Trash flushed into harbor, producing wave of disgust;
Storm hurts tourism, but trash skimmers solve problem
It was as if Baltimore had a shiny black eye yesterday, after heavy rains washed three months of sewer and creek-bed trash into the Inner Harbor.
Yesterday morning’s west wind swept tires, tennis balls, golf clubs, plastic bottles – even a refrigerator and a picnic table – onto the shoreline, from the Light Street pavilion to Fells Point, creating a caldron of slop that practically beached paddle boat business and left tourists repeating one word.
Baltimoreans had their own word for the mess.
“If you want to run tourists away, this is the way to do it,” said Robert L. Nelson, 40, of Catonsville, who was having lunch at the Pratt Street pavilion.
Linda M. Young of Bloomsburg, PA., visiting the Inner Harbor for the first time, said: “It’s a bad first impression. You cannot recapture a first impression.”
The Department of Public Works agreed that the image – so bad that some children were crying because they thought all the fish and crabs were dead – was not how Baltimore’s showcase attraction – the Inner Harbor – should look.
George G. Balog, Chief of Public Works, said a half-dozen trash skimmer boats worked past sunset to clean up the mess. Six dump trucks were filled with 40 tons of debris that had flushed into the harbor.
Public Works typically clears about 6 tons of trash from the Inner Harbor every two weeks, according to officials.
“We had a lot of logs and trees with the trash,” said Balog
The cleanup will resume today with the work expected to be finished by this evening, said Public Works spokesman Kurt L. Kocher.
“I think instead of being embarrassed, everyone should be more aware of throwing items on the ground or into storm sewers,” Kocher said. The swollen Jones Falls, which flows into the harbor from southern Pennsylvania, was responsible for much of the Harbor’s debris, Kocher said.
But the cleanup was not occurring fast enough for some harbor merchants.
Robert L. Yeaton was operating the water taxi in front of Harbor Place and said his job was “a little tricky” as he navigated to and from Fells Point. His boat stalled several times after logs clogged his motor and damaged his rudder.
The Electric Boat Ride paddle boat business was closed because the boats were surrounded by 400 yards of debris, and some of the paddle boats had overturned. The paddle boat business in front of Pratt Street pavilion remained open, but employees said business was down 90 percent.
“I don’t even want to ride a paddle boat. I would not want my daughter in that,” said Denise Curry of Baltimore’s Northwood section.
Though many families still managed to enjoy other Inner Harbor attractions, the swirling, cluttered water remained the focus of conversation. Paul Cusick and his family, on vacation from Santa Barbara, CA, were at the National Aquarium in Baltimore during a lecture on pollution-free oceans. “They are talking about oceans, why not start with cleaning the shoreline,” Cusick said while his grandchildren identified items in the water.
But while some joked and photographed the dumplike harbor, others reflected on the cause of the bobbing debris.
“It just illustrates to me that we are dirtying the planet,” said Lisa A. Grover of Albuquerque, N.W. “What is sad is people have done this.”
Excerpted from: THE BALTIMORE SUN – July 1999
THE BALTIMORE SUN editorial on the performance of the Public Works Department
in coping with the mess – using UMI TrashCat™ Trash Skimmers:
Baltimore Harbor Mess
UMI’s Trash Skimmers Praised for Cleaning Up Harbor (Editorial)
July 1999 – Visitors may have been offended by the flotsam in the Inner Harbor after Thursday’s monsoon-like rain, but trash thrown down storm drains or lying in gutters in the Jones Falls watershed will invariably make its way to the harbor.
There is no argument that all this debris was an unsightly mess. Although the Styrofoam cups, plastic soda bottles and fast-food wrappers were most noticeable, natural debris – trees, branches, stumps and bushes – were the largest component by weight.
Even the best storm water management system cannot prevent this type of debris from flowing into the Inner Harbor. Barriers in storm drains are not feasible because they need to be cleaned regularly. If they aren’t, the result is backups and flooding.
To its credit, the city’s Department of Public Works with its fleet of trash skimmers was able to remove nearly all of the mess – more than 40 tons – within 24 hours. Sadly, until human habits change such work will be necessary after major storms.