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Lee Runoff Hurting Business For Watermen In Chesapeake Bay

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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MIDDLE RIVER, Md. (WJZ) — The financial losses caused by last week’s flooding extend to more than just property on land.

Alex DeMetrick reports watermen who work the bay are also taking a hard hit.

These mornings, Tony Conrad is starting work an hour later than usual. Backing his boat in to pick-up gear for crabbing, he’s normally on the bay at sunrise. But traveling in the dark is too dangerous right now, given what’s floating in the bay.

“Anything from firewood to propane tanks to hot water heaters. We had two boats everybody saw yesterday. Pretty ugly. Pretty bad,” Conrad said.

Debris swept off the land by Tropical Storm Lee last week stretches over miles of water. What isn’t heavy enough to cause outright damage is still capable of ruining an engine.

“There was so much stuff you couldn’t avoid it. It just kept getting sucked up and I had to jump over and get stuff off the intake and the wheel. It was just everywhere,” said waterman Kevin O’Neil.

Crab pots were also lost. Conrad estimates 300 of his were carried away… a $1,200 loss.

“Some of the trees are taking pots down the bay with them. They look like Christmas trees with all the floats and pots on them,” said Conrad.

Trying to stay clear of debris is only part of the struggle. Finding crabs is the other challenge. When the Susquehanna roared through the floodgates of Conowingo Dam, it dumped hundreds of thousands of tons of sediment into the bay.

The last time something like that happened was 2004 and Tropical Storm Ivan. The bay choked with liquid dirt.

“Terrible Ivan killed our crabs,” said one waterman.

Now watermen prepare for a catch that might not happen.

“A lot of them we know, swam down the bay. We’re in places now where there were crabs before the storm, and there’s nothing. We’re just kind of hoping and guessing they show up. It’s going to impact everybody’s fall,” Conrad said.

And to add insult to injury, watermen are reporting to police that crab pots that weren’t lost to Lee, are being stolen.

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