By Rick Ritter

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — In the midst of the summer season, beachgoers should be soaking in the picturesque view at sandy point beach.

Instead, the park is dealing with a mess, coping with a slew of debris that’s banned swimming indefinitely. There is trash, branches and tree trunks, some debris that’s too heavy for equipment to even handle.

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All of this, littering the Chesapeake. It comes after heavy rain forced officials to open the Conowingo Dam’s gates in the Susquehanna River last week.

“No matter where the debris came from, it’s our responsibility to safeguard our citizens and park visitors” Patrick Bright, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said.

It’s a mess being treated at the Annapolis city dock and on Thursday, dozens of volunteers pitched in at Sandy Point helping the department of natural resources.

“We’ve done the bulk of the work. Now we’re fortunate to have about 40 volunteers come help us with actually picking up the smaller debris. I’m very reassured by the progress we’ve made over the past couple of days” Bright said. “We’re hoping to have the beaches open for the weekend and gauging the process we’ve made so far, so that’s a distinct possibility. We have to understand that more debris can wash up over the next two days though.”

“We’re just concerned about the environment. We love our state parks. It’s pretty overwhelming, there’s a lot of junk out here” Babs McCauley, from Pasadena, who volunteered Thursday, said.

Officials say they’ve collected more than 35 tons of debris over the past few days at Sandy Point. Everything from propane tanks to chicken coops.

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The frustrations are obvious for state and local officials, who have blamed Exelon, which owns the Conowingo Dam. It’s something that Governor Larry Hogan has been fired up about. On Thursday, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Mark Belton, volunteered his time to help clean up. Belton says the governor is “laser focused” on fixing this.

“I understand every Marylander’s frustration. We have to live with this stuff. You can see 20 or more gates open at the Conowingo Dam and you see all of the material floating through, you have to think the Exelon organization can do a little better job of cleaning up debris before it comes through, and you gotta hope the upstream partners we have in other states are doing their jobs and they’re working at it” Belton said.

While elected leaders try and get to the bottom of the issue, cleanup crews are working tirelessly, desperate to get these areas back to the summer norm.

“I’ve always liked the parks and nature throughout Maryland and when I saw they needed help, I figured why not do it. I’m quite shocked how much progress has been made in the last couple of days,” said Nathan Edwards, from Odenton who volunteered Thursday.

Officials will try and have Sandy Point Beach open by the weekend. After collecting all of the debris, they’ll do a survey of the water and check what’s lurking below, as well.

Officials with the Waterkeepers Chesapeake say aside from the debris, the sediment pollution that came with it will have a lasting impact on water quality in the bay.

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WJZ reached out to Exelon for a comment and they released this statement:

“As owners of the Conowingo Dam, Exelon Generation shares the concerns of the public regarding the safety and the health of the Chesapeake Bay, in particular, the amount of trash and debris across the bay. Some of the debris entering the bay comes from upstream on the Susquehanna River watershed, which spans over 27,500 square miles of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and passes through the dam. Along with the 11 other rivers that feed into the bay, the Susquehanna recently experienced 10 times normal water flows and significantly more debris swept into the river and through the dam because of heavy rain. Although we seek to remove debris from the river safely and efficiently, we cannot remove all debris, especially during flood conditions. We’ve removed more than 600 tons of debris that has flowed down to the dam so far this year and will continue to do so. We look forward to continuing our work with local and state authorities to protect and restore the health of the bay.”

Rick Ritter