Defense firms cash in on an ‘unprecedented’ wave of classified spending

I thought you might like this story from The Washington Post. I’d tell you more, but then . . . well, you know . . . .

Defense firms cash in on an ‘unprecedented’ wave of classified spending
Secret projects are highly sought-after in the beltway’s insular defense industry. They tend to be subject to less oversight from Congress and the public.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/01/31/classified-defense-spending/

Bruce

Posted in Fun

This is what hurricanes do: Caneel Bay Plantation is Dead

from the NY Times: <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/20/travel/st-john-caneel-bay-resort.html >

Caneel Bay:
Why a Caribbean Paradise Remains in Ruins

Two years after back-to-back hurricanes struck St. John, the famed Caneel Bay Resort has not reopened. The storms’ lingering aftermath laid bare the eco-resort’s long-festering problems.

Caneel Bay, established by a member of the Rockefeller family, was one of the first eco-resorts in the United States.Caneel Bay, established by a member of the Rockefeller family, was one of the first eco-resorts in the United States.Credit…Anne Bequette for The New York Times

By Emily Palmer                                                                                Jan. 20, 2020
Browned palm leaves fan over the white-sand beaches of Caneel Bay Resort. Peeling paint buckles on the exterior walls of roofless cabins. Inside, white curtains, still knotted, drape like ripped cobwebs from windows, and mold-matted mattresses sag without their frames. A back door swings wide.

Long considered the crown jewel of St. John, a small emerald island found among the U.S. Virgin Islands and cut with curved bays and set against the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the 170 secluded acres of Caneel Bay once drew presidents, movie stars and literary icons — from John Steinbeck and Lady Bird Johnson to Meryl Streep and Mitch McConnell.

More than 15,000 people annually visited the property nestled within the Virgin Islands National Park and home to a handful of endangered species. The four-star eco-resort, established by the Rockefeller family, was one of the first in the United States.

“It was a first-class experience without the pretentiousness of the rest of the world,” said Bob Rice, a guest from Needham, Mass., who stayed at the property with his family eight times. “You just got nature at its best.”

Two weeks in September 2017 changed that. Hurricanes Irma and Maria — both Category Five storms — flogged St. John, ripping apart structures and flooding what remained.

Even as other accommodations in the region have reopened, Caneel Bay remains in tatters. Those who have ventured inside recall a newspaper on the front desk dated September 2017 — just before the first storm. Scheduled weddings marked the chalkboard, they say, and rats could be seen scurrying across the wine cellar floor.

While the hurricanes ripped apart the resort’s infrastructure in a matter of hours, the storms’ lingering aftermath laid bare its long-festering problems, which include an unorthodox land-use agreement with the federal government, possible environmental contamination that predated the storms and contentious relationships between the staff and management. Together, they have stalled the resort’s reconstruction and hurt the island’s economy.

Caneel Bay’s future is tied up in a dispute between its owner, CBI Acquisitions, which took over the resort in 2004, and the National Park Service, which owns the land where Caneel Bay sits. CBI Acquisitions says they cannot afford to rebuild unless they get an extension of their right to control and use the resort property from the Park Service.

In turn, the Park Service says that the agreement needs to be renegotiated and that it needs to complete environmental testing — on hold since 2014 — to determine the extent of mercury, arsenic and other hazardous chemicals previously found on the property, as well as the cost of the cleanup.

‘The first ferry over’

Bob Natt and his wife, Helen, honeymooned at Caneel Bay in 1971. As their family grew, they spread to several cabins, staying some 30 to 35 times over 46 years.

“Getting a Christmas cottage on Caneel Bay was like something you put in your will — it was that hard to get,” said Mr. Natt, who lives in Easton, Conn.

To stay in its 166 simply furnished cabins, guests spent an average of $727 a night — and up to almost $2,000 for Christmas in 2017.

A view of Caneel Bay in 2016. The Caneel Bay Resort was long considered the crown jewel of the island of St. John.
A view of Caneel Bay in 2016. The Caneel Bay Resort was long considered the crown jewel of the island of St. John.
                    Credit                           Robert Rausch for The New York Times

Mr. Natt, 71, has maintained contact with management. “I said ‘the day you open, I want to be on the first ferry over’.”

In 2017, less than two weeks after employees waved the last boatload of guests from the dock, ahead of an annual eight-week hurricane season closure, Hurricane Irma hammered St. John and neighboring St. Thomas, splintering trees, ripping off roofs, twisting metal frames and collapsing walls.

Twelve days later, Hurricane Maria swallowed what little remained — including the initial repair efforts — dumping up to three feet of rain atop the devastation.

At other hotels, the push to rebuild was almost immediate. The Westin St. John Resort Villas, one of the few other resorts on St. John, employed staff to help with the cleanup, which took 16 months. The resort fully reopened to guests last February.

At first, Caneel employees — who made up seven percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ total employment in the hotel and restaurant sector, “putting Caneel on par with Walmart in terms of the number of jobs created in a state by a single employer,” according to a Congressional white paper — expected they would be similarly involved in their resort’s clean up, as they had with previous storms.

But this time, hundreds of workers found themselves unemployed. Unionized employees, some who had worked on the resort for decades, received termination letters by mail.

“The whole community is hurting,” said Theresa Germain, a housekeeper who retired months before the storms and worked on the resort about 35 years.

But no rebuilding began.

CBI Acquisitions, a limited liability company based in Connecticut and created to purchase the resort, has the rights for land use and occupancy until 2023. Gary Engle, the resort’s principal owner, has refused to rebuild without an extension of those rights, saying it is not worth the investment of about $100 million to rebuild most units and install new electrical wiring and plumbing, among other tasks.

“Lack of clarity is the major problem with the resort right now,” Mr. Engle said in an interview. “Because without fixing the uncertainty, there’s no money that’s going to be invested in this property.”

The destroyed resort is an inescapable sight on such a small island. Only the main entrance has been repaired. For $20, visitors can take a golf cart ride from there to Honeymoon Beach, the only beach out of seven associated with the resort that has reopened.

The golf cart trundles over a potholed path, jagged with bare pipes and winds past an eerie landscape of deserted cabins, overgrown brush and felled trees.

More than two years after back-to-back Category 5 storms decimated Caneel Bay, the resort remains in disarray.
More than two years after back-to-back Category 5 storms decimated Caneel Bay, the resort remains in disarray.
                                                       Credit                     Anne Bequette for The New York Times

The Rockefellers arrive

In 1952, while cruising along the Caribbean, Laurance Spelman Rockefeller, the grandson of the oil tycoon and a successful venture capitalist and conservationist, docked at Caneel Bay, where he bought the stock of an existing resort.

Mr. Rockefeller and another developer soon began buying real estate around the resort. Despite reservations from some residents, they planned to create a national park.

Eventually, Mr. Rockefeller turned over more than 5,000 acres to the National Park Service, which today owns almost two-thirds of the island.

In 1956, Mr. Rockefeller opened an environmentally focused resort in the heart of the newly created Virgin Islands National Park — on land he kept for himself.

Theovald E. Moorehead, a native of St. John and local lawmaker who successfully petitioned Congress to prevent islanders’ land from being condemned for the park, grew concerned over changes he witnessed on the island.

“We like tourists but we will not sacrifice ourselves to make this a happy place for tourists,” he wrote in 1958. “What we want is a happy island — happy for everyone — including ourselves.”

As the years passed, the Caribbean, a popular destination for American travelers accustomed to luxury hotels, saw an influx of big-brand hoteliers and cruise lines; Many benefited from offshore tax incentives from the U.S. Virgin Islands Economic Development Commission, an organization geared toward aiding companies establishing themselves in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Caneel Bay Plantation, as it was then called, offered an alternative experience beyond chain brand amenities — with cabins just footsteps from the water, and an informal communal teatime where guests mingled each day on the veranda.

The Rockefeller family donated the property to the Park Service in 1983, but based on a vaguely written legal condition, they continued operating the resort through one of their nonprofits, untethered by typical National Park standards.

The “retained use estate” contract — now the only such commercial agreement across the Parks Systems — was 13 pages long, bare bones compared to current park leases, and immediately caused confusion. Within a year, the Interior Department, which oversees the Park Service, explained the parks had “very little authority” on the property, based on “the expansive nature” of the Rockefellers’ reserved rights.

Without an airport on the island, St. John is accessible only by boat. Ships dock here at the entrance of Cruz Bay.Without an airport on the island, St. John is accessible only by boat. Ships dock here at the entrance of Cruz Bay.
Credit…Anne Bequette for The New York Times

The resort changed hands several times, eventually causing even Mr. Rockefeller concerns. He wrote to the Park Service director in 1988: “It is my sincere hope that you would not consider granting any request to extend the Retained Use Estate at Caneel Bay.” He added that his “intention and expectation” was for the R.U.E. to expire by 2023.

An asbestos pipe, stalled testing and no answers

Caneel Bay Resort was one of the region’s few eco-lodge resorts, featuring a reverse osmosis water plant and environmentally friendly upgrades. And the land agreement with the Park Service — which receives no payment for use of the federal property — along with long-extended benefits from the Economic Development Commission, made the resort’s business position enviable.

Shortly after CBI Acquisitions took over the land agreement in 2004, Mr. Engle, started looking for ways to extend the R.U.E.

“That was an essential part of the transaction,” Mr. Engle said of the initial purchase. But despite the benefits, he said it wasn’t all positive, particularly the lack of clarity around what would happen after the agreement expired in 2023.

A bill passed by Congress in 2010 would enable a 40-year extension, following routine environmental testing, and contingent on the company relinquishing the mandates of the R.U.E.

Initial environmental tests were conducted in 2012 and 2014; but while some results were made public, those referring to potential environmental problems were not.

Those unpublished assessments, reviewed by The Times and National Parks Traveler, a news website covering the parks and other protected areas that provided The Times with some documents, noted, among other concerns “a release of hazardous substances or petroleum products” throughout the property, including excessive amounts of mercury and arsenic.

A pipe with “approximately 30 percent asbestos,” considered a high amount, was also found, and an employee told the assessors that more pipes existed.

No health problems have been documented, but the Park Service, which requested the tests as part of departmental policy, noted that more tests were needed. The public was never alerted, and the follow-up tests never happened.

Caitlin Klevorick, a CBI Acquisitions spokeswoman, said by email that the company believed that if any potential environmental problems exist, they resulted before CBI Acquisitions became landholders.

“Caneel Bay was fully committed to and did operate the resort to ensure guests’ safety,” she said.

Michael Litterst, acting chief of public affairs for the Park Service, declined to be interviewed, noting “both pending legislation and potential litigation.”

But Stephanie Roulett, a Park Service spokeswoman, said by email that the agency had tried to get on the property multiple times and had not been granted access. She said that while they could implement a “legal procedure,” they had “thus-far not significantly pushed back.”

A series of letters between Mr. Engle and the Park Service, obtained by The Times, illustrates negotiations at loggerheads.

In April 2019, Mr. Engle sent the Interior department a letter claiming the right to “immediately and automatically” take over the property unless the government paid $70 million and assured indemnification “from all environmental liabilities.”

The agency rejected Mr. Engle’s ultimatum, repeating a request for additional environmental testing.

Ms. Klevorick, the resort spokeswoman, said the company is “committed to further cooperation with the NPS in the next phase of an environmental site investigation.”
The Westin St. John Resort Villas, one of the few other resorts on St. John, has fully reopened.
The Westin St. John Resort Villas, one of the few other resorts on St. John, has fully reopened.

                                                       Credit               Anne Bequette for The New York Times

The storm before the storms

Even before the hurricanes forced the resort to shut down, some longtime employees had become increasingly frustrated.

Ms. Germain, the housekeeper and local union representative, said when she started working at the resort in the 1980s, staffers had a sense of pride but that diminished under new management.

“As time passed it got a dose of bad management,” she said. “They treated us really poorly — really bad down to the last.”

Employees who had been full-time said that their hours declined in favor of seasonal workers. (Ms. Klevorick said that CBI Acquisitions “always prioritized” full-time employees over seasonal workers.) Management also instituted a security policy in which it checked employees’ bags before they left the resort each day.

Sheryl Parris, who has been president of the local union representing Caneel Bay since 2012, said that the “very insensitive” practices evoked hard feelings.

Caneel also attempted to reduce its full-time staff, successfully negotiating in April 2017 with the Economic Development Commission to decrease the minimum number of employees with full-time status to 230, a reduction of almost 100 people.

Additionally, despite continuing to collect local tax breaks — including a 90 percent income tax exemption and full exemptions from other taxes — the resort did not actually employ most of their workers year-round. All but a few dozen were let go each year for a six-to-eight week hurricane season closure, beginning in 2009.

Other resorts on nearby islands have also implemented such closures, but previous owners of Caneel Bay had never done seasonal layoffs. At a public hearing the day the work force agreement was announced, one commission member expressed reservations about the habitual layoffs but the resort continued the practice.
‘I want to do the right thing’

Months after the storms, and with the resort moldering on site, Stacey E. Plaskett, the U.S.V.I. delegate in Congress, introduced a new bill allowing a 60-year extension on the R.U.E. to coax the owners to rebuild. Missing from the bill’s text: any mention of required environmental testing.

Some resort staff and the greater St. John community felt excluded from the process and the bill was not well-received, particularly by some former employees who say they still never received paychecks for their last two weeks of work. Ms. Klevorick said the company was unaware of any employees who had not received payment “but recognizes that immediately following the storms it was very chaotic.”

As Ms. Plaskett’s approval rating plummeted on St. John, her working relationship with Mr. Engle also deteriorated; he appeared uninterested in working with the community, she said.

Mr. Engle acknowledged community frustration.

“Maybe when I was down there I didn’t handle it as well as I could have,” he said. “I want to do the right thing for the employees, I want to do the right thing for the community and the Virgin Islands.”

Then, about a year after the storms, Mr. Engle invited former employees and others onto the resort property for a meeting. Several people there recalled him framing the rebuild as contingent on the bill’s passage. Ms. Parris recalled employees offering to return and clean up, but instead, she said of the company: “They were waiting for that bill and so they kept all the employees waiting.”

The bill died. Ms. Plaskett said she has no plans to introduce new legislation.

Negotiations between CBI Acquisitions and the Park Service are ongoing. Last month, the company submitted a proposal to the service, and Ms. Roulett said earlier this month that the agency was currently drafting its own.

‘$60 and you’re doing good’

The loss of tourism has had lasting effects on bars and restaurants, as well as cabdrivers, who made the bulk of their money taking guests to and from dinner to places like ZoZo’s at The Sugar Mill, an Italian restaurant once located at Caneel.

“Before, everybody was making something,” recalled Everett Wilkinson, one cabdriver. “Now everyone is hustling for whatever they can make. It’s why most people on the island have two or three jobs — just to survive.”

Previously, he often brought in $200 a day. Now, “$60 and you’re doing good,” he said. “The taxi service right now is down to nothing. We’re sitting right by the dock, and we’re not moving.”

Although Mr. Engle insists that the rebuild has been stalled by uncertainty about what will happen to the property in 2023, court documents filed by certain underwriters at Lloyd’s of London, suggest that the company was “grossly underinsured.”

So far the company has received $32 million for a claim of total devastation following Hurricane Irma — although the resort’s insurable value was more than twice that.

Mr. Engle said that the groups are currently arbitrating the company’s claim for a separate payout for Hurricane Maria, saying that the damage incurred by the second storm was distinct from the first — a claim the insurance company has contested. Arbitration is scheduled for April.

Around the time that he was promoting Ms. Plaskett’s bill to former employees in 2018, Mr. Engle said in an interview with a local reporter that he was in a position of power with an insurance payout that did not require him to rebuild.

“I could take that money and walk away, or I can take that money and reinvest and maybe put up a little more capital and turn this into something special,” Mr. Engle said. “Without Caneel Bay, St. John is going to implode.”

Recalling that interview, Mr. Engle said that “as a matter of economic fact” the resort brought thousands of visitors to St. John and that “the amount of money that was spent by Caneel guests both at the resort and in the shops and the restaurants in Cruz Bay was very significant for an island with several thousand people.”

“I was basically stating the obvious,” he concluded. ‘We didn’t have hurricanes like this’

Lovango Cay, an off-the-grid island with views of St. John, will be home to a new environmentally sustainable resort of beachfront cottages.Lovango Cay, an off-the-grid island with views of St. John, will be home to a new environmentally sustainable resort of beachfront cottages.
Credit…Anne Bequette for The New York Times

A new environmentally sustainable resort is set to open in early 2021 on Lovango Cay, an island belonging to St. John and a 10-minute boat ride from Caneel Bay.

Mark and Gwenn Snider, who own resorts in Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, are designing the solar- and wind-powered resort.

“We’re really hoping to just have people do what they do best,” Mr. Snider said. “ Come down, help the economy — not to impose on the community — and travel with just their footprints.”

The hurricanes that battered the Caribbean in recent years have brought to light the region’s deeper issues with economies overly dependent on tourism. On St. John, all of those issues have come to a head.

“Keep in mind this has never happened in the Virgin Islands before,” said Ms. Parris, the union president. “We didn’t have hurricanes like this. We had hurricanes where trees would fall, but we went back to work. ”

And still, Caneel Bay’s devoted patrons hope one day they can return.

Mr. Natt, the longtime guest, said his family has returned to the region three times since the storms, though not to St. John.

“We have not found anything on the Caribbean that has been as good,” he said. “Without Caneel, the grandkids didn’t want to go.”

Emily Palmer, a journalist based in New York, contributes frequently to The New York Times and covers courts and crime.

Posted in Climate Change, Development, Disaster Management, Small Island, Tourism

Ecobot App Raises $1M To Save Wetlands And Time

Thank you for the information, technology for protection and science through phones is a great way to get more information faster. Done are the days of slugging large instruments and equipment through the marsh and woods.

Diana L. Muller, Executive Director
Maritimas
443-534-2847

On Wed, Jan 15, 2020 at 1:31 PM Bruce G. Potter <bpotter> wrote:

This is the kind of resource planning tool that we’ve been waiting to see for many years. Moving the operation of the analytical and display issues directly to the resource policy managers.

From Forbes <https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffkart/2019/12/17/ecobot-app-raises-1m-to-save-wetlands-and-time/#64d011b74ad2 > (See the website for graphics)

Dec 17, 2019, 06:14pm
Ecobot App Raises $1M To Save Wetlands And Time

Jeff Kart
Contributor
Science

Wetlands need protecting, for everything from filtering runoff to helping prevent flooding. But the job of environmental consultants, who examine properties to determine if they contain wetlands, consumes time. An app called Ecobot streamlines the process and has raised more than $1 million in venture funding. That means additional people who protect wetlands will be able to spend more of their time being scientists, says Lee Lance, cofounder and CEO.

The app from Ecobot, headquartered in Ashville, North Carolina, was in private beta release for a year before being released this month on the Apple App Store.

The recent influx of funding, via Cofounders Capital, will be used to bring on additional programmers and other staff, Lance says. Ecobot announced a partnership with mapping company Esri earlier this year, and also will be showing off its technology at upcoming conferences in 2020.

What does it mean for wetland protection?

Ecobot allows environmental consultants to work offline to identify Waters of the United States, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act.

“Waterway impacts must be assessed before any commercial construction companies can move dirt, before oil and gas companies can lay down pipelines, or before (Department of Transportation) or rail can do work on highways and railroads,” Lance explains.

Ecobot is used to generate U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetland delineation reports. These are what a consultant is hired to prepare for a site that’s pending development.

The app provides lookup tools and automatic calculations that would otherwise have to be done by hand. The app even generates regulatory PDFs. One user has reported saving 2.5 hours per person, per day in the field.

“Wetlands don’t necessarily look like swamps,” Lance says. “Through the scientific observation, analysis and calculations of three key metrics, hydrology, vegetation and soil, a wetland scientist is able to make a recommendation on whether or not a property contains wetlands that would fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Ecobot equips private industry to get this done faster, cheaper and more accurately.’’

The app is available under two subscription models, one with unlimited usage and another with unlimited team access, says Jeremy Schewe, Ecobot’s cofounder and chief scientific officer.

To date, more than 200 field scientists at more than 50 companies have access to Ecobot and have submitted more than 2,500 wetland delineations to the Corps, Schewe says.

Lance adds: “This app enables people that are protecting wetlands, and we help those scientists spend a greater percentage of their time being scientists. By reducing regulatory costs, facilitating greater accuracy and speeding decisions on land use, Ecobot helps us protect our wetlands.”

The company plans to move into mitigation banking monitoring, state wetland and stream forms next.

Jeff Kart: Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I focus on interesting, innovative and revolutionary U.S. stories about green startups and nongovernmental organizations as a Forbes contributor.

Posted in Fun

Ecobot App Raises $1M To Save Wetlands And Time

This is the kind of resource planning tool that we’ve been waiting to see for many years. Moving the operation of the analytical and display issues directly to the resource policy managers.

From Forbes <https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffkart/2019/12/17/ecobot-app-raises-1m-to-save-wetlands-and-time/#64d011b74ad2 > (See the website for graphics)

Dec 17, 2019, 06:14pm
Ecobot App Raises $1M To Save Wetlands And Time

Jeff Kart
Contributor
Science

Wetlands need protecting, for everything from filtering runoff to helping prevent flooding. But the job of environmental consultants, who examine properties to determine if they contain wetlands, consumes time. An app called Ecobot streamlines the process and has raised more than $1 million in venture funding. That means additional people who protect wetlands will be able to spend more of their time being scientists, says Lee Lance, cofounder and CEO.

The app from Ecobot, headquartered in Ashville, North Carolina, was in private beta release for a year before being released this month on the Apple App Store.

The recent influx of funding, via Cofounders Capital, will be used to bring on additional programmers and other staff, Lance says. Ecobot announced a partnership with mapping company Esri earlier this year, and also will be showing off its technology at upcoming conferences in 2020.

What does it mean for wetland protection?

Ecobot allows environmental consultants to work offline to identify Waters of the United States, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act.

“Waterway impacts must be assessed before any commercial construction companies can move dirt, before oil and gas companies can lay down pipelines, or before (Department of Transportation) or rail can do work on highways and railroads,” Lance explains.

Ecobot is used to generate U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetland delineation reports. These are what a consultant is hired to prepare for a site that’s pending development.

The app provides lookup tools and automatic calculations that would otherwise have to be done by hand. The app even generates regulatory PDFs. One user has reported saving 2.5 hours per person, per day in the field.

“Wetlands don’t necessarily look like swamps,” Lance says. “Through the scientific observation, analysis and calculations of three key metrics, hydrology, vegetation and soil, a wetland scientist is able to make a recommendation on whether or not a property contains wetlands that would fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Ecobot equips private industry to get this done faster, cheaper and more accurately.’’

The app is available under two subscription models, one with unlimited usage and another with unlimited team access, says Jeremy Schewe, Ecobot’s cofounder and chief scientific officer.

To date, more than 200 field scientists at more than 50 companies have access to Ecobot and have submitted more than 2,500 wetland delineations to the Corps, Schewe says.

Lance adds: “This app enables people that are protecting wetlands, and we help those scientists spend a greater percentage of their time being scientists. By reducing regulatory costs, facilitating greater accuracy and speeding decisions on land use, Ecobot helps us protect our wetlands.”

The company plans to move into mitigation banking monitoring, state wetland and stream forms next.

Jeff Kart: Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I focus on interesting, innovative and revolutionary U.S. stories about green startups and nongovernmental organizations as a Forbes contributor.

Posted in Fun

Long Patch Article on Causes of Maryland Bad Air Quality

health & fitness

Maryland’s Dirty Air: Quality, Greenhouse Gas Recorded By UMD

Pollutants from smokestacks upwind, traffic, development density and proximity to water all contribute to Maryland’s air quality problems.

By Deb Belt, Patch Staff                                                   Dec 19, 2019 11:42 am ET

We import pollution and we grow our own

Air Quality in Baltimore

An aerial picture of Baltimore from June 2018, taken during a Regional Atmospheric Measurement Modeling and Prediction Program research flight.
(Photo courtesy of Sarah Benish)

By Greta Easthom, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, MD — As soon as the Cessna twin-piston airplane touches down on the tarmac at Easton Airport, a graduate student runs out with an extension cord to repower the ozone monitoring equipment on board. The flight crew that just helped the University of Maryland research team land is slightly bemused at her urgency.

What they might not know is that her group — the Regional Atmospheric Measurement Modeling and Prediction Program or RAMMPP and comprised of 30 researchers and students — has helped the Maryland Department of the Environment improve regional air quality since 1999 by tracking how the ingredients for smog can originate from upwind states.

Due to Maryland’s geography and size, the state’s air quality is often affected by what is coming out of smokestacks upwind. Traffic, development density and proximity to water — particularly the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic — also contribute to the state’s dirty air.

The costs can be staggering: hundreds of millions of dollars in health costs alone according to one regional study. And sometimes, not lowering one type of pollutant over another can cause environmental damage elsewhere in the atmosphere. The state has failed updated national standards for ground ozone, and the RAMMPP team is studying exactly why, where and ways to fix it.

The scientists gather data to understand how things are happening now, and then use that to predict how things are likely to go in the future.

Tad Aburn, director of the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Air and Radiation Administration, said over the years, through RAMMPP’s modeling and research, the agency has been able to design programs to reduce ground-based ozone and the cocktail of chemicals that create it.

Despite the team’s efforts, Maryland has been in violation of the EPA standard for ground-based ozone, largely because while air quality is slowly improving, the federal agency has lowered the standards. While having ozone high up in the atmosphere is good for human health because it forms a protective layer, ozone at lower levels — about 6 miles off the ground — is bad because it is one of the main ingredients for smog.

Measuring ozone in the lower levels through flights is important for determining how far away Maryland is from meeting national standards, what the main drivers of ozone pollution are and where they are located. Mired in this murky air pollution problem are judicial battles that result when upwind states are pinpointed as sources of ozone for downwind states, such as Maryland, at certain monitored sites.

“If one surface site (exceeds standards), that’s the whole state” that has failed federal standards, said Tim Canty, research professor at the University of Maryland who has been working with RAMMPP for almost a decade.

The EPA standard is based on a very specific average called the “design value” — the three-year average of the fourth-highest surface ozone readings in an eight-hour period for a given calendar date.”

And if that’s high(er than the standard), that’s pretty bad,” Canty said.

The reason why policy-makers average the fourth highest ozone day instead of the highest is because one day could just be an ozone outlier, and would skew the data too high. The EPA standard for the design value of surface ozone is now 70 parts per billion for an eight-hour average; this decreased in 2015 from 75 ppb, and it could become even more strict.If a site violates the standard over the three-year period, then Maryland must complete a state plan to compensate.

Six out of 20 monitored sites in Maryland have violated the standard this past summer. The preliminary design values for 2019 in Beltsville, Fair Hill and Essex are 72 ppb, Edgewood is at 75 ppb, Glen Burnie is 74 ppb, and Prince George’s Equestrian Center is at 71 ppb.

Ozone, while a big player, is not the only pollutant that is monitored. Sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, lead, and particulate matter are all monitored and must meet national standards as well because they are six common pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Particulate matter or aerosols are minuscule mixtures of solid and liquid droplets such as dust or soot, that can be easily accidentally inhaled.

Sulfur dioxide, which also comes from the combustion of fossil fuels, can form acid rain and particulate matter when it reacts with oxygen.

‘Not Your Typical Science’

While the national standard for ozone, and the pollutants that create it, is uniform across the board, the different ways to measure and model these pollutants is not.

The EPA, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the University of Maryland all keep records of their current estimates of certain pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions from ground-based monitors, aircraft measurements, and other recording equipment.

“It’s a challenge. It’s not your typical science,” said Canty. “Maryland Department of the Environment helps set up the strategies on the what-if, and then we run all the different scenarios (in the model).”In other words, the researchers collect data on current conditions and use it to predict future ozone levels, playing around with different scenarios.

“We work as a consortium with other states in the Mid-Atlantic region … and then we modify from there based on our science,” said Canty.

Sometimes, how to use the data and which scenarios to plug into the models create disagreements among scientists and government officials. A location can pass or fail air quality standards based on which models or parameters are used.

One of those disagreements happened recently with sulfur dioxide. The EPA modeling process designated three sites in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties as having the potential to fail, but Aburn said these sites have not been observed as failing and are not projected to do so based off Maryland’s modeling.

A state implementation plan was made anyway.

Sulfur dioxide can become a particulate, known as a sulfate, which can turn into acid rain.

“What’s important,” said Hao He, a professor at Maryland and RAMMPP researcher, “what will kill you, is … sulfate.”

Figuring out how to eliminate particulate matter like sulfates, “that’s the problem of the lifetime,” He told Capital News Service.

‘Air pollution is not our own problem’

NOx, the catch-all term for nitrogen oxides — such as nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide that can form ground-based ozone — comes from the combustion of fossil fuels and forest fires. Once released from tailpipes or tall smokestacks, it produces surface ozone and can form acid rain.

The University of Maryland research showed that decreasing nitric oxides high in the air helped abate ozone levels on the ground, Aburn said. The hot air masses rise from a couple-hundred feet high smokestack in Pennsylvania for instance, and a high pressure system can funnel these ozone-laden air masses in to Maryland.

The transport takes anywhere from one to a couple of days, He said.

“Air pollution is not (entirely) our own problem,” said He, “because Maryland is relatively small.”

The geography and heavy traffic of a densely populated and bustling Baltimore, along with other cities and towns near the Chesapeake Bay, can make them a hotbed for high levels of ground ozone, especially during the summer.

If NOx-rich, hot air rises, the air will circulate back over land as a bay breeze now thick with ozone-laden air.

Edgewood, Maryland, located northeast of Baltimore and along the Chesapeake Bay, has tipped 90 ppb as a design value in recent years due to its unique geography, squeezed between the city and the water.

Ground-based ozone also commonly tracks from southwest Washington, D.C., along the I-95 corridor, to northeast Baltimore, said Xinrong Ren, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Air Resources Laboratory and RAMMPP lead researcher.

This setup combined with “Baltimore emitting (pollutants) itself,” said Ren, created the perfect storm for Baltimore to have an ozone concentration of 120 parts per billion per second during a June aircraft observation.

Though this is different than the EPA standard, which is averaged over eight hours, it is still not a great reading.

There are other factors, according to University of Maryland graduate student Sarah Benish.

“Generally air pollution is worse over water than land because it’s hotter, reaction rates are faster, (there is) less cloud coverage, (and) more direct solar radiation. We’re trying to fly under certain conditions and there’s not a lot of legroom,” said Benish.

The Maryland Department of the Environment’s air quality forecasters will often pinpoint the high pressure, sunny days to the team. The stagnant, warm air that can form from during these types of weather conditions have in the past been a good indicator of bad air quality days.

Why the Maryland Department of the Environment keeps pushing for “more and more” in terms of NOx reductions is that “about 70 percent of Maryland’s (ground-level) ozone originates from (states that are upwind and their emissions),” said Aburn.

Despite this, for a while air quality was starting to improve in Maryland, as more NOx scrubbers were installed and run in Maryland’s own power plants.

Now, “it looks like air quality (could be) getting worse and we might not be in attainment of the old standard soon (75 ppb),” said Canty.

The reasons are unclear: “This is an area of on-going research trying to figure out why that might be,” he said.

The researchers are trying to pinpoint whether this is a temporary anomaly.

In November 2016, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a petition under the Clean Air Act — known as the Good Neighbor Act — requesting the EPA to require certain power plants in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to run their NOx controls, which would effectively lower their NOx emissions. In September 2017, Frosh sued the EPA for not responding to the petition by the required extended date of July 15, 2017.

The EPA denied the petition in October 2018, and Frosh is challenging the petition again in the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, scheduled for January.

On Oct. 1, the D.C. Circuit Court struck down an EPA ruling that required upwind states to employ only partial reductions on factory emissions. It’s a bit of a Catch-22: The concern is that the federal rule may not lower pollution levels of downwind states enough for them to meet federal guidelines.

The EPA had until Oct. 29 to challenge this decision and would not tell Capital News Service whether they challenged it or not. Nothing had been filed on Westlaw as of Dec. 4.

There are 36 power plants upwind in other states that could cut emissions of NOx with “scrubbers” and improve Maryland’s air quality, Canty said, but they are costly to run. If a private power plant is meeting its NOx emission standards set forth for it by the state, it does not have to run its controls all the time.

If a state is contributing more than 1 percent of ozone to downwind states, they have to help make improvements on downwind air quality.

“We did a lot of modeling to show that if these power plants ran their scrubbers, it would allow Maryland to attain the (ozone) standard,” said Canty.

Researchers in Delaware found that “because of these power plants not running their scrubbers, it’s causing (Maryland, Northern Virginia, D.C. and Delaware) three quarters of a billion dollars in health costs,” said Canty.

Perhaps most troubling is that, “they can turn off the scrubbers when it’s hot outside,” said Russ Dickerson, another lead researcher for RAMMPP and professor for Maryland, in order to offset increased demand for electricity.

But this is when ozone production has the potential to be at its worst.

For power plants, there are monitors in the stack, said Dickerson, and those are “pretty accurate, but we can test those by flying the aircraft through the plume,” of upwind and downwind states

“We fly a lot of Maryland, we’ve also flown in West Virginia, Virginia, New York — kinda the whole eastern side of things,” Benish said.

Taking flight:

When the researchers take flight, they take measurements called “whole air samples.”

“Think of an aluminum balloon that’s maybe this big,” said Benish, holding her hands as though around a large loaf of bread, holding about 3.2 liters, “and we fill them up for two minutes…and then send them to the Maryland Department of the Environment to be measured for hydrocarbons,” said Benish. “So I had to do those every two minutes for 20 minutes and I was getting super airsick.”

Benish said it was hard to look down on all the boating, camping, and hiking taking place at these sites, with the knowledge that bad air quality was affecting people’s health.

What to limit:

Air quality research can be tricky. Scientists must also determine whether decreasing certain chemicals — NOx or volatile organic compounds — will accelerate ground-level ozone production. Volatile organic compounds are any mixture of carbon, such as carbon monoxide, and can be emitted from smokestacks and tailpipes of cars, too. Twenty years ago, the general consensus in the air quality community was that volatile organic carbons were the main driver behind ozone production. RAMMPP’s research was crucial in determining that decreasing NOx was generally better for decreasing ground-level ozone.

“We all assumed organic driven,” said John Quinn, director of state affairs for Baltimore Gas and Electric. “We learned we had to reduce NOx a lot,” (from Dickerson’s research).

“However, as emissions and air quality has improved, it’s getting harder to predict ozone exceedance days,” said Canty. “It used to just be warm temperatures..now you can have not as warm temperatures with an air quality exceedance event (or vice versa).”

Canty’s graduate student, Allison Ring, also found that volatile organic carbons might be getting overlooked as everything else gets cleaner.

Sometimes, in localized areas when the NOx is high and volatile organize compounds are at low levels, NOx scrubbers can exacerbate ground-level ozone, another problem for scientists the study, Canty said. Cars an even harder problem, said Dickerson.

Dickerson’s graduate student, Dolly Hall, has helped implement a monitoring site at Savage, Maryland, to detect emissions from motor vehicles.

“Transportation is hard to model and harder to legislate,” said Canty.

Canty said that different factors such as the rules on the efficiency of after-market catalytic converters and gasoline formulations are all parameters that are hard to specify in a transportation emissions model, especially with changing legislation.

Methane measurements:

While air quality is generally a problem the researchers focus on in the summer, carbon dioxide and methane emissions — contributors to climate change — are measured in the winter.

While there is crossover between the groups, this research goes under an initiative the scientists call FLAGG-MD, which stands for Fluxes of Atmospheric Greenhouse Gases in Maryland.

It is funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, with support from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The team flies around the East Coast for this research as well, employing what they call “a box method,” to get an accurate measure of the amount of methane in a given area at a given time.

The Marcellus Shale — a geological feature that is the source of much of the region’s natural gas — and Baltimore — with the state’s largest methane-producing landfill, are two big methane concern areas, Dickerson said.

Maryland Department of the Environment and the EPA keep inventories, or records, of greenhouse gas emissions.

Baltimore’s inventory definitely needs to be improved and there are lots of uncertainties surrounding the Marcellus Shale leak rates.

A leak rate is a percentage of the amount of methane lost to the atmosphere when it is pumped out of the ground at natural gas and oil wells. Older pipes will leak gas when transporting it as well.

Aburn said the Maryland Department of the Environment is working with the research team to adjust their inventory numbers for methane so that their estimates for landfill emissions are more aligned with University of Maryland’s estimates.

Methane levels at Brown Station Landfill in Baltimore were measured at 10 times higher than the EPA standards and five times higher than state standards.

“There is a gross difference in (our records ) of Brown Station Landfill,” said Salawitch, “which is the largest source of methane in Maryland.”

However, Salawitch acknowledged that the Maryland Department of the Environment and RAMMPP employ very different modeling approaches as Maryland’s is more observationally driven.

Salawitch said the EPA and the Maryland Department of the Environment are underestimating leaks of all landfills by a factor of around two.

Furthermore, “it doesn’t take much walking around Baltimore and Washington to know there is aged infrastructure,” and with aged natural gas pipes, which distribute into homes and businesses, come leaks, said Salawitch.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and has a great global warming potential on a 100-year time scale, but an even greater impact on a 20-year time scale. The impact is greater over a 20-year timescale because it is more concentrated.

Salawitch is hopeful that the state will soon implement a 20-year global warming potential in its evaluations but that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon.

Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said at an October Maryland Commission on Climate Change meeting that the state’s draft Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act, increases “the attractiveness of natural gas,” by utilizing the 20-year timescale.

Salawitch is optimistic about Pennsylvania joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based cap coalition on greenhouse gases.”

Having Pennsylvania be a part of RGGI..means that one day we could do our best to limit leaks from the point of extraction (when drilling for natural gas) to the point of combustion,” said Salawitch.

“I’m proud of what we did for the state of Maryland, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Dickerson. “We are still emitting too much carbon dioxide. I think methane may play a larger role than is indicated in there (the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act),” Dickerson continued. “But at least we are looking at it.”

Posted in Chesapeake Bay, Climate Change, Close to Home, Health, Monitoring

Greetings from the Philippines!

Hello Family!

Andy, George (his dad) and I made it to the Philippines after about 30 hours of travel. Luckily, it was 2:00 AM, so we had nothing to do but sleep. We were driven to McDonalds for a treat before bed.

George was here last when he served in the Air Force during the Vietnam conflict. He was lucky to be in a paymaster position after commercial services. He met his wife, Amelia, when in this second position as she was a Philippina in the Civilian Pay department. They met at a Christmas party on base and were married 10 months later in
Oct. of 68.

They lived in the de la Cruz family house until George’s term was up around Oct. of ‘69. That’s when George and “Mellie” left the Philippines for 6 mo. leave in St. Louis, George’s home city. That was his last time here!

Yesterday (Sat. here/Fri. there), George finally saw his third niece still living here in Manila. The 4th and oldest sister lives in VA, so he’s seen her most recently some 8 years ago at her oldest son’s wedding. George was amazed that he new them all despite not seeing them since they were under the age of 9 – he said their faces haven’t changed! One benefit of us being here in the beginning of January besides being the “dry season” (they have gotten some unseasonable typhoons/hurricanes), is that we will be celebrating Tito Tony’s 82 (Andy’s Uncle Tony) Birthday and George’s niece’s, Aileen’s, 60th! Tita Aida, the sister of Mellie, turned 80 in November – this was was the true reason for us wanting to take George on this reunion trip.

We’ve been living up the Philippine lifestyle, eating and conversation followed by more eating and conversation. “Priming the pump” and moderation is the key! Last night at the house of Ate. Annabelle ( she’s older than Andy and me so women get the title Ate. even though she is Andy’s cousin), we planned an adventure to Baguio where we will go hiking in the mountains and visiting the huge outdoor “Wet Market.” Don’t ask me! I have to still do the research. Baguio is the city that George is excited to visit as it is where he and Mellie spent their Honeymoon. Are. Annabelle, her son “Beto” (Alberto – one of 4 sons), and the three of us are going on the 13-15.

You all probably noticed that the family have nicknames (I think most people do here), but they also all have names beginning with “A.” Here are all the family members of Tita Aida and Tito Anthony (other husbands not included):

Annie (VA), Anton (son), Adrian (s)

Aileen (Manila), Alan (s), Angela (daughter), Abbey (d)

Agnes (Manila), Anele (d), Aisha (d), Ayan (d)

Annabelle (Manila), Alfonso (?) (s – again he’s always called by his nickname, which is “Pancho!”), Alejandro (s), Angelo (s), Alberto (s)

Anthony (Wales), Adrian (s – so far the only duplicated name in the entire de la Cruz family…they are actually spelled differently too, but I don’t know who is this spelling).

Well, I will write maybe a little more later after we have more experiences, but it’s time to get out for a walk around the neighborhood before we have to eat again!

Love,
Em and Andy

Posted in Fun

Dawn on Back Creek, 11 January 2020, temp 51°

Beautiful!

We’re opening a new IMAX movie at work called "Expedition Chesapeake". Documentary style look at the intersection of nature and human impacts through the watershed. Jeff Corwin narrates and "plays the part" of a guest researcher with various groups monitoring and preserving habitat all the way up to Lake Oswego in our old stomping gounds up the Susquehanna. Worth a look if folks get a chance.

Also shared a balmy morning with 72 degree overnight low in Houston as I picked Margaret up from the airport at 5:15am on 10 January. Climate change is a hoax.

Posted in Fun