Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy is photo-map­ping area waters

Har­bor and Pat­ap­sco to get 360-de­gree hi-res images

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarah Gantz

An odd red raft, rigged with a10-foot pole topped with cam­eras, will be cruis­ing the Bal­ti­more Har­bor and Pat­ap­sco River over the next few weeks.

The Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy and a Vir­ginia tech­nol­ogy com­pany are us­ing the pon­toon boat to cre­ate a vir­tual por­trait of the har­bor and river as part of a mul­ti­year project to photo-map more than 3,000 miles of the bay and its rivers — think Google Street View, but on the wa­ter.

The maps, avail­able on the An­napolis­based en­vi­ron­men­tal group’s web­site or its free mo­bile app, will of­fer peo­ple a vir­tual tour of wa­ter­ways most can’t see — about 98 per­cent of the coast along the trail is pri­vate prop­erty.

The ini­tia­tive is one way the Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy is try­ing to build pub­lic in­ter­est in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and the Cap­tain John Smith Ch­e­sa­peake Na­tional His­toric Trail, des­ig­nated in 2006 as the

first na­tional water­way trail.

“Vir­tual tours of the Ch­e­sa­peake rivers, the Bal­ti­more Har­bor and the John Smith Trail are one way we’re us­ing tech­nol­ogy to in­spire peo­ple to care for the Ch­e­sa­peake, to en­cour­age them to get out­side and get on the wa­ter,” said Joel Dunn, the con­ser­vancy’s CEO. “Be­cause once you’re on the wa­ter, you’ll fall in love with the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, and once you fall in love with the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, you’ll vote for it, you’ll do­nate to it, you might even com­mit your ca­reer to it.”

The John Smith Trail fol­lows the route ex­plorer John Smith forged and mapped around the bay in the early 1600s.

Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy and Rich­mond-based Ter­rain360 be­gan map­ping the river trail, which reaches from Vir­ginia to New York, last year. So far, they’ve mapped the James, Nan­ti­coke and Susque­hanna rivers, and Mal­lows Bay, part of the Potomac River.

In ad­di­tion to Bal­ti­more Har­bor and the Pat­ap­sco River, they plan to map the rest of the Potomac River, and the Elk, North­east, Rap­pa­han­nock, Sas­safras and York rivers.

The group will have mapped about two-thirds of the trail by the end of this year. They hope to com­plete the project next year, as­sum­ing fund­ing comes through. The project has been paid for by a do­na­tion from a pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tion. The group de­clined to name the donor and the amount.

To map the wa­ter­ways, Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy and Ter­rain360 out­fit­ted a pon­toon boat with a10-foot-tall pole topped with six cam­eras. The cam­eras take panoramic pic­tures ev­ery 40 feet, as the boat travels along the shore, mov­ing at about 6 miles an hour.

Pho­tos from the cam­era are later in­te­grated to cre­ate a 360-de­gree view, sim­i­lar to Google Street View.

Map­ping Bal­ti­more’s har­bor and the Pat­ap­sco will take a few weeks. The boat can’t go out in the rain, be­cause it would dis­tort images and pos­si­bly dam­age the cam­eras. Ob­sta­cles such as trash, mud or Six cam­eras pro­vide a 360-de­gree view of wa­ter­ways from a cus­tom-made pon­toon. The Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy will be map­ping the shore­line. sea­weed can in­ter­fere with the boat’s mo­tor.

Ryan Kren­shaw, a data col­lec­tor for Ter­rain360 who has been op­er­at­ing the pon­toon boat this sum­mer, likes to get as close to the shore as pos­si­ble, usu­ally within 50 feet, which means keep­ing an eye out for shal­low spots.

With the vir­tual map, the Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy is at­tempt­ing to con­nect with dig­i­tal-fo­cused mil­len­ni­als, who, Dunn said, can shape how fu­ture gen­er­a­tions ad­dress en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. The group is es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in reach­ing young par­ents who want to ex­pose their chil­dren to the out­doors, he said.

“We’re rid­ing the in­ter­net wave,” Dunn said.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal group also wants busi­nesses to get more in­volved, es­pe­cially in Bal­ti­more, where the har­bor needs lots of help.

The har­bor is pol­luted with mil­lions of gal­lons of sewage, trash and stormwa­ter runoff. In its an­nual Healthy Har­bor re­port card, the Wa­ter­front Part­ner­ship of Bal­ti­more gave the har­bor an F on four out of six qual­ity mea­sures, in­clud­ing fe­cal bac­te­ria lev­els.

“The har­bor is a beau­ti­ful place to stand and look out on, but peo­ple are smart — they know if you can swim in the har­bor, fish and eat the fish, the lo­cal econ­omy will be strength­ened. They’ll be able to at­tract more cus­tomers, res­i­dents,” said Lau­rie Schwartz, pres­i­dent of the Wa­ter­front Part­ner­ship of Bal­ti­more.

A us­able wa­ter­front could be a ma­jor draw for prospec­tive em­ploy­ees of down­town Bal­ti­more busi­nesses, which is why busi­nesses should have an in­ter­est in see­ing Bal­ti­more’s har­bor im­proved, Schwartz said.

Michael D. Hankin, CEO of Bal­ti­more in­vest­ment firm Brown Ad­vi­sory and chair­man of the part­ner­ship’s board, said busi­nesses of­ten help be­hind the scenes, push­ing is­sues with politi­cians, do­nat­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and sup­port­ing new ini­tia­tives.

“Busi­nesses can play a big­ger role by speak­ing up more and say­ing these things mat­ter to ev­ery­one and they mat­ter to us as busi­nesses,” said Hankin, who also serves on Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy’s board. “That’s what we’ve tried to do.”

While in many ar­eas, the group’s pho­tos will high­light spark­ing wa­ter and lush forests that users will — in the­ory — be ea­ger to go ex­plore, those for the Bal­ti­more Har­bor, while vis­ually in­ter­est­ing, also will de­pict its pol­luted state.

That’s not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing, Schwartz said. As part of its ef­fort to clean up the har­bor, the part­ner­ship has made a point to high­light the har­bor’s prob­lems and progress, with its an­nual re­port card and trash wheel, which col­lects trash where the Jones Falls en­ters the In­ner Har­bor.

The Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy’s pho­tomap could have the same ef­fect, she said.

“If they see trash float­ing in the wa­ter, we’re hope­ful that they’ll see it as a crime, as a shame, and want to make our area as pris­tine as some other parts of the ch­e­sa­peake,” Schwartz said.

In De­cem­ber 2014, a county 911 em­ployee did not face dis­ci­pline when she posted on her Face­book page that “thugs” are more trust­wor­thy than “any po­lice­man.” She said she feared for her son’s safety when in­ter­act­ing with po­lice be­cause he is black.

At the time, Kamenetz de­fended the em­ployee’s right to speak out on the is­sue but urged peo­ple to dis­cuss the is­sue in a “pos­i­tive and pro­duc­tive man­ner.” The em­ployee faced strong back­lash and even­tu­ally re­signed from her job.

Con­duct poli­cies like Bal­ti­more County’s are gen­er­ally found to be le­gal when chal­lenged in court, said Eric B. Eas­ton, pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Bal­ti­more’s School of Law, who spe­cial­izes in me­dia law, in­clud­ing First Amend­ment is­sues.

Gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ers usu­ally can’t re­strict an em­ployee’s speech on purely pri­vate mat­ters, such as com­plain­ing about a rel­a­tive. But on mat­ters of “pub­lic in­ter­est,” the gov­ern­ment can dis­ci­pline em­ploy­ees for what they say, Eas­ton said.

“They’re go­ing to bal­ance what I had to say and my right to say it against the ef­fi­ciency and ef­fec­tive­ness of the gov­ern­ment,” Eas­ton said. “If what I say im­pairs dis­ci­pline in my agency, has a detri­men­tal ef­fect on the mis­sion of my agency, they can reg­u­late that.”

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Joel Dunn, left, pres­i­dent and CEO of Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy, rides with Ryan Cren­shaw, a con­trac­tor for the Ch­e­sa­peake Con­ser­vancy, as he pilots a cus­tom-made pon­toon.

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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