By Mary Maushard
The Port of Baltimore scored major environmental victories during the past year, while also continuing record-setting business and cargo shipments.
With the arrival of ever-larger numbers of autos, light trucks, farm and construction equipment and other major imports and exports, for example, reducing diesel emissions is no small feat and could not have been accomplished without hard work and a commitment to environmental sustainability.
That is just one of the environmental accomplishments of the past year. Others include the successful reuse of dredged material from the shipping channels, innovative approaches to controlling stormwater run-off and the making of a star — Mr. Trash Wheel, who with his colleagues, Professor Trash Wheel and the newcomer Captain Trash Wheel, has attracted quite a following in his fight for trash-free water.
In the spring, the Port of Baltimore garnered international attention when it hosted the 2018 International GreenPort Congress — the first time the conference took place in North America. The event brought together more than 200 maritime and environmental professionals from around the world.
The focal points of the Port’s air-quality improvement program are the highly successful diesel-emission reduction program and the cargo-hauling equipment replacement project. These programs have received substantial federal and state grants to help private haulers and other Port users to replace aging, higher-exhaust-emitting equipment with newer, more efficient engines.
A 2018 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency includes funds for replacing up to 35 dray trucks, pushing the program’s total above 200. Truck owners can receive half of the purchase price — up to $30,000 — of a 2013 or newer model, replacing trucks from model years 1996 to 2006. Also included in that $2.4 million award are funds for 30 pieces of cargo-handling equipment, such as forklifts and top loaders, and two new, cleaner diesel engines to repower the Spirit of Baltimore, a tour boat that operates at the Inner Harbor.
“In recent years, MDOT MPA has been very successful in receiving competitive federal grants to improve air quality,” said Shawn Kiernan, Environmental Manager for the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA). “Our program has been greatly enhanced by the support that we’ve received from local communities.”
These replacements will result in lifetime emission reductions of approximately 37 tons of particulate matter, 398 tons of nitrogen oxides, 165 tons of carbon monoxide and 724 tons of carbon dioxide. Altogether, air-quality initiatives undertaken by MDOT MPA and its partners have reduced the lifetime amount of air pollutants by more than 10,000 tons.
Dredged Material Reuse
MDOT MPA’s dredged material reuse program became an award winner once again in 2018 when the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) recognized it with the prestigious ASLA Professional Award for design, presented to Mahan Rykiel Associates of Baltimore. “Design With Dredge: Resilient Landscape Infrastructure in the Chesapeake Bay” was selected for identifying innovative strategies to safely reuse dredging material in the region, where 1.15 million cubic yards of sediment must be removed each year from the Baltimore harbor to keep the Port operating.
All of that sediment has to go somewhere, but not just anywhere. Maryland’s Dredged Material Management Program (DMMP) has guided this work for nearly 20 years and created not only award winners but also national models. Now Hart-Miller Island, Poplar Island, Masonville and Cox Creek are all rich habitats for birds, fish and other wildlife — and recreational areas for visitors.
MDOT MPA also found another use for this dredged material. In December, Baltimore received 6,000 cubic yards of the material to use as an alternative daily cover for a landfill.
Captain Trash Wheel became the newest addition to the family of garbage-eaters that ply the Inner Harbor and other waterways, preventing tons of plastic, Styrofoam and cigarette butts from floating into the Chesapeake Bay.
Mr. Trash Wheel, the first of the threesome, sponsored in part by MDOT MPA as mitigation for projects around Masonville, is something of a social media celebrity and a beloved Baltimore icon.
All this attention has not deterred the Trash Wheel trio from doing their primary job. All in all, they collected more than 360 tons of trash in 2018.
The Algae-to-Energy project moved into Phase 3 this year. As the algae flow-way continued to clean water from the Patapsco River by growing algae to remove undesirable nutrients, the project focused on producing biogas from the algae to feed a fuel cell that produces electricity.
An innovative above-ground sand filter went to work at the Dundalk Marine Terminal this fall, cleaning stormwater that runs off a two-acre parking lot. “This project is extremely important to MDOT MPA as a way of treating stormwater run-off and was installed with no impact to Port operations,” said Bill Richardson, General Manager of MDOT MPA’s office of Safety, Environment and Risk Management.
The MDOT MPA Urban Forestry Partnership planted — 1,000 trees in two years across Baltimore City to improve stormwater runoff and air quality in neighborhoods. MDOT MPA purchases the trees and partners with the nonprofit Blue Water Baltimore to oversee the plantings and help to maintain the trees. The planting events attract volunteers from around the Port and many community organizations.
The Port of Baltimore has long worked to be a good neighbor to communities on its perimeter and those affected by Port traffic and emissions. More than 19,400 people attended 440 events hosted by MDOT MPA and its partners last year. The Port extended its reach out to 22 Baltimore communities through partnerships such as BMORE Beautiful and the Baltimore Port Alliance (BPA). This nonprofit group of maritime business representatives is dedicated to addressing the needs and interests of communities affected by the Port.
In 2018, the BPA donated tools to BMORE Beautiful, a pilot peer-to-peer community beautification project, so neighborhoods could borrow tools for community gardening and improvement projects. BPA members and friends helped remove a downed tree from the Madeira Street Community Garden in East Baltimore, planted 150 trees in Cherry Hill in the spring and sponsored a fall compliance workshop on air quality and community health.