabs imposed by Virginia and Maryland in 2008, according to Maryland fisheries scientists.

“One of the clearest indications that the health of the Bay is not a hopeless cause is the rebound of late of this blue crab population,” Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said this morning at a press conference at a waterfront crab house in Annapolis, where he announced the results of a winter blue crab population survey.

Omalleyatcrabpresser“A few years ago, the future did not look bright,” said O’Malley. “Our female crabs were being overfished.  Our fishery was at risk of complete collapse.  The announcement today marks four years in a row of progress to restore the blue crab.”

A scientific dredge survey of blue crab populations from December through March estimated 764 million blue crabs in the nation’s largest estuary, up 66 percent from the 461 million in 2010, and nearly triple the 255 million in 2007, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. That was when the numbers hit such a low that the federal government declared an economic emergency and provided funds to help devastated watermen.

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Funding Running Out for Research into Striped Bass Disease

StriperwithlesionsDuring a fishing trip out on the Chesapeake Bay not long ago, as the sun set and seagulls circled, my friend hauled in a striped bass as long as my arm.  We immediately recognized there was something wrong with the fish, however.  It had lesions on its side.

Striped bass are the most popular saltwater sportfish on the East Coast. But there are millions like the one I saw that evening: with open sores and masses of gray nodules in their spleens. Both are signs of a chronic wasting disease called mycobacteriosis.

“In the Chesapeake Bay here, it is extremely common,” said Dr.  Wolfgang K. Vogelbein, Professor of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). “Some of our data over the last 10 years suggests that the 2 to 3 year old fish -– the schooling, resident striped bass -– are showing the disease in epidemic proportions. Over 90 percent of those animals are infected.”

During his decade and a half of research, Dr. Vogelbein and his associates have made progress in solving some of the mysteries of “myco.” For example, he and his colleagues have concluded the disease is increasing the natural (non-fishing) death rate of striped bass by 15 to 20 percent per year.

Dr. Vogelbein said it’s clear that eating infected fish poses no threat to humans when the fish is cooked. However, handling stripers with open sores can pose a potential risk of infection to fishermen who have open cuts on their hands.

But Dr. Vogelbein’s important research is about to run out of federal funding before important questions can be answered -- in part, because of budget cuts in Washington DC.

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Tropical Storm Contributes to Declining Grade for Bay Health

SedimentationHeavy rains and runoff pollution contributed to a poor grade -- D plus -- in the University of Maryland and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most recent report card on the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

The grade for 2011 was lower than the previous year’s C minus and meant that the Bay received its second worse health score since scientists began making annual assessments in 1986, according to the report .

The Bay had the lowest water clarity on record and a large drop in aquatic vegetation, according to the report.   The good news from the report is the continuing recovery of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, whose populations have been boosted by restrictions in catching females.

“Flood waters from the Susquehanna River watershed during Tropical Storm Lee (on September 7, 2011) brought up to…one and a half inches of sediments to the Upper Bay,” according to the report.  This runoff pollution from the storm is shown in the NASA satellite image of the Bay above.

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Check Out the Blue Ridge Oyster Festival

Earth Day is being widely celebrated this year on Saturday, April 21. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) will mark the day with staff and volunteers at a variety of festivals and events around the region, talking about the Bay and urging citizens to let their elected representatives know that clean water is a priority -- not just on Earth Day but every day. Check out our calendar of events for more info.

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Who Am I? Solve a Little Identity Crisis

PaledudeWhat is this Chesapeake Bay critter?   The first reader to correctly identify this life form will win a free Chesapeake Bay Foundation T-shirt.  Enter your guesses as comments below.  Ready, set, go! UPDATE: The creature is a copepod with eggs.  And the first reader to guess correctly was Ryan Trueblood.  Congrats, Ryan, and thanks to everyone for playing.   

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