|Pocomoke River remains viable commerce route
By Deborah Gates, Daily Times Staff Writer
POCOMOKE CITY Time has done little to change the course of Worcester Countys 73-mile waterway called the Pocomoke River.
Shipbuilding that hugged its banks in the early 20th century faded away, yet the river remains a viable commerce route to the Chesapeake Bay.
Despite an invasion of toxins this decade that sickened sea life and threatened watermen, the Pocomoke, arguably, has more bass and shellfish than most rivers.
And its 25-foot depth parallels the Pocomoke with Africas Nile.
|About the river
The Pocomoke River is recognized as one of the largest shellfish-producing tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.
For its width, the Pocomoke, at 25 feet, is the second deepest river in the world, after the Nile in northeast Africa.
An estimated average of 300,000 tons of goods are barged annually on the Pocomoke River. In the 1990s, commerce was valued at about $5.5 million.
Worcester County took steps to protect the industrial flavor along the river in Pocomoke City, and purchased the abandoned Campbell Soup company.
For its width, it is the deepest river in the United States, said Doug Levin, director of the Earth Mapping Laboratory at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. It is the second deepest in the world, next to the Nile.
Deep water made the Pocomoke an ideal site to build ships in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Levin said. Unlike others, little to no dredging has occurred to maintain the depth of the Pocomoke.
People just dont realize how important the river is. Hundreds, even thousands of jobs depend on it, said Robert Cook, founder and executive vice president of the Delmarva Water Transport Committee.
Around Pocomoke City, at Worcester Countys southern tip, the river bustles as a passage for commerce entering or leaving the Chesapeake Bay, Cook said.
It is an economic advantage for Pocomoke because there isnt much commerce upstream. Downstream is where the main activity is, said Cook, whose DWTC oversees waterborne commerce through the region.
An estimated average of 300,000 tons of goods are transported by barge annually on the Pocomoke, and Cook said products range from grain to petroleum to sand, gravel and wood products. In the 1990s, $5.5 million was the estimated value from Pocomoke River commerce, according to Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Committee Inc.
By comparison, 1 million tons of material pass annually on the Wicomico River to Salisbury, Marylands second-largest port, Cook said.
Foreign imports have contributed to a drop in river shipments, said Bill Cheesman, a forester at the Smurfit Stone wood chip mill across the river from Pocomoke City. So has a trend of rainy seasons, he said. At the mill, chips are made from small trees and then are barged to West Point, Va., and converted to paper for boxes and bags.
Traffic has decreased in the last 30 years These are difficult times because of global markets and the weather, Cheesman says. It is difficult to harvest timber in a viable manner.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the river was the backdrop for a shipbuilding industry that reportedly was the largest and most successful enterprise in Pocomoke City. It stretches from the Great Cypress Swamp at the Maryland-Delaware line and through Maryland flows about 60 miles into the Pocomoke Sound at the Chesapeake Bay. Through the centuries, cargo has ranged from seafood and runaway slaves to whisky and furs.
Barging has helped reduce highway traffic and pollution from vehicle exhaust, Cook said. It would take 150 tractor-trailers to haul a load that would need one barge, he said.
Thered be 30,000 to 50,000 more trucks on the road and that would be an environmental problem, Cook said.
The Pocomoke is one of the largest shellfish-producing tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, and has been designated a Maryland Scenic and Wild River. Jerry Redden, economic development director for Worcester County, sees its future with a mixture of commerce, tourism and beauty.
There is Shad Landing (state park) and bass fishing, fantastic fishing, Redden said. Cypress trees are all up and down the river and there are bald eagles. There is a pristine nature of the river.
Worcester County took a key step to protect industrial-zoned property along the river in Pocomoke City, and purchased the abandoned Campbell Soup company. The river has no industries with waste runoff, Redden said, and recalled pfiesteria or other toxic strains in waterways that caused fish kills in the last decade.
The pfiesteria scare made everybody nervous, he said. There would be no heavy industry, no discharge.
Cook expects growth on the Eastern Shore and in southern Worcester County will fuel river commerce, of which at least 70 percent is petroleum and grain and aggregates make up about 30 percent, he said.
As the population increases, it will cause tonnage to increase, he said. There will be more fuel and heating oil for more cars and homes.
Reach Deborah Gates at 410-845-4641 or email@example.com.