Volume XI, Issue 13 ~ March 27 - April 2, 2003

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Dock of the Bay

Packing Your Disaster Kit?
If you’ve got a nuclear neighbor, don’t forget the potassium iodide

The first-aid kit the Department of Homeland Security advises you to pack to soften terrorism’s blow includes a short list of non-prescription drugs. At the top of the list, above aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever, is potassium iodide.

You may not have heard of it, and you may or may not be able to get it at your drugstore. But as war against Iraq pushes from threat to reality and the state and nation return to Code Orange in anticipation of retaliatory terrorist strikes, the doctors’ prescription includes potassium iodide for much of Chesapeake Country.

The doctors — the members of the American Thyroid Association — recommend potassium iodide in the kit of anybody who lives or works within a 200-mile radius of a nuclear power plant.

“The primary recommended response to any reactor accident is evacuation and sheltering, which is closing windows and staying home,” Dr. David Becker of the nuclear medicine department of New York Hospital said in a phone interview. “While sitting in cars or trying to move, potassium iodide would be protective and useful.”

Thus with Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant midway down Calvert County’s shore, everybody in Calvert, Anne Arundel and St. Mary’s counties on the Western Shore and Dorchester on the Eastern Shore might do well to get familiar with potassium iodide.

The reason, the Thyroid Association explains, is that “no one can predict how far radioactive iodine might spread after being released in a fallout cloud during an accident or attack.”

The protective umbrella they’d pop up covers a territory 10 times as big as the 20-mile safety zone drawn in the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 and due to go into effect this June.

The doctors’ prescription is 20 times as big as the current safety radius of just 10 miles.

Within that 10-mile radius of the Calvert Cliffs plant, potassium iodide was distributed last year to anybody who showed up at a distribution point — high schools and the county health department — to collect brown envelopes of the tablets, which resemble small Alka Seltzer.

“That included all of Calvert south of Prince Frederick,” said county deputy health officer Jeff Robbins. The target population included some 35,000 people, Robbins said. Only about a third bothered to collect their entitlement of two tablets per family member.

The disinterest might be explained in part by the fact that potassium iodide has been ignored by both the military and energy-producing branches of the nuclear industry.

“This is power plant country, and people down here say it’s never been offered to them either at the plant or on nuclear submarines, so they pooh-pooh it,” said Lori Sikorski of Lusby. Sikorski picked up 10 tablets for her family of five at last year’s distribution at Patuxent High School. But she said no information came with the tablets, and she wouldn’t have known what to do with them had she not been active in the PTA group that helped promote the distribution.

Courtesy of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the tablets were free to Calvert countians, as they are to all citizens who live within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant. States act as the intermediaries, but only 20 of the 34 states with power plants have taken the commission up on its offer.

“The costs are paid not by the U.S. Treasury but by the nuclear utilities, who pass on the cost to consumers in their electric bills,” said Peter Crane, a former commission lawyer who helped gain the drug’s acceptance.

The terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001, brought potassium iodide to Chesapeake Country. But advocates like Crane had argued for decades that the inexpensive tablets should be part of the standard preparedness program in any region with a nuclear power plant.

Potassium iodide protects the thyroid gland — and only the thyroid — by flooding it with safe iodine and thus preventing it from absorbing the radioactive iodine let loose in a nuclear release. It should be taken six to 12 hours before or within the first few hours after exposure to radioactive iodine.

The drug’s protective power became clear after the 1986 nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl. Shifting winds blew a radioactive cloud all over Europe. Only Poland, which distributed the drug, showed no increase in thyroid cancer.

If you’re not in Calvert Cliffs’ 10-mile zone and want to stock your own first-aid kit with potassium iodide, you’ll have to spend your own money. A box of 14 tablets sells for $9.17 at Chesapeake Care Drugs in Chesapeake Beach.


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Waiting for the London Town Ferry
What history has lost, heritage tourism may regain

photo by Sonia Linebaugh
As interim director of London Town, Donna Ware keeps history moving.
London Town has a history as a place of waiting. Today, it is waiting for the appointment of an executive director. Maybe that will be Donna Ware, interim director since the departure of Gregory Stiverson for the president’s job at Historic Annapolis.

“I hope Donna gets the job,” Stiverson says. “She’s wonderful.”
As for Ware, she’s waiting to see if the job is offered before committing herself. For now, she already has a great job as historic sites planner for Anne Arundel County.

“I’ve been in my job since 1983,” says Ware. “In fact, I really created and shaped this job. It’s hard to think of someone else taking over.”

While she’s waiting, Ware is busy. London Town, east at the juncture of the South River and Almshouse Creek, is bursting with projects and ideas. There’s an underground watering system that will be advertised for bid on May
1. The cost is already funded by a state bond bill from 1996. “My job is to make sure it keeps moving,” says Ware.
Ware also moves forward plans for London Town’s $5.1 million visitor center and museum. The center, to be built mostly underground at the site of an earlier waste-water treatment plant, will highlight London Town’s role as a tobacco port and transportation hub in the days when travelers waited here — some for the ferry to carry them across the water to Annapolis; others for tobacco or slaves to be delivered.

As travelers waited, a town of 30 to 40 homes grew up around them. Freemen waited in inns and taverns; they bought provisions in stores; they hired tailors, carpenters and ship builders. Slaves waited in terror to discover their fate.

photo by Sonia Linebaugh
At least 20 volunteers have helped master carpenter Russell Steele with the construction of the Lord Mayor’s House at Historic London Town and Gardens.
ounded in 1683, London Town rose and declined in the 77 years before the American Revolution. Losing a bid to become an official tobacco inspection station in 1747 nearly finished it off. The rise of Annapolis and the economic depression of the revolutionary years ended its run.

While London Town waited to be discovered by historians, it dwindled to a single building, the William Brown House and Tavern serving the last of the ferry- boat passengers. From 1828, the house served another kind of waiting. It was the almshouse for people waiting out their years in poverty. Its years as the “poor house” lasted until passage of the Welfare Act in 1965.

Now London Town is one piece of a Maryland Heritage Areas program, which Ware also helps to keep moving. The Annapolis-London Town-South County Heritage Area aims to stop the waiting and put tourists on the move — from the brick-lined streets of the 19th century to the transportation hub of the 18th century to the horse farms and farm fields and waterfront of the present.

Stiverson is another who helps to keep the Heritage project moving. “In Annapolis you only have part of the story,” he says. “The dead-white-guy part. You have to go to the Maritime Museum in Eastport to find out about the oystering. You have to go out into the county to find out about the steamboats. The Captain Salem Avery House in Shady Side is a wonderful part the regional story.”

Now he heritage area is waiting for funding. As London Town is waiting. “Fundraising is the key,” says Ware. “We have wonderful generous donations of time and money. We have at least 20 volunteers helping master builder Russell Steele with the construction of the Lord Mayor’s House. But then we still have the carpenter’s shop and Rumney’s Tavern to reconstruct. The William Brown House needs repairs.”

Waiting. Waiting and working. Eventually the Town of London will again grow up around us and the Heritage Area will grow up with it.

Maybe the ferry boat will come back. Some pieces of our history are worth waiting for.

Information? London Town: historiclondontown.com. Heritage Area: marylandhistoricaltrust.net.

— Sonia Linebaugh

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Liquefied Natural Gas Nears Home
on Chesapeake Bay
500-yard security zones to encircle tankers en route to Cove Point

If you think of it as a board game, with giant tankers as the pieces and the U.S. Coast Guard rolling the dice, you’ll see how close they’ve come to home. In this game, home is Cove Point on Calvert County’s southern shore, and that’s where Dominion Resources Inc. plans to reopen the three-decade-old disused dock to tankers delivering cargoes of liquefied natural gas.

In the latest move, the Coast Guard has proposed an operating plan defining the security zones to surround both the dock and the delivery tankers. This move follows last December’s Coast Guard decision to allow shipments of liquefied natural gas to pass through Chesapeake Bay. The next move will be public comment, with approval of the zones possible by June.

The in-Bay docks and land-based storage tanks — which together with three gas-turbine generators and pipeline make up the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal — would be surrounded by a 500-yard restriction zone. That’s 10 times the existing 50-yard restriction zone.

Three and a half miles to the north, Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant is the center of its own exclusion zone. Smaller zones have always theoretically existed in both places, but they were seldom enforced until September 11.

From its new Cove Point move, the Coast Guard acknowledges “adverse effects on the local maritime community that has been using the area as a fishing ground.” That’s its way of saying that its new rules make fishing the gas docks a pastime of the good old days.

“In the last several years, the Gas Docks have been the hottest place in the Bay. Rockfish go to the structure, all that underwater stuff, and with so much structure there the Docks have been beating the Bay Bridge,” says fishing guru Bill Burton. “Now 500 yards wipes out everything.”

What’s more, the loaded tankers traveling up the Bay from oil-producing countries are the locus of their own rolling security zone of 500 yards. Think of it as a bubble that moves with the ship as it moves up the chanel. With the 500-yard radius, the actual exclusion zone encompasses more than 31,000 square feet.

“Up and down the Bay, that could be one of the biggest effects unless they do it at night,” said Glenn James, president of the Maryland Charter Boat Association. “In spring and fall when we’re trolling in the channel, that will devastate us. That will affect the boats from Virginia all the way up, 300 charter boats at a time.”

As well as security zones, the operating plan includes what Brendan McPherson, Coast Guard spokesman at the office of the Chief of Port in Portsmouth, Va., calls “a standard baseline: advance notice of arrival, inspection, escort into Bay.” He also said “there may be other measures in place that we don’t want to disclose because it would negate their effects.”

Dominion isn’t saying just how many tankers will be making the trip. But it could be as many as “a tanker a day unloading,” according to Dan Donovan, spokesman for Dominion, a Virginia-based company that is one of largest energy providers in the northeast United States. Its holdings range from nuclear power plants to the gas dock and storage at Cove Point.

Liquefied natural gas will be piped to four towering holding tanks that are landmarks on Calvert’s lower eastern shore. From there, the gas is transported along 87 miles of pipeline to Loudon County, Va., and then to buyers.

As well as refitting the docks and their pumps — disused since 1980 — a fifth on-land storage tank will be erected to expand the plant’s storage capacity by 850,000 barrels. Even as the off-shore docks stood empty, the tanks have been full, receiving and storing gas transported by pipelines from around the nation. When the tankers start coming, the flow will reverse.

By May, the first tankers are expected to reach home.


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Way Downstream …

At Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, celebrants of the 100th anniversary of the nation’s refuge system last week sealed a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. Among items deposited in the metal cylinder were maps, printed materials and nutria teeth — “a slice of Blackwater, what the refuge is right now,” said staffer Tom Miller …

In Grasonville, there’s an extra reason to root for the Terps basketball team. An intern program at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center is being funded by the University of Maryland’s Fear the Turtle Fund. The fund, which began last summer, already has sponsored interns at Assateague State Park

In Washington, the 700,000-member Sierra Club has weighed in on the Iraq invasion — and the environmentalists are unhappy. “The best way to support American troops, save the lives of innocent Iraqis and prevent further environmental devastation, is to halt the fighting and proceed immediately with a peaceful, lawful, UN-sanctioned disarmament,” a statement read …

Our Creature Feature comes from daytime television, where the newest soap opera star on NBC’s Passions is an orangutan named Precious. Precious has been hired (for minimum wage? bananas?) to help care for old Mrs. Wallace.

And true to the show’s name, soon there may be some, uh, monkeying around. Producers tell us that Precious soon will be smitten with the program’s hunky star, Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald. We’re being told to wait and see what kind of inter-species relationship develops.

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Last updated March 27, 2003 @ 1:57am