St. Mary’s Floating Dorm Could Damage Ecosystem

Students of St. Mary's College of Maryland were last month evacuated from two dorm buildings after a doctor declared them uninhabitable because of ubiquitous mold. The school board took the unique decision to put the students on a docked cruise ship.

The 286-foot-long Sea Voyager docked at St. Mary's to serve temporary duty as a floating dormitory for the public liberal arts school on a riverfront campus 70 miles from Washington.

However, the relocation of nearly 250 students has caused a minor inconvenience for at least one local constituency: the oysters of St. Mary's River and the oystermen who harvest them, writes Daniel de Vise at the Washington Post.

The floating dorm, set up to solve a housing crisis on campus, seems to be posing a number of logistical problems, such as what to do with thousands of gallons of wastewater flushed down the toilets and drains of the cruise ship cabins.

College leaders plan to store the sewage water in a holding tank aboard the Sea Voyager, then pump it out and transport it to a water treatment plant, according to Jay Apperson, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

However, any spillage could taint the local ecosystem, including the denizens of an oyster bar that runs along the section of river near campus.

The state agency has decided to not take that risk and has closed that area of St. Mary's River to oyster harvesting for as long as the students remain on the ship, according to Apperson.

St. Mary's President Joseph Urgo said the ship would probably remain in service through the holidays.

Fall is peak oyster season. Environmental officials hope that this precautionary move will help "retain confidence in the shellfish that are caught and sold in Maryland," Apperson said.

11 3, 2011
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