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Five questions for Frank Hamons

BiologyPort of BaltimoreInner Harbor

Frank Hamons, a trained biologist who for the past 30 years has led efforts to dredge the port of Baltimore's channels, has left the Maryland Port Administration for the private sector.

Hamons, 71, who worked his last day as deputy director for harbor development Oct. 31, has taken a new job with Baltimore-based Gahagan & Bryant Associates, an engineering and consulting firm that focuses on dredging and port development projects.

He will be replaced by David Blazer, the port administration's chief of dredged material management, who has worked under Hamons for the past three years.

Hamons leaves behind a legacy of programs geared toward improving the port's bottom line by digging out and finding a safe place to put some of the bay's muckiest dredged material — an effort considered critical for drawing in new generations of mega-ships, but no easy task in a harbor contaminated by centuries of industry.

Still, under Hamons' watch the port has had success, expanding the depths of its channels to among the deepest on the East Coast and using some of the dredged material to rebuild an environmentally friendly habitat on Poplar Island.

An outdoorsman at heart, Hamons said he kept the Chesapeake Bay's best interests in mind while helping one of the state's largest economic engines thrive.

As he makes his career transition, The Baltimore Sun caught up with him to chat about his work over the years.

Contaminated dredged material, including from the harbor, has complicated efforts over the years to deepen shipping channels and expand the port. Can you explain what exactly is in the muck and why it's of concern?

Bottom sediment in Baltimore Harbor is more contaminated in some spots, less so in others, with much of it similar in contaminant levels found in the middle of Chesapeake Bay. However, Baltimore has been an industrial harbor since it was designated as a harbor in 1706. Many industries including shipyards have operated within its boundaries in the Patapsco River over the last 307 years, many during times when the river was seen as a convenient place to dispose of industrial as well as municipal wastes.

Metals, organics, hydrocarbons and other compounds of various types have been released into the river during that long period of time, much of it before we became environmentally conscious that many of these materials, if present in sufficient and sometimes rather minute concentrations, caused both short-term acute effects such as fish mortalities and chronic long-term effects. … Some metals and industrial compounds are capable of bio-accumulating through the food web, with increasingly severe consequences.

Beginning in the middle of the 1900s we, as a society, have become increasingly concerned with regulating and restricting the release of such harmful materials, and the Maryland Port Administration has responded by instigating and supporting many studies and investigations to determine how to operate its facilities without adverse effects on the environment of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Partly because of Maryland law, it's not easy to find a new place to put dredged material. Can you talk about the Sparrows Point proposal, and what you think might play out there?

The Coke Point area of Sparrows Point is an attractive site to [the port authority] because of the potential to environmentally improve an industrial brownfield area while creating a critically needed dredged material placement site to help maintain port of Baltimore shipping channels, keeping them safe and efficient for the transit of cargo ships which are growing increasingly larger on a worldwide basis. In 15 years or so the site can be developed into a marine terminal, growing the port, keeping it competitive and creating thousands of new good-paying, family-supporting blue-collar jobs for Baltimore and Maryland.

[The port authority] is also interested in another area of Sparrows Point where an auto terminal might be made operational within three years of a signed agreement, expediting the creation of jobs and economic benefits for local neighborhoods and jurisdictions.

There has been some consideration of finding alternative uses for the dredged material — turning it into something instead of getting rid of it. Any promise in that? What can dredged material be turned into with modern technology?

Innovative reuse has the potential to turn dredged material into materials which can be used as fill, foundation and construction materials for building roadways as well as residential and commercial buildings. Other uses may also be possible, but any innovative reuse must be thoroughly tested and investigated to make certain the materials are safe for such use, are stable, meet all relevant specifications and requirements and do not leach or release any harmful substances into the environment, once in place.

You were a biologist and DNR man turned into a shipping industry port employee. Do you have an anecdote to share in which you think having both feathers in your cap helped you come to a novel solution to a problem at the port?

Both the Poplar Island restoration and Masonville projects are examples where economic necessity and environmental stewardship are being effectively combined and served by each project, Poplar Island by recreating disappearing island habitat using dredged material and Masonville by providing dredged material placement capacity while restoring one of the worst brownfields and dump sites in Baltimore Harbor to environmental viability. Masonville Cove is being restored and has just recently become the first Urban Wildlife Refuge site in a new program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The project is also providing access to the water for the nearby communities of Brooklyn and Curtis Bay for the first time in more than 70 years.

You're headed to Gahagan & Bryant Associates. Why the departure from public service now, and what will you be doing for them?

This was one of the most difficult professional decisions I have ever made, but the timing was right. Water projects such as these take as much as 14 to 16 years to develop, and I am able to turn program management over to those who will be able to provide continuity and effective management for the next round of projects, all critical to the continued success of the port of Baltimore. However, I still have interest in promoting the absolutely essential role of ports to our nation's economy and quality of life, and to do that the ships need safe and effective channels to transit. It is a fact that 95 percent of international commercial cargo moves on ships and through ports, and I am happy to be able to continue to be involved, perhaps on a more national basis and to do that with a company with a reputation for the highest quality work and professional integrity in the areas of dredging, dredged material management and harbor development.

krector@baltsun.com

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Frank Hamons

Title: Recently retired as the Maryland Port Administration's deputy director for harbor development; he is joining Gahagan & Bryant Associates

Age: 71

Residence: Annapolis

Education: Biology degree from Frostburg State University

Birthplace: Hagerstown

Family: Wife, Gretchen; two daughters; one grandson.

Hobbies/interests: Being outdoors, fishing, shooting sporting clays.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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