One Month In, Ramadan Trial Stops For Judge’s Vacation

Basel Ramadan

OCEAN CITY — The New York trial of West Ocean City resident Basel Ramadan, alleged ringleader of a vast multi-million dollar cigarette smuggling ring who was later charged with attempted “murder for hire” from behind bars, has dragged into its fourth week and will now pause while the judge vacations.

In May 2013, federal officials concluded an investigation into a multi-million-dollar cigarette smuggling operation with raids on two locations in and around the resort area, including the West Ocean City homes of Basel Ramadan, who was called the “ringleader” and “boss of the enterprise,” and Samer Ramadan, who was called the “enterprise treasurer.” Federal officials on the same day raided the Ramadans’ offices over the Subway restaurant they owned near 26th Street in Ocean City.

Over two years after the raids in May 2013, the trial for Basel Ramadan began in New York’s King’s County Supreme Court back on June 10 and has continued almost daily in the nearly four weeks since. The trial continued on Monday before halting for nearly two weeks because the judge in the case is on a pre-planned vacation.

It is expected to resume on July 20 and the New York Attorney General’s Office could complete the presentation of its case shortly thereafter. It is uncertain if the defense will present its case, and if so, how long that might take, but summations in the case and closing arguments could be heard by the end of the month.

At the Ramadans’ West Ocean City homes in the Oyster Harbor community, $1.4 million in large black bags was recovered, along with 20,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes. Also seized were numerous vehicles and other property belonging to the Ramadans. The Ramadans allegedly conducted the vast cigarette smuggling operation out of their Ocean City properties, but 14 other co-conspirators, from transporters to distributors to resellers, were also rounded up at locations all over the mid-Atlantic region.

According to the New York Attorney General’s Office, the Ramadans and their co-conspirators allegedly funneled thousands of cartons of untaxed smokes and millions of dollars in ill-gotten revenue through Ocean City and Worcester County from a wholesaler in Virginia to a distribution warehouse in Delaware, from whence the illegal, untaxed cigarettes were distributed to retail outlets all over New York City and upstate.

In May 2013, a New York grand jury handed down formal indictments against the Ramadans and their alleged 14 co-conspirators. The 300-plus page grand jury indictment includes 244 total counts and another 243 “pattern acts.” Also included in the indictment are numerous “overt acts,” which include recorded phone conversations and movements of the alleged co-conspirators. According to the indictment, the Ramadans were successful for a long time in disguising the illicit proceeds and funneling through local banking institutions and allowed them to continue to finance the purchase of thousands of cartons of cigarettes from Virginia wholesaler Cooper Booth Inc.

Last July, Samer Ramadan, pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption, the top charge against him for his role in the massive cigarette smuggling scheme and was sentenced to a maximum of six years in prison and a minimum of two years. Another co-conspirator, Youssef Odeh, last year pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption and second-degree conspiracy for his role in an alleged murder-for-hire plot targeting witnesses in the case and was also sentenced to a maximum of six years and a minimum of two.

While Basel Ramadan faces trial for his leadership role in the vast cigarette smuggling operation, his case was complicated in October 2013 when he was indicted, along with Odeh, in an alleged “murder for hire” plot while incarcerated. The New York Attorney General’s Office in October 2013 added the new charges alleging Basel Ramadan and Odeh conspired from behind bars to murder witnesses they believed were cooperating with law enforcement in building a case against them.

“During the course of the above-stated conspiracy, it was the stated goal of defendant Ramadan and defendant Odeh to kill several individuals whom the defendants believed to be witnesses against them in the prosecution of the Kings County indictment,” the indictment reads. “In order to carry out the above stated goal of conspiracy, both defendants discussed and agreed with individuals that the individuals would carry out the goal of the conspiracy by intentionally causing, or recruiting, other individuals to cause the death of persons the defendants believed to be witnesses against them on behalf of the prosecution.”

 

Launch Activity Picking Up At Wallops

The latest of several recent launches from Wallops Island Flight Facility was Tuesday featured a 50-foot tall suborbital rocket carrying scientific experiments. Photo courtesy of Wallops Island

WALLOPS — NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility, south of Ocean City and Assateague Island, successfully launched a five-story-high suborbital rocket Tuesday morning.

Around 6:15 a.m. on Tuesday, the Wallops Island Flight Facility along the Virginia shore launched a NASA Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket, carrying two space technology demonstration projects. The suborbital rocket carried its scientific experiment payload to an altitude of about 206 miles approximately five minutes after launch before the payload splashed down harmlessly in the Atlantic Ocean around 160 miles from shore. As planned, the payload will not be recovered.

According to Wallops officials, with crystal clear conditions on Tuesday morning, the launch was reportedly visible from Delaware to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and everywhere in between including the Ocean City and Worcester County coastal areas. While the suborbital launch was certainly not the largest or the most visible from Wallops in recent years, the successful launch of the suborbital Black Brant IX on Tuesday signals a continued rebound in Wallops launch activity after a major catastrophe last fall.

Tuesday’s launch was the second from Wallops in the span of about two weeks. On June 25, Wallops launched a suborbital Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket carrying student experiments. The next launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility will be a suborbital Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket scheduled to go up in the early morning hours on Aug. 11, continuing an expanded launch program after the accident last October.

Last fall, NASA’s private sector partner Orbital Science attempted the launch of an Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. The Antares, which measured about 131 feet, or about 13 stories high, went up as planned, but the mission was aborted just seconds after liftoff when problems with the launch were detected. There were two explosions, both of which shook houses and rattled windows across the Lower Shore, as the Antares was purposely blown up and fell back to the launch pad.

In the months since, NASA and Wallops officials have recovered and resumed launch activities at the flight facility as evidenced by the two launches this week and in late June. Clearly, the federal government continues to invest in the Wallops Flight Facility with an eye on the future of its launch program. Just two weeks ago, on the eve of the 70th anniversary celebration for Wallops, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) announced the 2016 federal spending bill includes a $7 million investment in the Wallops Island Flight Facility’s launch complex. With the dismantling of the space shuttle program, Wallops has taken on greater importance in the nation’s space program in recent years with several significant launches.

As a result, the Wallops Island Flight Facility has expanded its operations creating hundreds of new meaningful and well-paying government and private sector jobs across the Lower Shore including Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset. The expanded presence at Wallops has also created millions of dollars in direct and indirect economic impact on the Lower Shore.

With the influx of federal funding, Wallops has flourished in recent years with several significant orbital and suborbital launches each year. There has been some tourism-based economic benefit as visitors have flocked to various points along the shore to view the larger launches including Ocean City and Assateague, for example.

Surprise Project Causes Route 90 Backups; Contractor Failed To Alert SHA Ahead Of Time

OCEAN CITY — The unexpected back-ups reported on Route 90 throughout the morning on Wednesday were caused by the final phase of a paving project along the highway this spring.

The State Highway Administration (SHA) this spring hired a private contractor to repave a long section of Route 90 heading into Ocean City. The contractor returned on Wednesday to replace a loop detector in the roadway at St. Martin’s Neck Rd. A loop detector is essentially a sensor embedded in the road surface to indicate to the traffic signal at Route 90 and St. Martin’s Neck when motorists are stopped so the signal understands when to move to the next phase.

The project was expected to continue on Thursday, but as of late Wednesday afternoon the project was postponed until next week at the earliest due to materials not being available.

Ordinarily, SHA gets information out early to the public about road projects and possible delays, but SHA officials said on Wednesday they weren’t aware the private contractor was returning to replace the loop detector on Route 90 this week.

The issue is being addressed and in the meantime, the SHA maintenance shop is making sure there is appropriate signage in the area to warn motorists about possible delays and lane closures.

The city has reportedly been informed by SHA that as of Thursday morning the work will resume next week, but unlike this week notification will be made through the media as well as on area signage. Although exact date of the work was unclear as of deadline, SHA has told the city the remaining work will be completed at night and mid-week.

Salp Blooms In Ocean Likely A Combination Of Natural Factors

Photo by Chris Parypa

ASSATEAGUE — The invasion of thumbnail-sized, clear little jellies that raided the beaches at Assateague and in Ocean City to some degree last weekend continued this week, but the creatures are harmless and pose no danger to swimmers in the resort area.

Last week, thousands of tiny blobs of clear gelatinous creatures appeared in the ocean and on the beaches in Assateague and Ocean City, creating quite a stir for the countless visitors to the resort area on the busy holiday weekend. The ocean was thick with them and they washed up on the beaches in great numbers, but while the scope of the outbreak was somewhat rare, it is actually a natural phenomenon that should be enjoyed and not feared.

The creatures are called salps, and they belong to a small category of gelatinous invertebrates generally lumped into a large group called jellyfish.

National Aquarium General Curator Jack Cover just happened to be on vacation at Assateague last weekend and has vast knowledge about the salps as well as first-hand experience now.

“I actually had firsthand experience with them this weekend,” he said. “I was swimming with them and walking on them.”

Cover said a combination of winds and tides likely drove the salps closer to shore and when they found an abundant food source, the population exploded, creating waves of the small jellies in the ocean and on the beach.

“They belong to a category of what we call jellyfish, which is basically anything gelatinous,” he said. “Salps are just one little group of a much larger family and they are actually what we call a macro-plankton. They are filter feeders and have no stingers. They are little, clear barrels with water pumping through them and they feed on plankton.”

Assateague Island National Seashore Assistant Chief of Interpretation and Education Liz Davis has also been following the outbreak of salps on the barrier island this week. She agreed the phenomenon is likely tied to a variety of natural factors.

“Salp blooms can be directly tied to plankton blooms in the ocean,” she said. “When food is abundant, the salps can quickly and easily reproduce. When that happens, there are too many salps and not enough food to go around and they start to die off. So, this could be a typical case of population cycling.”

Davis said the salp bloom seemed to peak over the weekend, although the phenomenon had not abated as of Thursday.

“It’s still going on,” she said. “They’re not as abundant as a few days ago. Winds and tides play a role, as does where they are in the population cycle. It’s pretty cool.”

Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips has also experienced the salp invasion first hand.

“They’re pretty cool,” she said. “I love the way the washed up ones glitter like broken glass on the beach, but swimming in what feels like tapioca is not exactly enjoyable.”

Cover agreed the while salps are harmless in great numbers they can create a rather different texture in the water.

“When there are waves of them like we’ve seen this week, the water takes on kind of a milky texture,” he said. “Again, they are harmless, but the coating of them on the beach can be really slippery.”

Cover said the abundance of micro-plankton, which is the salp’s primary food source, close to shore is largely responsible for the outbreak.

“They’re opportunistic,” he said. “If there is a lot of food, they have the potential to reproduce quickly in big numbers. That’s what we’re seeing at Assateague and at Ocean City to a large degree. They’re mainly offshore, but when the Gulf Stream comes closer to shore, which is essentially like Route 95 in the ocean, strong inshore winds can push them in closer to the beach and they just go with the flow. The current and winds kind of dictate where they go and that’s why we’re seeing them on the beaches.”

Cover said the salp outbreak, while interesting, poses no threat to swimmers except for the inconvenience of walking on them or wading through them in the ocean.

“It’s not highly unusual, but this so-called bloom is pretty big,” he said. “People were freaking out, but there is no way they can harm you. Probably the biggest danger is slipping on them while walking on the beach. They’re just little chunks of gelatin. Naturally, there are a lot of animals in the ocean and occasionally humans get to see them up close and personal. We should take it as an opportunity to learn about something we maybe haven’t encountered before.”

Cover said given their druthers, the salps would rather not be in close to shore in the first place.

“For most of these little guys, it’s a bad day for any gelatinous animals when they get this close to the beach because the surf just breaks them up,” he said. “Who knows how long it will last. They’re like little jellies bobbing in the ocean and there’s not much mass to them.”

Unlike some of their cousins in the jellyfish family, the salps do not have any potential to harm swimmers. Cover said there have been sightings of other potentially dangerous jellies in and around the resort area recently.

“Another peculiar thing is that someone sent us a picture of a Portuguese Man O’ War from the beach in Ocean City,” he said. “That’s very rare. Obviously, they have stingers and wouldn’t be anything you would want to mess with.”

The National Aquarium in Baltimore this spring opened its new Living Seashore exhibit, which includes many of creatures that inhabit the waters in and around the resort area. Cover said recent unusual activity has created an opportunity for residents and visitors to learn first-hand about them in their own back yard.

“There are a lot of things out there, like the hammerheads we saw down there recently,” he said. “We recently opened our Living Seashore exhibit and some of these things are included. There is a big variety of critters out there and everything on or around the beach has a story to tell.”

While the salp outbreak at Assateague and Ocean City this week is likely largely due to a combination of natural factors, everything that happens on land in and around the ocean and bays contributes to the larger circle of life in the ocean and bays.

“There is a lot of human activity that directly or indirectly contributes to over-fertilizing the ocean,” he said. “With nutrient run-off in the bays and tributaries, we are creating blooms of algae and massive die-offs in the tributaries. The things that feed off that are also over-populating. It’s causing the blue ocean to turn green.”

Woman Recalls Being Impaled By Beach Umbrella Five Years Ago This Week

Woman

OCEAN CITY — Five years ago this week, a Baltimore woman was severely injured when she was impaled by a flying beach umbrella on the beach in Ocean City, providing the backdrop of a reminder about the importance of properly installing the shade providers.

On June 30, 2010, Lynn Stevens was enjoying a windy but hot summer day on the beach with her family in the area of the Gateway Grand when a beach umbrella in her vicinity was lifted high in the area by a gust of wind and came plummeting back to the ground at a high rate of speed. The spiked end of the umbrella pole impaled Stevens’ thigh and nearly severed a major artery.

“It was a very windy day and the umbrella was lifted straight up in the air,” said Stevens this week as she recounted the incident five years ago. “It came straight back down and went through my thigh. The pole went into my leg about four inches and it just missed my femoral artery. It didn’t tumble like you see them do so often. Instead, it went straight up and came straight down.”

The Ocean City Beach Patrol and Ocean City EMTs responded quickly and began a rather unusual treatment of Stevens.

“It took four men to hold the umbrella steady in the wind to prevent it from doing more damage,” she said. “They literally sawed off the pole right there on the beach and left about a 12-inch length of the pole sticking out of my leg. They took me to PRMC and the rest of it was taken out in the operating room. It was a little unnerving because the nurses and doctors looked a little astonished to see the umbrella pole sticking out of my leg because I figured they had probably seen everything.”

Stevens said she spent three days in the hospital recovering from the injury. She later attempted to locate the EMTs that cared for her initially on the beach in order to thank them. While the severity of her beach umbrella injury five years ago this week was somewhat unusual, it certainly isn’t unusual for beachgoers to be struck and injured by flying umbrellas. Because of the ever-changing and often windy conditions on the beach and improperly installed beach umbrellas, there are dozens of cases nearly every day. Some are worse than others, but nearly all of them are preventable.

The Ocean City Beach Patrol responds to medical emergencies caused by flying beach umbrellas almost every day throughout the summer and some, including Stevens’ case, are serious enough to require an emergency services response. According to the OCBP, it is almost never the person who owns the umbrella that gets hit, but rather an unsuspecting person nearby. The accidents can often be prevented and are essentially caused by an umbrella that was not properly set in the sand to begin with.

While there are obvious public safety issues with improperly set beach umbrellas, there are often legal ramifications, according to the beach patrol. The owner of a flying umbrella can be held responsible for any injury caused to another person. For that reason, the beach patrol will offer advice for properly setting an umbrella, but will not install an umbrella for beachgoers. Similarly, beach stand operators know how to set an umbrella properly and adjust them to the prevailing conditions, but if a renter moves the umbrella on their own, they can be held legally responsible for any damages they cause.

With all that said, there are some common sense beach umbrella installation techniques that will make a day at the beach safer for everybody. When setting the umbrella, simply jabbing it into the sand is not enough. Instead, jab to sharpened end of the pole into the sand and rock the entire umbrella back and forth until 18 to 24 inches of the pole are firmly into the beach. Another flawed technique is attempting to screw the umbrella pole into the sand.

Another tip is to make sure the umbrella is tilted into the wind. That will prevent a gust from getting under the umbrella and lifting it suddenly, as was the case with Stevens’ incident. Again, common sense should prevail in most cases. If it is an unusually windy day, take the umbrella down and don’t leave it unattended. If one goes in for lunch, or into the ocean for a swim or down the beach for a walk, take the umbrella down and put it back up upon returning.

The beach patrol will often warn beachgoers of high wind conditions, just as they issue warning about rip currents or other potential hazards. It is also important to remember to set umbrellas behind the lifeguard stands. Umbrellas set east of the imaginary line between lifeguard stands can impede the sight lines for the beach patrol and its ability to survey the water. If setting an umbrella before the lifeguards come on duty, always remember to set them a few yards behind the high tide line.

 

American Flag Effort On Coastal Bays Island Unites Strangers

“People got together for a common cause and you could see attitudes start to change. Other groups joined in and when the flag went up, there were rounds of applause and cheers of God Bless America went up. It was a wonderful experience,” said Selbyville resident Glen Smith

OCEAN CITY — A sandy spit in the Isle of Wight Bay became an unlikely site of spontaneous patriotism on Sunday afternoon when a determined Selbyville man, with the help of new friends, raised an American flag on the recently restored island.

On Sunday afternoon, Captain Glen Smith of Selbyville waded from his boat onto the Dog and Bitch Island in the Isle of Wight Bay, carrying bags of concrete, tools, a flag pole and an American flag. The Dog and Bitch Island is an historic island in the shallow coastal bays behind Ocean City recently restored during the dredging of the navigation channels in and around the resort last fall and winter.

The island existed on charts dating back to the 1930s, but had all but disappeared over the decades. When the federal Army Corps of Engineers dredged the navigation channels around the coastal bays, the resulting sand and dredge spoil had to be placed somewhere. It was ultimately decided to use the 400,000-plus cubic yards of sand to restore some of the islands in the coastal bays that had not been seen since the 1930s including the famed Dog and Bitch Island.

As a result, roughly 18,000 cubic yards of sand were pumped onto the Dog and Bitch Island. The project essentially accomplished two goals including finding a home for the material dredged from the channels while recreating historic small islands essential for migratory bird habitat and other uses. Throughout the early summer, Dog and Bitch and some of the other restored islands have become popular recreation sites for boaters, many of whom drop anchor and wade ashore on busy weekends.

When Smith of Route 113 Boat Sales in Selbyville, visited the Dog and Bitch Island during the Ocean City Air Show two weeks ago, it occurred to him the beautiful sandy spit of land needed something more. He envisioned installing an American flag on the island and carried out his plan on Sunday.

“It’s such a beautiful little island with a perfect little grade up to a peak in the center,” he said this week. “It kept running through my mind all last week that it would be a perfect spot for an American flag for all to enjoy and for the entire week I gathered the necessary tools and supplies to accomplish the project.”

Two couples boating recreationally in the bays on Sunday afternoon were visiting Dog and Bitch when they observed Smith starting his monumental task. Bryan James of Harper’s Ferry, West Va. said he and his friend Rich Shank watched Smith as he waded onto the island from his anchored boat about 100 yards offshore carrying bags of quickset concrete, rebar, tools, a pole and a flag. Swelled with patriotism, James and Shank joined Smith in carrying the tools and supplies onto the island, helped dig the hole and establish the base for the new flag.

“He was very well prepared and very meticulous in his work,” said James on Sunday. “I asked him if he was a veteran and he said no. As far as I

Smith is pictured with the flag pole he assembled along with a group of strangers last Sunday on Dog and Bitch Island in the Isle of Wight Bay. Submitted Photos

Smith is pictured with the flag pole he assembled along with a group of strangers last Sunday on Dog and Bitch Island in the Isle of Wight Bay. Submitted Photos

could gather, he just felt very passionate that this needed to be done. I’m not sure if it was out of irritation or disgust with the many images in the news flashes of flags being burned or flags being taken down and removed or stepped on, or perhaps it was just out of patriotism with the Fourth of July around the corner.”

Smith, who is not an Armed Forces veteran but is a certified boat captain by the Coast Guard, said there was no real motivation for undertaking the task, other than a sense of patriotism and the feeling it needed to be done and the island presented the perfect location.

“I was not sure how it would be received, but there was no real motivation,” he said. “It was amazing to see how people responded.

Smith, with help from James and Shank and others, poured the concrete and established the base for the new flagpole. The concrete had to set for three hours or so before the pole could be installed and Old Glory could be raised. James and Shank left to go have lunch, but returned a few hours later to help Smith complete the task.

“He was really happy to see us come back” said James. “By then, a whole bunch of other people had joined in to help.”

Smith said his flag-raising project helped restore his faith in his fellow citizens.

“The American dream is still alive and well,” he said. “People got together for a common cause and you could see attitudes start to change. Other groups joined in and when the flag went up, there were rounds of applause and cheers of God Bless America went up. It was a wonderful experience.”

James agreed the response to the flag-raising was remarkable.

“As we raised the flag, a loud applause sounded from all over the island and nearby boats. People gathered and expressed their gratitude to Glen for what he had done and shook his hand. I sure hope it’s still standing. I’m glad we stumbled onto Dog and Bitch Island that day. It was truly a moving experience.”

Smith said the patriotism surrounding the raising of the American flag was contagious and already there was talk of expanding on the project.

“One couple said they wanted to come back and install solar-powered LED lights to illuminate the flag at night,” he said. “Others said they wanted to come back and maybe install flowers. Phone numbers and emails were exchanged and new friends were met. The group was starting to call ourselves the ‘Keepers of the Flag’ and maybe something more permanent could be installed and maybe there are opportunities in other areas. It has the potential to grow.”

No Wake Urged To Protect Nesting Birds

A family of Black Skimmers is pictured on a dry spit in the back bays. Photo by Maryland Coastal Bays Program

OCEAN CITY — The Maryland Coastal Bays Program this week is asking the boating public to reduce or eliminate wakes around a small, sandy island near the Route 50 Bridge that is the only location for nesting endangered Black Skimmers in the entire state of Maryland.

The small, unnamed island, referred to by many unofficially as OC Spoils, is home to the only known nesting area for endangered Black Skimmers. The island is also home to a few nests for Common Terns, a bird that is also being closely monitored due to diminished habitat. The common tern colony currently nesting on the OC Spoils island is the only viable colony in the entire coastal bays watershed.

Because of the close proximity of the island just west of the Ocean City navigation channel with relatively deep water and no sand shoals to protect it, nest and chick loss to wakes from larger boats traveling above six knots has been an historic and continuing mortality factor for the endangered species.

To that end, the Maryland Coastal Bays program this week is reaching out to the boating public to please keep their vessels at a no wake speed between the red triangle Channel Number 2 marker to the Six Knot marker near the Route 50 bridge. Some of the bird nests are relatively low on the beach where the combination of high tide levels, especially round new and full moons, and large boat wakes are resulting in next and chick losses at an alarming rate.

The nest and chick loss was a significant issue back when the site was used as a nesting area for colonies of Black Skimmers and Common Terns in the mid-90s, but diminished somewhat when the species relocated their nesting areas to other sites. Now that the sandy island near the main channel has been reoccupied again by the endangered species, the MCBP is seeking the public’s help in eliminating at least the man-made threat to the nesting birds.

Nesting Common Terns and Black Skimmers heavily used the island for a decade between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s. The populations of the species in Maryland were then much higher at around 2,500, or 250 nesting pairs. For the next decade, the two species relocated to other more suitable habitats in the coastal bays. However, increased development and other changes has recently resulted in the loss of those other habitats, forcing the terns and skimmers to return to their traditional nesting site on the sandy island near the main navigational channel.

Common Tern and Black Skimmer populations have decline dramatically in Maryland in the last two decades. Black Skimmers are currently listed as endangered in Maryland, while Common Terns are currently proposed for a change in status to endangered as soon as the necessary regulatory process is completed. Both Black Skimmers and Common Terns prefer to next on relatively open sandy beaches.

In the coastal bays watershed, there were only two breeding colonies of Black Terns located during extensive surveys in mid-June and they contained a total of only 10 breeding pairs. A revisit to both colony sites last week found that the larger colony had totally abandoned its breeding attempt and the only remaining active colony in the coastal bays consisted of only four breeding pairs located on the small island adjacent to the navigation channel.

To that end, the MCBP is urging boaters utilizing the channel, particularly during the sensitive nesting periods for the endangered birds, to reduce speeds in the area of the navigation channel closest to the sandy island and create no wakes in order to protect the important species.

 

Three Turtles Returned After Seven-Month Rehab Stint

Amber White of the National Aquarium shows off one of the rehabilitated Kemp’s Ridley turtles to onlookers at the Inlet last Friday. Submitted Photo

OCEAN CITY — Three successfully rehabilitated Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles were re-released from the beach in Ocean City early last Friday morning, but National Aquarium staffers are now dealing with a different threat to the endangered species.

Last Friday morning, National Aquarium staffers released three endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles from the beach near the Inlet in Ocean City. The three turtles, Muppy, Brewster and A. Ligator, had been spent the last seven months at the National Aquarium marine animal rehabilitation facility in Baltimore recovering from a fairly common phenomenon known as cold stunning.

Throughout the winter, hundreds of cold-stunned sea turtles were discovered on the beaches throughout the mid-Atlantic region and many found their way to rehabilitation centers like the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The sea turtles hit patches of extremely cold water in their typical migratory patterns to warmer climates and the cold water literally stuns them to the point their bodies start to shut down and they wash up on the beaches.

The three sea turtles released from the beach in Ocean City last Friday were victims of cold-stunning. They were successfully rehabilitated after being admitted to the National Aquarium with a variety of illnesses and injuries including pneumonia, jaw lacerations and shell lesions. Each was fitted with microchips and metal flipper tags to help identify them if they are sighted in the future.
Meanwhile, the National Aquarium’s Stranding Response Program is now dealing with a different epidemic impacting endangered sea turtles in and around the mid-Atlantic area including Ocean City. The stranding program is seeing more and more cases sea turtles suffering from injuries caused by fishing tackle, line and hooks.

In fact, the aquarium has seen more cases of hooked sea turtles in the last few weeks at 22 than in the entire 2014 turtle season when just 14 cases were reported. The number of sea turtles hooked and injured by fishing gear has increased by 144 percent since 2009.

Sea turtles are endangered and there are federal laws protecting them from human activities such as harassment, poaching, hunting, killing, feeding or even touching. The top thing citizens can do to help the animals is to carefully discard fishing line, hooks and other tackle that might snare the turtles. The top thing residents and visitors can do to protect the animals is to report any suspicious incidents, entanglement cases, sightings or strandings. In Maryland, the best agency to call is the National Aquarium at 410-576-3880. In Delaware, the MERR Institute can be reached at 302-228-5029.

 

 

 

Funds Approved For Route 113’s South Stretch

BERLIN — Maryland Governor Larry Hogan last week announced a nearly $2 billion investment in highway and bridge construction projects across the state, including roughly $65 million for the long-anticipated next section of the dangerous Route 113 in Worcester County.

Hogan last Thursday announced $1.97 billion will be invested in highway safety improvement projects all over the state. The announcement fulfills a campaign promise by the governor to address the state’s failing highway and bridge infrastructure from the Eastern Shore to western Maryland and everywhere in between.

“I am delivering on my promise to provide nearly $2 billion in funding to our highways and bridges across the state,” he said. “This investment will not only move long-awaited highway projects into construction, so that Maryland families and businesses will benefit from safer, smoother roads, but it will also address every single structurally deficit bridge in the state. Building, maintaining and fixing Maryland’s roads and bridges is a top priority of our administration.”

Included in the governor’s transportation spending plan is $65 million in new state funding for the next section of the dualization of Route 113 in Worcester County. For the last two decades or so, the state has been dualizing sections of Route 113 from the Delaware line to south of Snow Hill in piecemeal fashion with frequent gaps in the activity.

The next section approved for funding by Hogan last week will run from Five Branch Rd. to north of Public Landing Rd. and is timed to begin construction at the conclusion of the current phase in the Newark area. The Newark section is nearing the end of its design phase and construction on that section could begin as soon as this August.

Worcester County officials have identified the upgrade and widening of Route 113 as its top transportation priority. The next section approved for funding last week will include widening the roadway from its current two-lane configuration to a four-lane configuration with a median including shoulders wide enough to accommodate bicycles. Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C), who represents Worcester and the parts of the Lower Shore, praised the governor for including Route 113 in his ambitious transportation spending plan.

“We in Worcester County are grateful to Governor Hogan for moving forward with funding the widening of Route 113 in his transportation priorities,” she said. “There has been a real local team effort over the years to address the safety issues on Route 113 and my constituents have made it clear that finishing the improvements on Route 113 remains a top priority. Thank you, Governor Hogan, for bringing us welcome news for our home community.”

While Route 113 remains Worcester County’s top priority, other future projects on the county’s list include improvements to Route 589, Route 90 and Route 50, including long-term plans to replace the Route 50 bridge into Ocean City. State Highway Administration officials have said there might be interim improvements to Route 589 while the Route 113 upgrades are ongoing.

Meanwhile, another major project included in the governor’s transportation spending plan announced last week was the dualization of Route 404 from Route 50 to the Denton bypass in Caroline County. While not specific to the Lower Shore and the local area, many area residents and countless visitors to the resort area utilize the Route 404 corridor to reach the beach.

“Over the years, Route 404 has claimed the lives of dozens of motorists, making it one of the state’s most dangerous roads,” said Senator Steve Hershey (R-36). “This governor committed to bringing change to Maryland and he has delivered every day since. Regarding transportation alone, he has lowered tolls and now brought dualization to one of the Eastern Shore’s most dangerous arteries, a major safety improvement.”

 

 

Five Years Ago Yesterday, Woman Was Impaled By Flying Umbrella On Beach; Reminders Issued Ahead Of Busy Weekend

When setting the umbrella, simply jabbing it into the sand is not enough. Instead, jab to sharpened end of the pole into the sand and rock the entire umbrella back and forth until 18 to 24 inches of the pole are firmly into the beach. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — Five years ago yesterday, a Baltimore woman was severely injured when she was impaled by a flying beach umbrella on the beach in Ocean City, providing the backdrop of a reminder about the importance of properly installing the shade providers.

On June 30, 2010, Lynn Stevens was enjoying a windy but hot summer day on the beach with her family in the area of the Gateway Grand when a beach umbrella in her vicinity was lifted high in the area by a gust of wind and came plummeting back to the ground at a high rate of speed. The spiked end of the umbrella pole impaled Stevens’ thigh and nearly severed a major artery.

“It was a very windy day and the umbrella was lifted straight up in the air,” said Stevens this week as she recounted the incident five years ago. “It came straight back down and went through my thigh. The pole went into my leg about four inches and it just missed my femoral artery. It didn’t tumble like you see them do so often. Instead, it went straight up and came straight down.”

The Ocean City Beach Patrol and Ocean City EMTs responded quickly and began a rather unusual treatment of Stevens.

“It took four men to hold the umbrella steady in the wind to prevent it from doing more damage,” she said. “They literally sawed off the pole right there on the beach and left about a 12-inch length of the pole sticking out of my leg. They took me to PRMC and the rest of it was taken out in the operating room. It was a little unnerving because the nurses and doctors looked a little astonished to see the umbrella pole sticking out of my leg because I figured they had probably seen everything.”

Stevens said she spent three days in the hospital recovering from the injury. She later attempted to locate the EMTs that cared for her initially on the beach in order to thank them. While the severity of her beach umbrella injury five years ago this week was somewhat unusual, it certainly isn’t unusual for beachgoers to be struck and injured by flying umbrellas. Because of the ever-changing and often windy conditions on the beach and improperly installed beach umbrellas, there are dozens of cases nearly every day. Some are worse than others, but nearly all of them are preventable.

The Ocean City Beach Patrol responds to medical emergencies caused by flying beach umbrellas almost every day throughout the summer and some, including Stevens’ case, are serious enough to require an emergency services response. According to the OCBP, it is almost never the person who owns the umbrella that gets hit, but rather an unsuspecting person nearby. The accidents can often be prevented and are essentially caused by an umbrella that was not properly set in the sand to begin with.

While there are obvious public safety issues with improperly set beach umbrellas, there are often legal ramifications, according to the beach patrol. The owner of a flying umbrella can be held responsible for any injury caused to another person. For that reason, the beach patrol will offer advice for properly setting an umbrella, but will not install an umbrella for beachgoers. Similarly, beach stand operators know how to set an umbrella properly and adjust them to the prevailing conditions, but if a renter moves the umbrella on their own, they can be held legally responsible for any damages they cause.

With all that said, there are some common sense beach umbrella installation techniques that will make a day at the beach safer for everybody. When setting the umbrella, simply jabbing it into the sand is not enough. Instead, jab to sharpened end of the pole into the sand and rock the entire umbrella back and forth until 18 to 24 inches of the pole are firmly into the beach. Another flawed technique is attempting to screw the umbrella pole into the sand.

Another tip is to make sure the umbrella is tilted into the wind. That will prevent a gust from getting under the umbrella and lifting it suddenly, as was the case with Stevens’ incident. Again, common sense should prevail in most cases. If it is an unusually windy day, take the umbrella down and don’t leave it unattended. If one goes in for lunch, or into the ocean for a swim or down the beach for a walk, take the umbrella down and put it back up upon returning.

The beach patrol will often warn beachgoers of high wind conditions, just as they issue warning about rip currents or other potential hazards. It is also important to remember to set umbrellas behind the lifeguard stands. Umbrellas set east of the imaginary line between lifeguard stands can impede the sight lines for the beach patrol and its ability to survey the water. If setting an umbrella before the lifeguards come on duty, always remember to set them a few yards behind the high tide line.