And so it was after Earth Day 2010 that the Waterfront Partnership unveiled its, shall we say, ambitious goal to make Baltimore’s Inner Harbor two of two seemingly impossible things: Swimmable, and Fishable. Not only swimmable and fishable, but swimmable and fishable in ten years. The initially touted details involved spreading awareness of the perils of litter, construction or large marsh-barges and other measures that at that time I deemed “a bit cutesy” when faced with the astronomical amount of literal-and-figurative dogshit lurking within the Harbor’s sediments. And maybe it was a bit naive of me to think that through the creation of this initiative it was a sly grab at Federal and/or State grant monies, but as it turns out the ambition is a lot more far-reaching and applies to the entire city, as well as surrounding county – so people can swim in the harbor.
Which brings us to today, when mayor SRB and the Waterfront Partnership put on a show announcing a “full court press” with a year of planning behind it, aimed at reducing litter, pollution and sewage leaks which all feed directly into the body of water, making it inhospitable for fish and swimming enthusiasts.
Which will cost, as an estimate, over $220 million over the next nine years.
Now while I would agree that the environment, as an issue, is important for a nearly-post industrial city like Baltimore where the harbor has been ravaged by nearly two centuries of uninterrupted pollution, *right now* the perception seems to be “We’re continuing to develop the waterfront so residents of Harborview can enjoy that water they spent so much money to look at on a daily basis.” I realize this isn’t necessarily the case, that the folks at the Waterfront Partnership are legitimate conservationists on a mission, but at a time when entire city blocks continue to look like this and we’re closing down public pools due to budgetary constraints, it seems pretty mind numbing. Leave it to Twitter to find someone else who can say it in 140 characters or less:
But the figure of over $200 million doesn’t just come alone, the implementation plan proposed offers a slew of short-and-long-term strategies for accomplishing a 2020 swimmable, fishable harbor. I cherry picked the ones from the Sun’s coverage, with commentary. Enjoy!
- Various sewage tracking, fixing, screening, monitoring measures via boosted city and county funding.
Shouldn’t this already be in place? Baltimore City has been paying millions in fines over the past ten+ years due to failing sewage infrastructure (as reported at length by CP a few years ago), for which roughly a billion dollars was apparently earmarked over the span of several years, over ten years ago. I guess we forgot about that, or something.
- Create a “HarborStat” to track cleanup progress, and consider a flag system similar to one used on Boston’s Charles River to notify the public when bacteria levels are too high for swimming.
Ah yes, the time-honored tradition of [insert word]STAT rendered upon us by Martin O’Malley, for when you *really* need metrics to describe whatever unachievable goals you have for your district! CrimeSTAT worked so well for the city! BaySTAT works so well for the Bay! Why wouldn’t HarborSTAT work for the Harbor? Where’s StatSTAT when you need it, to make sure the [insert word]STAT programs are working at full efficiency?
- Pass bottle-deposit and bag-fee laws to curb littering. Refundable bottle deposits elsewhere have encouraged recycling, the plan says, and small fees on disposable bags have spurred shoppers to bring reusable sacks.
Why yes of course, there’s got to be some sort of legislation-based fee increase somewhere in there, right? So we’re going to possibly raise the bottle tax in Baltimore City to 5 cents to pay for schools, and then implement a bottle deposit to pay for future dips in the Inner Harbor, yes? Dear Pepsi: start putting your products into *CARTONS*. As for that ol’ chestnut the Plastic Bag Fee, good god, we’ve been over this a million times (FOR OVER THREE YEARS) and I can’t bear to type another word on the matter.
- Develop “greening” plans for all 209 city neighborhoods and communities throughout the county, encouraging residents to plant trees and “rain gardens” for soaking up storm runoff.
“Hey Baltimore County citizen, you should plant some trees and/or rain gardens in your prefab development and/or suburban property so people can swim in the Inner Harbor.” “A cleaner, greener Sandtown-Winchester!!”
- Use the city’s many vacant lots to help reduce runoff. The plan estimates that up to 30 percent of the 10,000 city-owned empty lots would be suitable for storm water control projects.
I actually like this idea. Sadly though, the city seems to cling to the notion that its enormously vast swaths of vacant lots and abandoned properties have some sort of “fair value” and refuse to just give them away to people who want to use them for anything useful like say, urban farming, and storm water control isn’t even profitable! But I suppose if this idea were packaged in a “Hey! In 10 years you’ll be able to swim in the harbor because of this vacant lot *WINK WINK*” then it would be met with thunderous applause.
Part 2: Conclusion
At the end of the day, all of these environmental measures and steps to unfuck the Inner Harbor from an unending death spiral brought on by decades of industrial abuse and the advent of suburbia are a good thing, but wrapping them in a unicorn-like fantasy of swimming and fishing right next to the USS Constellation is silly at best. If anything, I’d be much more likely to support this platform:
We’re Trying To Do What Needs To Be Done To Unfuck The Environment.
Sewage infrastructure, fining people for littering and dumping, waste/storm water management, these are all things that the government should be doing and continue to do, not so folks can swim in the harbor or catch fish in the harbor, but so future generations of Baltimoreans won’t have to look at their city and consistently frown at how disgusting it is overall. Focusing on the one aspect of the city that already receives such an enormous level of attention and resources gives the sense that “we’re all pitching in so tourists and rich people can enjoy themselves” and it’s the wrong way to go about it. Granted, I doubt the Waterfront Partnership will adopt my platform due to its use of F-bombs, but *maybe they should consider it* (and pay me for coming up with it).
….that’s it, pretty much.