Inner Harbor Boats Skimi for Watershed's Trash
CNS photo by Aleksandra Robinson
Leaves, driftwood, bottles and balls, among other things, are collected by a trash skimmer boat in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. (More photos in slide show, by Capital News Service's Aleksandra Robinson)

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Special Report Main Page: Saving the Chesapeake Bay


By Aleksandra Robinson
Capital News Service
Friday, Oct. 23, 2009

BALTIMORE - By 9:30 a.m., Jeff Everhart has already swept the harbor once, searching for floating detritus washed into the harbor from the surrounding area.

"It's a pretty slow day," he says. He turns slightly off course so the boat can gulp up a floating white plastic bag. "On an average day it's like this here. ... If it rains, then you fill this boat up two or three times."

Everhart's boat is an odd-looking contraption, composed of a one-man wheelhouse perched high above a metal chain conveyor belt with two square-panel arms at the bow that open and close so the boat can swallow trash. When the boat is filled with trash, the conveyor belt elevates in the back to send the junk to a fixed conveyor belt leading into a giant green container on land.

Baltimore's Department of Public Works runs four of these skimmers, which together net about a third of a ton of trash on an average day, said Robert Murrow, public information supervisor. On a rainy day, however, the boats can pull in up to 3 tons of trash. In addition, there are six smaller bass boats that get trash out of difficult-to-reach areas -- about 100 pounds of trash a day.

On the whole, Everhart says his job is relatively uninteresting.

"After eight years, every day on it, it gets boring," he says.

The times it gets interesting, he says, are when it rains. Then his job gets exciting, he says, and he'll fill up the boat two or three times.

Murrow says the job of DPW is to make Everhart's job boring -- to help ensure that trash never reaches the Inner Harbor.

"Everything funnels right to here," Everhart says. "People think it's all boats tossing stuff in the water. ... What most people don't realize is it's a way wider problem than someone walking along the shoreline and tossing in a bottle."

In fact, Murrow says, the trash in the Inner Harbor comes from all over the watershed. The most to blame for the Inner Harbor trash, though?

"When it rains, anything even near the Jones Falls come here," he says.

Everhart pulls driftwood and bottles and leaves out of the Jones Falls today. Hundreds upon hundreds of shiny, wet, multi-colored leaves swirl around the boat as others make the inexorable climb into the center of the vessel.

Everhart says he once pulled a portable toilet out of the water that had washed in during a storm.

"I don't like seeing that stuff in the water," he says. "It's bad for the environment."

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