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May 30, 1997     Cape Gazette
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10 - CAPE GAZETYE, Friday, May 30 - June 5, 1997 Citizens group claims Inland Bays don't get respect they deserve By Michael Short The Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) has been somewhat at loose ends in recent months. The CAC once played a dominant role in efforts to protect the inland bays. That was when the Inland Bays Estuary Program was in full force. But that Estuary Program has sunsetted and become the Center for the In- land Bays. The CAC remains, but it has not always been easy for the group to know its role in the environmental protection of the inland bays. The Board of Directors of the Center, a group which includes Department of Nat- ural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC)Secretary Christophe Tulou, Uni- versity of Delaware College of Marine Studies professor Kent Price, Department of Agriculture Secretary Jack Tarburton and Sussex County Administrator Bob Stickels, is now the central player in efforts to protect Rehoboth, Little Assawoman and Indian River Bays. That frustration showed this spring at one of the CAC meetings. The CAC decided to take its case to the Center Board of Direc- tors and that's exactly what Jim Alderman did at the May 29 meeting But what could have been a lesson in frustration appears to have been defused. "I basically told them the CAC does not feel a part of the Center," Alderman said. Alderman also said that members do not feel enough attention is being paid to the bays and that there isn't enough focus on Michael Short photo The Center for the Inland Bays has received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help re-establish submerged vegetation in the bays. Pictured (I-r) at the May 28 ceremony are Kent Price,chairman of the Center for the Inland Bays, Mike Mc- Cabe, EPA Region Three Administrator, Bruce Richards, executive director of the Center for the Inland Bays, Congressman Mike Castle and Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Jack Tar- burton. Eel grass Continued from page 1 other submerged vegetation is considered an important step in putting the bays back on their en- vironmental feet. The grasses dis- appeared decades ago, the victim of declining water quality. State officials have worked to return them because they remove excessive nutrients from the wa- ter, help to reduce cloudiness of the water by removing sediment and provide habitat for small ani- mals like scallops, crabs and fish. They remove sediment by slow- ing currents and making the sedi- ment fall to the bottom. The plant roots also hold sediment in place and keep it from being stirred up (old timers often measure water quality by testing to see if they can see their toes when they go wad- ing). It's similar to the way a dune fence traps sand and keeps it from blowing away. Finally, the grasses are what en- vironmentalists like to call an in- dicator organism. Just as wolves and bald eagles tend to thrive in quality environments, eel grass is an "indicator" of clean, clear wa- ter. For example, it thrives in Chincoteague Bay. It stands in direct contrast to other plant life, like sea lettuce, which can actually cause environ- mental problems by producing al- gae blooms which smell bad and use up the oxygen in the inland bays. "It is a pleasure to see this fed- eral money passed along for such a worthwhile, results-oriented project," said Michael McCabe, the EPA's Region Three Adminis- trator during a Wednesday morn- ing press conference. "Planting bay grasses will help jump-start the aquatic food chain. Our suc- cess in restoring the bay grasses will be a key indicattr of progress in restoring the Inland Bays." There are about 1,200 square Continued on page U McCabe enjoying change from Biden's office to EPA administrator By Dennis Forney Many Delawareans knew Mike McCabe as a staffer in U.S. Sen. Joe Biden's office before his ap- pointment two years ago as Re- gional Administrator for the Envi- ronmental Protection Agency (EPA). "It's been quite a change going from the Senator's office to head- ing up a federal agency with over a thousand employees," said Mc- Cabe "during a boat tour of Delaware's Inland Bays on Wednesday, May 28. "I've spent most of my time so far educating the public as to what the EPA does these days. We're not just out there beating up on in- dustry as many people think. Rather, in a lot of cases we're working to restore ecosystems like the Inland Bays - working to achieve a quality of life people can be proud of. Of course we are the cop on the beat and we nail the bad guys when it comes to moni- toring environmental offenses, but we're trying more to work with industry and others to make gains than just to levy fines." As an example, McCabe point- ed to recent negotiations with the Chrysler plant in Newark. "They had to apply for seven different EPA permits each year that they changed their industrial process," said McCabe. "We came to an agreement where they agreed to decrease pollution by a set amount and in exchange we allowed them Continued on page 11 the Comprehensive Conservation and Man- agement Plan (CCMP), which is almost gospel when it comes to protecting the inland bays. But according to both Price and Alder- man, the meeting went well and could lead to a better relationship between the groups. "They said we have to work together and they ALDERMAN are willing to work to- gether," said Alderman. Price, the chairman of the Center for the Inland Bays, said that there were a number of options discussed. "We are looking at Clean up Continued from page 1 such animals. Because of the problems, Schroeder and Bunting are push- ing for money to harvest the sea- weed. Schroeder said on Thursday that John Hughes, the director of the Delaware Division of Soil and Water Conservation, said there may be seed money available to start cleaning up the sea lettuce as early as next Wednesday. "It is of an urgent enough na- ture that we can move this quick- ly," the Lewes legislator said. Hughes said on Thursday night that the state hopes to receive final approval by today, Friday, May 30. "We are taking a chance.., but our scientists say this is the best thing we can do [for the inland bays]." The Department of Natural Re- sources and Environmental Con- trol (DNREC) is mounting what amounts to a major cooperative effort involving all its divisions, according to Hughes, who heads only one of those divisions. The various divisions are pool- ing manpower, funding and equipment in an effort to get this program jump started. The whole department is practically "beg- ging, borrowing and stealing" to find money to get this started be- cause they consider it important, he said. What is being considered is not unlike a farming business. State officials have contacted a business which skims algae and other plant life in freshwater ponds in Flori- da. The business is actually locat- ed in Schenectady, N.Y., but it has done a great deal of work in Flori- da. That businessman has visited Delaware and thinks he could re- move much of the offending sea- weed. If it occurs, the machinery would skim the bay surface and scoop up the seaweed. It should pose little or no danger to wildlife. "It is very much like an agricultur- al harvest," said Kent Price, the chairman of the Center for the In- land Bays. "Outside of the possi- bility of a few crabs, it would not catch much." Price said the system seems to work in freshwater, although this would be one of the first national tests in saltwater. He said any har- ways to involve the CAC more deeply." Alderman also said that he learned there may be more emphasis being put on the CCMP than people initially realize. Price and Bruce Richards, the executive director of the Center for the Inland Bays, are quick to point to environmental strides like cen- tral sewer systems, the eleven farms with more than 3,400 acres in the inland bays watershed that are being preserved or kept as open space and Wednesday's announce- .ment of a $100,000 grant to restore eel grass beds. Some of the specifics discussed include reviving Inland Bays Appreciation Day and having the CAC be in charge of the event that used to attract large crowds. Alderman also said there could be a joint meeting of the two groups. vest would be likely to concen- trate in areas where the seaweed concentrates such as along shore- lines. "It's worth a test," Price said. Hughes said the company which has worked in Lake Ochechobee can collect as much as 100 tons of material per day. Hughes said the contract, if approved, will call for a six and ten foot harvesting ma- chine (two machines which can cover six or ten feet of water at a sweep), a dump truck and convey- or belts. The contractor expects to be able to clean two and a half acres of water per day of the al- gae. The advantage of removing the material is that it won't stink and won't lower oxygen levels. It is also rich in nutrients and some of those nutrients would be removed if it it taken out of the bays. (The largest problem in the bays is con- sidered to be an excessive amount of the nutrients phosphorous and nitrogen). "If we do not get it out of the in- land bays, it will continue to cause problems," said Schroeder. He es- timates that it may cost as much as $150,000 to $250,000 to clean up the sea lettuce and depending on weather and nutrients, one cleanup may not be enough. Even if the Department of Nat- ural Resources and Environmen- tal Control has seed money to start the work, there is not enough money available to complete it, meaning Schroeder and Bunting must still ask for state money. Besides cost, the other majoi" problem is what to do with the massive quanities of smelly sea- weed once harvested. Price sug- gested that it could be used as ei- ther fertilizer or animal feed and said those possibilities are still be- ing studied. Hughes said it could be composted and DNREC will work with Dick Pack of Grizzly Firewood to compost material, it can be placed on dredged spoil sites and spread thinly in an effort to improve soil or it could be added to farmland to improve soils. Schroeder also says that any harvesting won't solve the prob- lem because there will be more sea lettuce next season. He said less pollution and more education is the only real long-term answer for the issue. "Getting this firm in there to address the problem is no permanent solution," he said.