Protect What's Precious

I am a member of the Ross family, which has owned Maiden Point Farm on Cuckold Creek for four generations. Maiden Point will be celebrating its 300th anniversary in 15 years.

Capt. James Neale built Maiden Point and located the house 100 yards from Cuckold Creek, where it was easy to supervise boats that carried the farm's tobacco plants to awaiting clipper ships on the Potomac River.

Today, my family members are the guardians and owners of this important historic landmark in Charles County. But I am not writing this letter to highlight our historic farm but rather to focus on the importance of stewardship of our region's precious resources, its rich history and wildlife-filled environment.

For more than half a century, my family has had an intimate relationship with Cuckold Creek. We have been eyewitnesses to the impact of the Swan Point development on this critical tributary of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. The Swan Point sewer outflow pipe spills into Cuckold Creek just a few yards from our pier. Over the past 25 years, I have seen our shoreline and waters fouled by 70,000 gallons of toxic effluents every day.

Recently, I heard that the Maryland Department of the Environment considers Cuckold Creek a "dead or closed" creek. It may be dead in one way but certainly not in another. Our creek struggles to continue as a life source for many migratory birds -- too many to name -- and as a recreational playground for boaters, water skiers, tubers, jet skiers, hunters and watermen, who frequently set trot lines to pull in crabs adjacent to our shoreline during the long summer days. No one ever informed us that our creek was "closed."

Last month, Robert Blee, our physician for the past 25 years and a resident of Swan Point, moved his Hobie Catamaran to our farm for winter storage. (Blee's parents were one of the first homeowners on Swan Point.) Blee told us he had never seen the creek in such distress, nor had he ever had such difficulty navigating his boat to our shoreline. There was only a small channel of navigable waters, hundreds of feet from our shoreline. This problem was caused by the high levels of effluents and microbial contamination, which were caused by large flows of partially treated sewage.

A dead creek? Certainly not for the new life forms that are growing at such a pace that you cannot navigate the waters near our shoreline with a lightweight catamaran. According to another Swan Point homeowner, the water samples from our creek for fecal coliform and bacteria are "off the charts and too numerous to count."

Cuckold Creek is alive today as more toxins and disease-causing microbes -- E. coli, deadly parasites, viruses and bacteria -- are dumped into waters where hundreds of residents, young and old alike, swim, boat and fish.

According to Blee, who asked that I emphasize several key facts on his behalf: "A coliform count is a measure of the concentration of E. coli in the water. It is a surrogate marker for the amount of fecal material in the water. There are literally hundreds of other fecal organisms (bacterial and viral) that are not measured that are also in these waters -- all of which, in the right circumstances, could cause illness or death in exposed individuals.

"A rise in the coliform count in the water by tenfold indicates a tenfold rise in the fecal material finding its way into the water, and a tenfold rise in many pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Dumping the nitrogen and phosphorous into the water is like dumping fertilizer directly into the creek, then to the river and the bay.

"This is something that all agencies and individuals have been asked not to do, in order to decrease the algae growth and help restore the bay to health."

For the past 25 years, U.S. Steel Corp./Swan Point, Charles County and the Maryland Department of the Environment have demonstrated irresponsible behavior. There has been no water monitoring, no health warnings, no cleanup or any corrective sewage initiatives. How can that be? How could there be so little interest in the public's safety?

Based on their negligent history these past 25 years, I have no confidence in the future management of the proposed larger wastewater treatment facility for Swan Point, which will eventually dump 10 times the amount of effluents (600,000 gallons per day) into Cuckold Creek. Nor do I have reason to believe that the sprawl developer, U.S. Steel, will ever change its polluting ways. U.S. Steel's 25 years of indifference toward its neighbors on Cuckold Creek and Cobb Neck speaks volumes.

Swan Point's proposed wastewater facility won't improve our water quality, especially with the current ill-advised levels of allowable pollutants permitted to be dumped into our waters. We must stop the dumping of sewage, not increase it -- and certainly not increase it by 10 times its current flow. . . .

We, the voters and our elected officials, are the stewards of our county's natural resources. It is an environment of which we are so proud that we have the following statement on our tourism Web site: "Charles County, the gateway to historic Southern Maryland, is a place where you can find first-class fishing, a dense population of nesting bald eagles, acres of beautiful forest land, 150 miles of spectacular shoreline, enough history to fill several books, sumptuous fresh seafood, top-flight golf and the wildest wildlife this side of the Potomac."

As residents of Charles County, many of us have chosen the way of life described in our county's marketing message. I summon our county's elected officials to demonstrate strong leadership and make a commitment to protect our natural resources at all cost, not just for today, but for the future generations that will reside throughout the county and at historic Maiden Point.

Robinette Ross


Sprawl Is Not Inevitable

Poorly regulated development consumes our quality countryside and burdens taxpayers as new homeowners require more roads, classrooms, law enforcement and other public services, especially when new subdivisions are far from existing town centers.

For a variety of reasons, the St. Mary's Board of County Commissioners continues to grant permission for the construction of large housing developments in the Rural Preservation District. The Eldorado subdivision near Charlotte Hall and Grandview Haven in Morganza have recently received approvals.

In addition, the Leonardtown Council is experiencing financial difficulty because of its responsibility to maintain and repair of roads and sewers in new developments.

Regrettably, our county governments seem unable to direct growth into areas where infrastructure exists. Many Southern Maryland residents are frustrated with traffic congestion and angry about the loss of open space.

Many think sprawl is inevitable. But it's not.

In other counties in Maryland and other states, a proven track record exists. We can revitalize our deteriorating small towns, not with strip malls, but with parks, street grids, appropriate construction and attractively renovated buildings. Traditional towns such as Hughesville, Leonardtown and Chesapeake Beach can be restored.

The Sierra Club and the Southern Maryland Greens are sponsoring the showing of a video, "Save Our Land, Save Our Towns," with discussion after, at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the St. Mary's County Library in Leonardtown. Journalist Tom Hylton will show how to stop sprawl and prevent the tax increases that result from runaway development.

Frank L. Fox