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August 15, 1997     Cape Gazette
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August 15, 1997

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10 - CAPE GAZETI'E, Friday August 15- August 21,:1997 State assures public waters safe; county urges expanded testing By Michael Short Delaware's Department of Natural Re- sources and Enviornmental Control (DNREC) is expected to hold a press brief- ing this afternoon to discuss the first round of testing last week to see if pfiesteria is present in Delaware waters. David Small, DNREC spokesman, said that the first results taken last Thursday in Indian River, have been received back from North Carolina State University. But he said Thursday that those lab results were still being analyzed. Pfiesteria may not even exist in Delaware waters, although it's been the source of widespread speculation. Today's briefing is designed to answer questions and brief the Health Continued from page 1 clammers supplying his business, but that number has dwindled to perhaps 15 as clammers find it hard to find clams. Copp blames the sea lettuce and its potential to cause low oxygen levels which make it difficult for anything from clams to crabs to survive in water. Rep. John Schroeder (D-Lewes) said there are problems in the in- land bays, but he said they are long-standing problems which have not cropped up overnight and which won't be solved quick- ly. "It's widely understood that there are environmental problems in the inland bays. They will not be solved overnight." Schroeder said that there are ef- forts being made to address some of those concerns and that progress is being made. For exam- ple, he said he helped to find mon- ey for the state to harvest 185 tons of sea lettuce this year, a first ever effort which may continue in the future. Schroeder, together with Bunting, has also called for efforts to work with the city of Rehoboth Beach in an effort to find another way for the city to discharge of its treated sewage. That sewage now is dumped into the Lewes-Re- media and officials on what, if anything, the tests found. Pfiesteria has been linked to massive fish kills in North Carolina and was previously found in Indian River a decade ago. The so called "killer algae" has 22 life cycles, some of which are toxic and there are indi- cations that it could be potentially harmful to people. In some forms, the organism can some- times survive sulfuric acid or remain dor- mant for months or years at a time. There are no documented cases of human injury or illness in Delaware. Roy Miller, a DNREC biologist, spoke to county council on Tuesday and told the council that the only documented human hoboth Canal after extensive and expensive treatment. The idea has been favorably re- ceived, although the, canal dis- charge continues. Joe Farrell of the University of Delaware College of Marine Stud- ies is in charge of a citizen moni- toring program for the inland bays. Farrell agreed this week that the inland bays are environmen- tally "stressed" but he also said that is a long-term problem which has not arisen suddenly. He said the water samples taken regularly tend to show very low oxygen levels early in the morn- ing when dissolved oxygen is usu- ally at its lowest. That makes the bays ripe for a potential fish kill during the hot summer weather, Farrell said. But he said that he could not say the water quality has worsened this year. Farrell said the water sampling results are consistent with a eutrophic system. And he said that whil e oxygen levels are sometimes low, that's been a con- cern locally for years. He explained that a eutrophic system is a system which contains high levels of nutrients such as ni- trogen and phosphorous. Such nu- trients help fuel the growth of sea lettuce and may be linked to the presence of pfiesteria, the so- called cell from hell which has been linked to massive fish kills in illness was caused in Joanne Burkholder's North Carolina State laboratory by people working with the organism. Miller came to update the public and to assure them that it is safe to swim in Delaware, fish in Delaware and recreate in Delaware. "Would you swim in Indian Riv- er?" asked County Councilman George Cole. "Sure," Miller said. DNREC is urging people not to eat fish caught with lesions or with a milky white coating. That could be caused by a number of illnesses, although the most likely cause is a virus caused lymphocystis, according to DNREC spokesperson Butch Kinerney. Lymphocystis has no connection with North Carolina. Copp said clammers have found thousands of dead clams at Holts Landing and Vicki Mertes of Dewey Beach has made similar claims. Those clams may well have been the victim of low levels of dissolved oxygen. Mertes, who attended Tuesday's meeting of county council, said a sore on her leg took a long time to heal last year and she blames the problem on swimming in Rehoboth Bay. Mertes even brought photos of her leg to the county council ses- sion. Pfiesteria, a microorganism which sounds like it's science fic- tion, is being tested for in Indian River. Those tests began last week and are being viewed by DNREC as a pro-active effort because the organism has not been found in Delaware recently (it has been po- tentiaUy linked to an Indian River fish kill of very large proportions in 1987). The organism is so bizarre and potentially toxic to fish and other aquatic life that it was the subject of a book called "And the waters turned to blood." David Small of DNREC said on Thursday that the first samples taken last week for pfiesteria are being analyzed. But he said results were not yet available. Hughes said there are no plans to continue to harvest more sea pfiesteria and is usually not fatal to fish. It is not considered harmful to humans, but DNREC is urging people to avoid handling or eating fish that appear affected, as a safe- ty precaution. "There has been no definitive link be- tween pfiesteria and the watermen in the Pocomoke," said Miller. "The only defini- tive link was in Dr. Burkholder's laborato- ry...Those symptoms have not been proven in the real world." "There is no reason to suggest not to fish or swim in Delaware," he said. Sussex County Council urged the state to continue water testing and to also begin testing in the Nanticoke River before poten- tial problems occur there. Angie Moon photo Testing the waters of the Inland Bays on Aug. 7 are (I-r) Roy Miller, Ben Anderson, Sergio Huerta and Dave McQuaide, all DNREC officials. They began testing Indian River for the possible presence of pfiesteria which was linked to a 1987 fish kill in Indian River. letuce this year. He said that now the state wants to consider what it did, to take time to come up with a scientific strategy to best deal with sea lettuce. He agreed with Copp that there are still large quanities of the sea weed present in the bays, but he said that he is not certain that is a bad thing since the sea weed may provide some useful habitat. "There are a lot more ques- tions...It is a very complex issue," according to Hughes, who said he sympathizes with the clammers. "We did not make everybody happy, but we cleaned a lot of shoreline," he said of this sum- mer's clean-up. Hughes said aerial photography of the bays will help determine where sea lettuce concentrations are for future efforts while Schroeder pointed to contining ef- forts of the Center for the Inland Bays as another reason for poten- tial optimism about the future of Delaware's bays. But Cliff and Kay Copp remain among the skeptics. "Maybe a lot of people don't realize how bad it is," Kay Copp said. Water use plan debate continues at Aug. 21 Lewes workshop By Michael Short The second round of public workshops to consider a water use plan for Delaware's inland bays will be held on Thursday, Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. at the University of Delaware's College of Marine Studies campus. A water use plan is meant as a way to balance heavy use of the bays by often competing interests. Those uses, which range from sailboats to water skiers and para- sailers, sometimes also compete with the frequently fragile ecolo- gy of the area. The plan is meant to balance those uses withotrt using heavy handed restrictions, according to Jim Falk of the College of Marine Studies' Sea Grant Advisory Pro- gram. Suggestions at the last meeting included increasing enforcement, buying a boat to provide environ- mental suggestions or advice to people as they use the bays, re- stricting boaters to motors which cause less water pollution and do- ing more to control the growth of sea lettuce algae. Ideas ranged from cleaning up pollution to increasing clamming beds. Falk has pledged that everyone will have a chance to be involved and said that this a chance for the public to make its voice heard. The written announcement of the Aug. 21 meeting describes the overall goal as "to address the many competing and potentially conflicting uses of the inland bays and strive for a balance between protecting the bays' natural re- sources and allowing for public use for current and future genera- tions. More specifically, the plan will be designed to provide enjoyable and safe recreational experiences for the general public, to benefit and protect existing bay uses, to provide convenient and adequate access to the bays and to protect and enhance the bay's living re- sources, habitat and water quali- ty." "Input is still needed from a wide range of interest groups and individuals. "Plan to attend the meeting and provide input into developing a water-use plan that is well-con- ceived and balances protection of the bay's resources and accomo- dates traditional recreational us- es;" Falk wrote. DelDOT lays By Michael Short Delaware's Department of Transportation (DelDOT) has un- veiled plans for a new access management plan designed to bring consistency to decisons about who and how someone gets access to roadways in Delaware. On Aug. 7, DelDOT held a four-hour workshop at Del Tech to try to explain the new proposal. Access has often proved contro- versial and it's been used to either deny or grant approval for large developments like Wal-Mart. Such decisions have been espe- out access ciaUy crucial along Route 1. But there is a better way to make such decisions, according to Joel Leidy, a subdivision engineer with DelDOT. The new proposed access management proposal sets seven different levels of road- ways, ranging from interstate free- ways to country roads. The seven different levels would have different access stan- dards based upon traffic numbers, traffic speed, existing develop- ment, use by pedestrians and bicy- clists etc. It's meant to provide clear standards for every roadway management policy plan and it could be in place as early as January. Leidy said that the new policy will bring predictabilty to the process. For example, a Lowe's or Wal-Mart would know the stan- dards it must meet to gain ap- proval before it spends thousands in engineering and traffic impact statements. That benefits every- one by saving time, money and aggravation, he said. "It will take a lot of the guess- work out," Leidy said. Delaware roads have not been Continued on page 11