Invasive zebra mussels found in Hyde's Quarry, Undersea Outfitters to move out

The county gave local dive company Undersea Outfitters until Sunday, July 8, to move out of Hyde’s Quarry in Westminster after invasive species were found there more than a month ago.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources confirmed the presence of zebra mussels in the lake on May 24 — and after deliberating during a closed meeting, the Board of County Commissioners sent the company a notice to cease its operations by Sunday so plans to eradicate the species could be implemented.

The notice to cease operations at the quarry was made because the county plans to use the lake as a water source in the future, and the mussels could contaminate that. But the notice also means the dive company will have to close its business after 18 years.

“My biggest problem is they did it without having any kind of hearing on it, and there was no recommendation from the Department of Natural Resources to actually close it,” said one diver, Andrew Gilley.

DNR confirmed the presence of the species, but said it is up to the county to decide what to do with the information.

“Zebra mussels have been found all over the state of Maryland,” said Gilley, “and as a matter of fact, there’s one quarry in Virginia that actually managed to eradicate them. So without even being given the opportunity to get rid of them, they just kicked us out.”

Laird Brown, the owner of Undersea Outfitters, said the news is also troubling as this location is one of only two in Maryland and brings a lot of business to the county by way of divers and snorkelers.

“You know, Carroll County has been the dive capital of Maryland,” Brown said. “We’ve done more scuba diving in Maryland because of Hyde’s than anywhere else in the state.

“We were bringing people from the surrounding areas,” he said, “coming to our county and spending money — and that's going to stop. It seems to me the county is cutting off their nose to spite their face.”

County spokeswoman Chris Winebrenner said commissioners held the meeting in a closed session not to keep it from the public, but because they were “administrating an existing license agreement and managing county property, which does not fall under the Open Meetings Act.”

Winebrenner also said commissioners are concerned about the zebra mussels spreading to other water sources, like Liberty Reservoir.

The dangers of zebra mussels

“For water supplies, zebra mussels could potentially clog and damage intake infrastructure,” said DNR Chief Public Information Officer Gregg Bortz on Thursday.

Zebra mussels harm the environment as they are filter feeders, straining water for the food they need, according to findings published on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Minnesota Sea Grant website. Feeding by zebra mussels can remove so many microscopic plants and animals from the base of the food web that they can starve native fish and wildlife in lakes and rivers.

Originally from Russia, the species made its way to the United States on transoceanic ships, the site states, and once present they reproduce quickly — with a fully mature female mussel producing several hundred thousand eggs per season.

“Today, scientists know that zebra mussels can cause increases in toxic blue-green algae, including Microcystis, which produces a poison that causes liver damage when ingested by humans and wildlife,” states the site. “Decaying algae can make waters uninhabitable by causing low levels of dissolved oxygen that result in fish kills. Since 1998, induced algae blooms can trigger botulism type E outbreaks that have killed tens of thousands of loons and other waterfowl.”’

The species was first found in Maryland in 2008 and the amount increased 50-fold by 2014, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Since the mussels were found at Hyde’s Quarry in late May, the department has provided information to Undersea Outfitters and its divers on how to prevent them from spreading any farther.

The county

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said because Hyde’s Quarry was originally purchased with plans to use it as a future water source, eradication of the zebra mussels is necessary — and ending scuba activity at the quarry is an important measure to achieve that.

“Some of the things I’ve heard,” said Frazier, “that we jumped to this decision, we considered … other options, what can we do. We tried to get as much information as we could — we don’t make hasty decisions.

“It’s the last resort,” he said. “We don’t want to put anyone out of business.”

Frazier also said Undersea Outfitters’ lease contract with the county states the lease could be terminated with a month’s notice, and that plans to use quarry lake as a future water source has been public knowledge for years — so the company knew it could not stay there forever.

But Brown said the decision seemed a hasty one to him because he offered for his divers to clean the mussels out of the quarry lake and to install a decontamination tank for diving equipment.

“They just didn’t want to hear it,” he said. “They are just adamant about doing nothing, just shutting me down.

“I use that facility to help train the fire departments and the police departments, anybody that’s got a dive team in the state, including Gamber,” Brown said. “They come up and use the body of water. I don’t charge them anything; we’ve got stuff in [the lake] that helps them with training, aids how to recover vehicles and that kind of thing. We’ve been doing that for years as a public service. There’s a lot of this that’s affecting a lot of people that the county doesn’t seem to care about.”

The Gamber volunteer fire company hasn’t been to the quarry for more than a year, though. And its spokesman, Bruce Bouch, said the lake closing down for dive activity wouldn’t affect Gamber’s water rescue team.

“It has been over a year since we’ve gone to Hyde’s,” said Bouch on Friday, “because there were already issues [with the zebra mussels] that’d been brought up. So we canceled all trainings there, and we already moved to another location for trainings up in Frederick County.”

Undersea Outfitters is hosting its last dives at the quarry Sunday, this weekend being its last for recreation.

A twilight and dive was scheduled for Friday evening, and the quarry will be open at 9 a.m. on Saturday, and Sunday. There will also be a Diver Stress and Rescue class at noon Saturday.

Although the dive shop is not closing, Brown said he isn't certain what the future will bring without a demand for the scuba gear he rents and sells.

"The intention is not to close Undersea Outfitters," he said Saturday. "But all that will depend on the impact of the closing of the quarry.

"People used to rent gear," said Brown, " and they buy equipment and stuff because of Hyde's. Hyde's drove a lot of the business here in Carroll County."

jennifer.turiano@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7898

twitter.com/jturianoCCT

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