March 16 marked the end of the winter outdoor show and conference season, culminating in a rewarding annual conference of the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association (MDOWA) at Solomons.
"Solomons" was always spoken with reverent tones in my family and was usually synonymous with all of Calvert County and even parts of St. Mary's County across the Patuxent River. Our family started going there 60 years ago. This is where I became a fisherman and bonded with my father, as we bottom-fished for hardheads and spot from a leaky rowboat.
Since I was into model airplanes in those pre-adolescent days, flights of exotic aircraft from Patuxent Naval Air Station - Skyraiders, Constellations with giant radar domes, etc. - added an air show dimension to our outings.
Solomons and Calvert County still has the great fishing and free "air shows" today, but now offers, all in a rural and small town atmosphere, great restaurants and lodging, historical tours and reenactments featuring the War of 1812 commemoration this year, archeological exploration at Calvert Cliffs, the Calvert Marine Museum and Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, nature preserves and parks, year-round festivals, biking and hiking trails, waterman tours and the list goes on. (See the sidebar for resources.)
Perhaps one of Calvert County's greatest assets is Tourism Specialist Joyce Baki, a "pro's pro" in travel, tourism and outdoor writing circles. As for Maryland Tourism's Connie Yingling, she retains her title of "Travel Goddess."
The conference featured a dawn photo shoot at Flag Pond Nature Center, a tour of estuarine exhibits being built at Calvert Marine Museum and a tour of Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (a great place to be featured in a future full column). We sampled Solomons' blossoming restaurant scene with lunch and a chef's presentation on smoked oysters at Stoney's Kingfishers, and a terrific dinner at The Striped Rock, which also featured a panoramic view of the Patuxent River and my kind of folk/Irish duets by Jackie Waymire and Gary Pape of Hangman's Faire. The dinner was proceeded by raw and steamed oysters provided by Tommy Zinn and the Calvert County Watermen's Association.
In addition to two craft improvement presentations, a War of 1812 commemoration program, a membership meeting and awards banquet, two discussions were especially noteworthy.
In my extensive research for the two February columns on "Fracking the Marcellus Shale," I was sometimes dismayed by claims of both umbrella industry groups and environmental groups on the complex issues involved, finding many statements simplistic, to misleading, to downright dishonest.
So I looked forward to the presentation by Dominion, which has been under attack by a coalition of environmental groups, using some arguments I found questionable, for the proposed upgrading of their existing facilities at Cove Point with capabilities to allow creation of liquified natural gas (LNG) for export.
Currently Dominion's proposal is awaiting Federal Energy Regulation Commission approval. The forthright remarks of Mike Frederick, Vice President for LNG Operations, did not disappoint. Salient points included:
Some of the claims of the environmental groups are simply not accurate, and some of their proposed solutions are unrealistic. Opposition to all fracking is the basis for much of their opposition to Cove Point upgrading.
The only totally safe and free energy solution is conservation, a solution rarely mentioned in many recent energy/environment debates.
A variety of energy solutions are needed for now and the immediate future including coal, nuclear and natural gas, as well as such renewables as biofuels, solar, geothermal and wind - all of which are employed by Dominion. (This is in line with the White House approach of "all of the above" solutions for meeting near term energy needs, although Mr. Frederick did not use this phrase.)
We need a national energy policy.
New Realities of the Chesapeake Panel
Thomas Miller, Director, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory
We've achieved success in that the Bay hasn't gotten worse despite the flood of people into the region in recent decades. We've failed in that we've little to show for the millions of dollars invested, e.g., oysters are at a level of 3/10ths of one percent from historic highs.
There is no credible debate whether global warming is occurring. The only debate is how much warming is due to human activity. In 75 years the climate of the Chesapeake will be equivalent to South Carolina today.
The buildup of sediment, some toxic, behind Conowingo Dam is a major problem that must be addressed soon.
Dr. Kelton Clark, Director, Patuxent Environmental and Aquatic Research Laboratory
We promote market-based solutions to environmental problems, e.g., oyster aquaculture filters water, improves habitat, removes nitrogen and provides marketable food.
The EPA-imposed Watershed Implementation Plan will have major impacts on residents throughout Maryland.
Captain Rachel Dean
We also use an economic environmentalism strategy. In addition to our work as watermen, we educate by taking people out on historical and cultural tours and offer "waterman for a day" trips where people can experience bay waterman culture by operating crab and eel pots, tonging for oysters, and participating in other harvesting methods.
Captain Tommy Zinn, President, Calvert County Waterman's Association
The bulk of our watermen's income comes from oysters and crabs.
The last two years were the most productive seasons in 30 years but not above the Bay Bridge. Sedimentation is the big problem with oysters now, and the oyster sanctuary regulations may backfire.
Watermen need a bigger advisory role in Bay management and developing regulations. The average waterman pays $1500 in fees. The average age of Maryland watermen is mid to late 50's.