A weblog dedicated to exploring political, social, and environmental issues in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Local Sewage Plants to Get Upgrades
Today's Sun reports that Anne Arundel County will receive $111 million to retrofit its seven sewage treatment plants with funds accrued through the "flush fee." The upgrades will ensure that local plants have improved nutrient reduction capacity, and will ultimately prevent the County from dumping an estimated 7.5 million pounds of nitrogen into the Bay annually.
According to Public Works Director Ron Bowen, the upgrades should be completed by 2011. Two of the state's 66 treatment plants have already been upgraded under the new standards, and 12 more (including 7 in Anne Arundel) are being upgraded. Combined, these 14 plants discharge over 500,000 gallons of treated wastewater per day, comprising about 95 of the state's total sewage output.
While this news should be cause for cheer, a dose of healthy skepticism is in order. As has been reported by the Sun in the past, it appears that there are some who may try to abuse these funds to aid their pro-development agenda.
Any additional capacity provided by these plant upgrades needs first to be directed at existing residences or businesses with failing septic systems, and then secondarily offered to existing residents without de-nitrifying septic systems who would rather be on county sewer. These system upgrades, which are intended to reduce the polluting impacts of sewage treatment plants, can not be used as a trojan horse to pave the way for additional sprawl where it would otherwise lack adequate facilities.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Close Delegate Races Go to Court
The races for District 31 and District 30 House of Delegates are going to court. Democrats Joan Cadden, who is losing by 28 votes to Don Dwyer, and Barbara Samorajczyk, who is losing by 53 votes to Ron George, are contending that 242 votes that should have been counted in their races we're inappropriately disqualified.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Asian Oyster Concerns Grow
In what will hopefully be remembered as an unfortunate Ehrlich administration initiative that will never see the light of day (along with the ICC, selling off public lands, and several others), the proposed introduction of Asian oysters (Crassostrea ariakensis) has run in to additional roadblocks. It turns out that a particular parasite, Bonamia, could cause "almost total mortality" to the exotic oyster. Bonamia is not currently in the Chesapeake Bay, but it was found in 60 percent of the Asian oysters introduced in North Carolina's Bogue Sound.
Also of concern is that the Asian oyster and native oyster both spawn at the same time, a factor that could cause reductions in breeding for both species.
All of this comes on the heels of an announcement by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science that there are pockets of native oysters which seem to be building an immunity to the diseases decimating local populations, Dermo and MSX. Many of these disease-resistant oysters are in sanctuaries that are under pressure to open to harvesting, a move that could be catastrophic to the future of the species.
County Stormwater Standards Inadequate
The South River Federation riverkeeper, Drew Koslow, has been keeping his eyes (and Federation water monitoring equipment) trained closely on the effluent running off from the construction site at Parole for the last several months. Photos of the site after 1/2 an inch of rain show silt-laden mud running from outfall pipes into one of the streams that feeds Church Creek.
Existing regulations only require that construction sites control the first inch of runoff. After that, sediment-laden slurry is permitted to be piped directly into local waterways which feed the Bay. According to County Spokesperson, Pam Jordan, "The site functioned as expected with that amount of rainfall." The statement is a brazen indictment of business-as-usual in Anne Arundel County, and a testament to past Administration's lack of seriousness in reversing the Bay's decline.
Somehow, the developer at Parole has been able to keep a graded, 30-acre site, open and exposed for months, without substantial stabilization measures, which in many cases, involve little more than spreading straw and grass seed. The response of outgoing Soil Conservation Chief, Jeff Opel? "There has been an attempt to maintain 50 percent of it in a state of stabilization. Have we achieved that all the time? No." Have fines been meted out to the developer as a result? Not to my knowledge. And, to add insult to injury, the site, which had been dumping sediment into the stream the day before, passed state inspection of county sediment and control enforcement on November 17th.
Existing County stormwater regulations for construction sites are a joke. Unfortunately, the joke's on us.
More Fire Department Mismanagement
It turns out that the Fire Department and the County have been extrememly lax in enforcing the requirement that recruits work in the County for at least 5 years after their training, or pay the County back. The training costs between $4,500 to $10,000 per recruit. Of the 80 former fightfighters who were trained, and have left, since 2002, only 7 have been billed, and only 2 have paid back any of the money. At this point, the County Auditor estimates that the County has lost between $325,000 and $730,000 in squandered training money.
The next administration and Fire Chief are going to have their hands full figuring out just how to clean up the mismanagement of the Fire Department under the Owens' administration.
Labels: Fire Department
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Let's Give Thanks
On this rather overcast Thanksgiving, after an election where many of the staunchest allies in our fight to protect our quality of life were defeated locally, it could be easy to become folorn about the future of our beloved community. That's precisely why we should give thanks not only for having the ability to exercise our right to vote, but also the means to take the defense of our natural heritage to the courtroom, the Council Chambers, and the court of public opinion. We should be thankful that we have the critical mass of smart, resourceful people in our community to do what it takes to defend it from those seeking to debase it for their own profit. I thank those of you who have enlisted yourselves in this fight. You know who you are.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Leopold Appoints New Fire Chief
Well, Chief Ronald Blackwell, the Fire Department Head who couldn't seem to get overtime under control (he overspent by $5 million last year) is out. Appointed to replace him is Chief David Stokes, a 27-year veteran of the Department. The new Chief is apparently prepared to "trim fat". He should probably be prepared to present more accurate, and inflated budgets, if history is any guide.
County Running Short of Land: Development Community Offers Modest Proposal
According to a recent report by outgoing Director Joe Rutter's Department of Planning and Zoning, the County is dangerously short of land zoned for commercial and industrial development. Only 6,381 acres of undisturbed woodland, wetland, and meadow remain to accomodate the County's ever increasing demand for Wal-Mart's, Jiffy Lubes, Burger Chef's, and car dealerships.
"This (study) just demonstrates where that (developable) land is so we can get our claws into it .... Excuse me, I mean our arms around it," said county land-use spokesman Tammy Jordan.
Given that the area left is only 3 square miles larger than the City of Annapolis, this revelation has raised considerable concern on the part of the development community.
Developer lobbyist and Director of the Alliance for Faux Land Use, Jack Pantylines, is the leading advocate for what he calls "a modest proposal for Anne Arundel County's future." Mr. Pantylines proposal, which has the backing of much of the development community, including John Ribera, Michael Sturbridge, Liam Buckshire, and Gerry Coke, would include filling in portions of the Magothy, Severn, and South River, zoning them C-4 along the periphery, with swaths of tight industrial zoning in their interior. "Let's be frank, these rivers are already moving in this direction. They're basically cesspools, turning the color of a well-shaken Yoo-hoo after almost every rainstorm. By passing this legislation, the Executive and Council will virtually triple the amount of commercial and industrial property in the County, and ensure that the tax burden for County residents continues to decrease, as it has over the past 3 decades of intense development."
County Executive-Elect John Leopold expressed some concern about the proposal, but offered, "I have my Chief of Staff looking closely at it. Will there be opportunities for ballfields on these reclaimed mallscapes?"
Despite Leopold's hesitation, Pantylines is undeterred. "Hey, it's a win-win-win. I get thirty pieces of silver from my developer overlords, the Executive and Councilmembers get the eternal goodwill of the people who fund their campaigns, and the people of Anne Arundel County get to keep laboring under the delusion that they can grow their way out of the problems associated with growth."
An artist's rendering of the Severn's future as an important commercial hub
This is, unfortunately, only partially satire. Any resemblance contained herein to individuals living or deceased is purely coincidental.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
DC Pushes the Environmental Envelope
Here's something for the next Executive and Council and the next Governor and legislature to consider: The DC City Council is on the verge of passing a bill that would require most large construction in the City to meet strict environmental and energy-conservation standards by 2012.
If passed, DC will be the first large city in the country to require private developers to meet the standards, which have been created by the US Green Building Council. The terms of the bill include:
Not surprisingly, some lobbyists for the building industry are fighting for weaker standards, despite the fact that the US Green Building Council's LEED standards are a nationally accepted benchmark for green design.
Kudos to the District, to outgoing Mayor Anthony Williams, and to the Council (All 13 council members voted for the measure in a preliminary vote this week.) I see no reason that Annapolis, Baltimore, the County, or the State should hesitate in following the District's lead.
Labels: Green Building
Leopold Stands Fast on Gambrills Site
While we wait anxiously for Executive-Elect John Leopold to round out the appointments to his cabinet, we can speculate as to where he's going to take the County over the next four years. One place he apparently isn't going to take the County is in the direction of putting a horse stadium at the Naval Academy's organic farm in Gambrills.
I think this is the right decision. As I have said repeatedly here in the past, I think it's an exceedingly bad idea to pave the largest organic farm in the County (and perhaps the largest in the state). I think it's an even worse idea for the State to subsidize it. Though Governor-Elect O'Malley apparently supports the stadium, Leopold's opposition, combined with the opposition of Councilman-Elect, Jamie Benoit, who represents the Gambrills area, should be sufficient to keep the site protected.
Leopold is open to supporting a horse park elsewhere in the County, which seems like a wise compromise (though I still question the burning desire of the Stadium Authority to spend millions of taxpayer dollars for a horse park in Anne Arundel when there is a perfectly good facility in Upper Marlboro). Possible locations? How about some of the recreational space at the closed Crownsville hospital, with the opportunity for low impact trails in the wooded areas? How about Davidsonville, which is already home to many of the equestrian operations in the County?
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Madness at the Mall
Several times in the past couple of months, there have been serious outbreaks of violence at Annapolis High School. In September, police arrested 18 students after four fights broke out. Earlier this week, two fights broke out at the school, causing police to be called out again. Now, it appears that the violence at the school is spilling out into the community.
On Saturday night, according to initial reports, an off-duty Secret Service agent witnessed several young males assaulting another in the food court at Annapolis Mall and tried to intervene to break up the fight. At that point, one of the individuals involved in the assault drew a handgun and shot the officer in the leg. The agent then pulled his own weapon and shot the assailant twice in the upper body. A third person was shot [it is not yet clear by whom] and taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center. He was treated and released the same evening.
I've lived in the area almost all my life, and I can't remember anything remotely like this ever happening before. The school system and the law enforcement community need to act quickly to ensure that any lingering issues between students at Annapolis High are resolved quickly and in a sane manner, and that future altercations at County schools are treated with the gravity they deserve. That there are teenagers (or anyone) in the community who wouldn't think twice about drawing a gun on, and shooting, a law enforcement officer trying to break up a fight is a warning sign, I fear, of a much deeper malady.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Votes Counted, Republicans Win
Well, it seems that, in the final analysis, Anne Arundel County may have been one of the few localities to buck the State and National trends. After the final vote tally, Republicans picked up one seat in the House of Delegates, one Senate seat, and the County Executive seat.
In the second closest House of Delegates race, absentee and provisional ballots boosted jewelry store owner Ron George over former County Councilwoman and environmental advocate Barbara Samorajczyk in District 30. It's a shame that the people of Anne Arundel County won't have Samorajczyk's continued keen eye looking to protect their quality of life, but my sense is that George will be a considerable improvement over Herb McMillan, who relished his role battling Democrats in the House.
Far worse news is that Delegate Don Dwyer has edged out Delegate Joan Cadden for the third and final House seat in District 31. The Republicans also picked up the District 31 Senate seat formerly held by retiring Democrat Phil Jimeno. As Dwyer aims for greater depths of ineffectiveness, waging culture war against contrived boogeymen, we lose Cadden, a faithful environmental watchdog in an increasingly conservative district.
Newly elected Republicans, Steve Schuh and Nic Kipke are unknown quantities, but both seem like reasonable people. They would do well to seek Cadden's consultation to bring themselves up to speed on local environmental and land use issues.
As for the Republican resurgence in Anne Arundel County, the next four years will tell us quite a lot about where their priorities lie, and in the House and Senate, whether or not they can function effectively while holding almost no power in State government.
Friday, November 17, 2006
More Special Elections
Annapolis Alderman Wayne Taylor's (D - Ward 4) appointment to John Leopold's Cabinet opens up the need for another slot in the special election that will be held to fill the Ward 8 seat vacated by Josh Cohen. It also presents another intriguing possibility. Word on the street is that Mayor Ellen Moyer could potentially receive an appointment in the O'Malley administration, and end up putting that seat up for special election as well. If so, Annapolis residents should prepare themselves for a two-month campaign blitz now.
Leopold Announces Appointments
Yesterday, Executive-Elect John Leopold began announcing the appointees to his cabinet. There are several new appointees, as well as a number who will be carried over from the Owens' administration.
Among the new appointees is Deputy Police Chief James Teare Sr., who will take over for the retiring police chief, Thomas Shanahan. In a move that surprised even the appointee, Leopold chose Annapolis Alderman Wayne Taylor to direct the Department of Aging.
The returning appointees from the Owens' administration run the gamut from the good, to the bad, to the ugly. Leopold wisely chose to re-appoint Ron Bowen, head of the Department of Public Works, and an innovator who was consistently stifled under Owens, and frequently had conflicts with the pro-developer head of Planning and Zoning, Joe Rutter. Unfortunately, Leopold has forged a "pleasant rapport" with former Director of Parks and Recreation, Dennis Callahan, and decided to appoint him his Chief of Staff. Another unfortunate reappointment is John Hammond, Owens' Budget Officer, and willing flak for several of the administration's questionable financial manuevers.
Leopold did wisely decide to pass on Carl Snowden, an aide to Janet Owens who will likely find a place in the O'Malley administration, and whose work on civil rights has often seemed to be dwarfed by his work in self-promotion.
Leopold does still have two important appointments in the Directors for both Planning and Zoning and Inspections and Permitting.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Proposed Crofton Wal-Mart Gets Wet Reception
Today's Capital covers the ongoing drama of the Crofton Wal-Mart , a project threatening wetlands and the 100-year flood plain connected to the Little Patuxent River. The opposition to the project, lead by members of Crofton First, testified at the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) hearing that, among other things, encroaching several acres onto the 100-year flood plan, which the project proposes to do, could lead to serious flooding of Route 3 south of the project.
It remains to be seen whether MDE will uphold its mission "to protect and restore the quality of Maryland’s air, water, and land resources, while fostering smart growth, economic development, healthy and safe communities, and quality environmental education for the benefit of the environment, public health, and future generations," or whether it will cave in to another wealthy developer and allow the public to bear the weight of its ineffectual decision making.
Patuxent Riverkeeper, Fred Tutman, put it best, "[The public] subsidize[s] bad environmental practices [because erosion control, flooding and cleanups eventually cost the taxpayer]. There is nothing smart about a project that threatens the Chesapeake Bay and a local waterway."
No, there isn't. And, frankly, there isn't anything smart about paying bureaucrats who are charged with protecting public resources a salary for negotiating away our natural heritage. It would be encouraging if the change in administrations at the County and State level could put an end to that practice.
Vermont Blazes the Renewable Energy Trail with Cow Methane
Today's Sun has an interesting piece describing how Vermont, which is trying to produce 25 percent of its energy from "farms and forests" by 2025, is facilitating the adoption of methane digesters by cow farmers in the state.
The methane is a by-product of cow manure. The liquid portion of the material is spread on fields as fertilizer, while the solids are mixed with bacteria in a heated tank for 3 weeks, which causes methane gas to be released from the brew. The methane is then burned for electricity. In at least one case, in Vermont, the methane operation provides for all of the electrical needs of the farm, plus $45,000 a year in additional revenue from the Central Vermont Public Service Corp.
Interested in doing something locally? It turns out, the Maryland Department of Agriculture is offering $100,000 grants to farmers willing to install methane generators (the generators can cost over $1 million).
Labels: Renewable Energy
Monday, November 13, 2006
Executive-Elect Leopold's First Moves
Today's Capital has a piece on County Executive-Elect John Leopold, and the style that helped him win office. Many Republicans were astonished that Leopold won the primary, though his name recognition, from years of sign waving and door knocking, was as universal as any local pols could be. Now, with 20/20 hindsight, pundits are offering to tell us what it was that pushed him over the top.
From AACC's Dan Nataf: "George Johnson did not give a compelling reason to vote for him. If there was a theme in this campaign of change, Johnson did not stand for change." Remember, after the primary it was Dr. Nataf who said of Leopold: "The retail approach is difficult in the general election," and that to win, he'd have to shed his policy wonk image.
Leopold continued his retail approach, and never shed his policy wonk image (trust me, I must have watched at least 5-6 Executive forums), and won. Though I would be content to very nearly declare the election a toss up, there is no question in my mind that Leopold's laying the groundwork for this campaign for years, his moderate record, and, to an extent, his focus on policy, aided mightily in his success.
Both Leopold and Johnson seem to be good men, and I would be pleased to have either serve as Executive, particularly after 4 years of the Queen, but there are some early worrying signs for a Leopold administration. Foremost among them is that he's considering Dennis Callahan as his chief of staff. Yes, that Dennis Callahan. The one who was stomped in the primary election, endorsed the Republican nominee, and represents some of the worst excesses of the Owens' administration.
Several papers, endorsed Leopold based on the fact that he represented change, and that Johnson had ties to the "good ole' boys." Reaching back into the prior administration for an advisor known more for his arrogance, and disconnectedness to public concern, would be a ill-conceived first step for Delegate Leopold. And, certainly not a signal of change. I sincerely hope he will re-consider and allow Mr. Callahan and other members of Owens' inner circle to wander that portion of the wilderness that remains after 8 years of their clearcutting.
Bay Still Failing, but Not Quite as Badly
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation released its State of the Bay Report this morning. The Bay's score is up to 29 from 27 last year (to grade a 29 as a "D" seems a heck of a curve). According to CBF:
A score of 40 points would be enough to meet the 2010 goal of getting the bay off the nation's "dirty waters" list; a 70 would indicate a restored bay; and 100 would represent the pristine estuary that Capt. John Smith explored early in the 17th century.
The report found that improvements had been made in the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Bay, as well in dissolved oxygen, riparian buffers, and oysters. Declines were reported in both the amount of wetlands and numbers of shad in the Bay.
While improvements in nutrient pollution are encouraging, experts warn that they could be the result of a dry spring, causing less runoff, rather than permanent changes to pollution loading in the Bay.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Annapolis Project Greens Roof
The new Severn Savings Bank headquarters on Westgate Circle will be the first commercial building in the City of Annapolis with a green roof.
The building joins the Annapolis Police Department and a building at Back Creek Nature Park in capturing and treating stormwater where it falls.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Quote of the Week
Friday, November 10, 2006
Executive Race Decided
The absentee ballots have been counted, and it appears John Leopold has won the race for County Executive.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
District 6 Election Victory Spawns Another Election
As a result of Alderman Josh Cohen's County Council election victory on Tuesday, a special election will take place early next year for the City Council seat he is vacating. The City Code governing the race specifies:
[Mr. Cohen] must first resign the position, giving the mayor five days to announce a special election to fill the vacancy. After the mayor's announcement, candidates can officially file. In the mayor's proclamation, she must specify a date for the special primary and general elections for the roughly 4,500 residents of Ward 8. The primary must be 23 to 30 days following the original proclamation, with the general at least three weeks after the primary.
Which, likely means that the special primary election would occur some time in January, and the special general election would likely take place in early February. Two Democrats, Ross Arnett, President of the Eastport Civic Association and Paul Foer, a motivational speaker and former City Transportation Marketing Specialist, have already expressed interest in the position.
[UPDATE: A third Democrat, Michael Matthews, has thrown her hat in the ring.]
Labels: County Council
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Post Election Prediction
The election is over, even though there's still counting to be done, so the next question is: "Where do things go from here?"
Here's my first post-election prediction: After losing the District 30 Senate race, former Delegate Herb McMillan turns his sites on the next Annapolis mayoral election (2009).
Republicans Suffer Local Setbacks
With the County Executive race still too close to call (Leopold up by 344 votes) at least a few things are fairly clear:
Monday, November 06, 2006
This election has the potential to big bring changes to County and State government for the next four years. Get out and do your part to support candidates who are going to do right by our communities, the Bay, and our natural environment. We need them badly.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Time to Replace the Rutter
With Executive Owens' imminent departure, it was only a short matter of time before her land-use hitman, Joe Rutter was going to be shown the door. Without exception, the questions most fervently being directed to Executive candidates Leopold and Johnson had to do with their proposed solutions to the broken Planning and Zoning and Inspections and Permitting Departments. Smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall, Rutter turned in his resignation this week.
It's critically important that the next County Executive appoint a Chief Land Use Officer who is going to see to it that the County bureaucracy carry out development in a way that is well-planned, sensible, and respectful of the environment. That individual, who sits above the Directors of P & Z (currently Rutter), I & P (currenly Spurge Eismeier), and Public Works (currently Ron Bowen), should be responsible for implementing the Executive's will on growth, and seeing to it that each of the Executive agencies are carrying it out effectively [organizational chart available here]. The current Chief Land Use Officer, Robert Miller, was, apparently, told by Executive Owens that Mr. Rutter was going to do as he pleased, effectively short-circuiting the chain of command.
The priorities, as I see them, for the next Director of P & Z and I & P have to be:
P & Z
- Ensure that all new development is using the most innovative and environmentally benign stormwater management measures. For instance, Rutter/Owens allowed the developers of Parole to get away with managing only 20% of the stormwater falling on the site. That threshhold is not acceptable, even for redevelopment.
I & P
- Lobby to hire more inspectors, lots of them. Despite the current Directors assurances to the contrary, the Department is badly understaffed, a fact made clear by all the violations that slip through the cracks [see: Little Dobbins Island]
Friday, November 03, 2006
District 31 House Profile
Today's Sun covers the race for District 31 House of Delegates. The race involves Democrats Joan Cadden, Thomas Fleckenstein, and Craig Reynolds against Republicans Don Dwyer, Nick Kipke, and Steve Scuh. Delegate John Leopold, who is running for County Executive, has vacated his seat in the District.