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Students sink project into bay future
Candus Thomson -- On the Outdoors


Originally published June 1, 2003

As 30 students watched from the decks of two boats, adults gathered up parts of their school project and pushed them into the Chesapeake Bay. Then, in twos and threes, youngsters grabbed the remaining pieces and heaved them over the side for good measure.

Satisfied that their hard work was now resting in a watery grave, the happy kids went fishing.

What does one thing have to do with the other?

Plenty, as these young anglers learned this year with the help of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association.

The students from Baltimore and Howard counties and the Washington suburbs spent the winter making reef balls out of cement and chunks of rubble from Memorial Stadium.

Reef balls aren't new. There are more than 2,000 sites around the world, built by anglers, scuba divers and environmentalists who want to give fish and other marine critters a replacement home for destroyed natural habitat.

They look more like igloos than spheres, with flat bottoms that help ensure stability once they are positioned on the bay floor. Each one is constructed with openings and tunnels, imitating natural openings in reefs.

Bill Huppert, a member of the MSSA's Perry Hall chapter, got the balls rolling last year when he contacted a number of schools to see if they could incorporate the project into the curriculum or as part of a public service project.

He already had the enthusiastic support of the Oliver Beach Community Association, which volunteered manpower and equipment.

Eight schools said yes, including Perry Hall Elementary, Parkville Middle, Sparrows Point High and Sollers Point Technical. Hammond Elementary and Burtonsville Elementary in Howard County joined in.

Rainy weather slowed construction and the curing period. When it came time to open the molds, some balls crumbled like peanut butter cookies.

But by last week, students had completed 70 reef balls, which were loaded onto the Patricia Campbell, the 60-foot Chesapeake Bay Foundation oyster restoration workboat.

The students caught rides on a second foundation boat and the Seaclusion, donated for the day by Capt. Rob Sersen Jr. and Penny Soteria.

Under misty, gray skies and scattered rain showers Wednesday morning, the students watched as one by one, the foundation crew lowered the reef balls onto the six-acre Memorial Stadium Reef Sanctuary.

They laughed as several "smiley face" balls, created by the Sollers Point students, went overboard. Then some turned solemn as a ball with a brass plaque attached was lowered.

The plaque was in memory of Sophia Bishop, the PTA president at Cloverly Elementary in Montgomery County, who died during the school year. Her son, Cory, is a member of the fourth-grade class that contributed four reef balls for the project.

From their boats, the students gathered up the pieces of broken reef balls and added them to the pile below.

"I think it's more helpful for us to do a project like this instead of reading about it in a book," said Brittany Crimy, a Perry Hall fifth-grader. "I really care about the bay. It's just like a person. People deserve to live, and so does the bay."

Buzz off

In a breathtaking display of "the public be damned," the National Park Service on Friday gave riders of smelly, noisy personal watercraft the right to buzz around the north and south ends of Assateague Island.

It's debatable if the decision will harm the north end of the 37-mile island, which faces Ocean City. But the southern end - in Virginia - holds the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, a true jewel that should not be clouded by PWCs, or Polluting Wastes of Cash.

Before 2000, PWCs were allowed almost everywhere at Assateague. But the Clinton administration set a deadline for national parks to establish regulations governing the watercraft or impose a blanket ban. Last spring, officials at eight parks, including Assateague, had to temporarily ban PWCs while they finished drafting rules.

After completing their work, park service officials asked for comment and received 7,600 letters and e-mails. Of the total, 170 liked what they read, but 7,264 supported continuing the ban.

But the park service, now firmly in the clutches of big business (think Yellowstone snowmobiles and plane rides over the Grand Canyon) just plowed ahead.

In its so-called "final rule," the park service noted the lifting of the ban, effective June 30, would have "an overall positive impact on the local economy ... a result of an increase of other users, most notably canoeists, swimmers, anglers and traditional boaters seeking solitude and quiet, and improved water quality."

Solitude and quiet? Improved water quality?

Send in the clowns. Don't bother; they're here.

Fished out

As we close the books on another Code Orange security alert, it's time to ask the question: So what gives with Fisherman's Park below the Conowingo Dam?

The tiny sliver of green on the Harford County side of the Susquehanna River is shut down each time the federal government raises the security alert from yellow to orange.

The security managers at Exelon Corp., the utility that owns the dam and the park downstream, insist the closures are necessary to provide a safety buffer zone.

Give me a break. I said it here a year ago, and I'll say it again. How can anyone argue with a straight face that an attack couldn't come from the hiking trail or the boat launches upstream of the dam? Or, for that matter, from Route 1, which runs along the top of the dam?

A better-safe-than-sorry approach was prudent in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, but our elected leaders have told us to get on with life, and many institutions have taken that to heart.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has opened Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs to recreational use. Those two lakes supply water to 1.7 million people in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Access has been restored around Baltimore's reservoirs.

Boaters are allowed on the Potomac River in sight of the monuments and Reagan National Airport.

So please, Exelon, think up another excuse because this one just doesn't hold water.

Copyright 2003, The Baltimore Sun | Get home delivery

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