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Something stinks in cover-up of Inner Harbor odor

This big, deep, dark, mystery being investigated by the Baltimore City Department of Public Works and the Maryland Department of the Environment is more of the city's (and state's) cover-up of deplorable conditions at the Inner Harbor. Kimberly Burgess, the city's director of surface water management, won't confirm or rule out a sewage spill or leak. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department of the Environment discounts the odor complaints as likely a continuation of the algae bloom that generated noxious smells and killed fish in the harbor.

Let's come out of the rabbit hole and say what it is. This was the result of a massive sanitary sewage discharge into the harbor. On its best day, the water in the harbor is an ugly witches brew of smelly, grayish colored water with an underwater visibility of a couple of feet. Highly polluted water like this is nothing new to the old East Coast ports and is caused by industrial discharge, polluted storm water runoff, and sanitary sewage discharge. On the day of the "big mystery," the water in the entire west end of the Inner Harbor was black, full of sanitary sewage debris and had the odor of concentrated sanitary sewage. At the plaza at Light and Pratt Streets, the smell was nauseating. The smell, and sight of the water taxis churning through the black sewage, was enough to make one sick.

We don't need to wait for the government to unravel this mystery. Every time there is a major storm, there is a big discharge of sanitary sewage into the Patapsco from an undersized sewage treatment plant upstream. Because of the incredible concentration of the sewage in the west end of the Inner Harbor and the clear weather at the time of this incident, this wasn't the usual discharge. The waterkeeper spotted sanitary debris near Domino Sugar. Because of the massive proportions of this leak, it wasn't like someone tipped a bucket of sewage into the water, as the government representatives seemed to imply. This could only be the result of the rupture of a large diameter sanitary sewer main which discharged into the harbor for a significant period of time. In such a case, there would have been many other signs of the leakage which preceded the final blowout. The preceding conditions likely went on for a significant period of time. The concentrated sewage smell dissipated after several days, indicating that the leak had been stopped shortly after the Inner Harbor became a public health nightmare, and an impending financial dead zone. It was likely that had been stopped prior to the interviews with the city and state.

The people of Baltimore deserve an honest explanation of what went on, not the big question mark. Covering up continuing problems like this and the continued violence do no one any good. We want to know how these problems are being handled and what is being done to prevent recurrence.

Gary Moyer, Baltimore

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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