District Six delegation delivers legislative agenda to constituents at town hall

District Six delegation delivers legislative agenda to constituents at town hall
Delegate Robin Grammer (standing) fields a question from the audience at the pre-legislative session District Six town hall. The four members of the delegation predict that this will be a contentious session as politicians position themselves for election season. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 1/10/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Leading up to the start of the 2018 General Assembly in Annapolis, which kicked off Wednesday, Jan. 10, the Sixth District delegation held a town hall at the North Point Library in Dundalk to give a pre-session update.

Delegates Robin Grammer, Ric Metzgar and Bob Long, as well as State Senator Johnny Ray Salling, met with dozens of constituents for two-plus hours, discussing topics ranging from infrastructure and taxes to crime and redevelopment.

Delegate Long spent his opening remarks focusing on tax issues. He told the gathered crowd that he planned to submit legislation that would bump up the Homeowner Propert Tax Supplement from a $62,000 joint income threshold up to $72,000, which accounts for inflation since the credit was approved in the early 1990s.

Long noted that he is going to focus on lowering the Homestead Property Tax, which limits the increase in taxable assessments each year to a fixed percentage, from 4 percent to 3 percent. He also plans to create a first-time homeowner tax incentive, which he contends would be beneficial in combatting Section 8.

“This is a great way to get families back into these neighborhoods,” he said.

While Long was focused on taxes, Salling made it clear from the outset that jobs were his main concern, especially at Tradepoint Atlantic.

“I think the biggest thing we’re looking into is manufacturing, and we’re looking into windmills,” he said. “If you really think about what windmills could bring here, building them at [Tradepoint Atlantic]...it’s the greatest opportunity we have in this area. We have the skillset here already and we’ve been promoting that.”

While the individual members of the group each spent about five minutes outlining their agenda for the session, most of the evening was dedicated to hearing from constituents. As local residents filed into the library, they filled out a card with a question that would later be posed to the delegation.

The first question posed to the delegation dealt with the topic of redevelopment at Fort Howard. Grammer noted that redevelopment under the current developer who holds the lease is unlikely.

“The thought is if the current developer was to proceed with any kind of project he’d need to bring in help,” said Grammer. “There was another developer who looked into it and I met him once and I asked him to show me what he had, and he didn’t even have a traffic study. That kind of describes where that is. I don’t see development at Ft. Howard going anywhere right now.”

Grammer added that he would like to see a congressman propose a bill that would see the property fall into possession of the State of Maryland should the current lease expire. Metzgar and Long echoed that sentiment, with Metzgar pointing to redevelopment aimed at helping veterans in Perryville and promising to address the issue with Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2).

On the subject of potential marijuana legalization - which Grammer believes will be put on the ballot for referendum in November in order to draw a large voter turnout - he told the crowd the biggest problem he sees is a lack of communication between the state and local jurisdictions.

“What needs to happen right now is local law enforcement needs to understand what state laws are. They need to understand the process of how a person comes to be given access to these products. One of the bills I’m putting forward this year is to require training for local and state law enforcement for what is essentially a new industry in a unique time,” Grammer said.

Long pointed out that in discussions about legalization last year, the subjects of drug education and treatment were rarely discussed, if at all. He added that, should a legalization initiative reach the floor, he would add an amendment that would see funding generated from taxes shifted to drug education and treatment.

“We have to make sure our younger children are prepared and know the consequences,” Long said.

On infrastructure, the delegation tackled a few issues. Salling lamented the state of sidewalks - or lack thereof - in Sparrows Point and on North Point Road, noting the delegation has spoken to the County Council and others about how they can rectify the situation. Grammer added that a lot of those issues, when they are not handled at the local level, are handled at the discretion of state agencies like the Maryland Department of Transportation or the State Highway Association, which essentially leaves state-level representatives powerless.

From there the conversation jumped to traffic issues in the Turner Station area. Grammer again took the lead, telling the crowd that truck drivers often try to avoid getting hit with the Broening Highway toll and end up on the local roads.

“If you live in old Dundalk you can’t get on a state road without paying a toll,” he said. “It’s harming Turner Station and St. Helena. We’re still looking at it and that battle is going to come back up.”

Turner Station resident Linwood Jackson added that truck driver GPS devices also often get Main Street in Turner Station and Broening Highway confused.

“Every time a truck comes down they tear down our cable lines and electric lines,” Jackson said.

Jackson added that he believes Turner Station is a “target” due to its positioning between Tradepoint Atlantic and the Port of Baltimore. He urged the members of the delegation to meet with the residents of Turner Station and tour the community.

“We can’t keep going hours or days without power because of these trucks,” he concluded.

Salling added that a big issue is truck drivers going back and forth from the Port or Tradepoint do not want to keep getting hit with a toll when they are not using the Key Bridge. He promised that the delegation was working to fix the issue.

After the event, Metzgar commented that he was excited about the turnout and dialogue.

“This was one of the best town hall’s we’ve ever had,” said Metzgar. “And we’re going to do everything we can this session to make sure these issues are dealt with.”

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Poll shows importance of prescription drug affordability to voters

Poll shows importance of prescription drug affordability to voters
Incumbent Senator Kathy Klausmeier (left) will face challenger Del. Christian Miele in this year's race for the District 8 State Senate seat. A new poll suggests prescription drug affordability measures will be an important issue for voters in that election.

(Updated 1/10/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A poll released at the end of last year asked voters statewide and in two legislative districts whether or not they support several initiatives related to controlling the price of prescription medication.

The results of the polls showed voters overwhelmingly support the initiatives both around the state and in the individual districts.

First, respondents were asked how they felt about the prescription drug price gouging law the Maryland General Assembly passed in 2017. That law aims to prevent price gouging by pharmaceutical companies on generic and off-patent drugs by making them justify large price increases and authorizing the Maryland attorney general to sue the companies if necessary to prevent those increases.

In District 8 in eastern Baltimore County, 71 percent of respondents said they approved of the law while only 16 percent said they opposed it.

When asked about initiatives proposed for this year’s legislative session in Annapolis - which kicked off Wednesday, Jan. 10 - large majorities of District 8 voters polled said they at least somewhat favored requiring pharmaceutical companies to inform the public about expensive new drugs and large price increases for older drugs, and to justify those pricing decisions (82 percent); establishing a cost review commission to determine acceptable costs for drugs (77 percent); and preventing commercial managers from restricting what pharmacists can tell consumers (64 percent).

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative which conducted the poll, said the results show that people in District 8 - which includes Parkville, Nottingham, Perry Hall, Overlea and some of White Marsh and Rosedale - and statewide “strongly” support their intiatives to help make all prescription drugs more affordable for Marylanders.

DeMarco said the Prescription Drug Cost Review Commission is MCHI’s main proposal for the General Assembly because the body would have the authority to determine what Marylanders pay for all high-cost drugs. It would be tasked with examining evidence to determine what is affordable for Marylanders.

DeMarco used the brand-name drug Sovaldi, which is used to cure hepatitis C, as an example because it costs around $90,000 per treatment and only about 20 percent of the Marylanders who need it can get it, he said. But because it is a brand-name drug, it does not fall under the authority of the 2017 law.

“Certainly, if you don’t have insurance, you can’t pay that,” he said. “We want Marylanders to be able to afford life-saving drugs like this, and that’s what the drug cost commission is about.”

Rolled into that bill would be the requirement that drug companies inform the public of expensive drugs and justify their cost to the commission.

DeMarco said the commission would be similar to the state’s Health Services Cost Review Commission which determines what hospitals can charge patients and is meant to keep hospital costs under control while ensuring they have enough money to provide quality care.

The HSCRC was established in 1971 and is comprised of seven members appointed by the governor.

It will be written into the bill’s language that the PDCRC members will be appointed one each by the governor, the state senate president, the house speaker, the attorney general and the state treasurer, according to DeMarco.

MCHI’s other proposal is to do what several other states have done and prohibit “gag rules” on pharmacists. Some pharmaceutical benefit managers (PBMs) use such gag rules to bar pharmacists from telling consumers if the cash price of a drug is lower than they would pay if they go through their insurance.

The gag rule bill would make it a crime to include gag rules in contracts between pharmaceutical companies, PBMs and pharmacists.

“Marylanders, like all Americans, are feeling the crunch of skyrocketing prescription drug prices and they want legislators to do something about it,” DeMarco said. “This poll reflects what people are feeling in their pocketbooks.”

DeMarco admitted that District 8 was chosen for the poll because it will see a competitive State Senate race in 2018, but also because both candidates in that race - incumbent Kathy Klausmeier (D) and challenger Christian Miele (R) - currently sit on key legislative committees that could decide the fate of the bills.

MCHI also wanted to show support for their proposals in “purple” districts - those that voted for Gov. Larry Hogan (R) but elected Democratic state senators in 2014 - he said.

“We wanted to show these legislators, as well as other legislators around the state, that even in those kinds of districts this issue is very powerful,” DeMarco said.

The MCHI poll showed a 16-point lead for Klausmeier over Miele in a generic 2018 senate race. And that lead jumped up to a hypothetical 41 points for Klausmeier if she supported the aforementioned proposals and Miele did not.

However, if Miele supported the proposals and Klausmeier did not, the poll then favored Miele by 35 percentage points.

“I think that shows the power of this issue,” DeMarco said.

Klausmeier said she was not concerned with the results of the poll, noting that it is less important than her work with the legislation itself.

“My biggest concern is the way the prescription drugs are going out of the ballpark as far as the cost. We’ve got to really start looking at how we can curb that,” she said, noting that she is trying to get the PBMs to the negotiating table to work on solutions.

The senator revealed she is the lead Senate sponsor of the “gag rule” bill, which she said is modeled after legislation passed in Connecticut last year. She said she will be working with Del. Eric Bromwell (D-8), who is the bill’s lead sponsor in the House of Delegates.

“We’ll be trying to craft something that is a win-win for everybody, but most of all for the constituents of the state,” Klausmeier said.

Regarding MCHI’s other proposals, she said, “It sounds good, but I just need to do more digging myself to make sure that’s a great way to go.”

Miele, a state delegate, took a more cautious and free-market approach to MCHI’s proposals to regulate pharmaceutical companies.

“These are potentially life-saving drugs that we want to see come to the marketplace, and they’re only going to come to the marketplace if there’s something in it for the people who take the risk,” he said.

While Miele withheld judgement on MCHI’s specifically proposed bills since he had not seen them, he said state policymakers must be careful not to undermine investment in important drugs.

He noted that many pharmaceutical companies invest tens of millions of dollars in research and development of new drugs, and for every one that makes it to market there are probably dozens that fail at some point in the process.

“It’s not just the cost of the drug that the company has to bear,” Miele said. “There’s also the millions of dollars in failed drugs that never made it to market,” which includes research and development, permitting and marketing costs.

For this reason Miele had concerns that the poll did not adequately showcase both sides of the argument for respondents.

“I feel like if people that were polled were able to hear from the pharmaceutical companies and from the advocates, the outcome might be different,” he said.

Miele and Klausmeier both supported the 2017 price gouging law and Miele stood by that decision.

“I voted the way I did last year because I thought that was a reasonable measure, and I’m looking to find common ground,” he said.

That law was specifically tailored so it only triggered action using a measureable rubric for what seemed out of the ordinary or excessive, the delegate said, and it did a good job of protecting the public while not being too invasive in telling the marketplace what it can and cannot do.

Miele said while he has “built-in concerns” about the issue, he is “deeply interested” in it and the arguments both sides will present to the legislature. He said he is “anxiously waiting” to read the proposed legislation.

DeMarco said the poll has big implications for the 2018 election because it shows that whoever supports their proposals is much more likely to win the office they seek.

“Our polls show that people will much more likely vote for a candidate, whether incumbent or challenger, who supports these measures than one who doesn’t,” he said.

Regardless, he said MCHI hopes they both support their proposals to increase their chances of passing.

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Marijuana dispensary to open this month in Dundalk

Marijuana dispensary to open this month in Dundalk
Charm City Medicus LLC has renovated this building on North Point Boulevard for a marijuana dispensary. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 1/10/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Eastern Baltimore County’s first medical marijuana dispensary is set to open in Dundalk within a few weeks with a variety of salves, oils, edibles and other products designed to help registered patients with chronic pain and other debilitating conditions.

Charm City Medicus, at 717 North Point Blvd. in a retail area across from the Eastpoint shopping center, is now just waiting for inventory to arrive from suppliers, according to CEO Bryan Hill.

The dispensary is one of 102 operators in the state pre-approved by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission that are looking for locations and final approvals before competing to sell marijuana products to registered patients who have been issued certifications from medical providers.

In Maryland, two dispensaries are allowed in each legislative district. And so far, Charm City Medicus is the only one of six operators in eastern Baltimore County that has won a final approval from the commission.

The other five, including a Health for Life dispensary that expects to open in a former Burger King on North Point Boulevard by March, are awaiting approvals.

The Health for Life dispensary, at Rolling Road across from the Bob Bell Chevrolet car dealership, expects to launch a website in about two weeks and complete renovations in mid-February, according to Project Manager Julie Winter.

The group plans to hold a public educational event with staff and speakers, including a pain doctor from White Marsh, a grower, a processor and a compliance expert, who will be available to answer questions.

“It’s so the community can come hear about the benefits,” said Winter. The date is to be announced.

Originally listed with the commission as Green Mart, Health for Life planned to open a dispensary on German Hill Road but ran into opposition from neighbors because the building was next to residences and a park.

Representatives of the commission and the other four pre-licensed operators did not return requests for comment about the status of their applications by early Tuesday morning.

More than 20 states have approved the sale of medical marijuana. But because the drug is still illegal under federal law, most banks will not open accounts for dispensary businessnes and dispensaries accept only cash. However, some are working on offering additional options.

Hill said legislators in the Maryland General Assembly, which convened Wednesday, Jan. 10, for its annual 90-day session, may introduce a bill that would require industry contributions to a fund to help cover costs of the drug for low-income patients.

Charm City hosts open house
On Thursday, Jan. 4, Hill and the Eastfield-Stanbrook Civic Association hosted an open house at the dispensary that offered nearly a dozen visitors a chance to tour the facility and ask questions in advance of the opening.

“I thought it went well,” Hill said. “We got a lot of feedback and a lot of questions about the process and the different types of products.”

Hill, who also held an informational event for veterans at the dispensary in November, said he will offer discounts to veterans, senior citizens and children.

“I thought it was very interesting,” said Adele Scheidt, who lives in Eastfield and helped organize the two-hour event with association president Karen Cruz.

“I think it will help a lot of people,” Scheidt said. “I know people who have used it and they swear by it.”

Another Eastfield resident, Burt Harris, was initially skeptical but said he was reassured after asking questions of the staff, including Stephen Seidel, the dispensary manager and lead pharmacist.

Seidel, who said he lost his son to a heroin overdose, said people who have been prescribed opioid pain killers and become addicted sometimes turn to illegal heroin because it is much cheaper.

Regulated medical marijuana promises to be an alternative way of dealing with certain types of conditions, he said.

Harris said his wife was in significant pain when she died seven years ago and that doctors at the time prescribed heavy doses of morphine.

“I think they overdid it,” he said. “I was curious about [marijuana]; I’ve never really bought into it, but for anyone who’s sick, I can see it as a possible treatment.”

Under the Maryland program, patients must first register with MMCC to get an identification number.

Qualifying medical conditions include chronic pain, wasting syndrome (sometimes related to cancer), anorexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms, glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the commission’s website.

Applicants then make an appointment to get a written certification from a doctor or other medical provider who is also registered with the commission.

In late August, Green Health Docs, which operates five other locations in Maryland, opened a medical marijuana evaluation office at 1050 North Point Road west of Merritt Boulevard.

“They must bring medical records with them to their appointment,” wrote Dr. Shivangi Amin, a principal with the group, in an email. “If a patient is unsure how to register, they may also come to our office and we will help them with the entire process.”

The call center accepts calls every day but Sunday, and the office is only open on Saturdays.

Also because of the federal legal status, insurance does not cover associated costs, Amin wrote. Green Health Docs charges $200 for the initial visit and charges veterans a discounted $170.

“We are required to see the patient every year under Maryland law, so the certificate will last the patient the entire year,” she wrote. “Renewal fees after [one] year are [$]150 for everyone.”

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County to pay for construction of remainder of Campbell Boulevard extension

County to pay for construction of remainder of Campbell Boulevard extension
This map shows the plan for the Campbell Boulevard extension, including the connections at US-40, Bird River Road and MD-43 at the top right. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 1/10/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County plans to pay for construction of the last remaining piece of Campbell Boulevard linking MD-7/Philadelphia Road to MD-43/White Marsh Boulevard via residential areas of Middle River, according to a Department of Public Works spokesperson.

DPW spokeswoman Lauren Watley confirmed to the East County Times that St. John Properties - the developer for much of the land along the MD-43 extension between White Marsh and Middle River - is currently designing and obtaining the necessary rights of way for the project, which would see the remainder of Campbell Boulevard constructed between Bird River Road and just south of Foxleigh Way.

The estimated cost is $2.5 million for the roughly 4,000-foot length, Watley said, and county officials have said funding will be requested in the county’s Fiscal Year 2019 capital budget for the project.

However, some in the community wondered why the county had decided to take on the expense of the construction since it has long been seen as a “developer’s road,” to be constructed by developers as they were ready to build on land the road would help them access. For that reason, many see the developers planning projects in the area as the chief beneficiaries of the new roadway.

Ray Reiner, an Oliver Beach resident and member of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, said at the group’s November meeting that he was okay with the county footing the bill for now, but developers should have to pay their share back to the county as their projects progress.

“Originally, it was to be put in by [developers]…,” he said. “Once a developer comes along, I think the county should be reimbursed by the developers for this [money].”

EMRCC President Bob Bendler pointed out that the completed link would make sure the additional traffic traveling along Campbell following the reopening of the Mohrs Lane bridge would not simply dump onto Bird River Road, which already sees traffic issues.

The bridge’s construction is expected to begin in June 2019 and take two years to complete, according to Watley.

Bendler said “major bottlenecks” would result from the Mohrs Lane bridge reopening before Campbell Boulevard is completed beyond Bird River Road.

“We have continually pressed the fact that this has to be looked at as a continuum,” he said in November. “We can’t just focus on getting the bridge done; you’ve got to have the rest of the process in place or else one thing causes other problems.”

Still, other EMRCC members agreed with Reiner that the developers should ultimately pick up the tab.

“The increase in development density [in the area] is what is causing traffic problems, so I think the cost of that should be borne by those folks who have done the developing,” said Wilson Point resident Dan Doerfer.

At EMRCC’s December meeting, Reiner and others acknowledged the project’s benefits regarding traffic, but stuck to the notion that Campbell Boulevard was planned as a developer’s road.

“I don’t see why we [as taxpayers] should be paying for the extension of the roadway when it’s benefitting the businesses along [MD-]43 and the housing developments over there,” Reiner said last month. “I think the developers should be paying for it.”

EMRCC member and Bird River Beach resident Peter Terry said, though, that the county typically does not address things like traffic until after development occurs and congestion of a particular area becomes an issue.

“Then we have overdevelopment and it takes three more years for an intersection to catch up,” he said.

“The overall project will improve transportation and access through the White Marsh area, an important and designated growth area,” Watley said of the extension. “The current county effort would complete the overall project in that area in advance of additional growth in the area.

“Most of these long main roadways in the growth areas have been built in pieces over a period of many years by both developer projects and county capital projects, which usually fill gaps and create the final needed connections,” she said.

Watley noted that the county designed, funded and constructed Campbell Boulevard from US-40/Pulaski Highway to Bird River Road in 2015 and will fund construction of the upcoming Mohrs Lane bridge replacement, which will become part of Campbell Boulevard extended between MD-7 and US-40. Meanwhile, development activity facilitated the con

struction of the road’s 3,000-foot section between MD-43 and Foxleigh Way at the developer’s expense, but left a smaller area for the remaining road connection.

Bendler wanted to find out if it would be possible to assess developers in the future for their share of the road’s cost as their projects move forward.

“Timing may justify throwing some county money at it,” he said, “but I agree with the discussion that’s been going on that it was originally a developer road and the developers haven’t come forward. And now [St. John] is promoting it because they need it for that access.”

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King to be celebrated with readings, music, dance, prayer and food

King to be celebrated with readings, music, dance, prayer and food
The special service will be held at Orems United Methodist Church, 1020 Orems Road in Middle River. Photo courtesy of Orems UMC.

(Updated 1/10/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Two local churches are planning a special Martin Luther King Jr. celebration that the Rev. Walter Jackson believes would have made the civil rights activist proud.

“This service brings all kinds of people together and I think the Rev. Dr. King would have liked that,” said Jackson, pastor of Chase United Methodist Church. “I enjoy anything that serves to bring people together, and in a proactive, not reactive, way.”

Chase and Orems UMC are working collaboratively on the service to be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15, at Orems, 1020 Orems Road.

The event will kick off with dinner, followed by a program that will include readings of King’s works as well as choral and instrumental music selections and dance, according to Vicki Borreson, administrative assistant at Orems UMC.

“Chase held the event in our fellowship hall last year and it was so successful, so moving, that we decided we had to do it again,” she said.

In addition to readings and musical selections, the service will also include activities specifically for children, according to Borreson.

“Martin Luther King’s sister wrote a children’s book about her brother, and we’re going to read from that for the children who come,” Borreson said. “And we’ll have a craft table set up as well.”

Citing King as “one of the greatest theologians of our time,” Jackson said it is important to remember the words and actions of the civil rights activist who was assassinated in April 1968.

“He spoke of unity, peace and justice like no one else ever has, either in the 20th century or this one,” Jackson said. “He had a brilliant mind and was well ahead of his time.”

It is Jackson’s hope that the celebration will once again bring King’s words and philosophies “to the forefront of our minds.”

Borreson said she hopes the program helps keep King’s legacy alive locally.

“This is a celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., and we hope this helps make it more than just a word,” she said. “This is a place and time for us all to come together, with an eye on justice.”

In a world where many people are “apart in their thinking, emotions and relationships,” Jackson said the community needs opportunities to come together in a positive fashion, rather than after a catastrophic or tragic event.

“We need to remember we are all one people, people of God, we are all human beings,” he said. “We invite people to gather with us to eat, laugh, talk, reflect and come together in a wonderful event with a good spirit.”

Chase and Orems have invited several other local churches to attend the celebration, which is also open to the public.

Jackson hopes to fill the fellowship hall with area residents but said if just one person comes, it will be a success.

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Task force seeing progress in trying to improve Essex’s image

Task force seeing progress in trying to improve Essex’s image
Previously obscured by overgrown trees, the signage for these businesses in the 400-block of Eastern Boulevard is now clearly visible. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 1/3/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Since beginning their work to beautify and revitalize the Eastern Boulevard corridor in Essex in the late summer, the Eastern Baltimore County Task Force has already seen some signs of life that they attribute to their efforts.

The task force, a committee of the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce, has been working for the last several months to address issues they see as hindrances to a healthy local economy, and they started small by focusing primarily on aesthetics.

Starting at the Back River bridge, members of the task force worked with the Maryland State Highway Administration to clean out the storm drains along the bridge. Many of the drains had been clogged with dirt and other materials to the point that grass and large weeds were able to grow up from them, according to task force member Cliff O’Connell.

And after first being told it would not be done, O’Connell, an area business owner, said they are working on getting the bridge walls repainted to look better.

“If a car hit it there would be a black mark on it and if they plowed the roads the salt would chip the paint off,” he said. “That was the initial story they gave us. But we didn’t like that and we’ve moved on, so we are going to get those walls painted.”

To address issues of overflowing trash from the cans along the boulevard’s streetscape, O’Connell said the county’s Bureau of Solid Waste, which handles trash pickup, has agreed to put new liners in the cans that are missing them to help contain the garbage.

“And we’re in the process of working with the tenants and landlords to do something about their trash,” he said, “because we have rat issues bad along the boulevard.”

Business tenants often use the streetscape cans, which are meant for smaller pedestrian trash, for their bulk business trash rather than getting dumpsters, leading trash to build up quickly and visibly.

Speaking of visibility, the overgrown trees along the streetscape which were planted long ago and never properly maintained have been removed by the county’s Department of Public Works where requested, allowing people to see the obscured businesses that many may not have known were there.

“Almost all of the trees are gone now,” O’Connell said. “It has definitely changed the look of the boulevard.”

Additionally, he said there were 13 places along the streetscape where trees had been planted but died, yet the hole still remained, posing a tripping or other injury hazard. Those holes have all been temporarily filled in with asphalt to prevent injury to pedestrians.

Some of the tree holes will have smaller trees planted back in them, O’Connell said, while others will have large flower pots placed over them for a more manageable aesthetic accent. Similar flower pots can be found in places like the Dundalk Village Shopping Center and other business districts around the county, and they hope to pay for them through a community reinvestment grant from Baltimore County.

The task force is still working to address issues like replacing the broken benches along the streetscape, cutting back vegetation grown in alleys, repaving alleys and using county Code Enforcement to influence people to remove graffiti or abandoned vehicles from their properties.

O’Connell stressed that they are trying to work with property owners to fix the problems rather than simply pushing for fines or other penalties right away, asking nicely or giving warnings first.

Perhaps most encouraging, though, is that they have noticed some businesses along the boulevard sprucing up their business frontages by adding new awnings, planting fresh flowers in flower boxes and cleaning up their façades.

“So just by us doing some minor improvements, already some of the business owners and tenants are jumping in to do things,” O’Connell said. “That’s what we hoped for.”

Further, a Code Enforcement sweep and subsequent notifications have resulted in much of the accumulated graffiti being removed by property owners.

“I’d say 60 percent have fixed their graffiti issues,” O’Connell said. “It’s amazing the difference already with the graffiti that has been [removed].”

He explained that they want to make the area look more presentable to try to take advantage of the recent uptick in economic development in eastern Baltimore County and possibly entice people to want to move into some of the vacant buildings in the area.

Sam Weaver, another area business owner and task force member, said the biggest thing community members can do is to be their eyes and ears.

“If you see something wrong, take pictures of it,” he said, and notify himself, O’Connell, any member of the Back River Restoration Committee or county Code Enforcement. “Until people care about this neighborhood and start doing something about it, it just isn’t going to change.”

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Cub Hill Road neighbors challenge subdivision plan in Parkville

Cub Hill Road neighbors challenge subdivision plan in Parkville
Outlined in red is a planned 19-lot subdivision near the corner of Cub Hill Road and Flagstone Drive in Parkville. The existing house on the site at 9411 Flagstone Drive is set to be razed to create an entrance to the new development. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 1/3/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Neighbors fear the addition of 19 houses on the top of a wooded hill in Parkville could worsen already hazardous winter driving conditions in their neighborhood along narrow and winding Cub Hill Road.

Planned is a one-street subdivision on the former Hunsberger tree farm, which sits on a steep hill bordering the older neighborhood of 22 houses across from St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.

Nearly half a dozen local residents living on the affected Flagstone Drive and Southwest Road raised questions about additional traffic from the project that would double the size of their community during a three-hour development plan hearing on Friday, Dec. 29.

They also questioned the proposed entrance off Flagstone Drive; a retaining wall along Cub Hill Road, which is a county-designated scenic byway; plans for storm water runoff; and the requirements for street lights.

Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen opted to continue the hearing on another day to allow more time for county departments to review the plan and share their opinions with residents.

Several county reviewers said at the hearing that parts of the plan were incomplete or currently unacceptable, including landscaping for a 10-foot-high, concrete retaining wall to be built along Cub Hill Road.

A previous developer had planned a subdivision with three fewer houses and an access road off Cub Hill Road, but the redevelopment of the tree farm was later taken over by the current developer, listed as Cub Hill Development LLC in care of Bel Air-based Timothy O’Shea.

Land records show that the LLC bought two half-acre lots on Flagstone Drive last July not owned by Hunsberger. The intent, according to a representative of the developer, was to build a house on one of the lots, which has been cleared of vegetation. But then the project was expanded to include the adjacent 10 acres of Hunsberger farmland.

The second lot on Flagstone Drive  includes a house that will be razed to create the entrance to the proposed subdivision, which residents said would be better located off Cub Hill Road per an earlier development plan for the farm.

Hazardous driving conditions
A traffic engineer for the developer said a one-day, peak-hour study on Dec. 12 of vehicles going past the Flagstone/Cub Hill intersection was within acceptable levels and that site distances were adequate.

Residents said driving is already hazardous, especially during icy winter weather, due to a sharp curve on Cub Hill Road and the generally hilly local terrain that drains into the nearby Gunpowder River.

Residents reported cases of cars and delivery trucks sliding down Flagstone Drive toward Cub Hill Road, and one long-time resident said he fears a driver leaving the subdivision could slide into his house across from the proposed entrance on Flagstone.

Another resident said during the summer she has personally cut back overgrown vegetation blocking the view of oncoming traffic on Cub Hill Road for drivers turning left out of Flagstone Drive.

Residents also note that the proposed subdivision is within the traffic shed that includes the routinely congested intersection of East Joppa Road and Perring Parkway which funnels traffic onto the Beltway.

Residents said a county official told them that the intersection is rated F, which means a development plan within the shed can be approved but that building permits cannot be granted until improvements are made to the intersection.

The developer’s attorney, Timothy Kotroco, disputed the F rating, saying a traffic shed map approved by the County Council rates the intersection as an E, which would allow building to go forward.

Kotroco said he is applying to the county Planning Department for a reserve capacity use certificate that would allow building permits provided it does not generate more than 103 peak-hour vehicle trips per day.

Retaining wall, other issues
The plan also calls for a 10-foot-high concrete retaining wall between Cub Hill Road and five lots along the northeast end of the subdivision.

Scenic road regulations require that the area between the wall and the road remain undisturbed and that area would be maintained in the future by the subdivision’s homeowner association, according to county officials.

They also said efforts would be made to color the wall to blend in with the surrounding vegetation, but that a landscaping plan has not been completed.

Also still outstanding is an answer about whether an existing 27-inch storm drain pipe under Cub Hill Road at Flagstone Drive is large enough to accept overflow runoff from the subdivision’s planned on-site drainage system.

If it is not, runoff can be diverted to wooded undevelopable areas on the southwestern end of the subdivision site, according to Kotroco.

Residents are also concerned about the addition of street lights, which they say will diminish views of the nighttime sky, which Kotroco said could be mitigated by applying to the county for a waiver.

He also said that the developer plans to pay the county $47,300 in lieu of providing required open space, which is allowed under county regulations.

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Motorcycle advocates to push for change to ‘helmet law’ during legislative session

Motorcycle advocates to push for change to ‘helmet law’ during legislative session
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

(Updated 1/3/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Baltimore-Harford chapter of ABATE of Maryland, Inc. plans to focus its efforts during the upcoming 2018 General Assembly session on making wearing a helmet a choice for motorcyclists in the state rather than a requirement.

In previous years, ABATE - which in Maryland stands for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, although the acronym has different meanings in other states - has had to fight against a lot of different legislation proposing what they saw as unfair regulations on motorcyclists, according to Jay Hidden, the chapter’s legislative representative.

For example, in past legislative sessions, Hidden noted, bills have been proposed to make it illegal for anyone under 12 years old to ride a motorcycle, even as a passenger. Another sought to increase the fine for exceeding the speed limit by 40-plus mph from $500 to $1,000, but only for those on motorcycles. Both bills were sponsored by representatives from Prince George’s County.

But more recently, the organization has heard complaints from members that they have not accomplished anything with regard to the state’s helmet law.

The federal mandate that states must have a law requiring helmets for motorcyclists in order to receive highway funds was the main reason ABATE chapters sprang up around the country decades ago, Hidden said. And ever since that mandate was overruled by the courts, advocates have pushed to have Maryland’s law repealed, or at least modified.

As a result, the organization will push for passage of the “helmet modification law,” called so because it would modify the law and “‘helmet repeal law’ sounds like we want to outlaw helmets,” Hidden said. “We just want it to be a matter of choice.

“I try to explain to legislators that if I’m riding across the country and come into a state that doesn’t require a helmet, I’m going to leave the helmet on,” he said. “But when I stop, get a room then go to get something to eat, if the restaurant is three blocks down the road, I don’t want to put the helmet on, especially if it’s 95 degrees outside.”

Motorcycle advocates often argue that the efficacy of helmets is questionable, citing that they impair riders’ hearing and peripheral vision, according to Hidden. In addition, safety testing on helmets is typically done at what he said is the equivalent of riding at 13 mph. Advocates question how safe they really are and how they will perform at higher speeds.

People on both sides of the issue use numbers from Michigan, Hidden said, because it is the most recent state to repeal their helmet requirement.

Advocates of helmets point to an increase in total motorcycle fatalities since that repeal. But opponents of the laws say the increase in ridership following the repeal, which is far greater, means that the percentage of fatalities among riders has actually gone down.

Because of these discrepancies, however, Hidden believes insurance rates provide better insight into the reality of the issue.

In the course of his research, Hidden said, he contacted insurance companies in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia to compare rate quotes for himself. He said he chose those states because they are on similar latitudes with Maryland and there is less weather variation as a factor.

He found that, on average, states without helmet laws had rates that were $16 per month cheaper than those with the requirement.

“That’s counterintuitive,” Hidden admitted. “But these are numbers that insurance actuaries - people who are paid a lot of money to look at a lot of factors - came up with.”

He said that the lower insurance rates could be because people ride more cautiously when not wearing a helmet.

“I know when I’m not wearing a helmet, I tend to be a little more cautious,” he said. “It’s a subconscious thing.”

Hidden also believes states that offer choice do a better job with safety training as a requirement for a motorcycle license, which he thinks is the best way to address the issue.

“The way to keep someone’s head intact is to not throw it down on the pavement in the first place,” he joked, adding that he would like to see better motorcycle awareness training for drivers as well.

Hidden said they plan to introduce this year’s bill through a Prince George’s County delegate who sits on the Environment and Transportation Committee.

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Weir promises to take care of local issues in Seventh District

Weir promises to take care of local issues in Seventh District
Brian Weir is currently seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent Republican Todd Crandell for the Baltimore County Council's Seventh District seat. He is of no relation to former state delegate Mike Weir Jr.

(Updated 1/3/18)

- By Marge Neal -

With a campaign slogan of “It’s not about the party, it’s about the people,” Democrat Brian Weir is running for the Seventh District seat on the Baltimore County Council.

“And I’m a conservative Democrat,” the longtime Berkshire resident told the East County Times. “This isn’t about party affiliation, this is about wanting the district to have a local politician who is concerned about addressing local issues.”

Weir, 57, (no relation to former state delegate Mike Weir Jr.) certainly qualifies as a local guy. His family moved to Berkshire in 1966 and as an adult, he bought a home around the corner from the family home where he grew up. He graduated from Dundalk High School in 1978 and studied at then-Dundalk Community College for a year, then Essex Community College for a year before going to work.

“I had to stop going to school before I graduated because I had a family to support,” Weir said of his college experience. “I just couldn’t afford to keep going.”

The longtime recreation and parks activity leader and volunteer has been a member of the Board of Recreation and Parks for six years. His term ended Dec. 31, and he doubts he will be reappointed by Seventh District Councilman Todd Crandell. Should Weir win the Democratic primary, he would face Crandell in the general election.

As of press time, Weir and Dundalk resident Richard Davis were the only candidates registered with the Maryland State Board of Elections to run for the seat.

Weir said his motivation for running is simple.

“Since the last election, none of the local issues are being taken care of,” he said. “It seems like all the politicians are interested in is Tradepoint [Atlantic]; everyone wants to send taxpayer money there and everyone wants to take credit for the jobs being produced there.”

Weir is more concerned about “crumbling infrastructure, out-of-control development,” taxpayer money being given to developers to help pay for private projects, and what he sees as the destruction of the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

“What has been done to our rec and parks department is horrible - they’ve destroyed that department,” Weir said of county administrators.

“I want to restore Rec and Parks to what it once was,” Weir said. “The staff has been cut to practically nothing, everything is being done by outside contractors and Property Management makes all the calls, not the rec and parks staff.”

He is concerned that the North Point Government Center is being neglected, with no work being done on the building even though it is still in use by several local recreation council programs.

The sale of the building and much of its land to a developer was hotly protested by the community, but Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz closed Eastwood Elementary School and put the government center on the market, despite community opposition to both proposals.

Eastwood was closed as a school to house the Dundalk Police Precinct after it vacated the government center.

The final sale of the property was halted by Gov. Larry Hogan because county officials did not get permission from the state to sell the land that was bought with funding assistance from the state’s Program Open Space fund.

“Because that building has been so neglected, there’s no doubt the community needs a new building there,” Weir said. “But I’d like to see a recreation center there with no retail or commercial space - just a rec center and athletic fields like exist there now.”

Weir said that, because of the watering down of the joint use agreement between Rec and Parks and the public school system, indoor recreation space is at a premium and a new center would be heavily used.

“I’d like to see a center with two soccer rinks, a 1,000-seat theater, a wrestling center and other spaces that area rec councils all could use,” he said.

He is also concerned about the proposal that a private contractor take over the management of Eastern Regional Park’s fields in Chase. He said that Rec and Parks officials were not in on the decision-making process; Property Management staff members facilitated the request made by a developer to run the facility.

“They want to charge Rec and Parks to use facilities they already paid for,” Weir said, expressing concern that rec councils would have to pay exorbitant fees to use the fields.

Weir said if voters send him to the council, he will fight for improved infrastructure and other local issues, work to restore the recreation and parks department to more viable levels and, perhaps most importantly, listen to his constituents.

“This district needs a local politician to return phone calls, handle local issues and be responsive to residents’ concerns and needs,” he said. “And I’m prepared to be that guy. I’m a dirt-on-the hands guy; I’m not a suit-and-tie guy.”

As of Tuesday, neither Crandell nor any potential Republican challengers had officially filed to run. The deadline to file is 9 p.m. Feb. 27.

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Luminaria Night spotlights the magic of the season

Luminaria Night spotlights the magic of the season
Volunteers placed and lit seasonal luminarias to light up certain Dundalk neighborhoods with some festive flair. The luminaria bags had decorative cutouts to add to their aesthetic appeal. Photo courtesy of Will Feuer.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Marge Neal -

After a two-year cancellation because of bad weather, downtown Dundalk was again awash with the warmth of candlelight Friday, Dec. 22, when the tradition of Luminaria Night was carried out.

Started by the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society and Museum about six years ago, the first Luminaria Night involved lining the society’s Center Place building and the neighboring Veterans Park with the soft, festive light provided by votive candles inside small paper sacks weighed down with sand.

The event was so popular that other community organizations, including churches and businesses, decided to join in.

“The last two years, it was canceled because of bad weather, but we participated for two or three years before that,” the Rev. Kristi King, pastor of New Light Lutheran Church said. “This year, we had the perfect night for it.”

Unseasonably warm weather and lack of winds allowed the event to get off without a hitch.

About 10 church members volunteered to decorate the sanctuary and line the property at the convergence of Dundalk and Pine avenues and Willow Spring Road with candles.

“And this year, we did something special,” King said. “We have a regular crafty group that meets at the church, and they did some decorative hole-punching in the bags to make them more festive.”

Historical society member Will Feuer said he supplies “manual labor” for Joe Stadler, chairman of the candle effort.

“This really is Joe’s project,” he said. “I just lined half of the park with candles.”

The luminaria event augments the society’s train garden attraction, Feuer said. With nice weather this year, he believes the event generated a bigger crowd than usual.

About 40 people gathered in front of the museum to sing Christmas carols, and children lined up to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, he said.

“Santa Claus and his wife arrived this year on a fire engine, which was new,” he said. “That’s a tradition we’re hoping will continue, and will bring out even more people in the future.”

Firefighters from Dundalk’s Station 6 had the honor of escorting Santa to his appointed rounds.

Luminaria Night, while officially a project of the historical society, is truly a community event, with support from the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, Dunmanway Apartments and the St. Helena Community Association, according to Feuer.

“It really is a community effort,” he said. “And it’s such a magical time - a time to take a moment out of today’s busy world just to contemplate that magic of the season.”

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Sparrows Point Country Club developer wants to be a good neighbor

Sparrows Point Country Club developer wants to be a good neighbor
This artist's rendering shows the conceptual plan for the Country Club Estates development at Sparrows Point Country Club. The plan shows two entrances on Wise Avenue and one on Grays Road. Image courtesy of Conor Gilligan.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Noting that “people just don’t like change,” Sparrows Point Country Club president Ron Belbot nevertheless hopes the Dundalk community will embrace a proposed development project planned for the club’s Wise Avenue property.

“This isn’t a project to ‘sort of’ save the club,” he told the East County Times in response to a question about the reasoning behind the plan to develop a portion of the waterfront property. “This is a plan to save the club, no doubt about it.”

The club, which dates to the days of the Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows Point, has partnered with Craftsmen Developers to build a total of 308 housing units on about 75 acres of club property.

SPCC started as the domain of Bethlehem Steel management staff. In 1985, it was sold to the membership and since then, little more has been done except to throw on an occasional coat of paint, according to Belbot.

“Like every other country club, we’re struggling with membership and we never had the resources to keep up with facility needs,” he said. “The building just got older and older and more work needed to be done.”

In assessing needs, Belbot said the club house needed to be replaced, a new irrigation system is needed for the golf course and the pool house is a 1950s locker room that “no one wants to go into.”

“After determining what needed to be done, we were looking at a figure north of $10 million and we knew that was never going to come from the membership,” Belbot said.

The plan to develop a portion of the property has been on the books for more than 10 years, but the recession of 2008 and its effect on the housing industry brought the plans to a screeching halt, according to Belbot.

When the original concept was being shopped, which called for the club to sell acreage outright to a developer, the builders wanted the club to assume most of the risk involved.

“We looked at the numbers we would realize with us footing the risk, and they were well south of what we needed to survive,” the club president said.

After the housing market rebounded, club officials revisited the plan and entered into the partnership with Craftsmen, which Belbot believes will benefit both parties.

The acreage identified for building will not be sold to the developer. Instead, both parties will share the risk and both will benefit from profits as units are sold, according to Belbot and Conor Gilligan, vice president of Craftsmen.

Gilligan hosted a community meeting Dec. 21 at the Southeast Regional Recreation Center in Dundalk to update community residents who were unable to attend a similar meeting held Dec. 5.

The development, to be known as Country Club Estates, will include townhouses, single-family houses and villas, which Gilligan described as “age-targeted” housing that will put all living amenities on the first floor and have second-floor bedrooms that could be used for grandchildren and other guests.

About 10 residents, mostly from the Edgepoint community directly across the street from the club, attended the most recent meeting.

They voiced concerns about current traffic that often impedes their ability to access or leave their driveways, lack of sidewalks, poor stormwater drainage, crowded schools and other issues they believe will be worsened by additional development in the area.

Wise Avenue resident Richard Taylor, who has lived in his house for 30 years, said his cars have been hit 11 times in that span, with seven being totaled because of such extensive damage.

Several residents, including Richard Davis, a Democratic candidate running for the Seventh District Baltimore County Council seat, are concerned about the potential loss of mature trees that line the club property along Wise Avenue.

In response, Gilligan displayed revised drawings that show an increased setback from the road and said not only would the mature trees be left standing, but additional landscaping would include fill-in shrubbery and “shade-loving” trees to create more of a curtain for local residents.

While the land in question was rezoned from DR1 (one house per acre) to DR5.5 during the 2012 comprehensive rezoning process, the partners decided to pursue a planned unit development  process because the proposed development area did not fit perfectly within the rezoned area, according to Gilligan.

About 40 acres of the designated area is a critical area buffer, wetlands and steep slopes - and, therefore, not buildable, according to Gilligan.

“If we are kept to that area, we would only be able to do about half of what we originally planned and the project would not be feasible,” Gilligan said.

He told the meeting attendees that Craftsmen “would like to be a friendly neighbor” and listen and respond to community suggestions and concerns.

He emphasized the project is not a “done deal” and much remains to be done to get the approval to move forward.

The PUD has been submitted to Baltimore County officials for review, and more work will need to be done before the final document goes to the County Council for discussion and a vote, Gilligan said.

In the meantime, the developers are listening to the community and making changes to be the “good neighbor” country club and development company officials want to be.

The Wise Avenue setback has been moved to 100 feet, or twice what the law requires, and some units have been reconfigured while others have been eliminated to achieve that, Gilligan said.

Club president Belbot said the development is the best plan for the club and surrounding community.

“The alternative would be to lose the club completely,” he said. “And if we were to lose the club, the entire parcel could be developed. We really think this is the solution to ensure the club and its open space exists for generations to come.”

If all goes smoothly in the rest of the approval process, Gilligan hopes groundbreaking can occur in the second quarter of 2019, with the first units available for sale that summer.

Construction is expected to be carried out in five phases, with the next phase commencing as the last group of houses is sold, he said.

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Kingsville residents ask for natural landscaping around solar array

Kingsville residents ask for natural landscaping around solar array
An existing solar array currently sits along Pfeffers Road in Kingsville near the proposed sites for new arrays. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Required landscaping is expected to block the views from Philadelphia Road and Interstate 95 of a proposed array of about 8,000 solar panels in Kingsville, according to operators.

Turning Point, a for-profit company based in Denver, presented its plans for the site on the northeast corner of Raphel and Philadelphia roads to a county administrative law judge on Monday, Dec. 18.

Under a new county law, operators must ask the judge for a zoning special exception with a public hearing before the judge can issue a decision that can include conditions.

The Greater Kingsville Civic Association was scheduled to meet Wednesday, Dec. 20, to discuss the plan and submit any comments to the ALJ.

“Thankfully, placing the solar panels on this fairly hidden site presents very little visual impact in our rural community,” wrote Kingsville resident Doug Behr in an email.

Behr attended the hearing and advocated for a mix of trees and other plantings to make the required screening of the array more natural looking.

If approved as proposed, the solar facility would generate enough energy to power about 500 single-family houses for a year, according to the operators.

The panels are designed to track the path of the sun throughout the day, which should result in no glare from the array, according to operators.

The 23.5-acre solar property is part of the former Huber farm. On the eastern end of the site is a non-buildable strip of environmentally sensitive land that would serve as a buffer between the array and residents of Old Long Calm Road.

As part of the plan, the operators are asking for a variance that would allow them to install three panels in a small wetland area in the center of the site.

West of the site is an open field held by a separate owner that is expected to serve as a buffer between the array and Raphel Road.

About three acres of farmland will also be preserved along the southern border of the array, which will be accessed via an existing driveway shared with the farm off Philadelphia Road.

Crossing the Turning Point site above ground are major transmission lines running from the BGE substation located on the south side of Philadelphia Road.

Still to be scheduled for a hearing is a request by Power52 Energy Solutions to install solar panels on the northwest corner of Raphel and Philadelphia roads on land that is owned by BGE.

An article in the Dec. 14 edition of the Times incorrectly named the nonprofit Power52 Foundation as the entity that has applied to operate that solar array.

The Ellicott City-based foundation will be supplying and selling the power to low- and moderate-income individuals and to other customers.

Power52 Energy Solutions will be building the project using graduates from the Foundation’s job training program.

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Republican Robertson wants to return County Council to the people

Republican Robertson wants to return County Council to the people
Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Bowleys Quarters resident Allen Robertson has been advocating for his community for more than 25 years and he is ready to step up his involvement.

On Dec. 4, Robertson, a Republican, registered his candidacy for the Sixth District Baltimore County Council seat, joining a crowded race that so far has four official candidates vying for the chance to challenge incumbent Democrat Cathy Bevins in the November 2018 general election. One other Republican has announced his intention to run, and a Democrat is reportedly considering a challenge to Bevins in the primary.

Robertson, 61, grew up in Hawthorne and graduated from Kenwood High School in 1974. In 1978, he received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from what was then Loyola College. He has been in the financial services and banking industry since 1992 and currently works as an investment representative for Securities America.

“I’m semi-retired and plan to devote full-time hours to my work as councilman if I get elected,” he said. “I have permission from my employer to do this.”

Robertson’s community activism began in 1992 when he started fighting against proposed development on the Bowleys Quarters peninsula that did not fit in with the local area plan and the Baltimore County Master Plan.

More recently, he has been fighting a plan to build condominiums on the site of a marina, a project that he believes violates Baltimore County planned unit development (PUD) laws, ignores environmental requirements of a parcel of land within the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area and is not consistent with current community architectural patterns.

In citing the political influence of land use attorneys, Robertson said he would like to put an end to the “nepotism and corruption” that he believes is rampant throughout Baltimore County politics.

“Too many of our elected leaders are bought and paid for by these lawyers, and the way they vote proves that,” Robertson said.

He rattled off a variety of development projects around the county that residents have been adamantly opposed to, yet the local councilperson endorsed the projects.

“That has to stop,” he said. “The influence of big money has to stop and leaders need to truly represent their districts.”

Robertson said he wants to govern without special interests and believes he has the appropriate work experience and ethics to accomplish that goal.

“I’ve worked in an industry where trust and integrity are everything,” he said. “My background will allow a seamless transition to an elected position guided by that same trust and integrity.”

Many community issues, such as senior housing, school discipline, the use of police officers in schools and over-development, are on Robertson’s radar.

After discussing a variety of concerns he would like to address if elected, Robertson reflected on his motivation for running for office.

“I’m not a politician; never have been and don’t want to be,” he said. “I want to be a community advocate; I want to do this for the community.”

Robertson is a founding member of the Bowleys Quarters Community Association and takes pride in that organization making a difference in the community. Members perform regular cleanups along Bowleys Quarters Road and recently sponsored a Christmas concert that collected donations for the St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church food pantry. They also advocate for other quality-of-life issues affecting the area.

“We are just people working together to help others in the community,” he said. “But when we’re always fighting corruption, that takes away from the energy we could be using to get things done. I need to go into a position where I can stop spinning my wheels, and winning a seat on the council will allow me to do that.”

Robertson said his goal is to see a majority-Republican council elected next November. Democrats now hold a slim majority of 4-3 on the County Council.

“I certainly am hoping I am the Republican candidate to face Bevins, but I will throw my full support behind whoever wins our primary,” he said.

Other Republican challengers who have filed to run are Glen Geelhaar, Erik Lofstad and Deb Sullivan. Ryan Nawrocki has announced his intention to run but had not filed as of Dec. 26.

The deadline to file is 9 p.m. Feb. 27.

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Depot owner misses code enforcement deadline; Walmart no longer moving

Depot owner misses code enforcement deadline; Walmart no longer moving
At least four large piles of tires remained untouched behind the depot’s main building as of Friday, Dec. 22. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Despite being given more than two months to resolve county code violations on his property, the owner of the Middle River federal depot failed to do so and now faces increased fines, as well as an added bill for the county to correct the problems itself.

At a hearing on Sept. 20, county administrative law judge Lawrence Stahl ordered property owner Middle River Station Development, LLC and its principal, Sal Smeke, to remove masses of discarded tires, debris and old boats from the property within 60 days. He imposed a $6,000 fine for the violations, but suspended all but $750 provided the mess was cleaned up.

Having missed the deadline late last month, Smeke now must also pay the remaining $5,250, along with the cost for the county to come remove the tires and other materials, according to county officials.

County code enforcement officials were moving in the latter half of this month to remedy the situation, having submitted contractor requests to perform the work. The contractors were scheduled to visit the site in the following two weeks to provide cost estimates, after which the county would choose a bid and work would begin.

The bill would then be sent to the property owner for payment or else end up as a lien on the property. Since the winning bid had not yet been chosen, there was no word as of press time how much the county’s removal cost would be.

In another blow to the owner and his plans to redevelop the site, Walmart has confirmed through the local County Council representative that they will no longer close their nearby Carroll Island location in favor of a new store at the depot.

County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, told the East County Times Dec. 18 - and community groups before that - that she had a meeting with Walmart representatives who told her they will no longer move the Carroll Island store.

“They came to me personally,” Bevins said, adding that she was somewhat relieved because of what Walmart’s departure would have done to the Carroll Island Shopping Center where it currently acts as the anchor store.

Leadership of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, which has followed the issue for years due to concerns that the vacant Walmart building would blight the shopping center, echoed Bevins’ sentiment.

“The bottom line is, I think it’s good for Carroll Island Shopping Center,” said EMRCC President Bob Bendler at the organization’s meeting on Dec. 6.

“I think this is probably going to be the best thing to happen,” Bevins said.

She noted that two weeks after she met with Walmart officials, she received a call from another developer - who she confirmed is Blue Ocean Realty - interested in purchasing and developing the property.

The current owner purchased the depot property for $37 million in 2007, and it is reportedly now listed for sale at $49 million. However, the state tax assessment value is listed at $9 million.

Bevins told the Times on Oct. 30, before she could reveal the name of the developer, that they had a project in mind for the depot site that is “very different” from the plan that Middle River Station Development currently has on file with the county.

“It would have a very positive effect on the Middle River area,” she said at the time, noting that it would not include a lot of retail, as is proposed now.

Bevins also said then that when she rezoned the property in 2012, her office got a lot of comments from the community that they would like to see fields there for recreation, athletics or some other form of entertainment along those lines.

She pointed out as well that the current zoning allows residential uses and the plan on file calls for them, but she does not want to see residential uses there.

“In having conversations now that Greenleigh is being developed, and I’ve had other people’s projects now starting out that [were approved before I was in office], I really don’t want to see residential there,” she said in October.

She said Blue Ocean also has no intentions to include residential uses in their plan.

The depot site also exists under an easement from the Maryland Historical Trust which protects certain aspects of the main building - specifically the window frames and saw-tooth roof design - from being demolished or changed during redevelopment.

Bevins and community leaders have observed that the easement has proved to be an obstacle to redevelopment in the past, resulting in a more recent community push to explore the removal of the easement and the site’s historical designation.

While Bevins said she has contacted MHT to re-inspect the site and perhaps reevaluate the designation, they notified her that they have a lot of properties to inspect and will not be visiting the site until sometime next month.

“But they’re flexible” with the use of the buildings, she said.

She indicated that if a plan for the site came about that enjoyed widespread support from the community, Baltimore County, elected officials and other relevant stakeholders, they would ease the pressure to preserve the building exactly as is.

However, in a potential barrier to any future development at the depot, Paul Svoboda announced at the Dec. 6 EMRCC meeting that he and several members of the Baltimore County Mobile Homeowners Association, as well as the BCMHA itself, had filed suit against the county and Middle River Station Development.

They have environmental concerns over the soil and groundwater at the site - located adjacent to Williams Estates and Peppermint Woods, two mobile home park communities - which are contaminated from past industrial activity, yet they claim the county is moving forward with development approvals as though no further cleanup needs to be done.

The suit was filed on Nov. 7, Svoboda said, and received by the county Nov. 24. They had 30 days from that date to respond to the suit.

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Streets of Hope offers shelter, services to homeless men

Streets of Hope offers shelter, services to homeless men
Custodian Ron McBride makes sure rooms for the public and staff are regularly maintained at the Essex library. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

As the new year approaches, Ron McBride is without a place to call home, but he is working six days a week to earn the money to get one.

A part-time custodian at the Essex library on Eastern Boulevard, he is one of more than a dozen homeless men in the nonprofit Churches for Streets of Hope winter shelter program serving southeastern Baltimore County.

Thanks to a former program manager who helped him find the job, McBride has been banking his paycheck so he can move into a nearby apartment complex by April.

“God has a plan for me… It’s going to happen,” said McBride, a graduate of Dunbar High School in Baltimore who once had an apartment and a car but lost both.

“I never thought I’d be homeless,” he said.

On Thursday, Dec. 21, the longest night of the year and the start of winter, Baltimore County homeless advocates held their annual vigil at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson to remember the 37 homeless men and women who have died in the county this year.

Those who died ranged in age from 19 to 69, according to speakers.

Among them was a woman suffering from cancer who spent much of her time in Dundalk and Essex, and two other people who died at the Eastern Family Resource Center on Franklin Square Drive in Rosedale due to overdoses.

The new county-built center, which replaced a smaller center, provides beds and expanded social and medical services for women and children, as well as 50 first-time beds for homeless men that adds to beds for men available in Catonsville.

Because of the new center, the cold weather shelter that served men, women and children at the North Point Government Center in Dundalk will only be used as a backup facility.

Founded in 2010, the Streets of Hope program based in Essex is run by a coalition of churches that provides up to 16 men with cots, meals and services from early November to April 15.

“We now have a full staff of shift managers, over 30 member and partner churches and over 400 volunteers,” wrote Executive Director Patrick Dickerson in an email.

Applicants must get a referral from the county’s Department of Social Services, and the number of available openings are posted on the program’s website. As of last week, there were two.

Churches sign up to host the program, which relocates every few weeks to a different church. This year, the program started at First Baptist of Essex, moved to St. Stephens A.M.E. in Essex and spent Christmas at St. Matthew Lutheran in Bowleys Quarters.

The organization recently began raising money to find a permanent location, Dickerson said.

Other participating churches also provide daily dinners and breakfasts, along with clothes and other necessities. Several participants said one thing they could also use are MTA bus tokens and passes.

The men must report to the shelter by 6 p.m. and then leave early the following morning to spend the day elsewhere. Some need to get to medical appointments while others head to the Essex library.

“All are welcome,” said branch manager Yvette May, whose staff helps patrons look for jobs by assisting with things like résumé writing and filling out job and healthcare applications.

People can make an appointment to meet with a librarian for an hour if they need help with computers, she said. The library also recently partnered with Goodwill to provide free job readiness workshops.

McBride said he sometimes spent $4 to catch a cab from First Baptist to get to the library by 7 a.m., where he cleans and maintains the public and staff areas on two floors.

“He always has a smile on his face,” May said. “He always has a positive attitude and he’s very dependable and accommodating.”

At other times, McBride and others in the program, including Gerald, 33, who preferred not to give his last name, would make the 40-minute walk from Mace Avenue to the library.

Gerald grew up in the Key Landing apartments in Dundalk before moving to Essex in the eighth grade. A 2002 graduate of Chesapeake High School, he was living out of state when his mother got sick and asked him to come home.

He has worked in retail, human resources, food service and distribution and now is looking for another warehouse job.

“I can lift boxes all day,” said Gerald, who played football at Chesapeake High.

Streets of Hope operates with the help of donations, grants and nearly $70,000 from the county to help with insurance and extra heat and electricity costs related to the winter shelter operation.

This year the organization has been able to hire a part-time case manager to work with volunteers who interview participants and research available affordable housing openings and other services.

“One thing we provide differently from the new shelter is the community aspect of our work,” wrote Dickerson. “The men in our shelter connect with volunteers and visit their churches, building relationships with actual members of the community that last beyond the cold weather season.”

For more information about Streets of Hope, visit www.churchesforsoh.org,  call 443-764-4249 or email info@churchesforsoh.org. For the county’s homeless shelter hotline, call 410-853-3000 and press option two.

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Clark Griswold alive and well and living in Oliver Beach

Clark Griswold alive and well and living in Oliver Beach
Some might say Marc Smith goes overboard for Christmas, but he does it out of love and creativity. And the neighbors seem to appreciate it. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 12/20/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Professionally, Marc W. Smith is a respected, award-winning scenic, lighting and sound designer, known internationally for his prowess and decades of dedication to technical theater as witnessed by his 38-year career at the Community College of Baltimore County.

But in his Oliver Beach neighborhood, he is known as the Christmas guy - a Clark Griswold of sorts, with a house that when decorated, generates an electrical bill nearly three times the normal cost.

The “Christmas House,” as it is referred to by many local residents, has pretty much every square inch of lawn, roof, exterior walls and shrubbery covered with every kind of light and decoration imaginable. Not even the boat parked at the back of the driveway escapes the Christmas treatment - lights line the vessel and an inflatable Snoopy stands guard at the stern.

And the cozy home’s interior gets pretty much the same treatment.

“Literally, everything in the house gets put away so the Christmas stuff can come out,” Smith said with a laugh. “Curtains, comforters, sheets, everything.”

On a tour of the house with Smith and Debbie Goetzinger, his life partner of nearly 20 years, the evidence of that statement becomes apparent. The living room, kitchen, office, bedroom, guest room and even the bathroom serve as temporary galleries of all things Christmas.

The hallway has so many lights lining it that it resembles a runway. Snowman valances grace the kitchen windows, while sheets and pillow cases adorned with images of strings of lights and a satin comforter that pays homage to the snowman dress the bed.

In curio cabinets, on shelves, cabinet and table tops, hanging from doorways and walls and draped along many other surfaces are displayed the Christmas collection that has taken more than four decades to amass.

“I don’t have many ornaments from when I was a kid, but I do have some of the stuff from the train garden that I built with my father,” Smith said. “I still have a bunch of small cottages that he made from beer cartons.”

Smith vividly remembers the crafting of the small houses, from creating them out of cardboard to painting them and sprinkling them with mica to give the perception of snow on the roofs.

He went to the basement and returned with two of the cherished items, and points out that the window openings are covered with clear contact paper.

“We put the houses over top a clear light so there was light in the windows,” he recalled. “And I also still have the four-by-eight-[foot] platform my dad built for our train garden.”

The exterior’s decoration collection carries an equal number of sentimental memories and stories. The center piece of the front lawn is a large red sleigh being driven by none other than Santa Claus.

“I built that and used it in a Christmas show at the college,” Smith said. “And when the show was over, I thought I’d hang on to that."

The sled was built in pieces so he took it apart and put it in storage. It is featured in Smith and Goetzinger’s yard each year and is always available to make another stage appearance if necessary.

Three large wooden wreaths that adorn the front wall were designed, cut and painted by the multi-talented artist, again for a theater production, and became part of the Oliver Beach display after retiring from the stage.

The now over-the-top display started innocently enough in 1998. The first effort involved small garlands and lights, along with some handcrafted wooden elves he designed and made.

“We added on each year until we basically couldn’t add any more,” Smith said. “It doesn’t grow now, it just changes from year to year so we can use stuff that didn’t get used the previous year.”

Smith is one of those Christmas people that can irk others who like to hold on to warm weather as long as they can. On social media, he reminds people that the big holiday is a mere six months away and counts down from there.

As a more visible reminder, at precisely 1 a.m. on Sept. 16 of each year, he installs a Christmas countdown clock on a pole in his front yard to remind his neighbors that Christmas is a mere 99 days away.

Why 1 a.m.?

“The first year I installed it, I went out front right before midnight on Christmas Eve to watch it count down to zero, and it told me there was still an hour to go,” he recalled with a laugh. “I forgot to factor in the fall time change.”

Now the sign is an hour off before the time changes back to standard time, but is accurate when it really counts, he said.

Neither Goetzinger nor Smith will admit to have a favorite decoration, but rather cherish the memories and stories behind most of the individual pieces.

“When we bring the stuff out each year, we remember where we got something, or think about the person who gave us a certain piece,” Goetzinger said. “We really spend a lot of time thinking about people who are special to us.”

While they are good guardians of the collection and do not claim any favoritism, Goetzinger admits to a special fondness for snowmen and Smith seems to treasure trains of all sizes.

Snowmen are well represented throughout the house, with curtains, bedding, moving and stationary figurines and ornaments adorned with the snowy creatures.

In the train department, there is one on the front porch, one that circles the wood-burning stove, various others around the house and still others unused and spending the year in storage.

Smith pulls one miniature train off a shelf and points out the scale - or lack thereof. The entire “garden” is a four-inch by eight-inch base with a tiny village, complete with a snowcapped tunnel encircled with a track and train. Smith estimates each car is about one-half inch long and one-eighth inch tall.

He also has quite a collection of vintage ceramic lighted Christmas trees. A tree that was going to be discarded by a friend now sits on the couple’s dining room table, being “renovated.” And he made it a point to show off the first one he personally made in 1973.

Smith takes pride in buying quality decorations and tries hard to avoid “tacky.” But even he succumbs to the occasional inflatable, as witnessed by this year’s acquisition of a blowup Olaf.

He originally balked at the $150 price tag but ended up buying it for one reason: “I knew the kids in the neighborhood would love it so I bought it,” he said.

As if on cue, during a recent visit to the house, a man was walking his two dogs along the street.

“Great display, as always,” he said to Smith. “And my kids love Olaf.”

Smith and Goetzinger continue to buy things as they see and like them, and they dream of Smith finding the time to build a garage that they have coveted for years.

“We’d really like to build a garage so I could set up a wood shop and then store the Christmas stuff on the second floor,” he said. “But it’s a matter of having the time and money to do that. In the meantime, we don’t have a basement because the Christmas stuff pretty much fills it.”

Their final goal is to have the exterior of the house resemble a fairy tale gingerbread house, but it is pretty much already on its way. The roof is lined with large illuminated gumdrops, as are the railings. Lighted candy canes line the driveway, sidewalk and yard perimeter and large lights hang from the deck.

Smith laughs when he remembers buying the first few gumdrops. He went home to hang them and discovered he needed a “few” more because the few he bought did not create the illusion he was hoping for.

“I ended up buying about 15 more,” he said, adding that they cost about $8 each.

He also told the story of finding garlands of beads that he really liked at Boscov’s. He bought some, took them home and really liked the image they created. He went back to get more, only to find the store did not have as many as he wanted.

“I went to five other Boscov’s, including two in Pennsylvania, and bought all they had,” he said.

The couple has a lot of money tied up in the extensive collection that spends about 10 months of the year closed up in plastic storage bins in the basement.

But the personal enjoyment they get out of seeing a few of their favorite things at their favorite time of year, coupled with the appreciation they receive from neighbors, makes it all worthwhile.

During the interview for this story, Smith got up from the dining room table, took something off of the refrigerator and came back to the table beaming.

"The little girl next door gave us this last year," he said, holding a laminated piece of paper.

“Congratulations!” it proclaimed in a child’s scrawling handwriting. “You have earned an award for best Christmas house!”

The treasure hangs along side a more professional-appearing certificate for Christmas Lights 2007 Best in Show presented by the Oliver Beach Improvement Association.

But the award from little Ava holds a place in the couple’s hearts, and it means a lot to them when kids stop by to “ooh” and “aah” and thank them for their efforts.

And those simple little gestures make the work - the careful unpacking, packing and storage of loved possessions, the danger of roof-climbing and the sky-high electric bills - all worth the effort.

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Tradepoint Atlantic introduces dredging project to public, hears concerns

Tradepoint Atlantic introduces dredging project to public, hears concerns
This image shows the Tradepoint Atlantic's proposed dredging project footprint (outlined in green) overlaid on a NOAA depth survey map. Image courtesy of Tradepoint Atlantic.

(Updated 12/20/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Interested members of the community heard Tradepoint Atlantic’s plan Thursday night, Dec. 14, to open up and revitalize their marine terminal through an extensive “maintenance dredging” project.

TA is seeking authorization from several government agencies, currently via a tidal wetlands permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment, to mechanically or hydraulically dredge the Sparrows Point Terminal access channels and turning basin, according to Andrew May, chief of MDE’s Tidal Wetlands Division.

Under the project guidelines, May said, TA would dredge a 48.1-acre area within the turning basin and a 29.6-acre area in the approach channel each to a depth of 42 feet. They would dredge a 53.6-acre area to a depth of 47 feet around the finger pier and its approach channel. A maximum of 1 million cubic yards of material would be dredged and deposited at facilities around the Baltimore harbor over a period of up to 10 years.

The company would also remove an existing 704-foot-long timber pier, conduct up to 100 offshore soil borings and replace a 2,200-linear-foot bulkhead as part of the project.

Although Tradepoint, which is in the process of redeveloping the Sparrows Point former steel mill site, has been touting their plan since at least September as vital to their goals for an intermodal logistics park, Thursday’s meeting was the first opportunity for some to give their feedback about the project proposal.

Peter Haid, TA’s environmental director, called the dredging project a “key component” to the company’s commitment to revitalize Sparrows Point and maintain the facility in a responsible manner. He said previous owners neglected their responsibility to maintain the port in particular.

“They’ve allowed the channel going into the port to shoal up,” Haid said. “They allowed sediment from throughout the harbor to settle into the channel.”

Haid stressed that dredging would be done “specifically and strictly” within the existing channels and would only go down to previously attained depths.

“The purpose of this project is simply to maintain port viability and to stay in business,” he said.

Criticism of or opposition to the project centered largely around fears that buried contaminants in the sediments could be stirred up by the dredging to then migrate around the area and the Chesapeake Bay in a much larger pollution event.

“The characteristics of the sediment surrounding the Sparrows Point peninsula are already heavily documented across 30 years as hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste...,” said area resident and Southeast Communities Against Pollution member Russell Donnelly. “I have to take exception; I can’t believe that [this] one magical spot is clean.”

Angela Haren, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper and director of advocacy with Blue Water Baltimore, was also concerned about the re-release of old contaminants buried in the sediments.

“Due to the close proximity of the Coke Point area to the proposed dredging for this project, in our minds, it stands to reason that elevated levels of these contaminants may also be present,” she said.

But Haid said models showed any sediment stirred up in the water column would settle back down within 700 feet of the dredge point, and they will monitor for turbidity throughout the project.

He also noted that sediments would have to travel a full mile east or west to round the tips of Sparrows Point and make their way into the nearest waterways of Old Road Bay/Jones Creek or Bear Creek.

“The scale of the area in which this dredging project will be taking place is fairly enclosed by Sparrows Point’s property itself,” he said.

Haid said TA will take some samples of sediment material from channel areas east of the finger pier to see if sloughing of material from outside the channel may have happened. He admitted that they do not have a lot of information on the water and sediments east of the channel, but do have wells inland on the property to sample ground water and soil that could migrate to that area.

“Those wells are relatively clean,” Haid said. “They don’t have contaminants that you would expect to be mobile that would impact the water [there].”

Doug Meyers, a senior scientist with the Chespeake Bay Foundation, stressed that it is unknown what pollution may be present in the dredge material unless there is sampling of the sediments within the channels.

“I think it’s a matter of getting the information from the soil borings first,” he said, and limiting the scope of the project for the time being to doing that instead of dredging.

Haid explained that TA dredged 80,000 cubic yards of material from the same channels in 2015 as part of another maintenance dredge.

“During that event, we observed no adverse environmental impacts,” he said.

Donnelly, Haren and Meyers each also questioned the description of the project as a maintenance dredge given its scale, and the latter two each maintained that more information is needed before a permit is granted.

Donnelly noted that when maintenance dredging is done biannually for the entire Baltimore harbor, it results in 1.25 million cubic yards of material. He said 1 million cubic yards from TA alone cannot be considered simple maintenance.

Meyers echoed that sentiment noting, “This is not a channel that has been active all along and it’s had a little bit of sloughing from year to year as it’s being actively used.”

Haren said BWB has both procedural and substantive comments and concerns about the project, but cannot express a position in support of or opposition to the plan due to the lack of information.

“We all need more information,” she said. “The public needs more information, and we believe the agencies, including MDE, need more information before you can make an informed decision.”

Aside from TA representatives, the only attendee to speak in favor of the project was Rupert Denney, who works for C. Steinweg Group, a fellow marine terminal operator in Locust Point. He said he was also informally representing the roughly 33 remaining private-sector terminals around the Port of Baltimore.

Denney admitted that his company uses TA’s facilities and has an interest in seeing them improved, and he said he was not there to talk about science or impacts to the community, but the “bigger picture.”

“The reason why the private terminals would support [granting] the wetlands license is the more ships that come into Baltimore, the more prosperous the whole port community becomes,” he said.

Denney noted it is 158 miles from the Francis Scott Key bridge to the mouth of the bay, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Maryland are tasked with keeping those channels navigable.

“The more ships we bring into the Port of Baltimore..., the more compelling argument the state can make to the feds that Baltimore is worth investing a lot of money in to keep those channels open,” he said. He added that with more ship traffic also comes more vendors to serve them, creating a larger economic impact for the region overall.

Francis Taylor, chair of Maryland’s Dredge Material Management Program Citizens Advisory Committee and president of the North Point Peninsula Council community group, took a more reserved approach while noting that both complacency and alarmism are counter-productive in this instance.

He said, though, that it is a well-documented fact that river sediment contamination is not as concentrated in areas where past dredging has occurred, such as in the Sparrows Point Terminal.

“The top layers of affected river bottom containing legacy metals, PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls] and so forth, have already been removed,” Taylor said.

He said he and other groups will advocate for communities to ensure that human health and the environment are protected, that there is economic benefit to surrounding communities and that there is adequate monitoring and enforcement as part of the project.

MDE will accept public comments on the project until 5 p.m. Dec. 29, after which the agency will make its recommendation to the state’s Board of Public Works. The board will then make the final determination on the permit.

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Politicians outline legislative agendas at Chamber breakfast

Politicians outline legislative agendas at Chamber breakfast

(Updated 12/20/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

With the 2018 legislative session set to begin in a matter of weeks, local officials gathered at By the Docks in Middle River on Wednesday, Dec. 13, to talk to business leaders about likely legislative efforts, with most of the time focused on the opioid crisis.

Hosted by the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce, the annual breakfast usually draws strong numbers. But this year was a bit down due to extremely cold weather and committee hearings taking place in Annapolis. Only five local officials showed up, including State Senators Kathy Klausmeier (D-8) and Johnny Ray Salling (R-6), as well as Delegates Pat McDonough (R-7), Rick Impallaria (R-7) and Robin Grammer (R-6).

Klausmeier, the only Democrat in attendance, stated that one of her main focuses would be combatting the opioid problem that has gripped the county and state. She stated she is working with the Department of Health and local schools to try to bring awareness to the opioid problem. Besides meeting with the expected groups, Klausmeier also noted she was meeting with veterinarians.

“People are harming their animals and taking them to veterinarians to get [pain killers],” said Klausmeier, noting that she was working on a solution.

Those sentiments were shared by Impallaria, who noted that he recently spoke with the Harford County Sherriff’s office about giving more realistic anti-drug talks. He told the gathered crowd that instead of showing kids a successful story about someone beating addiction that they need to be shown the opposite. He went on to contend that the problem is under-reported in the county, and added that the per-capita deaths in the county are higher than the murder rate in Baltimore.

“These are our homes, these are our children that are dying,” said Impallaria. “We need to protect the next generation and make it cool not to do drugs.”

McDonough saw fit to note that it was “Mexican heroin” coming into the county, and promised to do what he could to curb the problem. He said it was a three-pronged issue, with education, health and law enforcement efforts all needing to be revamped.

While the individual agendas were different, all of the Republicans gathered asserted that there would be a lot of politically motivated legislation this session with an election on the horizon. Impallaria noted that the Democrat-led General Assembly will likely look to continue challenging President Trump’s agenda, while Grammer (R-6) predicted marijuana legalization would pick up steam through the session and end up being put on next year’s ballot as a way to increase voter turnout to unseat Governor Larry Hogan.

Salling spent his time talking about improving education at all levels, as well as improvements to the Tradepoint Atlantic property. Salling acknowledged that not all of the jobs coming into the property will be high-paying jobs, but that there will be a lot of jobs and opportunity. He touted the return of industy to the old Bethlehem Steel property as a win.

McDonough views Tradepoint along the same lines and contended that more needed to be done to draw in businesses. He proposed marketing the deepwater access to different nations, with the goal being getting those nations to bring jobs to the Sparrows Point property.

Grammer ended the morning laying out his thoughts, including the imminent passing of paid sick leave. “If you’re a business owner, be prepared,” he warned. The young Republican also told the audience he plans to press for more economic redevelopment in Essex and Middle River to revitalize that part of his district.

“This is not going to be something that happens this year, or even next,” Grammer conceded. “This is something that will take 10 or 20 years.”

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Edgemere Christmas spirit gives man and daughter a lift

Edgemere Christmas spirit gives man and daughter a lift
Edgemere residents teamed up to deliver a Christmas gift of Uber gift cards to a father and daughter in need of transportation.

(Updated 12/20/17)

- By Marge Neal -

How appropriate it is at Christmastime that a little town rallied to take care of some strangers to make their lives just a little bit easier.

Edgemere became a modern-day version of Bethlehem this week when residents presented not a stable in a barn, but some transportation gift cards to a father doing his best to take advantage of educational opportunities for his oldest daughter.

This story of caring began with a Dec. 13 Facebook post by Amy Schaeffer, in which she asked Edgemere residents to look out for a man and his daughter who each morning walk quite a distance to Sparrows Point High School.

Because she had given Jay, the father, a ride the previous day, she knew a little bit of the family’s story. The family, which includes five children, lives in Colgate. Jay’s oldest daughter applied to and was accepted into the environmental science magnet program at SPHS.

While it is a proud moment to be accepted by an academically rigorous magnet program, such selections can create hardships for any family because parents are responsible for getting their children to what is usually an out-of-home-district school if the limited system-provided bus offerings do not work out.

Jay, who asked that his last name not be published, and his daughter Zibreyea, known more simply as Z, catch a bus in Colgate each weekday morning and take it to the end of the line at Wise Avenue and North Point Boulevard, near Pop’s Tavern. They walk from there to the high school, and then Jay turns around and walks back to Pop’s where he catches a bus to go to work.

The school system does provide bus transportation from the original home school of magnet students, but in Z’s case, the timing does not work out, according to her father.

The bus that picks up kids in Colgate arrives at Dundalk High at about 7:15 a.m., according to Jay. The magnet bus that transports students from there to Sparrows Point leaves Dundalk High at 7 a.m.

“It just made more sense to take the MTA bus as far as we can and then walk from there,” he said in a phone interview. “And it’s working; she’s never been late and never misses a day of school.”

The system they have worked out puts Z at Sparrows Point at about 7:20 a.m., according to Jay, which gives her plenty of time to “meet and greet” friends and fellow students.

Last week, Schaeffer was moved watching the father and daughter brave the elements as the temperatures dropped for the first time to more winter-like conditions.

“He’s a very, very humble man and he’s not looking for a handout,” Schaeffer said. “He was even reluctant to accept a ride; he’s full of optimism and said he enjoys the time he gets to spend with his daughter on these walks.”

After giving Jay that first ride, Schaeffer put out her plea for help via The Edgemere Page on Facebook. In short order, nearly 200 people reacted to the original comment and too many comments to count were posted in response.

Rikki Wozniak, a cousin of Schaeffer’s, went and picked up the pair that morning. Subsequent conversation on the original Facebook thread included suggestions of starting a gofundme.com account for the man to help him buy a car before residents settled on collecting donations to buy Uber gift cards so Jay and his daughter could use the on-demand car service in severe weather.

Edgemere residents are known for quickly and passionately reacting to help someone with a need or a problem, and this situation was no different. Folks volunteered to take on a few tasks and the fundraising effort was underway.

Donations were collected at two restaurants in Edgemere on Dec. 16 and 17, which Wozniak collected and used to buy $325 in Uber gift cards. Two individuals each contributed $25 cards and Schaeffer kicked in one as well, according to Wozniak.

A Facebook post to the community made Sunday evening informed residents that $400 had been collected and would be given to Jay on Monday morning.

But the giving did not stop there, according to Schaeffer. In addition to the Edgemere page, Schaeffer posted the plea to her personal Facebook page. So many additional people reached out later on Sunday that she was able to buy another $240 in gift cards before she picked up Jay and Z on Monday morning.

“I think he was a little startled when I gave him the cards,” Schaeffer told the East County Times on Monday. “And I was worried that he was a little offended, but I think it was just a little much for him to take in at the time.”

It is not often, Schaeffer said with a laugh, that a stranger walks up to another person and hands him more than $600.

“I guess it could be a bit overwhelming,” she said.

“I was very surprised,” Jay said of the unexpected gift. “I wouldn’t think anyone would pay us any mind.”

Wozniak said she too was struck by Jay’s humility and emphasized that he did not ask for or seek out assistance.

“He’s just doing what he needs to do to take care of his family; he doesn’t want to be a burden and he doesn’t expect anything from anyone,” she said of the grateful man. “He said he considers it a privilege that his daughter got accepted into the magnet program and he’s just doing what he needs to do for her to be there.”

Wozniak has a daughter who is applying now to the environmental program, known as SPECIES (Sparrows Point Educational Center in Environmental Studies), so she talked to Z about her courses.

“She wants to be a forensic scientist and that’s what drew her to the program,” Wozniak said of the young scholar.

Schaeffer said she was impressed by Z’s well-roundedness and dedication to her education and told Jay that she’d like her 14-year-old daughter - also a freshman at Sparrows Point - to connect with Z to nurture a friendship.

“She is quiet and shy,” Schaeffer said of Z. “But then, in talking with her, I discovered she’s very well-spoken and just a nice girl.”

Wozniak played down the role she played in pulling off the gift card caper, wanting to focus on the community and the family.

“I just played a very small role; many others donated, collected money, and Amy really got all this going,” she said. “People just wanted to help and they made it happen.”

Jay said he is “very grateful” for the gift and wants to assure the community that he will not abuse the thoughtful act.

“I will still walk Z to school on nice days, because we make it fun and that gives me good time with her to talk and enjoy each other’s company,” he said. “But I did talk to my wife and these gift cards will make it much easier to go shopping at Sam’s Club... it sure will beat trying to load our little carts on a bus going home.”

As far as Schaeffer, Wozniak and many Facebook followers believe, their generous act is just another example of Edgemere doing what it does best - taking care of each other.

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Wreaths laid at Lamky, Luther, Whitehead Memorial

Wreaths laid at Lamky, Luther, Whitehead Memorial
Commander Craig Jones of the Merchant Marines pays his respects at the memorial. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 12/20/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

More than 100 people gathered at the Lamky, Luther, Whitehead Veterans Memorial at Holly Hill Memorial Gardens in Middle River on Dec. 16 to pay tribute to those who have died or gone missing in the course of service.

The annual Wreaths Across America service, sponsored by the Glenn L. Martin Composite Squadron, Maryland Wing, Civil Air Patrol, takes place on the third Saturday of December every year. This year the service coincided with the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, adding extra gravitas to an already somber occasion.

“As I observed the hallowed grounds at Holly Hill, the masses of people, and bones of the hallowed trees, I realized how deep are the roots in this area for veterans and their families that have fought for our freedom,” said Delegate Ric Metzgar, who gave the opening prayer to start the event.

After a short program led by the Civil Air Patrol, representatives from each branch of the armed forces, including the marines, navy, air force,  coast guard and merchant marines, laid wreaths at the memorial. Two more wreaths were placed at the foot of the memorial as well, one honoring prisoners of war and the other honoring those missing in action.

As the wreaths for each of the branches was laid, active servicemen and women, as well as veterans, took their place at attention to pay their respects.

“Really it was just a beautiful service,” said Joe McBride, a Korean War veteran who recently moved to Middle River. “It really makes me proud to have served my country.”

The event ended with a plea from the Civil Air Patrol to learn about the local heroes who fought.

“We could quote the statistics of individuals buried around the country, but all you would have is a bunch of numbers,” said a Civil Air Patrol representative. “Instead we ask you to take a moment and visit a gravesite...; they are and were more than a statistic.”

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