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Open Letter to the Editor; Pepco Oil Spill

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Posted on April 26, 2000:

Senator Dyson April 25, 2000

The Honorable Parris N. Glendening
Governor of Maryland
Maryland State House
100 State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Governor Glendening:

As you well know, Southern Maryland has been hit with an ecological disaster unlike any I’ve seen in my lifetime. I am of course referring to the disastrous Pepco oil spill which has set back Patuxent River replenishment efforts more years than scientific experts can even predict at this time.

To address the many concerns of my constituents in Southern Maryland, I held a public meeting April 24 in Calvert County that was attended by about 150 people. We had representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Pepco, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Department of the Environment on hand to inform us about the oil spill and to participate in a question and answer session.

If any good news came out of the meeting, it was that the MDE announced that “in cooperation with other state and local health and environmental officials” it lifted advisories it had earlier issued against harvesting and consuming crab, shellfish and fish out of the area affected by the spill.

I thought this statement would elicit an enormous amount of applause from the audience many of whom were watermen and women. Instead, the announcement was treated with great apprehension and scepticism. I immediately sensed a great feeling of deja vu. I’ve been through this kind of problem before. First it was the pfiesteria crisis, then it was the church dinner in St. Mary’s that rendered many ill from the affects of eating spoiled stuffed ham. Each time, I did my best to participate in “damage control.” Naturally, people feared harvesting and consuming seafood during the pfiesteria situation; then they were apprehensive about going to church dinners. Once again, I’m getting a sense from the watermen in my district that they are afraid to fish, crab or oyster the river because they will either be turned away by local businesses or they will be putting their customers at risk. The seafood customers and businesses in my district are also wary of what they are purchasing and consuming from the watermen in fear that they will be obtaining a contaminated product.

Yes, we have a real nightmare on our hands. But the MDE has conducted a series of scientific tests and I am inclined to believe their results. They have assured me the damaged river is not bad enough to have affected the seafood in the affected area.

It is time for you to lift up the Maryland seafood industry at the local, state and national level by instructing the Maryland Tourism or Economic Development departments to conduct a massive advertising/marketing campaign to get out the message that seafood from the Patuxent River is safe.

This oil spill has not had just local or statewide implications. It has become a national, even international story. A simple press release and bureaucrats telling crowded town hall meetings that it is safe is not enough. Only through aggressive marketing can we get back to being competitive in this market.

It is the right thing to do for our watermen in particular and a vital part of this state’s economy in general.

We must act on this initiative immediately before any more valuable time is lost. I look forward to following your leadership example on this extremely important matter. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Maryland Senator Roy Dyson
Calvert, St. Mary’s

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