Eagle Harbor activists hope federal aid will help accelerate environmental recovery

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Coleman Creek flows into the Patuxent River near Eagle Harbor, Maryland. Photo courtesy of City of Eagle Harbor.

Written by Shihrah Dayak

James Crudup has vivid memories of traveling to Seagull Beach in Charles County as a teenager.

“I remember the water being as clear as if we were in Florida…that’s what it felt like back then,” Crudup said. “Now you can’t see. The water now is so black and dirty, it’s really dirty.”

For Crudup, this kind of deterioration isn’t just visible at Seagull Beach.

Air, water and soil pollution also travels across the Patuxent River, impacting not only Charles County but also Eagle Harbor, a town of 70 people where he served as mayor from 2011 to 2021.

For years, the town has experienced air pollution and associated disproportionate health impacts, increased stormwater runoff, and other environmental impacts.

According to Eagle Harbor residents, most of these impacts are coming from chokepoint generating stations. The power plant was previously owned by NRG Energy and has been owned by Gen-On Holdings since 2017. The plant, located on the banks of the Patuxent River in Aquasco surrounding Eagle Harbor, was burning coal until June 2021.

“It was a really, really bad situation,” Crudup told Capital News Service. “Eagle Harbor has been ignored for a long time when it comes to environmental issues. We have had no interaction with the county or state regarding improving environmental conditions.”

This development is further complicated by the town’s small size and lack of economic clout compared to other parts of Prince George’s County, many of which are wealthy and business-heavy. Ta.

But now, with a new federal grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, Eagle Harbor activists hope they can move forward with community-led environmental monitoring and remediation.

The $370,775 grant will help ecosystem restoration organization Ridge to Reefs collect data on water quality, heavy metals in soil and contaminants in native species such as blue crabs. Paul Sturm, founder of Ridge to Leafs, said there hasn’t been much formal monitoring in Eagle Harbor to date, despite the impact from the Choke Point plant.

Ridge to Reefs collects the data through a partnership with Green Mechanics Benefit, an environmental engineering startup based in Prince George’s County. This grant comes from EPA’s Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving Collaborative Agreements Program.

“I think we’re really committed to understanding the challenges that communities have and working with them to create a blueprint to improve conditions,” Sturm said. Ta. “This is an opportunity for some kind of rebirth for this community.”

Several Eagle Harbor community members said the recovery will take a long time.

Prince George’s County’s historic black town confronts power plant that contributed to flooding

Potomac Power Company opened the Choke Point Power Plant in 1964, 35 years after Eagle Harbor was incorporated. The plant is the first coal-fired power plant built on a tidal waterway, said Fred Tatman, the Patuxent River’s river manager.

For many residents, the plant’s operation represents the fate they have been subjected to for too long. Eagle Harbor’s current mayor, Noah Waters, said Eagle Harbor is a historically black town and polluters are taking advantage of that.

“What’s happening in this area is very important,” Waters said. “This power plant was built in 1964. African Americans in Prince George’s County didn’t have the political clout to stop anything.”

In 2021, GenOn Energy Holdings closed its coal-fired power plant due to unfavorable economic conditions.

However, the plant still burns natural gas and oil. Waters said there is a misconception that closing the coal-fired power plant has improved the environmental problems the town was facing.

“It’s out of sight, out of the mind. It obviously doesn’t smell, you can’t see the particulate matter, so people think it’s okay,” Waters said. “But burning the gas is many times more dangerous because it’s invisible and probably even more harmful to the ozone.”

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, burning natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal, but the gas also has its own emissions, including large emissions of methane, a powerful climate pollutant. There is a risk of

Even though the town’s involvement in coal burning has ended, pollution continues.

According to the EPA’s Environmental Justice Index, which combines environmental and socio-economic factors, Eagle Harbor ranks in the 79th percentile for wastewater discharges.

Coleman Creek, an important natural resource, is located in a forested area south of town. But Crudup said wastewater discharges and runoff from the Choke Point plant have flooded the creek in recent years, and the creek’s role in managing stormwater has stalled.

Representatives for NRG Energy and GenOn did not respond to requests for comment from CNS about the Choke Point plant.

Eagle Harbor’s 2025 Sustainability Plan, created during Mr. Crudup’s tenure, includes several steps to improve the town’s environmental conditions, including stabilizing the Coleman Creek levees and removing failing septic systems throughout the town. The proposals are outlined.

Pollution from power plants and climate change is also impacting the Patuxent River, which the town also aims to address in its sustainability plan with projects such as riverbank cleanup and expanding river access for residents.

Crudup said about 20 years ago, pollution from coal-fired power plants caused sludge to build up in the river, making it difficult for boats to pass and dangerous for people to swim.

The effects of pollution may also be affecting seafood, a central aspect of Eagle Harbor’s culture and economic aspirations. Sturm said data collection through the Ridge to Leafs grant is aimed at pinpointing how contamination of species impacts residents.

“We also want to understand residents’ concerns about fish, oysters, crabs, etc.,” he said. “We want to understand what people are eating from their local environment. And we also want to understand what they need to test for.”

NRG Energy faces legal action for past pollution violations at its Choke Point plant.

After the Patuxent River Conservancy and the Maryland Department of the Environment filed a lawsuit in 2016, the energy company was fined $1 million for exceeding air and water pollution limits between 2010 and 2013. ordered to pay. NRG also committed to honoring an additional $1 million worth of fines. Promoting environmental restoration projects including improving wastewater treatment technology.

Ben Grumbles, who served as Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment from 2015 to 2022, said, “Power plants need to be built on Maryland’s rivers, air, and oceans to provide affordable and reliable energy.” , they have a responsibility to keep the land clean,” he said at the time of the settlement.

But Eagle Harbor residents say these legal measures are not enough.

And in many cases, high-profile environmental successes in a community leave people who have lived in the town for years feeling ignored and unheard, Tatman said.

“Sierra Club [Chesapeake Climate Action Network] Or someone takes the credit, but doesn’t necessarily share the credit with the people who actually live there, and it’s the voice, the capacity, the ability of the people in the area to speak up for themselves. I think it’s denigrating and disrespecting,” Tatman said. He said.

Tatman said he often encounters people who want to participate in Eagle Harbor’s environmental restoration without taking the time to learn about the town and its residents. It is important that restoration work remains community-centred, he added.

Ridge to Leafs and Green Mechanics Benefits hope the grant-funded data collection will do just that, said Larry Davis, principal consultant for Green Mechanics.

“We want to make sure we engage with the community in a way that gives them a list of items that they are interested in,” Davis said.

For Waters, future monitoring won’t solve all the obvious problems Eagle Harbor faces due to chokepoint contamination. But he said he’s excited this is progress.

Tutman expressed a similar opinion. He said he hopes future environmental efforts will maintain the strong ties the community has to each other and to the natural resources that have defined its identity.

“It’s really a community. They pray together and break bread together,” Tatman said. “I want these people to continue to have this organic sense of connection to the river and to each other.”

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