Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tax Tips for the Bay

Tax time, April 15th, is nearly upon us, and as I was recently finishing up my State and Federal taxes, I noticed something I hadn't seen before. Maryland offers (and has since 2002) an income tax credit for citizens who purchase and place aquaculture oyster floats in waters near their homes for personal, noncommercial use. The credit allows purchasers to claim 100 percent of the cost of aquaculture floats up to $500. That basically means that waterfront homeowners or community associations could be helping to restore the oyster population at no cost to themselves. Oyster floats can be ordered from the Circle-C Oyster Ranch in Ridge, MD (St. Mary's County).

Also on the Maryland Tax form is the opportunity to contribute to the Chesapeake Bay and Endangered Species Fund (Line 37). The monies collected through the Fund are split evenly between the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Maryland Department of Resources Wildlife & Heritage Division. In the past, funds collected through the tax check-off have helped put millions of oysters in the Bay, assisted in the planting of shoreline grasses, and provided educational opportunities about the Bay for school children. It's a great way to give a targeted gift to Bay restoration and its tax deductible.

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Bugs 101 - Saturday, April 2 - Discover what a bug is exactly; then find critters in the field and under logs. 1-3pm @ Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, 1361 Wrighton Rd., Lothian. $3: 410-741-9330;

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Catfish as Canary

Today's Capital reports that 30 catfish recently caught in the South River during a yellow perch study were found to have lumps and lesions around their mouths. The tumors found on the brown bullhead catfish, which feeds from the soils at the bottom of the river, are apparently similar to those found on fish pulled from the heavily polluted Anacostia River.

The leading suspects at this point are a class of toxins called polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). According to the EPA public health statement on PAHs, "Several of the PAHs, including benz[a]anthracene, benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[j]fluoranthene, benzo[k]fluoranthene, chrysene, dibenz[a,h]anthracene, and indeno [1,2,3-c,d]pyrene, have caused tumors in laboratory animals when they breathed these substances in the air, when they ate them, or when they had long periods of skin contact with them. Studies of people show that individuals exposed by breathing or skin contact for long periods to mixtures that contain PAHs and other compounds can also develop cancer."

The fish are currently being studied to discern the cause(s) of the tumors. But, let's assume for the time that the cause is PAHs. Where did they come from? Again, the EPA states, "PAHs enter the environment mostly as releases to air from volcanoes, forest fires, residential wood burning, and exhaust from automobiles and trucks. They can also enter surface water through discharges from industrial plants and waste water treatment plants, and they can be released to soils at hazardous waste sites if they escape from storage containers."

As we're pretty short on volcanoes, forest fires, and generally massive amounts of wood burning in the area, that leaves vehicle exhaust, discharges from wastewater plants, and hazardous waste sites. As I recall, Route 50 crosses the upper reaches of the South River, Annapolis has a wastewater treatment facility (and old landfill) in the headwaters of the River, and there's a toxic dump abutting streams that feed into the River. Looks like we've hit the trifecta, folks. We're poisoning ourselves, and sometimes it takes a catfish with cancer to remind us.

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Green Your Thumb - Thursday, March 31 - Learn to preserve plants for an herbarium with Judy Dove. 10am @ Historic London Town & Gardens, 839 Londontown Rd., Edgewater. $10; rsvp: 410-222-1919.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Signs of Spring - Wednesday, March 30 - Find new growth and signs of spring; also learn how to sign some animal and plant names in sign language. All ages. 10am-noon @ Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, 1361 Wrighton Rd., Lothian. $3: 410-741-9330;

Monday, March 28, 2005

It's No Gas

An article in Sunday's Capital described how the rising costs of gas at the pump are affecting the costs of other goods and services. "Record high" prices of $2.11 per gallon in the Baltimore-Washington Metro area (and $2.13 nationwide) have been associated with a .4 percent increase in consumer prices in February.

When asked about the possible sources of rising prices, a representative of the Diesel Technology Forum offered: "the home heating oil season is drawing to a close", "massive snowstorms in the Northeast", and "lower sulfur emissions standards." Curious, no mention of the rise in world demand for oil. India and China have begun to ramp up consumption, and the US is buying all the black gold it can get its hands on. Increasing demand, paired with the fact that we have likely either reached, or are very close to reaching peak oil production augur much more difficult times ahead.

Pardon the mixed metaphor, but we're filling up our tanks on borrowed time, folks. This time last year, regular was about $1.70 per gallon in the DC area, and here's what the price was in other parts of the world in March 2004 in US dollars per gallon.

United Kingdom4.16

Our current path simply isn't sustainable. We can either begin to wean ourselves off of our addiction to oil, or we can have the pump rudely ripped from our collective arms. One way or another, things are going to change, and when they do, the repercussions are going to be far more universal and unpleasant than a $.20/gallon hike at the pump.


Illuminate Lighthouse History - Wednesday, March 30 - Learn about the history of Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, its restoration and the Museum’s plans to open this historic landmark to visitors from preservationist Jane Cox in a talk sponsored by the Annapolis Maritime Museum. 7pm @ 306 Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. free: 410-295-0104;

Friday, March 25, 2005

In order to try to lighten things up around here before the weekends, I'm going to start posting satire pieces on Fridays. Below is the first installment. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, sometimes it isn't.

Geoducking the Issue

Annapolis, MD - 3/25/05 - In response to continued delays to his plan to have the Asian oyster (Crassostrea ariakensis) introduced into the Chesapeake Bay, Governor Robert Ehrlich (R) has decided to put forward his own "nuclear option" on the matter of multiplying the Chesapeake's molluscs. "Today, I am proud to announce that my administration has worked out an historic agreement with the Governor of Washington, Christine Gregoire, to import 3.5 million geoducks to help super charge the clean up of the Chesapeake Bay," gushed Ehrlich at his recent press conference.

The geoduck, pronounced gooey-duck, is a hardshell clam which burrows 2-3 feet deep into the mud, and can weigh up to 2.2 lbs by the time it is 5 years old. Ehrlich spokesperson, James LaKay, offered, "These bivalves are huge, easily 5 to 10 times as large as our undersized native oysters. Just imagine how quickly they'll be able to filter the Bay. If this goes according to plan, the Administration sees no reason why, 5 to 10 years down the line, we'll have to keep onerous land use and nutrient management requirements in place. These super clams should be able to handle almost anything we throw at them."

When asked about the proposed geoduck introduction, Ehrlich's mortal enemy, House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Annapolis) replied, "I hardly see any reason for this project. It's a total waste of taxpayers' money. I mean, have you seen how many mallards, canvasbacks, and buffleheads we've already got around here? You can't walk 10 feet in most of the grassy areas around Annapolis without stepping in Canada goose crap."

Senator John Astle (D-Annapolis) was bit more sanguine about the matter. "Hey, if this means there are going to be more winged critters for me to kill, well then, I'm all for it. Full speed ahead, baby." The sound of jubilant gunfire was reported to be emanating from the backyard of the Senator's Annapolis rowhouse shortly after the interview. City police had not responded to inquiries as of late yesterday.

Chris Judy, oyster expert with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), urged caution however. "It's not even clear to me that these clams will survive introduction into the Bay. The salinity and temperature of the waters in the Pacific Northwest, where they normally make their home, are completely different from those here in the Chesapeake. I think the Governor may want to think through this plan a bit more fully." In an unrelated development, the Ehrlich administration later in the day announced that it would be appointing former Ehrlich aide, Joseph Steffen, to head up the Human Resources Division at DNR.

This piece is fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

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Spring Bird Walk - Saturday, March 26 - Search for birds of the season on this guided hike. Bring field guides and binoculars, if you have them. 8:30-10:30am @ Patuxent Research Refuge’s National Wildlife Visitor Center, Powder Mill Rd., between B-W Pkwy and Rt. 197, Laurel. free; rsvp: 301-497-5887.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Zoning Out

On Monday evening, the County Council passed the mammoth zoning and subdivision code rewrites, but not before they heard one last fusillade of testimony from the engaged public. The revision, which is the first in 30 years, was sorely needed, and should help make the arcane documents a bit more accessible.

Changes to the codes include a number of provisions which should go a long way towards helping protect the environment. Foremost among those is the change in the way "net density" is calculated. Currently, developers are granted a number of lots based on the full acreage they possess. Under the new rules, land which couldn't be developed anyway, such environmentally sensitive land, would be subtracted out before any density calculation occurs.

In addition, the new code will require that developers set aside 30 percent of new subdivisions as open space, and that protected forest land in subdivisions will have to be consolidated into a contiguous swath, rather than fragmented. There is a strong body of research which supports the importance of undivided woodlands for birds and many forest-dwelling mammals.

Still on the plate, and not included in the passed codes, are rules restricting the development of steep slopes. The newly formed County Communities Coalition has promised, along with others, to make its passage a priority in the coming months.

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Join a Trash Bash - Saturday, March 26 - Lend a hand in restoring and cleaning up Kinder Park Farm. Bring work boots and gloves. 1pm @ main parking lot, Kinder Park Farm, off Jumpers Hole Rd., Millersville. rsvp: 410-222-6115.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Even a Stopped Clock...

At a press conference this morning, County Executive Janet Owens took the opportunity to make her position known on several key issues facing the County. According to the Capital, Executive Owens criticized the Board of Education for failing to take up the issue of redistricting, so that the County's 10,000 empty seats could be filled. Certainly seems like a reasonable suggestion to me, even if, as Superintendent Smith suggests, "Parents and communities grow very attached to their schools, especially in this county where you have a history of several generations attending the same schools. It's an emotional process." It's not as though students from Crofton are going to start being shipped to Glen Burnie. It's a sensible allocation of finite resources.

Owens also suggested that the County is impeded by its tax cap, which keeps Anne Arundel's property taxes the lowest in the region. It's interesting she should raise this issue now, when the deleterious impacts of the cap have been so obvious for so long. Better late than never, I suppose. General political cowardice among County pols ensures that this will be one of those topics that is solely the province of the term-limited and those talking behind closed doors. It's interesting, though, that knowledgeable individuals of all different political persuasions acknowledge the damage the cap is causing, off the record.

The Executive's talk also included mention that the County is close to bringing another military-industrial agency to its confines. The leading rumor is that it's the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, mentioned in an earlier column (3/8/05). Just what the County needs. Should peace ever happen to break out around the globe, we'll be bankrupted.


Environmental program - Saturday, March 26 - Jug Bay Environmental Sanctuary will hold a vernal pool exploration from 1 to 3 p.m. at 1361 Wrighton Road, Lothian. Vernal pools are home to amphibians. Reservations are required. 410-741-9330.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Education by the Numbers

An Anne Arundel County school system task force, appointed by Superintendent Eric Smith in 2003, has set forth a number of recommendations to help the school system save money. Sensible recommendations from the group include trying to intervene with special needs children earlier, rather than later, so that less money needs to be spent over their whole educational experience.

More questionable among the recommendations is "outsourcing" staff such as janitors, so that the County isn't on the hook for their retirement and benefits. One can almost surely foresee a situation where, if janitorial and other service staff are turned over to the private sector, these individuals will have significant cuts in both wages and pension benefits. Currently, these are quality, decent-paying jobs, and many of the County's janitorial staff have been at the same schools for decades. There's a good deal to be said for that kind of employee loyalty and retaining solid jobs for working class people in the County. I suspect these jobs are on the chopping block precisely because the people who hold them aren't in a politically powerful group.

The Sun article also reports an unsurprising finding, that Howard County, which has the highest test scores in the State, spends $1,241 more in County funds per student than Anne Arundel County. Howard County also spends 63.2% of its budget on education, as opposed to 48.3% percent in Anne Arundel County. This raises the frightening prospect that perhaps we're getting what we pay for.

Last, but certainly not least, the task force found that the cost of renovating the 45 school buildings that will be 40 years old by 2009 will be $750 million. That's more than the County's entire proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Education on the cheap serves neither our children, nor County residents well.


Green Your Thumb at London Town - Thursday, March 24 - Learn to landscape in critical areas with Anne Arundel county forester Doug Musser and environmentalist Jim Johnson. 10am @ Historic London Town and Gardens, 839 Londontown Rd., Edgewater. $10; rsvp: 410-222-1919.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Baltimore's Green Week

Whether you're interested green building, the environment, or more liveable communities, the place to be from April 2-8, 2005 is at the Baltimore Green Week Festivities. Started in 2003 by a group of local design and construction professionals, Baltimore Green Week is designed to educate the citizens of the Baltimore region about the growing need for green architecture, design, and smart growth.

This year's slate includes opportunities to get your hands and feet dirty with Project Clean Stream on April 2, learn more about environmental options for your home at the Eco Fest on April 3, find out about options for a sustainable Baltimore City on April 4, and catch a film on reinventing cities on April 7.

This annual event offers many family-friendly activities, and a great chance to introduce children and parents alike to the exciting advances in the world of environmentally-friendly design.

Nature Exploration - Tuesday, March 22 - Kids ages 3-5 explore the natural world, then make a seasonal craft. 10:30am or 1pm @ Tawes State Office Building, Taylor Ave. & Rowe Blvd., Annapolis. $1; rsvp: 410-260-8189.

Volunteer at Smithsonian - Monday, March 21 - Learn to be an environmental education volunteer for Smithsonian Environmental Research Center by attending this orientation meeting. Daily thru March 25. 10am-noon @ Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, off Muddy Creek Rd., Edgewater: 443-482-2216.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Water, Water, Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

According to a report in today's Baltimore Sun, monitoring wells in the Lower Patapsco Aquifer that serves Piney Orchard and Odenton have found cancer-causing chemicals at levels 4 times the federal government's contamination standards. The aquifer provides water for "potentially hundreds of area homes and businesses", according to the piece.

So from whence did the tetrachloroethene, a dry-cleaning solution, and carbon tetrachloride, a pesticide, come? Well, the Superfund-designated, covered landfill that sits on the Fort Meade site is the leading suspect. Since 1994, problems have been identified with well water near the base. Now, despite the preliminary findings, the County Health Department isn't recommending that residents with wells in the aquifer change their drinking habits. "Chemicals may not be present in their water," said a Department spokesperson. As evidence of the Administration's commitment to the matter, they hadn't sent a representative to the meetings of Fort Meade's Restoration Advisory Board, which deals with issues such as groundwater contamination, for the past year. As a result, the County only became aware of the problem 2 weeks ago, while the Board has been discussing it since August 2004.

Word from the State hasn't been much more reassuring. The Maryland Department of the Environment spokesperson said, "If a problem with the homes arises [regarding water contamination], we will work with the county to provide an alternative and safe water supply, like [hooking into] the public water system." Certainly better for homeowners, but what about the critical aquifers that sit below the base, continually having all sorts of nasty toxins leach into them? I think we haven't even begun to get a sense of the extent of this mess yet.

If your well happens to be in the aquifer, you can either take the County's advice, and pour yourself another cool, tall glass of the strange brew from your tap, or you can exercise a bit of sensible precaution. May not be a bad idea to get yourself some bottled water, particularly if you have young ones in the house.

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Spring walk - Saturday, March 19 - Jug Bay Environmental Sanctuary will hold a Spring Equinox Walk from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at 1361 Wrighton Road, Lothian. Participants will hike through the woods in search of signs of spring and have hot chocolate afterward. 410-741-9330.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Dean & DeLuca the Other Way

A long, long time ago, like decades and decades ago, the family that owned the property where the Market House currently sits deeded the property to the City of Annapolis with the specification, roughly, that it remain a market to serve city residents. Those long ago owners had remarkable foresight. One wonders if they foresaw how difficult it would be for the City to live up to that required mission. There is no question downtown Annapolis needs a location, in walking distance of downtown homes, that can provide basic foodstuffs and groceries. Given the wild success of farmers' markets all across the County, it's difficult to understand why there weren't stronger recent efforts to make room in the Market House's stalls for local farmers.

After removing the various vendors who recently occupied the Market House, the City put the management of the space out to bid. Apparently, only two qualified bids came in, one from Dean & DeLuca, an upscale gourmet grocer, and the other from the group that runs Eastern Market in Washington, DC. I'll confess to a strong preference for the Eastern Market group. While Dean & DeLuca may have a more polished and refined image, as anyone who has been to Eastern Market can attest, it possesses a local character and bazar-like atmosphere that is really a pleasure to behold. By comparison, Dean & DeLuca seems a bit sterile. Nevertheless, for reasons of which I am not fully aware, the City chose to go with the proposal by Dean & DeLuca. The Market House is now boarded up, and undergoing $900,000 in renovations.

The City is apparently offering Dean & DeLuca a real deal on the property ($20 a sq/ft as opposed to a going rate of $40 sq/ft). Dean & DeLuca will have a 20-year lease, where they pay the City $100,000 per year, adjusted for inflation. I'm of a mixed mind on the "deal." Under normal circumstances, I'd oppose any sort of favoritism towards businesses in a City-owned space, but this situation is rather unique in that the tenant is obligated to provide certain additional civic goods to the community. The key, really, is going to be to see if the City can ensure that Dean & DeLuca is providing the services that it's obligated to for City residents. Given the City's less than stellar record managing the property in the past, that job may well fall by the wayside.

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Walkable communities - Friday, March 18 - Partners in Progress of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council will hold a Walkable Community Workshop from 8 a.m. to noon at the Anne Arundel Community College Glen Burnie Annex, 101 N. Crain Highway.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Ogling Ogleton Woods

Folks on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula are serious about preserving what little green spaces remains around them. The Bay Ridge Trust was created in 1989 and now holds conservation easements on over 100 acres at the end of the peninsula, including riparian forest. The largest segment of these forests, 110 acres, were saved because of the action of the Bay Ridge Community Association (BRCA). In 2002, BRCA created a special taxation district for the 400 homes in Bay Ridge, which was able to leverage $2.25 million through an assessment of $250 per household per year. In addition, Bay Ridge was able to take advantage of nearly $600,000 from Project Open Space and the Anne Arundel County Conservation Fund. Another $1.1 million was raised in private contributions from individuals in the community. The debt to preserve precious open space, borne by the entire community, and the ingenuity employed to bring so many resources to bear, truly reflect an uncommon dedication to saving community.

So, it was all the more impressive to see the adjacent community of Annapolis Roads rally together, collect over $2 million, and protect the 33-acre Ogleton Woods property next to their community. Not content with that however, the community has given the potential buyer of the 70-acre parcel next to the Woods, St. Mary's Church, cold feet. Turns out that through a combination of angry congregants and unworkable economics after the sale of the Woods, the church has decided against going forward with its plan to buy the land. Word is, the community now hopes to purchase it.

Each of these stories shows what communities truly dedicated to preserving their quality of life are capable of doing given the proper will. Granted, these neighborhoods are generally well-off, but there are few, if any, places in the County where land values are so high. North, west, and south County conservation groups would all do well to take important lessons away from these successes.

Birdhouse workshop - Saturday, March 19 - Kinder Farm Park will hold a family birdhouse building workshop at 10 a.m. Families will build a cedar birdhouse for their yard. All materials will be provided. The cost is $15, in advance only. 410-222-6115.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Natives are Resting (but not for long)

A glance at the surrounding landscape can still be pretty bleak this time of year. Except for the evergreens, most of the trees and plants are stripped down to their bark, and are various shades of brown and gray. Not for long though. Spring is less than a week away, and in a few particularly sunny areas, bulbs have already begun peeking up through the ground.

If you have an expansive garden or planting containers or even just some greenery on your windowsill, you might be contemplating what you're going to add to them this spring, summer, and fall.

Let me make the case for native plants. Native plants are plants that are indigenous to this region, and that have evolved here over thousands of years. As such, they are particularly well suited to the climate. They tend to be more drought resistant, so they can be watered less (good for your aquifer and reducing your water bill). They tend to be more resistent to pests, since they've evolved alongside the insects, fungi, and bacteria of the area, so you can use little (or no) pesticides on them. Good for the Bay, and good for native beneficial insects, like ladybugs. Natives also provide much needed habitat for local insects, birds, and wildlife. Take for example one extreme case. Did you realize that white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) is the only host for the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly (the Maryland State Insect)?

Great resources for native plants include the Maryland Native Plant Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' "Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping [pdf].

Plants to stay away from include invasives such as: tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), bush honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.), kudzu (Pueraria lobata), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), English ivy (Hedera helix), and vinca, periwinkle (Vinca minor). A full listing is available at the link.

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Spring equinox - Friday, March 18 - The Annapolis Maritime Museum will hold a "Burning of the Socks" at 5:03 p.m. - the vernal equinox - at Barge House Beach, behind the McNasby Oyster Co. building, 723 Second St. Participants are invited to take their socks for this annual rite. 410-295-0104.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Park(ing) Place

It's not the sexiest topic in Anne Arundel County, but parking in Annapolis seems to be an issue that never really goes away. Mayor Ellen Moyer announced recently that she intends to take some smart steps to start addressing parking problems in Annapolis and begin to try in earnest to get a satellite parking system underway.

Foremost among the parking bill being introduced tonight is an increase in parking fees $.25 per hour at the city garages and $.50 per hour at the downtown meters. As a frequent patron of Annapolis restaurants and businesses, I admit to being a bit misty-eyed about losing the ability to park downtown 2 hours for $1. But, I've honestly felt all along that the rates were too low. Simple economics suggests that the more convenient the parking spot, the more expensive parking should be, and for years, parking in Annapolis has violated that basic axiom.

The Mayor would like to see the $1.5 million raised from fee increases put towards a reliable, and timely downtown shuttle service from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. A wise idea, and one that will hopefully lessen congestion downtown. Mayor Moyer deserves much credit for tackling this issue head on, where several of her predecessors were content to allow the situation to worsen without taking action.

For the most part, the Mayor is offering much needed changes. In addition to these, however, it would be great to see Annapolis host more streetscape events, like the music festival on West Street last fall, where the city closes downtown thoroughfares to cars, and gives them over to pedestrians. Annapolis is definitely a town best enjoyed on foot.


Children's hike - Tuesday, March 15 - Kinder Farm Park, 1001 Kinder Farm Park Road in Millersville, will hold a spring hike for children ages 3 to 6 at 10 a.m. starting at the River Birch Pavilion at the park. A park ranger will lead the hike in search of signs of spring. Registration is required. 410-222-6115.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Giving New Life to Crownsville Hospital

Some potentially good news to take us into the weekend. The Capital reports that the Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC) may be interested in converting some space at the old Crownsville Hospital into a new 40-bed mental health facility. The facility would also house services for teenagers that are currently located elsewhere on the campus.

Currently, there are only 15 beds for psychiatric patients in the entire County, and all of those are located at North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie. Despite getting over 160 people a month in its emergency room seeking mental health services, AAMC currently has no facilities to serve these patients. Some 70 percent of psychiatric patients end up seeking care outside the County as a result.

What we have here is a clear need on the part of the community for adequate mental health treatment facilities, a party eager to fulfill that need, and a site that is perfect for redevelopment. Let's hope this plan pans out, and that those individuals so desperately in need of top notch mental health care are able to soon receive it at these rejuvenated facilities.


Osprey Discovery - Sunday, March 13 - Ages 6+ learn about osprey’s migration cycle, life history and water adaptation. 10am-noon @ Jug Bay, 1361 Wrighton Rd., Lothian; free; rsvp: 410-741-9330.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Navigating with an Inflexible Rutter

Yesterday's Capital featured a profile of sorts on the head of the County's Planning and Zoning Department, Joe Rutter. Being an environmentalist, and someone who cares deeply about the future of land use in Anne Arundel County, I suppose I should be deeply offended by Mr. Rutter's very presence, and I that I should denounce him with every ounce of my being, as several environmentalists in the article did. But I'm not offended by his presence, and I don't feel inclined to denounce him. That isn't to say that I don't have significant disagreements with him, because I do, I generally just think the situation is more complicated than that.

From my experience of Mr. Rutter, what you see is generally what you get. He brings a concrete, inflexible mentality to planning and zoning. He wants to rewrite the zoning and subdivision codes (which needed to be done badly), and then follow the directives in those codes to the letter of the law. I don't get the sense that Mr. Rutter is someone who plays favorites, or would loosen the interpretation of the law, if given the chance. I do get the sense that he can't stand to have "looseness" built into the law. He probably has a strong disinclination towards variances and special exceptions, and sees them as evidence of poorly crafted code. He also seems not to play particularly well with others. In the article he speaks derisively of community input, offering, "It's the classic 'how you get a camel' - ask a committee to build a horse." This sort of sentiment, is I think what riles civic activists most.

Executive Owens knew what she was doing when she brought Mr. Rutter in from Howard County. She was getting a land use enforcer. Rutter seems to see things in very black and white terms, and isn't afraid to bulldoze opposition with impolitic sentiments, and he'll be able to do that as long as he retains his loyalty to his political patron, Ms. Owens. This is precisely where Mr. Rutter's achille's heel lies. He has, on numerous occassions that I've witnessed, done the bidding of "the administration" to the detriment of his own department and, what I believe, he thinks is the proper course of action for the County. Mr. Rutter is a straight-edged tool (and I don't mean that to be derogatory, quite the contrary), and the reason we keep getting designs that are out of plumb in the County is not because we lack sound instruments, it's because our carpenter is ill-trained and myopic.


Community Stargazing Night -Saturday, March 12 -Families bring telescope & binoculars or borrow 8 AACC telescopes to view planets, stars and moon. 8-11pm @ Astronomy Lab, rear of lots A & B beside Resource Management Building, AACC Arnold campus, 101 College Parkway; free: 410-798-6625 after 6pm.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Playing Politics with Public Safety

The pettiness of some local politicians is legendary, and a recent audit of the County's 2004 fiscal records seems to have uncovered more. There has long been speculation that a new firehouse in the Annapolis neck area has been blocked by the Owens' administration, despite the dire need for one 1, because of the Executive's oft rocky relationship with Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk (D-Annapolis Roads).

Now we learn in yesterday's Capital that the Executive laid off 16 police officers in a year that the County had a $59 million budget surplus. Initial projections were that the officers might have to be laid off because the budget would be tight, but rather than wait to see if the officers could be accomodated, Owens ordered the lay off the same night the Council voted against her wage freeze for County union members.

As a result of the layoffs, 8 of the police recruits found work elsewhere (while the other 8 were eventually hired by the County). By laying off the recruits, who had already gone through police academy, the Executive squandered the $560,000 it cost to train the officers ($70,000 a piece).

That's a hefty price for the Council and the citizens of Anne Arundel County to pay for the ill conceived whims of a vindictive Exec. Unfortunately, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

1 - According to the Annapolis Neck Small Area Plan, "based on Fire/EMS responses between 1998-2001 to the Outer Annapolis Neck south and east of Bay Ridge at Hillsmere Road and north and east of Bay Ridge Road at Edgewood Road, the average response time was 11½ minutes. The goal should be to achieve ... maximum response times of 6 minutes for EMS Basic Life Support (BLS) and 10 minutes for EMS Advanced Life Support (ALS) or for a full structure fire a minimum of 90% of the time."


Truxton public meeting - Saturday, March 12 - Improvements to the Truxton Park boating facilities will be the focus of a 10 a.m. public meeting by the city at Annapolis City Hall, 160 Duke of Gloucester St. Staff will discuss the need for improvements and a process to address them. There will be a public comment period. 410-263-7958 or

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Odenton's Spooky Town Center

It's no secret that the proposed Odenton Town Center is a decidely bad idea. The planned commercial hub would be dropped in 1,622 acres of forest near the intersection of routes 175 and 32 and at least some of the project would be located in wetlands feeding both the Severn and Patuxent rivers. Most of the project would be located on land that is currently undisturbed.

This is another brilliant project brought to you by the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, developers of such affronts to green space as Arundel Mills Mall and the ever-expanding, osmotic blob currently known as BWI airport. You would think with as much demand as there is to be in Anne Arundel County, we wouldn't need a quasi-governmental organization greasing the skids for further development. But such thinking would be crazy.

Smart growth in Odenton might actually involve pursuing some sort of agreement with the Feds to redevelop parts of the decaying Fort George Meade or focus on other sections of west county that are in complete and utter disrepair. I suppose it is easier however just to bulldoze hundreds of acres of trees, start anew, and let those other areas slowly continue to return themselves to the earth.

Oh, and the Capital reports another federal agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, may want space at the new Town Center. A possible slogan in the works: "Odenton Town Center: Where you can pick up milk, sweatpants, golf clubs, and satellite images of your neighbors' pool chairs."


Nature treasures - Saturday, March 12 - Jug Bay Sanctuary will hold a "Letterboxing" program from 9 a.m. to noon at 1361 Wrighton Road, Lothian. Participants will use map-reading skills to search for hidden treasure boxes in the preserve. Meet at the Wetland's Center to carpool to the Glendening Preserve. Children should be at least 8 years old. Materials will be provided for the search. Entrance fees apply. 410-741-9330.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Above the (School) Board

There have been rumblings of support for an elected School Board in Anne Arundel County for the past several years, and last year there was even discussion of introducing a bill that would put the question to the voters in a referendum. However, I've been around a bit, and I've never heard the suggestion offered by Executive Owens in yesterday's Sun mentioned. The County's miffed monarch is apparently so frustrated with the current system (and her inability to exercise absolute control over the schools) that she would like to see the option to disband the school board entirely.

Currently, the governor appoints Anne Arundel County School Board members, which seems like a bit of a breach of local autonomy. The Bill currently before the House would put that option, along with 2 others, "give the county executive power to appoint seven members who would be confirmed by the County Council; or allow the county executive to appoint three at-large members and voters to elect four others" on the ballot in 2006. I would argue that an option to have all 7 school board members elected by the citizens of Anne Arundel should also be on the table.

Thankfully, the Executive-controlled School Board will never come to pass under the Owens administration (she's term limited in 2006), but one needs to look no further than her other executive appointees, like the Department of Planning and Zoning head, whom she has neutered and undermined, to realize that a school superintendent under a plan such as that which Owens proposes would be nothing more than a puppet.


Forest Fun - Thursday, March 10 - Ages 8-10 follow a guided hike through the forest. 3:45-5pm @ Patuxent Research Refuge’s National Wildlife Visitor Center, Powder Mill Rd., between B-W Pkwy and Rt 197, Laurel; rsvp: 301-497-5887.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Our Fair Annapolis

Yesterday's Capital announced what most of us in Anne Arundel County already knew, our gem on the Severn, Annapolis, is one of the top traveling destinations in the US. The National Trust for Historic Preservation chose Annapolis as one of its 12 Distinctive Destinations for 2005. The President of the Trust declared, "It's a thriving, living community, with a waterside location that fosters boating and yachting, and summertime festivals that attract crowds to the City Dock for crisp salt air and views of sailing vessels."

Indeed, it is. All of us owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to those, like the Historic Annapolis Foundation, who had the foresight to protect Annapolis' historic heritage when there were those who were waiting with wrecking balls and bulldozers to initiate "urban renewal" in the 1950s and 1960s. The lesson of Annapolis is one we should all take to heart. People come to the City (and the County) for a reason, because of its historical significance and its beauty. History doesn't remember (or remember fondly) those who were stifled in their attempts to raze Annapolis. In fact, the primary testaments to their existence are the hideously out-of-character "modern" buildings that are jammed in around town. History smiles on those dedicated Annapolitans and other preservationists who set about protecting their hometown with all the resources at their disposal.

Of course, even Annapolis is not without room for some improvement. The addition of more commercial businesses aimed at serving residents, rather than just tourists, would be welcome. More difficult to address is the increasing homogeneity of the downtown demographic. Housing in historic Annapolis and the area surrounding it is so expensive that younger adults, and even older adults with school age children are being squeezed out of the area. High property values are good for the tax base (as is the absence of school age children), but serious consideration should given to the long-term health of a community that consists largely of just retirees. If you haven't before, spend some time in Eastport and some time in downtown Annapolis, and see which you think feels like a tighter community.


Brown Bag It with Wild Animals - Monday, March 7 - Eat your lunch as you hear Wild Things: Human and Wildlife Interaction in Our Future, presented by E. Joseph Lamp, AACC communications professor and DNR’s Wildlife Advisory commissioner. 1-1:50pm @ 207 Cade Center, AACC, 101 College Parkway, Arnold. free; rsvp:

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Time to Diversify

In farming, as in so many other endeavors, restricting one's source of financial sustenance to one or two products is a dangerous risk. After all, didn't the warning against "putting all one's eggs in one basket" originate on some bucolic homestead somewhere? Many farmers in Maryland basically monocrop, that is, plant all their fields with one or perhaps two different crops, often soybeans or corn, primarily for chicken feed. According to an article in yesterday's Sun, over 150,000 bushels of soy beans are produced in Anne Arundel County per year.

Soybean crops and the livelihood of these farmers are now threatened by a contagious fungal disease called soybean rust, which is encroaching all the way from Louisiana, where it was discovered about a year ago. The fungus can travel via wind over 1,000 miles per year and has caused yield losses of up to 80 percent in some afflicted areas of the world.

The growing vulnerability of soybeans presents a good opportunity to reflect on the way we farm, and the nature of farming in Anne Arundel County. First, one doesn't need a degree in agronomics to realize that land in the County is too valuable to sustain growing chicken feed for very long. There is far cheaper acreage on the Eastern Shore, and certainly in the midwest, on which to grow corn and soy. If our farmland isn't economically sustainable, the only crop it's going to produce is row after row of McMansions.

Local farmers (and ideally, all farmers) need to diversify their crops, both for their own economic security and for the health of the environment. A monocrop is an ideal breeding ground for pests and disease. I also feel strongly that local farmers should begin to seriously consider using organic methods to grow their crops, it's better for the Bay, and organic produce and grains command a healthy premium at market. Locally, in the DC metro area and around Annapolis, there seems to be a growing awareness among consumers of the advantages of going organic, and local farmers could tap into that with the proper marketing and outreach. Finally, each of us that wants to see farming thrive in Anne Arundel must go out of our way to support local farmers, at markets, grocery stores, and roadside stands.

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Birthday celebration: Saturday, March 12 - The Patuxent Research Refuge will be celebrating the 102nd birthday of the National Wildlife Refuge System from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the National Wildlife Visitor Center, off Powder Mill Road in Laurel. Activities will include live animals, tram tours, guided hikes, puppet shows and children's activities. 301-497-5760 or

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Cleaning Constellation's Head

I am in the midst of reading Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, and early on in the book, in reference to the destruction wrought by mining companies in Montana, he asks rhetorically, "why any person or group in any society would knowingly do something harmful to the society as a whole?" The answer, of course, boils down to one word, money. "Successful businesses differentiate between those expenses necessary to stay in business and those more pensively characterized as 'moral obligations.'"

The Montana tale, which really is horrific, as well as its resolution have immediacy for Marylanders and Anne Arundel County residents. State legislators have introduced a "4 Pollutants" bill (SB744/HB1169) aimed at getting Maryland coal-fired power plants to clean up their act. The bill would require the Brandon Shores and H.A. Wagner power plants (and others) to meet stricter requirements for emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and mercury. Predictably, Constellation Energy's representatives aren't ecstatic about the bill, fearing it could hurt their "competitiveness," but even their environmental manager offered, "We all recognize more needs to be done." It certainly does. As many know, Anne Arundel County suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation.

In his book, Diamond offers sage advice that I will adapt for the case at hand, "If [Maryland] residents want [Constellation] to do things that would diminish its profits, it's their responsibility to get their politicians to pass and enforce laws demanding those things." I agree. If you do, please contact your local Delegates and Senator and ask them to support this important bill so we can get these polluters to stop poisoning us.

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Watershed workshop: Saturday, March 5 - The Annapolis Environmental Commission will hold a free watershed workshop from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the city council chambers, 160 Duke of Gloucester St. Registration is required. 410-263-5653.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Cradle to Cradle

Originally, most manufacturing operations didn't give much consideration to the harmful byproducts of the process through which their products were created, much less the fate of their products once they were done their intended life (as a blender, a car, a house, etc.). With rising awareness of the harm caused by unaccounted for costs in the production of these goods came "life cycle accountability", where manufacturers were forced to look at not only the cost of producing goods, but the costs of dealing with them after their usefulness had passed. This "cradle-to-grave" analysis takes into account the cost of disposing of lead and mercury in old television sets or dealing with vinyl siding once it is removed, and theoretically, should move manufacturers to create products which are less impactful on the environment over their entire lifespan.

Now however, spurred on by architects William McDonough and Michael Braungart, the "cradle-to-cradle" movement is gaining traction. The cradle-to-cradle philosophy is described by its authors as one "in which products and services are designed based on patterns found in nature, eliminating the concept of waste entirely and creating an abundance that is healthy and sustaining." Examples would include:

  • Buildings that, like trees, are net energy exporters, produce more energy than they consume, accrue and store solar energy, and purify their own waste water and release it slowly in a purer form.
  • Factory effluent water that is cleaner than the influent.
  • Products that, when their useful life is over, do not become useless waste, but can be tossed onto the ground to decompose and become food for plants and animals, rebuilding soil; or, alternately, return to industrial cycles to supply high quality raw materials for new products.

It's truly a revolutionary, yet decidely common sensical, way of looking at mass production and the way that we interact with the Earth. Recently, in Roanoke, VA, a cradle-to-cradle design competition for innovative home designs was held, and 8 winners were selected. You can read all about their projects here. Perhaps we'll see Koch or Ryan Homes building some of these in Anne Arundel in the next couple of years? Not likely.


Birding program: Saturday, March 5 - Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary will offer a birding program from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at 1361 Wrighton Road, Lothian. Participants will learn the skills of identifying birds by sight and sound. Binoculars and field guides will be available to borrow. This course is not appropriate for children younger than 12. 410-741-9330.