The Port of Baltimore and the Chesapeake Report

At the Steinweg Facility in the Port of Baltimore, I learned how the world works with the shipment of trade goods from one place to another. After a presentation we took a tug boat tour of the working waterfront of Baltimore City. Prior to this tour I had not seen any part of the river past Baltimore’s inner harbor, and what I saw changed the way I view the world. The variety of industries lining the banks of the Patuxent river were incredible to see and learn about as we headed up to the tiny (relative to the size of rest of the waterway) inner harbor and back downriver past Fort McHenry. I loved this experience because I could see my home from a whole new perspective that I had never seen before.

The Port of Baltimore is an industrial giant that exports and imports a huge abundance of resources, the quantity of which is never before seen. It was unreal. In the presentation we received, we learned about how this systems functions as an extremely efficient, organized, and profitable machine of commodities production and transportation. We learned about all the different ships that come in and out of the Patuxent River. A total 1830 cargo ships and 102 cruise ships come into the port of Baltimore every year, which is hard to fathom, but represents a humongous amount of goods that come into Baltimore. Aside from learning about the transit of trade goods and the unnatural nature of the industrial waterway, a major focus of the day was the environmental issues that the Port of Baltimore is directly involved in solving. The Issues being addressed include air quality, water quality, climate change, sea level rise, storm surge protection, storm water runoff (city implemented), discharge permits (state implemented), and the issue of how to be sustainable.

The Port of Baltimore is mitigating these issues through a sustainability plan and climate action plan. The quality of air and water is improved by implementing the clean air and clean water acts. Despite the efforts to clean up the air and water, there are many factors that make the cleanup progress very slow. The vessels that come into the port are not the main cause of water degradation, but since they are so massive and numerous people can easily point a finger. In fact, the urban waste coming into the Patuxent is the main reason for the quality of the water getting worse. This is due to the outdated, deteriorating storm water and sewage infrastructure of the city of Baltimore.

The Storm Water Remediation Fee, aka the Rain Tax is intended to rebuilt the infrastructure and to measure and improve waters before they are discharged. The trouble with this tax is the limited demographics in Baltimore, where 106,000 people live under the poverty line and %25 of the population has a higher education degree. These socioeconomics limit the effectiveness of taxation, and the issues the city is facing aren’t getting any better. The problem with the current infrastructure is that fecal matter intrusion leads to serious bay nutrient pollution from all the sewage infiltration. In other words, the system is cracked, and waste is getting into the water. What are the consequences of a struggling demographics n a city that needs to improve its infrastructure? One solution that was presented, and is being taken with a grain of salt, is to get the property tax up and limit other veins of society to focus on improving the health of the Patuxent and the bay to ensure the overall health of the people living in the area.

Blue Water Baltimore is understands whats going on with the revenue generated by industry so they provide reasons why the rain tax shouldn’t be raised. Instead, as a best management practice (BMP) , funds generated should be redirected to maximize productivity to move forward progressively. This goes hand in hand with the BMP of incentive programs in the commercial sector to help with compliance with water quality restoration. So what is the result of all this effort to save the life of the bay? Has there been any progress?

I found the answer to this question when we visited Horn Point Laboratory after the Port of Baltimore. The health of the bay has improved marginally since 2011, scoring a C in the Chesapeake Bay 2012 report card released by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Overall, from 1986 – 2012 there has been no serious increase in the health of the Chesapeake.This report card is based on 7 indicators: water clarity, dissolved oxygen, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, benthic community, chlorophyll (algae), and aquatic grasses. These help scientists understand what is going on with the bay because each indicator is a major part of whether or not the bay is healthy.
They are also interconnected: too much nitrogen and phosphorus = too much algae, too much algae = less dissolved oxygen and less water clarity, less dissolved oxygen and water clarity = less benthic community and aquatic grasses.

Here is a quick synopsis of the regional health of the bay. The upper bay, subject to devastating sedimentation from the Conowingo dam of the lower Suquehanna river, is improving in water clarity and total nitrogen, aquatic grasses, and chlorophyll are decreasing. Decline in aquatic grasses isn’t good because they provide habitat and keep the water healthy, but a decline in nitrogen and chlorophyll is definitely a good thing. The mid bay region health is in serious decline due to all indicator scores increasing except for the aquatic grasses which are decreasing. All bad things. The lower bay health is improving due to more dissolved oxygen, lower total nitrogen and lower chlorophyll. Other indicators went unchanged.

This day extremely eye opening and I truly appreciate the experiences I had because they helped me see the world through they eyes of the capitalist and the conservationist. The first half of this day I saw the wonders of mankind’s impressive intuition in all its industrial glory, and the second half I saw the effects that the massive industries forged by a capitalism-driven, disposable consumer culture demand has created. From seeing the might of industry and the attempt to spread environmental awareness of the problems created by this might, yet again I saw a David vs. Goliath scenario, and for too long in this country and across the globe Goliath has been winning every time.

I will end with this:

The almighty dollar has overpowered the almighty Earth because of the insatiable thirst for the short term satisfaction of this self interested curse. Until we begin to live for the Earth from whence we came, we never be free from the slow and painful path of destruction blame game our species has chosen for its commercial acclaim.

Yes, species, animals is what we are,
We beat the food chain, we raised the bar, but
We are still a part of everything near and far,
We are the only ones who can stop us,
We are the only means for the survival of this;

This life, these rivers, that bird, this bee
This is all that is, all that could ever be,
This is all that we could be on this rock for,
This is all we need, but the crowd calls for more.

More money, more greed, a brand new some-shit-you-don’t-need,
More this, more that, less trufula trees, more thneeds
More people, more houses, more cars, more excess
More than ever before, so much more it becomes less

Less life, less trees, less birds, less bees
Less mind, less spirit, less soul, less ease
Less care, less aware; everything had to go
Less here, less there, what we reap we must sow

You do not own this planet, nor do I
You are not the reason that we all die,
You and I are just the product of those passed into the abyss
You and I are still a part of this

We are the life,
We are the death,
We are all that is left.



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