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Allegheny Energy dares to save slime

July 23, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

"Snakes. It had to be snakes."

- Indiana Jones

Snakes, eels, what's the difference. Both belong to the profoundly legless class, which is pretty much all I need to know. They all arrive at the polls with high negatives as far as I'm concerned.

Yet Allegheny Energy and the National Park Service have embarked on an energized program to save the eels, or at least help them out a little.

The program will benefit two groups, officials say - eels and tourists - not that there is a hat's worth of difference between the two.

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"We intend to be good corporate stewards of the resources we use," said David Benson, Allegheny Energy Supply's vice president of production and sales, in announcing a plan to build eel ladders around Potomac River dams, which will allow the creatures to spawn uninhibited.

(You can send all your jokes about "electric eels" to me by mailing them to Tim Rowland c/o Mars).

The deal was struck with the C&O National Park Service, in which Allegheny will be allowed to continue power generation at two hydro plants on the river. In exchange, the power company will pay for maintaining the historic dams, pay for two "eelways" and pay for various studies and educational programs involving the sites.

The agreement, and I love this part, took THREE YEARS to negotiate. I'm picturing this board room where park chief Doug Faris and Allegheny Energy chief Al Noia are locking horns and Noia is screaming "No dice, Faris! We will never agree to an eel homeland on the West Bank!"

But eels? What are they going to crusade to save next, the common housefly?

Eels, as I understand it, run an amazing journey. They slither up the Potomac, spawn, die and their offspring venture thousands of miles away into the Atlantic, then repeat the process in a remarkable journey to return to their home.

OK, fine. So they're the E.T.'s of the aquatic community. But they're still eels.

My friend Ryan fishes a lot on the Potomac and he informs me that hooking an eel is roughly his 683rd most favorite thing to do, right between having lunch in a tea room and dropping an air conditioner on his foot.

You've got to admire Allegheny Energy though. I suppose. If it doesn't stand up for the eel, who will? I get a lot of literature from the Sierra Club, the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club, and I haven't noticed too many initiatives lately to save the eels. Most of the critters involved in their fund-raising appeals have one common denominator, namely fur.

That's the way Americans tend to think of wildlife: Fur, good; slime, bad. If baby seals had scales instead of fluff, Arctic traders would no doubt be free to club them at will.

For all I know, eels and tigers have roughly the same intelligence and pain thresholds. But what daddy has ever seen his teen daughter put a poster up in her room of a couple of eels? (All right Mr. Osbourne that's fine, you can put your hand down now).

It's like pigs. "But pigs are so intelligent," people say. Fine, tell that to Yves St. Laurent. Looks mean everything to us. If cockroaches looked like miniature Koala bears, the Raid Corp. would be out of business. Conversely, if lions looked like roaches, Weatherby wouldn't be able to produce its Mark V Super Big Gamemasters fast enough.

No, until eels begin to display a wardrobe sufficient for Joan Rivers' daughter to comment upon it at the Cannes Film Festival, they're never going to make our Top 10 Things to Save list.

If I were the National Park Service, I think I would have held out for saving something slightly more desirable, like carp, or Rush Limbaugh. In fact, I doubt Allegheny Energy would have come under too much heat for announcing plans for a new, innovative, eel-fired generating plant technology. But maybe that's just me.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or e-mail him at timr@herald-mail.com.

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