A weblog dedicated to exploring political, social, and environmental issues in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Monday, October 30, 2006
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Friday, October 27, 2006
Capital Endorsements: House of Delegates, Districts 30 & 33
Mike Busch (D)
Andy Smarick (R)
Virginia Clagett (D) or Ron Elfenbein (R)
James King (R)
Paul Rudolph (D)
Bob Costa (R)
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Poisoning Our Wells
Today's Capital reports on an issue that caught my attention for the first time several months ago, the risk that certain waste disposal practices pose to our drinking water sources. The article reports that heavy metals have been found in a number of wells in Gambrills. High levels of beryllium, cadmium, thallium, aluminum, manganese and sulfate have been discovered in at least six wells.
According to a statement from the Health Department, beryllium has not been shown to be harmful to humans, but animal testing has linked the element to ulcers.
Cadmium can cause stomach irritation, kidney and liver damage and fragile bones. The substance was found in four of the five wells, sometimes at levels three times the acceptable Environmental Protection Agency level, the health department said.
Thallium, when ingested in large amounts over a few days can cause temporary hair loss and affect kidneys, intestines, blood, nervous system, heart, lungs and liver. No effects have been reported when only small amounts are ingested, the health department said.
Aluminum, manganese and sulfate may cause cosmetic or aesthetic affects in water, but has no enforceable safety level, the health department said.
So where are these heavy metals coming from? Could it be the site where Constellation Energy is dumping its fly ash into open Crofton sand mines? Sand mines that also happen to be located in the primary groundwater re-charge area for the Magothy aquifer?
According to the spokesman for Constellation, "The elevated levels could be a natural occurrence." Indeed, they could be. It couldalso be a good idea to plug the giant geological water filter in the middle of Anne Arundel County with the heavy-metal laden spoils from coal-fired power plants, but I doubt it.
Let's hope the next Councilman from District 4, and the new County Executive, pay more attention to this than the current ones have.
They may want to start by testing for: nickel, vanadium, arsenic, barium, chromium, copper, molybdenum, zinc, lead, selenium and radium, other heavy metals often found in fly ash.
Sun Endorsements: General Assembly
Today's Sun contains their endorsements for the County House and Senate races.
John Astle (D)
Mike Busch (D)
Virginia Clagett (D)
Barbara Samorajczyk (D)
Walt Shandrowsky (D)
Joan Cadden (D)
Thomas Fleckenstein (D)
Steve Schuh (R)
Ed DeGrange (D)
Pam Beidle (D)
Ted Sophocleus (D)
Mary Ann Love (D)
Scott Hymes (D)
James King (R)
Patricia Weathersbee (D)
Bob Costa (R)
Monday, October 23, 2006
Good Stuff From Across the Bay
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Capital Endorses Leopold
Sunday's Capital announces their endorsement of John Leopold for County Executive.
The most curious thing about this is that the Capital endorsed David Boschert over Leopold in the primary. They also endorsed Johnson. So, in effect, the editorial board is suggesting that even the second (third?) string Republican is more fit for the office than the most fit Democrat. So much for the Capital editorial board changing its conservative stripes.
District 30 House Profile
Today's Sun offers a profile of the District 30 House of Delegates race, with particular attention on the Republican effort to knock off Speaker of the House, Mike Busch. In addition to Busch, the race features Delegate Virginia Clagett and County Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk taking on a slate of Republican challengers: Ron George, Andy Smarick, and Ron Elfenbein. The Constitution Party also has an entrant in the race, David Whitney.
The Value of Our Forests
This month's Bay Journal has an extremely informative piece on the condition of forests in the Bay watershed. Did you realize that at the time of early European settlement, the 64,000 square mile watershed was 95% forested (it's 58% forested today)? Or that the trees in those forests were so mature they stood an average of 40% taller than the trees of today?
The forests were so ubiquitous and dense, that early settlers were prompted to declare sentiments such as, "[this is] not a land of prospects. There is too much wood."
According to the report, many still fail to recognize the value of these ecosystems until they have been bulldozed and covered with homes. However, Bay region forests provide timber and wood products worth $22 billion a year, and at least an additional $24 billion a year in free "ecological services." These "services" include removing air and water pollutants, providing cooling benefits, and serving as vital habitat for critical species, such as pollinators.
In fact, the report estimates that an acre of trees in Washington, DC can reduce stormwater construction costs by $25,000.
Despite these benefits, we lose 100 acres of forested land per day in the Bay watershed. According to Richard Birdsey of the U.S. Forest Service, "Every 1 percent of forest area (about 250,000 acres) that is lost is about another million pounds of nitrogen per year going into the Bay." The watershed lost 3 times that much forest between 1982 and 1997.
The 120-page State of the Chesapeake Forests, produced by the Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service is available on-line.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Tyler Heights Turnaround
Thursday's Post had a story on the remarkable academic improvements that have been achieved at Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis over the past seven years. Principal Ernestine McKnight has been credited for much of the success.
Despite the fact that the school has a large limited-English population (40%), amd a study body, three quarters of whom qualify for federal meal subsidies, the school has more than doubled its proficiency rate on the Maryland School Assessment tests, from 37 to 86 percent, since 2003.
Surely, there are many important lessons to learn by studying this example more closely. Kudos to Principal McKnight, and the teachers, staff, and students of Tyler Heights Elementary.
The Man Behind The Market House
During the course of Ellen Moyer's 5-year tenure as Mayor of Annapolis, few issues have created as much heat for the administration as has the mishandling of the renovation and leasing of the Market House. During the 2005 election, her opponents bludgeoned her with the issue, and every time it seems like it's been laid to rest, it pops back into the papers.
There's no question that the Mayor deserves a good deal of the responsibility for how the matter has been handled, but the day to day details like handling the property's lease, making sure the renovation goes smoothly, and working with surrounding businesses to ease their discomfort throughout the process should not primarily be hers. They should be delegated to someone like the City Administrator, Robert Agee, who can carry them out competently on behalf of the Mayor.
Unfortunately, it appears that they have been delegated, but not acted on competently.
The latest embarrassment concerns Administrator Agee giving away, rent free, two prime parking spaces in the Market space to two downtown tour companies, Annapolis Carriage and Discover Annapolis Tours. As Chairman of the Parking Board, Chuck Weikel said, "There is an equity issue there. Nobody is paying for it." Of course, the employees and owners of the other businesses in the surrounding area either have to pay to park in a local garage or feed meters when they come downtown to work, a situation made worse by the fact that City Department of Central Services bungled the air conditioning calculations on the Market House. The temporary generator and air-conditioning unit currently occupy four additional parking spots at the Market space.
At almost every step, the Market House transition has been botched. It's disappointing to see that the City Administration has such a difficult time learning from its mistakes.
District 21 House Profile
Friday's Sun provided descriptions of the candidates for the District 21 House of Delegates race. District 21 spans both Anne Arundel and Prince George's Counties. Three Democrats: Del. Barbara Frush, Ben Barnes and Joseline Pena-Melnyk, are competing with one Republican, Neil Sood, for three seats.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Wrathful Gun Nut Alleges Stalking by Wrathful Gun Nut
Today's Capital reports that Delegate Don Dwyer is claiming someone pointed a gun at him while he was campaigning on a Glen Burnie overpass. According to Dwyer, this is the second time someone has "pulled a gun" on him this month. Dwyer was unable to provide any identifying information about the driver but he identified the gun as a "silver handgun in the windshield of the car."
The whole episode is a bit curious, given the fact that Dwyer, perhaps more than anyone else in the legislature never saw an expansion of gun rights he couldn't co-sponsor, only to have it die in committee. Surely, Dwyer supports the right of drivers to carry loaded firearms on their dashboards, safety's off, and fully loaded?
Nonetheless, so concerned is Dwyer that he has proclaimed he may start wearing the bulletproof vest that he bought 2 years ago. Why he bought the vest in the first place is not elaborated on in the article.
Dwyer's response to the impetus behind the threat, "It's all about the same-sex marriage. This is business as usual."
Could we have a case of the infamous "gay mafia" sending a message in northern Anne Arundel County? Or, perhaps it's just one of Dwyer's jilted gun buddies using a little snub-nosed semaphore. Or, perhaps the 4th least effective Delegate in the House realizes the campaign isn't getting much traction, and figured this coverage was better than no coverage.
District 21 Senate Profile
Wednesday's Sun covers the zany race for the District 21 senate seat, where John Giannetti, who lost as a Democrat in the primary, has decided to come back and try his chances again, this time as a Republican, against Jim Rosapepe.
During this time of year, it's hard for this political re-incarnation not to conjure images of B-movie zombies and vampires who .... just ..... won't ...... stay ...... dead. If Rosapepe is looking for the political equivalent of a wooden stake, this isn't it.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
It was nice to see Blog Arundel selected by George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet as one of the "must-read Maryland political blogs in 2006." The other selections were:
Thanks IPDI, Blog Arundel aims to please. Check out these other blogs too, if you get the chance.
Last Meeting of the Sitting Council
Today's Sun covers last night's County Council meeting, the last until the new Councilmembers take office next year. Pam Beidle (D-1) and Barbara Samorajczyk (D-6) are term-limited and seeking seats in the House of Delegates. Bill Burlison (D-4) is, thankfully, retiring. The four Republicans on the Council, Middlebrooks (D-2), Dillon (D-3), Vitale (D-5), and Reilly (D-7), hope to return in 2007.
It's going to be difficult to see Samorajczyk, who has consistently been the most thoughtful and probing Councilmember, and Beidle, who seems to have come in to a comfort zone during the last 4 years, leave the Council, but the hope is that their replacements can approximate their contributions during the next 4.
Resident lightweight on the Council, Middlebrooks had this to say about Samorajczyk's imminent departure, "Barbs is always fun because I never know what she's talking about." We're sure you don't, Ed. We're sure you don't.
Labels: County Council
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Tax! You're It.
A sharp dose of economic reality came from an unlikely source this week - County Executive Janet Owens. According to the Queen, the next County Executive will "absolutely" have to increase taxes to deal with the County's increasing backlog of expenses.
Why, oh why, would Ms. Owens toss this little grenade into the mix three weeks before the November 7th election. Some might suggest it was to give Mr. Leopold and Mr. Johnson fair warning about what they are about to get themselves in to. I'm too cynical for that. I suspect this was one last (?) present lobbed at George Johnson from the only County Executive of the last 6 who didn't endorse him last week. I think Ms. Owens knew that the Sheriff is too responsible a person to completely rule out the possibility tax increases, and that Leopold probably would, and that such responses would cost Johnson votes from the "I want something for nothing" crowd. From the looks of the headline of the Capital article, things went exactly according to plan.
Problem is, the headline is misleading at best. It says, "Next county exec must raise taxes, Owens says: Johnson vows only as a 'last resort,' while Leopold rules out hikes." Fact is, both Leopold and Johnson leave the door open for impact fee increases, and raising the property tax up to the cap. Johnson supports the watershed restoration fee, Leopold opposes. Johnson is willing to consider an increase in the "piggyback" income tax, and Leopold says he won't.
As much as I disagree with the Queen's motivations, I appreciate her message, and I think she's right. The next administration would be extremely irresponsible not to raise taxes. An impact fee increase is a no brainer. The County can't afford to keep subsidizing sprawl. Taking the property tax up to the cap also makes a lot of sense, to start cutting into the school backlog. Taxes are a tool, and the County infrastructure and budgetary needs are a project. It's irresponsible to remove tools from the toolbox before one's stint as general contractor has even begun. To get a sense of the scale of this undertaking, see the following:
Outstanding Infrastructure and Other Needs:
Potential Sources of Tax Income:
Other potential sources of revenue:
Monday, October 16, 2006
Need An Education About the School Board?
Confused about how the School Board selection process works in Anne Arundel County? I assure you, you are not alone. For the past several years, there has been considerable discussion about putting the school board up for popular election. Those efforts have consistently failed, and there is considerable speculation as to whether they would improve or worsen matters. However, keep in mind that we currently have a backlog of something like $1.5 billion in needed school improvements.
Regardless, here's a profile of the current state of the school board selection process, one we won't get to vote on in three weeks.
A Step-by-step account:
Profile of the District 5 Race
Sunday's Sun provides coverage of the District 5 County Council race between Cathy Vitale and AJ "Tito" Baca. District 5 covers Severna Park and the Broadneck peninsula.
Baca has made quite a bit of hay out of the fact that much of the infrastructure of the County schools is in disrepair, with a particular focus on the dilapidated state of Severna Park High School. Baca also supports a Watershed Restoration Fund. Vitale agrees that restoring waterways damaged by runoff if necessary, but doesn't think that every household should have to contribute to the solution (though it contributes to the problem). Encouragingly, Vitale does support raising impact fees on new development, as a way to offset new infrastructure costs.
Labels: County Council
Friday, October 13, 2006
Profile of the District 6 Race
Today's Sun profiles the race for the District 6 seat between Josh Cohen and Rene Swafford. District 6 includes the Annapolis Neck peninsula, including the City of Annapolis, Parole, and some of the communities along General's Highway. Cohen was just elected to his second term as Alderman on the Annapolis City Council, representing Eastport, and has pushed for important legislation putting restraints on growth in the City. Swafford is an attorney whose political inexperience has manifested itself in a number of ways, the latest of which is her failure to respond to the Sun's inquiries. Cohen's good relations with Mayor Moyer present an important opportunity for the County and City to forge a good working relationship for the first time in years (assuming the next Executive can be brought on board). Cohen also supports a Watershed Restoration Fee to help address our multimillion dollar backlog of stormwater projects. Swafford opposes it.
Labels: County Council
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Profile of the District 7 Race
Today's Sun covers the three-way race for the District 7 County Council seat. District 7 includes most of south county as well as parts of Millersville, Gambrills, and Crofton. The race in District 7, which contains most of the rural land in the County, has heated up over the issue of big box development, with many contending that the incumbent, Ed Reilly, has effectively been shopping developers around the district for potential parcels.
Green Party challenger and smart growth activist, Robb Tufts, has campaigned into a "perfect storm" of sorts, with large scale development projects proposed in Edgewater, Lothian, and Crofton. Tufts opposes all three projects, and is supportive of the Watershed Restoration Fee and inclusionary zoning requirements to build the stock of affordable housing.
Democratic entrant, and latecomer to the race, Eric Lipsetts, also opposes the Lothian Target project and proposed Wal-Mart in Crofton, arguing that the Small Area Plans need to be incorporated into the zoning, rather than serving as merely "advisory." Lipsetts has been actively hostile to the idea of the Watershed Restoration Fund, decrying it as a "tax", despite an Attorney General opinion to the contrary.
Labels: County Council
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Profile of the District 1 Race
Sunday's Sun provides a description of the two candidates running for the District 1 County Council seat. District 1 includes parts of Pasadena, Jessup, Glen Burnie and the Linthicum. So alike are the positions of Democrat, Daryl Jones, and Republican, John Lindner that Jones joked, "I'll have to use my charm [to get past Lindner]." Both oppose the Watershed Restoration Fund.
Labels: County Council