Fish aren’t biting? Check for rock snot

Q: What do you get when a rock crosses with didymo?

A: Rock snot.

As I learned from covering the algae story in Monday’s paper, scientists came up with this clever nickname for the dribbles of goo that cover river rocks and bugs. And after seeing pictures of it, yeah, didymo looks like snot.

Apparently the stuff is most problematic for fishing lures and bait — it covers your line with foot-and-a-half long rat tails, said Jason DuPont, a guide on the Gunpowder River. So you can imagine that must do wonders for fishing.

But it starts to grow like peach fuzz in the fall, DuPont said, and practically doubles in size over the winter. Until spring, the goop will be at its fullest bloom, if you want to catch some pretty views of rock snot.

Mapping Baltimore’s green spaces

A new initiative by Baltimore officials to get the city’s surplus of vacant properties back on the tax rolls has prompted an environmental nonprofit to spring into action — and marshal mobile technology and crowdsourcing in its effort.

Baltimore Green Space is planning to send 20 two-person teams throughout the city on Dec. 11 to take pictures with their smartphones of vacant lots that have been turned into community green spaces.

They include gardens, so-called pocket parks, horseshoe pits and other lots converted into what the city calls “community use” spaces. Baltimore Green Space says it has given the city about 200 block/lot numbers but there are many more. And with 13,000 vacant lots throughout the city time is of the essence, organizers say.

“The city faces an information problem — it simply cannot know which of these ‘vacant’ lots are actually community assets that improve the livability of neighborhoods and thus property values,” Baltimore Green Space writes in an online event listing publicizing the effort.

The Daily Record’s real estate reporter, Melody Simmons, wrote about Baltimore’s “Vacants to Value” initiative last month.

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Planting a seed for a green roof

A Baltimore roofing company wants to give away a “green” roof to a nonprofit looking to reduce its carbon footprint.

Cole Roofing has dubbed the promotion the “Green Roof Giveaway” and values it at $30,000, either in the form of solar panels or a vegetated roof, which Cole says are growing in popularity. Interested nonprofits can go to a website and upload a video or submit an essay explaining why a green roof would help them in their work. The deadline is Nov. 15.

Cole Roofing will determine the type of roof to install based on the structure of the nonprofit’s building.

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Eden Prairie or Columbia/Ellicott City? You be the judge

Yesterday I wrote about Money Magazine’s list of its best small cities to live. Eden Prairie, Minn., edged out Ellicott City/Columbia for first place thanks to attributes like “gently rolling hills,” “plenty of outer beauty” and other idyllic, Midwestern traits of the type long chronicled by writers like Garrison Keillor.

But consider:

1. The magazine says one of the headlining reasons the Minnesota town wins is because it has “a dynamite economy.”  But then it turns around and says not only does Ellicott City/Columbia have a jobless rate “just as enviable as Eden Prairie’s,” but it is an “economic powerhouse.”  I’m not sure how dynamite compares quantitatively with a powerhouse, but by Money Magazine’s standards, the difference is apparently a measly .1 percent.  Come on.  Negligible at best.

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‘Hair’ we come to save the day …

Wondering what you can do for the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico? Get your hair cut. Seriously.

Catonsville’s Narcissus Salon is collecting hair and working with Matter of Trust to supply the ingredients to make hair mats for the “Hair For Oil Spills” program. The program collects donations of hair, fur and nylons to make hair mats that are placed around oil spills to contain the oil and keep it from spreading.

On Thursday, the salon will also be hosting a Matted Manes collection event where you can drop off donations of hair, fur and nylons that will be sent to Matter of Trust. Narcissus is asking other salons and grooming facilities to join them in the collection.

According to Matter of Trust, hair-filled nylon booms work better than the traditional ones because they absorb the oil better. After all, we wash our hair to get rid of that oil, right?

Interestingly enough, BP declined Matter of Trust’s offer to donate the booms and said it is using its own synthetic boom. I sensed a bit of frustration from Matter of Trust on BP declining the donations after the oil company’s Critical Resources Department initially said it was interested in the donations:

“On May 21st BP’s Public Affairs department, who were not in contact with the Critical Resources Dept. until we introduced them, told us that BP wanted to apologize but that [it] had enough of their own BP synthetic boom,” Matter of Trust said on its website. “We want to thank BP Crtitical Resources Materials Management Team For Boom Acquisition for their forward ideas and to say that they were a pleasure to work with.”

Instead the hair/nylon booms are being used by municipalities and harbors. In addition, people are rolling them on the beaches and putting them in shrimp bags that are tied together in strings from pier to pier. This also helps remove tar balls from the beach.

For other businesses interested in getting involved, Matter of Trust has contact information on its homepage.

On Earth Day, load up on new appliances

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, lots of businesses are teaming up to do good, offering giveaways and hawking Earth-friendly items or programs to attract your attention.

Sears is hoping to catch the eye of Maryland residents looking to save some green — that is, getting rebates for buying Energy Star-qualified appliances when the state’s program kicks off next week. Maryland has $5,405,000 up for grabs in rebates in its “Cash for Appliances” mail-in rebate program.

Sears will open at 6 a.m. on April 22, and have extra staffers on the floor to help people sort out appliance purchases and get rebates sent in electronically while they’re in the store, so that rebate doesn’t get forgotten in a pile of papers on the kitchen counter.

Sears is also the “2010 ENERGY STAR Retail Partner of the Year,” so it has revamped its Web site with all of the relevant information on rebates, credits, disposing of old appliances and buying new ones.

They have a handy section that shows you how much money you’d save buying a new appliance based on what you already have, the cost of electricity in Maryland and what model you plan to swap in (for refrigerators, think side-by-side fridge and freezer vs. freezer on top).

The company will also haul away your old appliance and make sure it’s disposed of in an environmentally friendly way, recycling the parts that can be reused.

In Maryland, here are the rebates available for buying Energy Star-qualified products:

– $50 for refrigerators
– $100 for clothes washers
– $300 for heat pump water heaters

Through the state’s EmPower Maryland program, residents can also get additional rebates on appliances offered by their utilities. For more info, check out the Maryland Energy Administration’s list of extra rebates.

Potholes update: Do it now!

In response to my blog about a town in Germany selling potholes to citizens who pay to have them filled in, a reader has reminded me that this idea is not new — in fact, it was done in Baltimore before, during the administration of former Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

Schaefer famously sold pothole repairs when he was Mayor. The repairs could be dedicated to a loved one, a red heart was painted over the patch and a certificate issued. A number of them are still visible around Baltimore. We have one on our block that we’re planning to ‘restore’ as a tribute to our great Mayor.”

As a former member of Mayor Schaefer’s staff during the ’70s, I should have remembered that getting potholes filled was one of his priorities — part of his detail-oriented, “do it now” approach to governance that won over voters — and involving the citizens of Baltimore was one of his greatest achievements.

I stand corrected.

Retweet to save the environment

On the surface, companies with coal-fired power plants and organizations that protect ecologically important land and water don’t seem like an obvious love connection.

So it could have caught me off guard when I saw that Constellation Energy Group is donating $1 to The Nature Conservancy every time a post on its EcoStar Grants program gets re-tweeted — up to $5,000 worth.

But over the last few years Constellation has upped its eco-friendliness, lighting up the courts at the U.S. Open with wind power,  winning awards for its solar installation at Patriot Place (retail/dining area across from Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots play) and its energy conservation program at a New England college. Not to mention its plans for solar and wind projects in Maryland and the recent upgrade to its Brandon Shores plant.

The EcoStar grants of up to $5,000 are for projects being completed near areas where Constellation does business, and according to the Nature Conservancy, it has helped to preserve more than 160,000 acres of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Instead of being surprised, I hit the re-tweet button. What can I say? I like spending other people’s money, especially when it’s for a good cause.

Own your own pothole?

Now that winter seems to be loosening its icy grip on Baltimore, potholes are blossoming on local streets, and officials are combing through their scarce budgets to find the money to pay to fill them.

But one town in Germany has come up with an interesting idea: Selling potholes. Niederzimmern, a hamlet in the eastern German state of Thuringia, will repair a pothole and attach an individual’s name to the newly filled hole. The cost for owning a pothole? Only $68.

Niederzimmern Mayor Christoph Schmidt-Rose said there’s interest from the local populace in the plan. “The point is to use a funny idea to find people who can then help us to get our streets back in order,” the mayor told German radio on Wednesday.

While an unfilled pothole begs for attention, one that’s filled is saying, “Someone cares about me.” And, as Mayor Schmidt-Rose observes, people who pay to fill a pothole “feel like they own [it].”

Some years ago, Baltimore officials got people to buy bricks inscribed with their name or the name of a loved one for placement along the Inner Harbor waterfront promenade. That idea proved to be very popular.

So who’s up for owning a personal, inscribed pothole?

Senator’s colorful language stirs environmental ire

Environmentalists are livid over some remarks by state Sen. Richard Colburn, a Cambridge Republican. Now they’re calling for a formal and public apology.

It happened during a meeting on Feb. 15 between the Eastern Shore delegation and the secretaries of the departments of Agriculture and Environment, in which lawmakers complained that agency rules are slowing down or halting projects in their counties.

Sen. Colburn, one of those at the meeting, said he believes “river keepers,” environmentalists who watch over particular waterways, are dictating business on the Eastern Shore. He compared them to watermelons: “green on the outside and red or socialist on the inside.”

Members of the Waterkeeper Alliance are red-faced with anger.

“Characterizing any and every opposing group or elected official as unpatriotic or un-American is a political tactic and has no place in any form of reasonable discourse,” said Kathy Phillips of Assateague Coastkeeper, a Waterkeeper Alliance member. “We are hard-working Maryland residents, devoting our lives in many cases, to the protection of Maryland waterways from illegal and often toxic pollution. Our groups are comprised of concerned Americans who care very deeply about their country. Waterkeepers has more than a number of veterans working to restore clean waterways in our country. Senator Colburn is engaging here in a McCarthy-like slur and he owes us an apology.”

U.S. Marine Corps Colonel (Ret.) Richard Dove, registered Republican, and Neuse Riverkeeper Emeritus (April 1, 1993 through July 4, 2000) said: “This man [State Sen. Colburn] doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He doesn’t know me or any of my colleagues, that’s for sure. Having served two tours of duty in Vietnam, I take it personally when someone calls me a Red, a socialist. I understand that Sen. Colburn aligns himself with big agriculture and the commercial farms that keep him in office, but the fact that our goals are not aligned doesn’t give him the right to blindly tag our members as socialists, implying somehow that we are un-American.”

Jeff Kelble of Shenandoah Riverkeeper said his family has been in America since the 1600s, homesteaded the Shenandoah Valley in the 1700s, and fought in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. “If anything, Riverkeepers are red-blooded Americans, not Red, socialists,” he said.

One wonders whether or not Sen. Colburn has a case of the “blues” over his remark.