Monday, February 28, 2005

Truxton Trails

On this cold, wintry day, another local getaway from a reader, Rob S.

I'd like to offer up Truxton Park. It's a much overlooked park, sitting right in between Eastport and Annapolis. There are trails overlooking Spa Cove, and trails that meander through the stream vally in between the softball fields and the tennis courts. The foot-traffic is lower than in Quiet Waters. I could often go there and sit, overlooking the cove, just listening to the birds in solitude. For you fellow swimmers out there, there's also a sizeable community swimming pool. This park is not just overlooked by many in Annapolis, but it's overlooked by the city government. The trails have experienced severe erosion, and have only recently been repaired by the city. Before that, it was usually volunteer groups that did much of the maintenence. It's also a shame that the city of Annapolis allowed August Woods, which is adjacent to the park across Primrose Rd., to be developed into upscale townhouses. This forest would have been a nice addition to Truxton park, especially when considering the population increase that Annapolis is bound to experience, from the recent drive to build more housing on the West St. corridor, as well as Parole.

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Swamp Walk - Wednesday, March 2 - Ages 3-5 with parents dress to get dirty while discovering early spring in the swamp. 10-11am and 2-3pm @ Battle Creek Nature Center, Gray’s Rd. off Sixes Rd., Port Republic. $3; rsvp: 410-535-5327.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Mis-Representing Community, Part II

Yesterday's column referred to a failure on the part of some County civic organizations to adequately serve the needs of their citizen members. That assertion was predicated on a Capital article describing the ongoing effort by the Greater Crofton Council (GCC) to grease the skids for a west county landfill.

This is really a sad story on several levels. First, anyone who has lived in the County for even a few years knows that the Crofton area has been in desperate need of a high school for over a decade. Despite two terms in office and a solid resume of serving as Executive Owens' lapdog, Councilman Burlison (D-Crofton) has lacked the clout to bring home this piece of bacon for his district. Apparently, some in the community, including several in the leadership of the GCC have now gotten so desperate for a school, that they've decided to try to get one any way they can, including a quid pro quo with the landfill "developer" who has promised to fund the school construction. Now, several member organizations of the GCC including the Greater Odenton Improvement Association (GOIA) and the Forks of the Paxutent Improvement Association (FOTPIA) are either leaving or in the midst of "extremely strained" relations with the Council.

One member of the FOTPIA wrote to GCC President Torrey Jacobson that, "your constant statements that there is no opposition to the Halle landfill and the MOI (sic) is baldly and brashly untrue. You have no conscience in this matter."

What we have here is a failure of government putting citizens in a position where they are so desperate for a solution that they have turned to a company that wants to despoil their community for answers. Good luck to the GOIA and others working to turn back this devil's deal.


Civil Rights Film Series - Saturday, February 26th - The Banneker-Douglass Museum’s film series continues with Out of Obscurity, a retrospective look at early anti-segregation protests. noon @ Banneker-Douglass Museum, Annapolis: 410-216-6180.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Mis-Representing Community

A couple of items from yesterday's Capital caught my eye, and raise serious questions about the representation of citizens both in County government and in some civic organizations purportedly advocating on behalf of their communities.

The first concerns utility fee increases mentioned here in an earlier column (1/26/05). Despite the fact these fees haven't been raised in years, the inevitable whinery from some that the $100/year increase for water, sewer, and trash collection would break their bank, caused several local politicos, none of whom had trouble saddling county residents with a $26 million golf course bailout, to get cold feet on the matter. Councilman Middlebrooks (R-Pasadena) cut to the heart of the issue when he offered, "people would be upset if they started receiving statements next fall that reflected the higher charges, particularly in light of the council's decision two weeks ago to issue $26 million in bonds so the county could take over Compass Pointe Golf Course in Pasadena." Perhaps, dear Councilman, you might have considered that before letting our utilities go insolvent in favor of this golf course debacle. One wonders what other future necessities the golf course bonds will be used to put the kibbosh on. Bill Burlison (D-Crofton) and Pam Beidle (D-Linthicum) also voiced concerns over the rate hike (and also voted for the golf course funds).

Department of Public Works Director, Ron Bowen, said it best, "The rates we are proposing … represent the true cost (of providing services)." The cost of services increases with time, as the price of goods and cost of living rises. Where does the expectation that these fees will remained fixed for all time originate? It's not a realistic position, and it shouldn't be catered to by people who are charged with running the County's basic functions, like its utilities, in a responsible manner. Thankfully, Chairman Dillon (R-Pasadena) seems to have a sense of the importance of the rate increases and realizes that they have to passed, one way or another.

The second half of this diatribe will have to wait for tomorrow. In the meantime, be careful out in the snow.

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Signs of spring: Saturday, February 26 - Explore the Patuxent Research Refuge North Tract for the first signs of spring from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Identify plants such as skunk cabbage and spice bush on this guided walk for ages 16 and older. Field guides recommended, and advance registration is required. 301-497-5887.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Returning the Rain

One of the foremost goals of this site, in addition to providing commentary on local goings on, is to try to educate people, particularly those living in Anne Arundel County and the Chesapeake region, in ways that we can act individually (and collectively) to help preserve our natural environment. As most of us know, one of the most persistent sources of pollution and sedimentation in the Bay and its estuaries is runoff from residential, commercial, and agricultural properties. It is said that, during the period prior to European colonization, when the Bay watershed was largely forested, there was almost no "runoff". Significant amounts of rainwater were absorbed by the forest canopy, and the rain that wasn't, soaked into the humus-rich forest floor, and eventually into the groundwater.

Any casual glance around Chesapeake country makes it clear that we won't be going back to the days of full forest cover any time soon, but there are steps we can take to try, at least partially, to mimic that hydrological flow once again. The first step is to reject the conventional wisdom of subdivision engineering, which was, effectively: "Convey rainwater off a site as quickly as possible, through either pipes or swales into the nearest body of water." Evidence of this dumb design is all around. Only very recently has engineering practice begun to change what was so obviously an unsustainable method of dealing with stormwater.

Now, homeowners, businesses, and farmers, are being asked to try to deal with their stormwater on site, which makes sense both environmentally and philosophically. Why should we let individual stormwater mis-management create a tragedy of the commons? As has been mentioned in previous columns, rain gardens at the bottom of downspouts are a great way both to keep a bed of native plants well watered and to help infiltrate water into the ground. Rain barrels, each of which can hold 50 gallons or more are often a good addition as well. And, if you have a driveway which needs to be replaced, consider permeable paving, which can include: Reinforced gravel paving, reinforced grass paving, interlocking concrete blocks or plastic cell networks filled with gravel or soil and grass, pervious asphalt, or pervious concrete.

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POSTPONED Quiz Your Legislator - Thursday, February 24 - What are those legislators up to? Sen. John Astle, Speaker Mike Busch, Del. Virginia Clagett and Del. Herb McMillan, all Dist. 30 legislators, discuss legislation and answer your questions. 7-8:30pm @ Anne Arundel County Police Station, Southern District, Stepney Ln., Edgewater: 410-841-3800.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Priceless Jewell

In response to my request for individual reminiscences about special places in Anne Arundel County, I received this gem from J in Chalk Point:

Would it surprise you that all my secret places are no more? I grew up on a farm in the community of Jewell in south county (turn right off rte 2 at intersection of Jewell/Fairhaven roads) with 111 acres at my disposal. My favorite two spots there were our woods where the only sounds were birds going about their daily comings and goings and chirping at my two dogs that accompanied me wherever I went. The other place was our meadow - it was so cool in summer and the little stream
that ran through it trickled aimlessly along the property - the water was ice cold
and clear as crystal. My mom would pack me a lunch and the pups and I would
head for the meadow - they, to jump up a rabbit and yours truly to sit by the stream and daydream or find faces in the clouds overhead. Sadly, my parents sold the property when daddy could no longer maintain the farm so I don't have access to my 'little corner of the world' anymore. I understand the family who owns it now has built homes on my secret places and they are now only a memory. There are other places in Jewell and surrounding areas that I used to frequent but they, too, are gone to 'progress?'

The other secret place that I treasured was the sand beach in Fairhaven just beside
the bridge. Used to ride my bike there and sit on the beach for hours enjoying the
once clear and lovely Chesapeake Bay. That, also, is no more as the land has
been allowed to erode through the years. Our youth group at Friendship Church
had many a pleasant time, too, swimming in the Bay and building a bonfire on the
beach to roast hot dogs and marshmallows.

I'm sorry that you and others will never know the TRUE loveliness that was once south county and the places that we native souls knew of in their virgin states
and were free to roam at our pleasure that are no more. I mourn this loss of a rural
existence and is why it is so important to save lands such as Franklin Manor and
other sanctuaries and woodlands that the governmental powers-that-be care less
to revere and preserve in this county.

My only secret place now is the backyard of my home in Chalk Point where
I sit and watch the poor little deer foraging for food in it (because most of their
woodland habitats here now contain developments); and, the squirrels scampering
around devouring acorns from our, over one hundred year old willow oak, that towers majestically over the house.

It would be great to hear from others as well.


Go on a Plant Safari - Wednesday, February 23 - The winter lecture series at Historic London Town and Gardens concludes as Kevin Conrad of the National Arboretum shares his experiences as a modern-day plant explorer. 10am @ 839 Londontown Rd., Edgewater. $10: 410-222-1919.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Annapolis Library on Parole?

It was only relatively recently that I re-discovered the County's public library system. Sure, I knew it existed, and that it was likely doing someone else a lot of good, but I didn't seem to have the time or inclination to avail myself of its resources. Gradually, though, during a particularly slow period, I spent a fair amount of time visiting several local branches, most notably, the main Annapolis branch. I found that, in addition to 27 computers for public use (the new Odenton Branch now has 65), the library's holdings, which include books from all 15 branches, are fairly extensive, and that the wait for inter-library loans is often only 2 or 3 days.

Now, there's talk that the Annapolis Branch could possibly be closed and replaced by a Branch at the re-developed Parole site. Happily, the people of Annapolis are pissed, and even better, they're organized. The president of the Germantown-Homewood civic association, which surrounds the Annapolis Branch location, said in the Baltimore Sun that, "almost all respondents [to a community survey] supported keeping the library on the current site and that 75 percent supported enlarging the current building if it needed upgrading."

I can't envision a day that I would oppose the construction of a new library, and I certainly wouldn't oppose the construction of one at Parole. In fact, I think it would be a great addition to what I hope will be a true mixed-use re-development. A community where work options, public services, and shopping are all a short walk away from one's home. A library and a post office would undoubtedly be well-used. However, a new library in Parole should not come at the expense of the Annapolis Branch library, which is an anchor for that West Street community, and has been for 40 years.


Hike on the Bluff - Wednesday, February 23 - Use the elevation of the bluff to catch views of the river, birds and other wildlife, with guides from the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary. Ages 10+. Bring lunch. 10am-1pm @ River Farm, call for directions: 410-741-9330;

Friday, February 18, 2005

Our Favorite Places

An article in yesterday's Capital on the Back Creek Nature Park restoration in Annapolis made me think about how all of us likely have our own little hideaways in Anne Arundel County where we like to go, soak in nature, and reflect upon our lives and the world around us. Certainly, parks like Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, Downs Park, and Quiet Waters Park are all great getaways. I am thinking of something a bit more off the beaten path, however.

In Annapolis, wandering the streets and alleys, and peering into secret gardens, nestled between homes is one of the most serene experiences in the spring time. In summer, spending time on the Bay, sailing or kayaking, absorbing the sun and watching the seabirds is the essence of Chesapeake country. In the autumn, finding a dense forest to explore, and getting lost in among the beech and tulip populars at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center can renew a child-like fascination in the world. The shortened days of winter present a good time watch the songbirds, observe the wonderful forms of deciduous trees gone naked, and begin drafting an outdoor itinerary for the year.

I would like to invite readers to submit their favorite secret places in the County (and its waters), to be sampled in an upcoming column. You can submit them to

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Insects in Winter - Saturday, February 19th - Even though it’s chilly, insects are still under logs and leaf litter. Walk out to see where they’re hiding in the Glendening Preserve. 1-3pm @ at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, 1361 Wrighton Rd., Lothian: 410-741-9330;

Musseling Back from the Brink

Time for some good news for a change. The Magothy River has been showing dramatic improvements in visibility over the course of the past several years, and it's been doing it the old-fashioned way, with native bivalves. Dark false mussels and native oysters (which have been supplemented by the Magothy River Federation (MRF) and others) have filtered the River to such an extent that it is registering record-low levels of suspended solids in the water. According to MRF president, Paul Spadaro, in places where visibility was once 6 inches, he can now see down 5 to 10 feet at times. The increased water clarity is all the more surprising given that years with big rainfall, like we've had recently, generally contribute more sediment and particulates to the water.

Let's hear it for the native mussels, and those like the Magothy River Federation, who are doing their respective parts to clean up the River and improve the health of our environment.

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Winter Waterfowl - Saturday, February 19th - Join Ranger Sue on a search for canvasbacks, ruddy ducks and more winter waterfowl. Bring binoculars; field guides provided. Ages 12 and up. 10am @ Parking lot leading up to the fishing pier at Jonas Green Park, off Rt. 450 near the Naval Academy Bridge. rsvp: 410-222-6244.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

We Must Destroy the Stream to Save It

On occasion, politicians are accused of being humorless. Let that charge never be leveled against Governor Ehrlich. In an Associated Press piece covered in yesterday's Capital, the Guv said the proposed Inter-County Connector (ICC) "will help replenish choked streams, rebuild wetlands and protect wildlife." The Inter-County Connector, which would effectively be an outer beltway, running through many undeveloped parts of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, has been hailed by its supporters (including Ehrlich, Montgomery Exec. Doug Duncan, and others) as a cure to metro Maryland's traffic congestion problems. Opponents have declared the Inter-County Connector one of the the 27 most wasteful road projects in America, as well as an environmental nightmare.

Whether the Governor's comments were intended to elicit belly laughs from those in attendance at his bus tour of the proposed ICC routes, or he truly believes his doublespeak will fool some people into supporting this project is unclear. What is clear, is that the Governor and others supporting the ICC have consistently overlooked the far more sensible Purple Line Metro extension that would connect metro Maryland suburbs, and avoid the additional traffic congestion associated with more roads.

The proposed $2.4 billion in additional pavement is not what this region or its "streams, wetlands, or wildlife" need. Bob Ehrlich surely must have a sense of humor, problem is, the joke's on us.

More information on the Purple Line.

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Animals in Winter - Thursday, February 17th - On a short hike, kids learn how animals survive winter, then enjoy a craft & snack. 10am-noon @ Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, 1361 Wrighton Rd., Lothian. $3: 410-741-9330.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Another Farm Bites the Dust

The conversion of the Lee Farm in Edgewater from farmland to another Harbour Center-sized shopping extravaganza was first covered here in a December 9, 2003 column (Anne Arundel's Flying Circus). Now, it appears that groundbreaking is not far off. The "Village" at Lee Airport is slated to include 13 buildings, 900 parking places, and a 60,000 sq ft grocery store (despite the fact that a Safeway and Giant exist less than a quarter mile away). The developer can also potentially put in 9 additional homes.

Now, a sensible person might ask, "Why, with Annapolis Mall about 7 miles away and Harbour Center about 4 miles away and South River Colony shops about 2 miles away and the Parole redevelopment in the works, do we do we need additional large-scale commercial growth in Edgewater?" He or she might also ask, "Won't these new stores, which will undoubtedly be mostly national chains, also cannibalize existing businesses, both local and chain?" Finally, he or she might ask, "Isn't traffic bad enough in Edgewater as it is?" Inquiring minds have asked the County and its representatives these questions, and scores more, and the County has turned a deaf ear.

What makes this unfortunate situation all the more distressing is that the members of several neighboring community associations essentially collaborated with the developer to change the property's zoning from residential to commercial, out of a fear that the property owners might try to maximize impervious service. My guess is that the local community is going to come to regret this foolish bargain.

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Oyster harvesting - Wednesday, February 16 - Roger Davidson Jr., assistant professor at Coppin State University, will present "Tonging for Freedom: Black Oystermen & Economic Autonomy on the Chesapeake" at 7 p.m. at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St. in Annapolis. The free lecture will focus on how oyster harvesting provided African-Americans an opportunity for equality in the 19th and 20th centuries. 410-295-0104, or go to

Monday, February 14, 2005

Holding Down the Fort

The more we learn about the 100-acre Fort Smallwood Park in Pasadena, the more obvious it becomes that Baltimore City has neither the funds, nor the wherewithal to properly manage the Park, and that it is in a truly sorry state.

The Park has sites that have such high levels of lead contamination (from paint), that in 1998 environmental analysts wrote, "There is a lot of work to be done at Fort Smallwood Park if children are expected to spend time here." For over 7 years, no steps have been taken to remediate the lead from the site. Nevertheless, the City claims that because they have fenced some of the contaminated buildings at the Park, "[it] is safe for public use."

A routine visit by the Sun reporter found that several of the fences were knocked down, or breached, and that there were no fences around the playground equipment, which sits on the lead contaminated soil. Broken glass covered one of playgrounds, and much of the equipment was rusted and/or had cracked paint.

Fort Smallwood Park, for better or worse, will stay in the City's hands, whether the County buys it next week or in 10 years. Other prime properties, such as the former Crownsville Hospital site, are unlikely to stick around in public hands so long. Ideally, of course, both sites would be purchased and remediated by entities that could afford to do so, and maintained for public recreation or open space. However, given budget realities, if action can only be taken on one this year, Crownsville would seem like a much wiser investment of County funds.


Make a Date with the State - Monday, February 14th, 7:30pm - Join with Equality Maryland and help lobby Annapolis legislators on GLBT equality issues. A rally will be held at Lawyer's Mall, in front of the State House, beginning at 5pm.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Not Too Keene

Well, Anne Arundel County Parks and Rec. are up to their same old tricks again. You may remember these folks from such bungled ballfield efforts as the Smith Farm on the Broadneck Pennisula. Dennis Callahan and pal Jack Keene are once again intent on trying to jam playing fields in the wrong place, when a far more intelligent alternative exists elsewhere. In the case of the Smith Farm, the old Nike site existed, flat and cleared only a few miles away. In the current case, where Callahan and Co. are trying to put fields on the environmentally sensitive Franklin Point Park, 477-acres of pristine wilderness in Shady Side, a dry, flat, and underutilized, site exists nearby.

Delegate Bob Costa (R-Deale), is seeking funds from the State to do a feasibility study examining the option of putting fields at the capped Sudley landfill site. Re-developing landfill sites into open space parks and fields has been done all across the country, and truly represents smart growth, taking advantage of an otherwise "wasted" resource.

The creative solution proposed by Costa also has the support of the president of the Shady Side Boys and Girls Club, Pete Medhurst, who originally supported efforts to puts fields at Franklin Point.

Perplexingly, though, County Executive Owens, and Jack Keene seem to have major reservations about even exploring the viability of the Sudley site. Let's hope they get on board with Costa's plan and drop the environmentally-irresponsible idea of putting fields at Franklin Point.

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Volunteer for Nature - Saturday, February 12th - Learn how you can help Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary run its various programs, research and more, including stream monitoring, education, bird studies and surveys. Ages 16+. 1-4pm @ Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, 1361 Wrighton Rd., Lothian. $3: 410-741-9330;

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Whom to Believe

A casual stroll past Maryland Republican headquarters in Annapolis makes it clear who both the sitting Governor and his Party fear in 2006. Hint: It's not Doug Duncan, the Democratic County Executive of Montgomery County. The bay window at GOP HQ rotates messages every month or so trying to tear down the sitting Mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley (D). Apparently the billboard was only one strategy among many, utilized by the Mayor's opponents. Republican "hatchet-man", and Ehrlich aide, Joseph Steffen, was recently canned by the Gov for having the audacity to get caught spreading rumors that O'Malley had been cheating on his wife. Can anyone say "assassin politics"?

The more we learn about Steffen, the clearer it becomes that he's one of the most odious figures in Maryland Republican politics, an accomplishment to be sure. Steffen, who describes himself as "the Prince of Darkness", appears to be essentially a poor man's Karl Rove, an unscrupulous political operative, willing to do anything to see that his clients are victorious. Maryland's own Prince of Insufficient Light, if you will.

Ehrlich, who has employed Steffen in one form or another since 1995, and who ordered his dismissal, has been quoted as calling Steffen "a character." A character indeed. Several of Ehrlich's past opponents for Congress confirmed that Steffen was basically, "the guy who does the stuff so Bob can pretend to be above the fray." Sounds about right. Good thing he blew his cover before he had the chance to bug his own office and blame it on Sarbanes.

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Whose Clues - Sunday, February 13th - National Wildlife Visitors Center on Powder Mill Road sponsors a program from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. for children ages 5 to 7 to study signs that animals leave behind. This program features stories, songs and crafts. A walking tour for ages 12 and older will be offered. 301-497-5887.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Shucking Our Future

According to The Capital, the harvest of our bedraggled bivalve, Crassostrea virginica, the Eastern Oyster, has improved a bit this year.

"Improvement" is surely a joke in this context, when even 15 years ago, the oyster haul was more than 10 times as large. Of course, in Chesapeake country, talking about how to deal with the oyster problem is one of those political "third rails." No one wants to do anything to upset the watermen, whose historical overharvests combined with the deadly oyster diseases Dermo and MSX have nearly wiped out the Chesapeake's natural filters.

Year Bushels
1885 15 million
1920 4.6 million
1950 2.5 million
1975 2.6 million
1986 1.6 million
1990 415,000
1994 80,000
2000 380,000
2002 148,000
2003 56,000
2004 26,000
2005 32,000 bushels as of January

The Governor wants to introduce the Asian oyster (Crassostrea ariakensis), to placate his oyster harvesting base, giving almost no consideration to the potential unintended consequences of introducing yet another foreign species into the Bay. Scientists believe MSX was inadvertently introduced to the Chesapeake through the importation of a non-native oyster, Crassostrea gigas, in the 1930s.

Meanwhile, oyster expert, Chris Judy, with the Department of Natural Resources, attributes the rebound to "two straight years of wet weather", which drives down the salinity of the Bay, and helps hold off Dermo and MSX. Needless to say, it's long past time to get serious about oyster (and shad, and crab, and on and on) shortages in the Bay. Let's shut down the fishery, like we did with rockfish, redouble our restoration efforts, and keep trying to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loads on the Bay. This problem didn't emerge overnight, surely it won't be solved that quickly, but it's time we started.


Stargazing - Saturday, February 12th - Observe the planets, stars, and the moon from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. during Community Observing Night, sponsored by the AACC Astronomy Club. Participants can take their own binoculars and telescope or use one of eight telescopes to view planets, weather permitting. The Astronomy Lab is in the rear of lots A and B beside the Resource Management Building, AACC Arnold campus, 101 College Parkway. Free. 410-798-6625.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Tee (Bond) Time

Well, get your clubs out of the closet and shine your cleated wingtips, the County just purchased another golf course. You heard it right, rather than spend a bit more time considering the repercussions on the County's bond rating, the Council voted 6-0 (Councilwoman Samorajczyk abstained) to issue $26 million in bonds to buy the Compass Pointe Golf Course from MEDCO (see the 2/7/05 posting for background).

Fears that the County's bond rating would be shot, should it not bail MEDCO out, seemed to carry the evening. Councilman Middlebrooks (R-Severn) proclaimed, "I think it is unequivocally irrefutable, this body would be nuts and we would be run out of town . . . if the bond rating is hurt... Those bond (rating) companies would squash us like little ants at a picnic."

The Council and public were regaled with more predictions by County Budget Officer, John Hammond, that the course "could gross as much as $4.5 million a year." The course needs to bring in at least $1.9 million/year just to cover its debt. Only time will tell if this course is going to continue to be an albatross around fair Anne Arundel's neck. I think it's safe to say we haven't heard the end of the Compass Pointe saga.


Monday, February 07, 2005

Look be-Fore! you Vote

The possibility exists that the County Council may vote on whether or not to issue $26 million in bonds to buy out the Maryland Economic Development Corporation's (MEDCO) financially troubled Compass Pointe Golf Course in Pasadena tonight. Other options include allowing the MEDCO-owned project to founder, which may hurt the County's credit rating because of a previously signed contract with MEDCO (which forced the County to pony up a $1.1 million loan last year), or paying the $3 million in cost overruns from the mismanaged project, and allowing MEDCO to keep ownership. This last option, bailing MEDCO out and then leaving the course to the quasi-public entity to reap potential revenues, seems objectively worst.

The real question, it seems to me, is how much, if at all, leaving MEDCO to deal with this disaster on its own, a strategy advanced by Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk (D - Annapolis), will affect the County's bond rating. If the answer is "very little, if at all," the County should consider itself lucky to have been able to avert this continued fiasco, and leave MEDCO to clean up the mess. There's certainly no use in throwing more good money after bad.

County Budget Officer, John Hammond, has played exceedingly coy throughout the proceedings on this matter, and continues to parrot support for Executive Owens' position, which involves buying out MEDCO. Additional deliberations on this matter should involve figuring out exactly how he let the County get into this ill-conceived deal in the first place.


Tree biology talk: Richard Murray, an arborist and Maryland Native Plant Society member, will present a talk covering the basic themes of tree biology at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Aspen Hill Library on Aspen Hill Road. 301-855-6384, or

Friday, February 04, 2005

First, Do No Harm

As part of its cost-cutting strategy, the State is looking for ways to get rid of the 648-acre Crownsville Hospital campus. The site, which includes nearly 550 acres of land at the headwaters of the South River that could be classified as "open space", also contains 61 buildings which will need extensive asbestos remediation and sewer repairs before they can be re-occupied. The high price tag now has County Executive Owens reconsidering her previous enthusiasm for the site, stating, "Unfortunately, the more we learn about Crownsville, the more we become convinced that a scenario may not exist under which Anne Arundel County could reasonably afford to take control of the property." A fair objection, to be sure (although the County apparently has the funds to buy and maintain Fort Smallwood Park).

Predictably, the development wolves, notably John Pantelides and his minions, are just itching to get their hands on the property. "I still see tremendous opportunities for that property," said Pantelides, his eyes aglow with dollar signs.

It's important that one way or another this land be protected. What's less important, is whether the State or the County is the entity to do it.

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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Taxing Good Sense

In a move that suggests Speaker of the House, Mike Busch (D-Annapolis), has trouble learning from his mistakes, Mr. Busch is proposing to roll back an increase in the state property tax enacted in 2003. In the 2002 elections, Republicans up and down the slate, from Mr. Ehrlich to candidates for the House of Delegates, uniformly ripped sitting Democrats in the House and Senate, and the aspiring Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, on the issue of the projected billion dollar deficit that had been racked up under their watch. The budget deficit was one part bad luck, the economy had recently taken a downturn, and one part poor management, the state Democrats, hoping to share in the anti-tax afterglow their Republican counterparts cultivate, had cut income tax in the State, and now were coming up short.

Following those elections closely, I didn't see one instance where incumbent Democrats were able to win the political points they had hoped their tax cutting fervor would produce. Instead, time and again, they were shredded by Republicans in debates, forums, and in the press on the issue of fiscal irresponsibility. Their Republican-emulating formula led to the debacle that was the 2002 elections, where Republicans took the governor's office for the first time in over 30 years, and gained several seats in the Assembly.

Despite Speaker Busch's assurances that, "The time is right for this ... We just think it's an opportune time to repeal the tax increase that Governor Ehrlich initiated in his first year in office," the time is not right. As Senate President, Mike Miller (D-Calvert), asserted, cutting property taxes this year would not be responsible, given the state's unmet needs in areas such as education, health care and the environment. By rolling back the property taxes, the State would lose more than $165 million in annual revenue.

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Two avian events on Saturday, February 5th: Build a Home to Attract Bluebirds - Bluebirds are early birds, and they’ll soon be hunting for houses with room for growing families. To be ready for their arrival, bring your family and build a cedar home. Bring cordless drill with eighth-inch bit and a Philips. 10am @ Kinder Farm Park, Kinder Farm Park Rd., Jumpers Hole Rd. off Ritchie Highway, Millersville; $15/family; rsvp: 410-222-6115.

Birding at Jug Bay - Learn to know your winter birds. Binoculars and field guides available. Ages 12+. 8-11am @ Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, 1361 Wrighton Rd., Lothian. $3: 410-741-9330;

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Penguin Politics

The November elections led to the defeat of two sitting Circuit Court Judges in Anne Arundel County, and may lead to a change in the way judges are selected in the future. The defeat of David Bruce and Rodney Warren, both appointed by Democratic governors, by Paul Goetzke and Paul Harris (nominally "independents", but both Republicans), has led some, including Senator John A. Giannetti Jr. (D-Laurel), to support an amendment to the State Constitution to dispose of the system in which the governor appoints a judge, who then stands for election to a 15-year term. Senator Giannetti offered, "What it reflects is there's an understanding that the way we elect our judges is wrong."

Curious that the Senator (and others) should get religion on this issue after things have turned out the way they have. It's tremendously difficult not to see this as a case of sour grapes, and it certainly shouldn't be used as an excuse to tinker with the State Constitution to further create systemic barriers to change.


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Fill 'Er Up. On second thought...

Today's Capital reports that State legislators are trying to pass a bill that will help protect local water supplies against contamination by the gasoline additive MTBE. Around the State, gas stations which install new tanks, and that rely on well water, will have to install extra sensors, monitoring devices and drainage pipes to control MTBE. In a twist, however, stations with existing tanks in Anne Arundel County will not have to install monitors. Why is Anne Arundel off the hook, while existing operators in Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick and Harford counties will have to comply? Apparently, because of our County's unique geology.

What to do if your well is contaminated in Anne Arundel? According to the oil control program administrator for the Maryland Department of Environment, dig a new one, deeper. And if that doesn't bring you peace of mind, sleep tight knowing guys like the president of the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors are lobbying the have the existing rules concentrated farther north, presumably so his company won't be forced to comply. Salud!

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Tsunami fund-raiser: Tsunami restaurant in Annapolis is sponsoring a fund-raiser for child victims of the tsunami in South Asia from 7 p.m. to midnight Feb. 9 at Heroes Pub, 1 Riverview Ave., Annapolis. The event will feature live music from Meg & Bryan and the Geckos, drinks and food specials, and an auction and silent raffle to raise funds for tsunami victims. Tickets are $10. 410-990-9868.