Here you will find all of the East County Times' major news coverage over the past six months.
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Women protest Nawrocki fundraiser citing alleged past domestic violence

Women protest Nawrocki fundraiser citing alleged past domestic violence
Susan Fredericks (left), Janice Vincent, Cheryl Poletynski and Dawn DeBaugh greeted guests of Nawrocki’s campaign event with signs questioning his past at the Maryland Transit Administration and an alleged domestic violence incident. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 4/11/18)

Nawrocki and wife deny incident ever happened

- By Devin Crum -

Four women drew up signs and picketed outside a campaign fundraiser for Ryan Nawrocki in Middle River last Thursday, April 5, in an attempt to raise awareness of what they called his record of past domestic violence.

Nawrocki, a Republican vying to challenge Democrat Cathy Bevins for the Sixth District seat on the Baltimore County Council, called the demonstration “shameful” and blamed Bevins for propagating “baseless, nonsense claims.”

The signs the women carried bore messages related to the alleged domestic violence case, including an image which appeared to be taken from a public case file on Maryland Judiciary Case Search detailing a protective order imposed on Nawrocki in 2007 following the incident. The order shown required the defendant to temporarily vacate the home, stay away from the plaintiff’s place of employment and refrain from contacting the plaintiff.

“I don’t think anyone that has a history of domestic violence should be in office,” said Dawn DeBaugh, one of the protesters. “We just think it’s important that any woman that’s attending this event be aware of this.”

The protesters pointed out that the event was hosted by several women - listed as Nawrocki’s wife, Lauren; former state delegate and gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey; Nicole Beus Harris, wife of Congressman Andy Harris; and Dorothy Hinnant, a leader in the White Marsh community - and the keynote speaker was Kendel Ehrlich, wife of former Governor Bob Ehrlich.

“That’s why this event, I think, is important, because obviously they’re bringing women in” to speak on his behalf, DeBaugh said.

However, Nawrocki and his wife, in a joint phone call to the East County Times, both vehemently denied that any domestic violence incident ever occurred between them.

“There was no conviction and there was absolutely no abuse between Ryan and myself,” Lauren said. “These claims are just ridiculous.”

The candidate’s wife said that Bevins is worried about facing him in the general election and organized the protest to try to eliminate him as a candidate.

Nawrocki echoed that sentiment, stating that the councilwoman does not want to run on her own record since the district has experienced “high crime, failed schools and overdevelopment” during her time on the council.

Bevins admitted that she knew about the protest but denied any involvement in organizing it. And the women themselves stated that they belong to various women’s organizations and were simply a group of concerned citizens.

Janice Vincent, another protester, said she belongs to a group called Together We Will, a national women’s organization. Susan Fredericks said she and DeBaugh are members of Rise Up Maryland, an affiliate of the national Pantsuit Nation. However, they said they were not officially representing those organizations at the event.

A search for Nawrocki on the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website does not return any files related to domestic violence. But a Google search can have different results, turning up the image which the protesters displayed allegedly showing his domestic violence case file.

The women said there is nothing in his official case file because he had the records expunged to shield them from public view. Fredericks criticized Nawrocki specifically for talking about transparency on the campaign trail while hiding his own record from the public.

But the candidate and his wife chalked up the existence of the case search image as simple forgery.

“It’s very easy to create any type of document,” Lauren said. “You can put whatever you like on the internet.”

“I can go post to gossip sites all day long, I can send anonymous emails all day long,” Nawrocki added. “I can do all those sorts of things. But I’m not, because I’m focused on the issues in this race.”

Responding to the protesters’ statements that he may not have left his position at the Maryland Transit Administration willfully, Nawrocki called those claims “absolutely ridiculous.”

Officially, Nawrocki resigned from his position as director of marketing and communications at MTA in July 2017.

“I was not fired from the MTA,” he said. “I decided to start my own business because I’ve always wanted to be a small business owner, and I think that [those claims are] just absolute nonsense.”

He held that he has never been accused of domestic violence and has never had any such records expunged.

A clerk for the district court in Towson, where the image shows the case was heard, confirmed to the Times that a file matching the case number on the image does exist and the name on it is Ryan Nawrocki. But it has been shielded and cannot be viewed by the public.

Although the court clerk could not confirm it, Bevins has alleged that the record was sealed in August 2017, which is consistent with the date of a request by the Nawrockis to seal the records of their child custody case. That request was denied and those records, which date back to 2008, are available for public viewing.

Despite this, Nawrocki continued to deny any domestic violence in his past. Instead, he fired back at Bevins, noting that she is the only candidate in the District 6 council race who has domestic violence listed on their record.

A domestic violence listing does appear on Bevins’ record, a complaint which she admitted was filed by her estranged daughter-in-law in 2011. However, that case was dismissed for lack of any evidence and no ruling was issued against Bevins.

For her part, Bevins charged that Nawrocki’s domestic violence record was open and visible when she last ran against him in 2010. She pointed to one social media post in particular, from just before the election that year as evidence that the information was available.

Jeanann Carroll Ferguson posted to Facebook on Nov. 1, 2010, a letter she sent to the Baltimore Sun expressing her disappointment that the newspaper endorsed Nawrocki for County Council that year. She criticized the Sun at the time for either not doing their research or simply ignoring the information.

“The Sun has, by leaving this information out, insulted every woman who has ever been abused,” Ferguson wrote.

Nawrocki, however, said that information in 2010 was propagated by Joseph Steffen, a political operative for the Ehrlich administration known as “the Prince of Darkness,” who “produced a lot of internet myths.”

He said Steffen, after he was fired by Ehrlich for spreading lies about then-Governor Martin O’Malley, began spreading lies about Nawrocki and other members of the Ehrlich camp.

Steffen died last year and could not answer to Nawrocki’s claims against him.

The women ended their protest Thursday night shortly after the event began, packing in their signs and leaving by about 7:20 p.m. But the candidate and his wife claimed the picketers returned to the Oliver Beach community hall later that night and confronted their 11-year-old daughter in the parking lot to “accost and verbally assault” her with comments about him and his campaign.

Cheryl Poletynski, the fourth protester, called those accusations “absolutely not true” and said they did not go back later after leaving the event. She said she, Vincent and Fredericks all went for coffee at Kelly’s Kitchen just outside the Oliver Beach neighborhood. Vincent separately affirmed that story.

“We were in a public place with public witnesses,” Poletynski said. “He knows what he said wasn’t true. If someone confronted his daughter,… it certainly wasn’t us.”

DeBaugh said she went straight home following the protest to prepare for a business meeting the following day.

“I would not, by any means, ever do anything to upset or harm a child,” she stressed.

DeBaugh provided the Times with an automated driving log in her car that she uses for tax purposes that recorded her leaving Middle River at just before 7:30 p.m. and arriving at her Sparrows Point home at about 8 p.m. She also produced date- and time-stamped photos of the project she was working on, sent to a client from her home at just after 9 p.m.

Nawrocki stood by his claims, though neither he nor Lauren could point to any witnesses to corroborate their story despite being “sure there were other people around,” according to Lauren. Nawrocki also did not offer any further evidence to back it up.

“For the record, if it was a Democrat running that had a history [of domestic violence] we’d still be doing this,” DeBaugh said during the protest to the agreement of the other women. “It’s for everyone’s information; maybe he’ll address it. That’s all we want.”

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Delegates oppose push to confirm Verletta White as superintendent

Delegates oppose push to confirm Verletta White as superintendent

(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

At the last Baltimore County Board of Education meeting on April 4, board member Stephen Verch (Sixth District) floated the idea of voting to make Verletta White the permanent superintendent of Baltimore County Schools.

The vote would have required a second closed executive session during the meeting which would have put the board in violation of open meeting laws, therefore, a vote was never held.

Chairman Edward Gilliss, however, noted that the issue could be brought forth in the board’s next closed executive session on April 17.

While it is unknown whether a vote will take place, the thought of a lame-duck board taking a vote on a permanent appointment has rattled multiple members of the Maryland House of Delegates representing the county.

A letter signed by Delegates Kathy Szeliga (R-7), Robin Grammer (R-6), Bob Long (R-6) and Chris West (R-42B) was sent to the school board expressing their frustration with what they perceive as a lack of transparency.

“Based on our interactions with Ms. White over the past eight weeks, there has been a lack of response to our concerns and questions about issues in BCPS,” they wrote. “It is disappointing that the Interim Superintendent has neglected to maintain an open channel of communication. As the superintendent, we expect timely responses to any questions and concerns that we, or our constituents, may have about BCPS schools.”

Grammer added that the communications that have been obtained by the Baltimore County House Delegation have been heavily redacted.

“With the timeliness and severity of our school safety issues, to even think that redacting information about guns in schools is infuriating,” Grammer said. “We cannot continue to allow Baltimore County Public Schools leadership to sweep our problems under the rug. Unfortunately, Ms. White has shown a propensity to do just that in her tenure. The Baltimore County Board of Education would do our people a massive disservice by nominating Ms. White to be our next superintendent.”

Those delegates were later joined by Delegates Rick Impallaria (R-7) and Pat McDonough (R-7). In a letter sent out on April 5, Impallaria echoed the same concerns put forth by Szeliga and the others, but went a bit further in his criticism.

“This is not the appropriate time to appoint a permanent superintendent. Members of our first elected School Board will be officially taking office in November of this year. Moreover, a new county executive and County Council will be assuming office at the same time,” Impallaria said. “These are the public officials who will be required to work with the permanent superintendent in the years ahead and moving forward. It would be a mistake for a lame-duck school board to choose a permanent superintendent. Also, there is no urgency considering the new school year does not being until September.”

The push to have a vote on White has ruffled the feathers of multiple school board members as well, sending out mixed signals. The same night that Verch pushed for a vote, the board had voted to approve a $75,000 contract to bring back the same firm that had brought former superintendent Dallas Dance to Baltimore County in 2012. Dance resigned from his position a year ago and has since pleaded guilty to four counts of perjury. His sentencing is scheduled for April 20.

Kathleen Causey (Third District) characterized Verch’s suggestion to hold a vote for White four hours into the April 3 meeting as “shocking” and added that a fresh start was needed.

Despite the opposition, there has been plenty of vocal support for White, who has been working in Baltimore County Public Schools for more than two decades. Perhaps White’s biggest supporter is Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones, who ran somewhat afoul of White’s detractors earlier this year when, days before a community input hearing on what the board should be looking for in a superintendent, he sent out an email encouraging supporters to flood the meeting with calls for White’s permanent installation as superintendent.

Julie Henn, an at-large member of the the board, took to Facebook to express her frustration with Jones’ campaigning.

“I am angered and insulted by such blatant attempts to sway, undermine and ridicule the process. All opinions matter and we should encourage participation, regardless of views” she said. “This isn’t a PR campaign; it is a superintendent search. It is one of the most important roles of the board. I take it seriously; I would urge our elected leaders to do the same.”

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With College Promise likely to be approved, Kurtinitis already eyes expansion

With College Promise likely to be approved, Kurtinitis already eyes expansion
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, flanked by BCPS Interim Superintendent Verletta White (left) and CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis (right), touted the College Promise proposal on March 19 as a game changer both educationally and economically. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

On March 19, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Dr. Sandra Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County, announced that they were seeking funding to implement the Baltimore County College Promise program, a need-based community college scholarship program that makes community college free for those who meet the criteria.

Just three weeks later, Kurtinitis made known that her goal is ultimately to expand the program.

“No sector of higher education can do what we do to address the cost of college and the size of student debt,” she said. “Imagine, the College Promise comes into place and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

CCBC hosted College Promise Campaign Executive Director and former U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter on Monday, April 9, for a roundtable discussion on the challenges that lie ahead and the goals that Kurtinitis and CCBC stakeholders have for the program.

When it came to goals, Kurtinitis did not hold back. She pointed to Tennessee as a model for what she hopes will someday be a reality in Baltimore County. In 2014, Tennessee launched a College Promise program similar to the one proposed three weeks ago by Kamenetz and Kurtinitis. Three years later, that program expanded its eligibility requirements from including only recent high school graduates to allowing anyone of any age.

“Our goal is ultimately to match Tennessee. When we can reach a point where every student who comes here, whether they’re 45 or 18, can have access to a College Promise opportunity, we will really be able to do what we need to do for our students.

“In the meantime, we’re just so, so grateful. This is one of the most important things that could happen for us to help the people,” said Kurtinitis.

Funding for the College Promise program will be part of Kamenetz’s newest, and last, budget proposal, and it is expected to be approved by the Baltimore County Council.

The program is expected to cost just under $1 million in its first year, rising to $2.3 million in year three. When Tennessee expanded their program, it cost the state about $10 million to implement. During its first few years, the program will be open to Baltimore County residents with a household income of $69,000 or less who graduated from a public, parochial or home school within the past two years while holding at least a 2.5 GPA.

Kanter, Kurtinitis and Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones stressed that while there may be a cost, the benefits to implementing the College Promise program and expanding it will provide major educational and economic benefits.

“I see this as a direct investment in people. This will change people’s lives,” said Jones.

He also suggested that opening the doors of higher education is likely to cut down on crime. Jones stated that kids who “are at a crossroads” will suddenly have another opportunity available to them. He added that cutting back on jail and court costs would be just one way Baltimore County would benefit from the program.

“This is just a natural, better bargain on your dollar,” said Jones.

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Marshy Point festival aims to pry spring loose from winter’s firm grip

Marshy Point festival aims to pry spring loose from winter’s firm grip
A giant tortoise owned by a volunteer will again be making the rounds at the festival. Photo courtesy of Ben Porter.

(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Mother Nature might not be willing to announce that it’s springtime, but Marshy Point Nature Center leaders are rolling out the red - or green - carpet to welcome the season of rebirth.

Marshy Point will hold its 16th annual Spring Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at the center, 7130 Marshy Point Road in Middle River.

The annual gathering serves to showcase the waterfront gem nestled on Dundee and Saltpeter creeks, according to Senior Naturalist Ben Porter. The center, owned and operated by the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, offers a variety of activities, classes, demonstrations and exhibits throughout the year.

“The purpose of the festival is to showcase the wonderful backyard of the nature center, right here on the Chesapeake Bay,” Porter said. “We emphasize the outdoors and the natural resources here and introduce people to all of the programs and activities we offer.”

The event will offer a jam-packed schedule of activities and entertainment, according to Porter. Visitors will be invited to canoe the Dundee Creek, take water tours on the center’s work boat and observe demonstrations with wild animals, plant life, Chesapeake Bay retrievers and search and rescue dogs.

“We’ll have live music throughout the day, woodcarvers, beekeepers and re-enactors will portray life as it was in the 1700s,” Porter said. “They will include a segment on duck hunting - people have been making a living on the resources of the Chesapeake Bay for a long time.”

The Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Company is also scheduled to have one of its engines on display, Porter said.

There is no cost for parking or admission to the festival, but some activities, such as some of the children’s craft offerings, will have small fees to cover the cost of materials. All proceeds from the sale of food, Marshy Point merchandise, spring flowers and raffles will benefit the Marshy Point Nature Center Council, a volunteer group that supports the center.

“All the money raised will support building maintenance, program development, our resident animals, educational and training opportunities and displays and exhibits,” Porter said.

About 1,400 people traditionally attend the event throughout the day, which keeps things “pretty busy,” according to Porter, but staff members relish the opportunity to show off the unique waterfront facility.

“The festival is a family-friendly day with lots to see and do,” Porter said. “And we love the opportunity to show off our center and introduce people to the natural resources here in our community.”

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Chesapeake’s McMillion seeks BOE seat to be voice for students, school staff, parents

Chesapeake’s McMillion seeks BOE seat to be voice for students, school staff, parents
Rod McMillion at an event at Chesapeake High School. Photo courtesy of Rod McMillion.

(Updated 4/11/18)

- By Marge Neal -

If Rod McMillion is successful in his quest to be elected to public office, he will find himself moving from the classroom - or in his case, the weight room - to the board room.

The 35-year Baltimore County Public Schools educator has filed to run for the Baltimore County Board of Education, representing Councilmanic District 7.

McMillion grew up in Essex, where he still lives, and attended Essex Elementary and Stemmers Run Junior High schools before graduating from Kenwood High in 1971. He received an associate’s degree from then-Essex Community College in 1973 and worked at Bethlehem Steel for 18 months before continuing his education at Towson State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1976. McMillion also has a master’s degree in physical education from Morgan State University and a second master’s in counseling and psychology from what is now Loyola University of Maryland.

Certified to teach K-12, McMillion taught in elementary school for 10 years before moving to Chesapeake High in 1993, where he is now the athletic director and a physical education teacher.

Quite content with his teaching career, McMillion said students are his motivation for running for a school board seat.

“I’ve said for a long time that this school board wasn’t accountable to anyone because it was politically appointed,” McMillion said. “I was very happy when the law was changed to include elected members and I decided to step up and do my part.”

Because of his extensive teaching and coaching experience, McMillion believes he has a working knowledge of many of the school system’s moving parts that will serve him well as a board member.

He said he is not a fan of giving every student a smart device and believes money could be better spent elsewhere.

“We brag about increasing our graduation rates; we might be graduating more kids but they’re graduating with less knowledge,” McMillion said. “These kids need devices to do basic math.”

The county-provided devices are being misused, in the educator’s opinion.

“They’re treated almost like toys,” he said. “The kids all download music and games to them, even though they’re not supposed to; it’s a joke.”

With school safety a national hot-button topic, McMillion said he is against arming teachers.

“I don’t want anything to do with a gun,” he said. “And I haven’t talked to a single teacher who wants a gun - that’s not what we’re here for.”

School safety belongs in the hands of academy-trained police officers, he believes, and pointed at Chesapeake’s school resource officers as an example of that model’s success.

Chesapeake, with a student enrollment of about 1,000 students, has two school officers assigned to it, according to McMillion. He singled one out in particular - Officer Hunter - who coaches three sports and is “actively engaged with the students” both on and off the job.

“He just recently got his 100th win as coach of the girls basketball team,” McMillion said. “The kids love him and respect him.”

McMillion also pointed to bullying as a topic that needs to be addressed once and for all. He is concerned that the intervention and anti-bullying education needs to be emphasized at the elementary school level.

“We need to be actively teaching our kids to respect life, and if that isn’t happening at the elementary level and the bullying behavior has no consequences, it moves on to the middle school level,” McMillion said. “Middle-schoolers have so much going on in their lives, and the bullying behavior is rampant in middle schools.”

Students need to learn there are consequences for bad behavior, and McMillion said educators and administrators need the authority and support to discipline bad behavior.

Pointing to the recent conviction of former BCPS Superintendent S. Dallas Dance and federal charges being placed against Bob Barrett, who served as an executive officer for the system’s community and government relations division before retiring March 1, McMillion said a big task facing the new school board will be to restore public trust in the system.

“The school system has a budget of $1.6 billion,” McMillion said. “There’s all this talk about an audit - I think there needs to be a complete, comprehensive audit back to when Dance started in 2012. I firmly believe in the philosophy of ‘follow the money.’”

McMillion said he would also like to see the system’s Code of Conduct carry more weight.

“It needs to be evaluated. And if it is deemed adequate, then it needs to be enforced. If it needs to be changed, then it should be changed and then enforced.”

He believes school administrators, particularly principals, become more concerned about protecting their jobs than with running a tight ship. Bad behavior is ignored and swept under the rug to keep the number of reported incidents down, he said, which allows the bad behavior to continue.

“We need to give the administrators the authority they need to discipline,” McMillion said. “There has to be consequences for bad behavior; no consequences, the behavior won’t change.”

The candidate also believes an administrator’s job should not hang in the balance because of a school’s rate of suspensions, bullying incidents and other behavioral issues.

McMillion is concerned the system loses a lot of young teachers early in their careers, and he would like to see more support systems put in place to mentor and encourage new and young educators. He would like to see more qualified teachers hired to lower class size and is concerned about the perception of poor quality public education spurring more parents to either homeschool their children or send them to private schools.

Should McMillion win the seat, he will have to give up his teaching position. Conflict of interest rules prevent current BCPS employees from sitting on the board.

McMillion said he will not have to retire until after the general election in November. If he wins, he will need to retire before the swearing-in ceremony in December.

“I absolutely think I’m at an advantage, having worked 35 years in the system,” he said. “I think the kids of Essex, Dundalk and Rosedale need and deserve someone to fight for them and I believe I’m that guy.”

Because the Board of Education race is a non-partisan election, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will appear on both the Republican and Democratic primary ballots. McMillion will face Will Feuer and Eric Washington in the June 26 primary election, with the top two finishers advancing to November’s general election.

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County Council passes bills regarding Franklin Square, DPW, east-side manufacturing

County Council passes bills regarding Franklin Square, DPW, east-side manufacturing
Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall, third from left) speaks to the other council members about his bill to alter the scope and mission of the county’s Department of Public Works to look at how to accommodate not just highway users, but bicyclists, pedestrians and transit. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Council members approved bills Monday night, April 2, that they believe will benefit either their districts on the east side specifically or the county as a whole. Each of the bills passed unanimously.

Eastern Family Resource Center
In bill 11-18, county Planning Director Andrea Van Arsdale said the administration was requesting supplemental appropriation of $500,000 from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s Strategic Demolition Fund. The grant, she said, will be provided to MedStar Franklin Square hospital to subsidize the cost of demolishing the former Eastern Family Resource Center which was on the hospital’s grounds.

“The new Eastern Family Resource Center was relocated nearby in an expanded 80,000-square-foot facility to serve a broader range of people experiencing homelessness,” VanArsdale said.

The new facility officially opened in October 2017, and the hospital plans to build a new, 75,000-square-foot surgical center in place of the old facility.

Sixth District Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, noted that the hospital is the largest employer in her district, and the Eastern Family Resource Center is important to her district and constituents.

“It turned out to be a wonderful facility that is very much needed,” she said.

Councilman Todd Crandell said the center also serves his constituents in the Seventh District and “does very well.”

New mission for DPW
Fifth District Councilman David Marks was the sponsor of another bill, 19-18, which seeks to amend the county’s charter to broaden the scope of the Department of Public Works and its responsibilities.

“This legislation would expand the mission of the Department of Public Works to more explicitly address the needs of all transportation users, including bicyclists and pedestrians,” he said before the vote. “It takes the Department of Public Works, which was created in the 1950s, and requires the agency to look more broadly at 21st-century needs.”

Marks said language in the county charter with respect to DPW is very highway-focused. But the new language makes the department responsible for mobility, traffic safety and engineering using “a variety of transportation options, including highways, bike lanes, pedestrian improvements and transit where appropriate,” according to the bill.

“This is one of the most important steps we have taken toward improving mobility and safety for our residents,” said Marks, who formerly served in senior transportation-related positions in the state and federal governments before being elected to the County Council.

Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville, also praised the legislation for creating a “bigger vision” for DPW when it comes to transportation rather than simply adding more and more highway lanes.

Although approved by the council, as a charter amendment the bill must also be approved directly by the voters via a ballot referendum in November.

New use allowed in ML-IM zones
Also passed by the council Monday was a bill sponsored by Bevins that adds language to the county’s zoning regulations to allow cold rolling mills in light manufacturing zones if they are located within an Industrial Major district.

Bevins said the stipulation essentially limits the mills to industrial parks.

A cold rolling mill, as defined in the bill, is a metal manufacturing and processing facility where metals or metal alloys are heated to produce a product in finished coil form. The heating facilities and furnaces used are capable of producing temperatures no greater than 500 degrees Celsius.

Bevins noted that the zoning code did not permit or even define cold rolling mills prior to her bill.

“This bill will allow 150 manufacturing jobs to come to Middle River at the former Worthington Steel site at Kelso Drive and Martin Boulevard,” she said.

The East County Times reported last month that Empire Resources, Inc. plans to convert their facility at the site from its current primary use as a warehouse to a cold rolling mill facility.

Bevins also stressed that the jobs created would be high-quality manufacturing jobs and not simply minimum-wage jobs. She added that the venture, which was supported by both the Essex-Middle River Civic Council and the Aero Acres community, will be well within government regulations for emission and noise, and all operations will occur indoors.

Essex Sustainable Community designation
Crandell said Monday was “an exciting night for Essex,” not just because of the bills, but also referring to the Council resolution he introduced to designate a delineated portion of the area as a “Sustainable Community” with the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

The designation, which has been sought in recent months by the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce and its Eastern Baltimore County Task Force, will allow more access to state funding for certain revitalization efforts in and around the Essex commercial core.

The task force, a sub-committee of the chamber of commerce, over the past year has taken on the task of sprucing up Essex to make it a more desirable place to live and work, but funding sources for more sizable projects has been a question.

The Sustainable Community designation will enable the task force to apply for grants for things like streetscapes, beautification efforts or Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative grants, according to Crandell.

He expressed back in February that Essex is primed for reinvestment to take advantage of its geographical position between between the large-scale economic development and redevelopment occurring along MD Route 43 in Middle River and at the Tradepoint Atlantic property in Sparrows Point. He said at the time they were hoping to meet an April 6 deadline for the designation application.

The resolution will likely be discussed at the County Council’s work session on Tuesday, April 10, and voted on at the next legislative session on Monday, April 16.

Marks pulls bill restricting Chapel Road access
Councilman Marks had previously introduced a bill that would block access to Chapel Road in Perry Hall for new residential developments. He said a residential development is proposed for a property along Chapel Road north of Cross Road which includes an entrance on Chapel Road.

But Marks expressed a desire to preserve Chapel Road’s character as a “unique, hilly, country road.”

“While I don’t want all these entrances onto Chapel Road, for that development, there’s no other development they could link into,” he said.

That created concern that the bill would essentially be “governmental taking,” making it impossible for anything to be built there because of lack of access.

Marks said he withdrew the bill prior to last Tuesday’s Council work session, when it would have been discussed by the council members, because of the issues it presented.

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Patapsco High student hopes to be voice of equity on county school board

Patapsco High student hopes to be voice of equity on county school board
Yara Daraiseh. Photo courtesy of BCPS.

(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Yara Daraiseh is not an American by birth. The Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts junior has become a U.S. citizen, but was born in Jordan and moved with her family to this country in pursuit of a better education and more opportunities.

“I’m an immigrant, I’m from Jordan and I’m a Muslim,” she told the East County Times. “I know what it’s like to be part of a marginalized group and I hope to help others without a voice.”

And in that nutshell, Daraiseh explained why she hopes to be selected as the next student representative on the Baltimore County Board of Education.

She and Milford Mill Academy junior Haleemat Adekaya are the two finalists left standing after an arduous process to name the student who will serve on the school board for the 2018-19 school year.

Each candidate had to secure five specific recommendations, including from a school counselor, English teacher and principal; write an essay about why they were pursuing the appointment; and submit a list of extracurricular and community involvement, according to Daraiseh.

After a review of all candidates, about five were selected for interviews and Daraiseh and Adekaya were selected as finalists following that step in the process.

Next up for the two finalists is a forum set for Friday, April 6, at Pikesville High School. Each candidate will have five minutes to address several hundred student leaders from across the county before they cast the deciding votes to determine the name that will be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan for appointment to the board.

“I plan to advocate for school safety and equity,” Daraiseh said. “And I would like to start fundraising for [Advanced Placement] tests to help students from economically disadvantaged situations have the opportunity to take the tests.”

As an immigrant and a Muslim, Daraiseh said she knows first-hand the unequal and mean treatment that can be aimed at people from different or disadvantaged backgrounds.

She recalled an experience that happened in sixth grade with a boy she considered a friend. While having a conversation about the Middle East, the boy turned on her and called her a terrorist.

“It was quite traumatic for me and I had somewhat of a meltdown,” she recalled. “I went home and talked to my parents about it, and they helped me through it - they helped it become a learning experience and prevented me from looking at myself as a victim.”

But that experience has helped shape her life’s philosophy and make her more aware of the marginalization of certain groups of people.

“I’m going to fight for transparency and equal treatment,” she said. “You cannot give just a specific group a voice and then undermine the rest; everyone deserves a voice and everyone deserves to be heard.”

At Patapsco, Daraiseh is involved in the school’s steering committee, National Honor Society and serves as president of the school’s chapter of the National English Honor Society. She has been a member of the mock trial and debate teams as well as several athletic teams, according to a statement from Baltimore County Public Schools. In the community, she volunteers to provide Thanksgiving dinner and holiday gifts to the elderly and families in need.

Sandy Skordalas, chairperson of Patapsco’s Social Studies Department, had nothing but praise for the star student.

“Yara is a very poised, mature individual,” Skordalas said. “Coming from a marginalized group, she has a passion for equity - she recognizes the need for everyone to have an equitable chance to be successful.”

Skordalas also serves as the coach of the mock trial team, which Daraiseh has been a member of since her freshman year.

“I’ve watched her grow since ninth grade and she’s one of the most poised students I’ve ever known,” the educator said. “She truly lives her beliefs - she really just lives and breathes this stuff.”

Daraiseh said she is grateful for her parents - mother Aisheh Toubat and father Omar Daraiseh - making the decision to come to the U.S. simply to make sure their only child had the best chance possible to become a success.

“My parents came to this country so I could do big things,” she said. “And I don’t plan to let them down. I hope to study law and work with people who need a voice, who need representation.”

She believes a seat on the Board of Education will be a good early step toward that end.

But she is also already a savvy diplomat: “Either way, however the students vote, they get a great representative.”

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Some bills progressing, many others languishing as General Assembly session nears end

Some bills progressing, many others languishing as General Assembly session nears end
The State House in Annapolis. File photo.

(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Devin Crum -

As the Maryland General Assembly quickly approaches its finish line on Monday, April 9, many state legislators, including those representing eastern Baltimore County, are scrambling to make one final push to get their bills over the line.

While a few bills sponsored by east-side representatives have either already passed or are making good progress, many more have either failed or are looking like they will die in committee.

One example of a bill making good progress is House Bill (HB) 736, which restricts pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, from keeping pharmacists from telling customers if there is a cheaper option for their prescription drugs.

“Essentially it just says that a pharmacist can tell you the cheapest cost of a drug,” said Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-Perry Hall) who sponsored the bill.

Although industry advocates have said the practice is rare among their members in Maryland, some PBMs have contracts with pharmacies that prevent them from telling customers if the cash price of their prescription drugs is actually less than their insurance deductible. The bill outlaws that practice.

Bromwell’s bill was cross-filed with state Senator Katherine Klausmeier’s Senate Bill (SB) 576, and while the senate version had not yet made it through both chambers of the legislature, Bromwell believed it would by the end of Tuesday. The House bill had already cleared that hurdle.

Conversely, two bills sponsored by Del. Joe Cluster, a Perry Hall Republican, appear have been dead on arrival early in the legislative session.

The first bill, which would have reduced the state’s sales and use tax from 6 percent to 5 percent, was given an unfavorable vote in committee back on Feb. 26. The second, an attempt to reduce the sales tax on alcohol, was heard in committee on Jan. 15 but never received a vote, leaving it in legislative limbo.

Such is the fate of countless bills year after year, causing frustration for the sponsors of those bills, and this year is no different.

For instance, Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Dundalk) sponsored a bill to establish minimum standards for school buildings in the state. That measure was heard in committee on Feb. 21, but has since sit idle without a committee vote.

The same is true for another of Salling’s bills that would eliminate what is known as the Broening Highway toll - the practice of making vehicles exiting from I-695 to Broening Highway pay the Key Bridge toll even though they do not cross the bridge - by creating a dedicated lane for that traffic. Salling admitted after a March 14 committee hearing on the bill he was not optimistic about the its passage, having seen it meet a similar fate in years past.

Three bills sponsored by Del. Christian Miele (R-Perry Hall) have also made no progress after all being heard in the same committee on the same day, March 9. One would heighten penalties for falsifying one’s address in order to attend a different public school in Baltimore County, another would allow individual schools to sell the naming rights on their fields and courts for fundraising purposes, and the third would repeal the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing program in Maryland schools and replace it with the California Achievement Test.

“It’s always disappointing when your bills are languishing in commitee,” Miele told the East County Times. “One of the most frustrating things for me is when bills don’t get an up or down vote, because I think it makes it really difficult to represent your constituency and your communities when a committee doesn’t give you any indication of its sense of whether or not your bill is good policy.”

The delegate said a vote one way or the other is good for accountability because it lets the public know how their legislators are voting on specific policy proposals. But they are also good for lawmakers themselves so they can get a feel for when a committee is opposed to something and what they may be able to do to rectify it.

One bright spot for Miele has been his bill (HB1600) to create an anti-bullying task force for Baltimore County Public Schools, which passed the House of Delegates with no opposition and was working its way through the Senate. As of Tuesday morning, the bill had been referred to the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee. A hearing on the bill there was scheduled for Wednesday, April 4.

“This thing needs to pass,” Miele said. “I mean, [with a vote of] 139 - 0 in the House, there’s no reason why anybody would oppose a bill that costs taxpayers nothing and that seeks to address the bullying epidemic in our public school system.

“Any result other than the full passage of this bill would be for nefarious political reasons,” he asserted.

Miele and Bromwell both praised the passage of a bond bill to provide up to $390,000 in state funds to the Maryland Natural History Society in Overlea to allow them to remodel and upgrade their current facility.

“They’ve never had the ability to have their own showcase,” Bromwell said. “We don’t have a museum of this type in Maryland.”

He added that the funds will allow the society to host more children and other visitors to see their showcases and participate in their programs. “It’s things like birds, insects, fossils - a really impressive variety of different items that they’re going to be able to showcase.”

Other bills from east-side delegates Pat McDonough, Ric Metzgar and Robin Grammer, all Republicans, had either stalled or died in committee as of Tuesday as well, such as McDonough’s plan to study creating a “Supertrack” event facility or Metzgar’s plan to create a flat-rate annual commuter plan for people using the Key Bridge. Both were given unfavorable reports in their respective committees.

Del. Grammer has had a particularly unsuccessful session, with bills having to do with regulating methadone clinics, conducting a legislative audit of BCPS, state acquisition of Fort Howard, and addressing dilapidated buildings and neighborhood blight all receiving unfavorable votes in committee. Two others, allowing medical cannabis patients to retain their Second Amendment rights and prohibiting dredging of Man-O-War Shoal for oyster shell, have not received votes in committee.

Grammer acknowledged that there were issues with some of his bills, such as questions of constitutionality with the methadone clinics or the possibility of increasing state spending by acquiring Fort Howard. But ultimately he felt the issues could have been worked out.

Instead, he attributed a lot of his bills’ lack of progress to election-year politics. Although Republicans are the majority in eastern Baltimore County, they are sorely outnumbered in the state.

A bill he sponsored, which would remove the sunset provision passed with his Java Act to allow special needs students at Patapsco High School to operate a coffee shop at the school, is technically still viable, but was also viable at this point last year.

“The status of that bill is a pretty good indicator of what’s happening here,” Grammer said. “It’s an election year and that’s a Baltimore County bill, and lawmakers from [Prince George’s and] Montgomery [counties] and Baltimore city keep sticking their hands in it,” which typically does not happen with bills that are specific to a jurisdiction.

“It’s still alive, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they pulled some kind of trick play to kill it with time,” he said.

The delegate sponsored a bond bill as well to provide up to $175,000 for the Aquila Randall monument in Dundalk, but he said that was similarly doomed because of his party affiliation.

Grammer said the appropriation of state dollars in this year’s General Assembly has been “completely political,” noting that of the seven funding measures that passed from Baltimore County, six of them were introduced by members of the majority party.

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Repaired Todd’s Inheritance fence is ready for its open house close-up

Repaired Todd’s Inheritance fence is ready for its open house close-up
Much of the wooden fence had fallen down following heavy winds on March 2, but volunteers determined the fence posts were likely rotted below the ground. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The fence at Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site in Edgemere can’t seem to catch a break.

Or, perhaps more correctly, it catches too many breaks.

The wooden fence that surrounds the property of the historic Edgemere homestead is often the victim of car crashes and seems to have a knack for getting hit again shortly after repairs are made.

But the most recent perpetrator of damage to the fence was the tremendous windstorm that swept through the Baltimore region on March 2. The gusting winds knocked down two huge sections of fence, including most of the barrier that lined the North Point Road side of the property.

Just in time for the museum’s first open house of the year, though, the fence has been restored thanks to a crew of volunteers who did the heavy work and benefactors who donated the materials needed for the repairs.

“We lost almost 200 feet of fence,” said Fran Taylor, vice president of the group’s Board of Directors. “It looked like a lot of the posts were rotted at ground level and we think the wind was enough to just take down the posts.”

There were no witnesses to the destruction, according to Taylor. But judging from the quantity of fencing knocked down, with the sections largely in tact and the rotted shards of posts sticking up from the ground, volunteers think the damage was caused by an act of nature and not one of vandalism, he said.

“We’re just thankful it wasn’t the roof,” Taylor said. “We could handle fixing the fence.”

In any case, North Point State Park Ranger Bob Iman, local volunteer Andrew Tomczewski and Taylor toiled over the course of two weeks to assess the damage, order materials, create a plan and physically repair the fence that is now ready to greet visitors the weekend of April 21, when the house opens for the season.

Volunteers have been busy during the winter working on the house and its exhibits in preparation for the historic site’s second season, according to group President Carolyn Mroz.

While working to refresh the first-floor experience for visitors, volunteers are also busy working on the second floor of the house, which is closed off to visitors until more work is completed.

“We are working very hard to allow limited access upstairs,” volunteers wrote in a post on the Todd’s Inheritance Facebook page. “One fireplace is cleaned and ready to go.”

Local Boy Scouts have undertaken the repair of the house’s waterfront porch as the community service project of an Eagle Scout candidate but they are still far away from their fundraising goal of $1,500 for the job, according to Mroz.

“They have to raise the money needed and I’ve encouraged them to contact local businesses along North Point Road for their support,” Mroz said. “Even if they were able to get $100 from each, that would be a big help.”

To kick off the 2018 season, the house at 9000 North Point Road will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22. The event will serve as a grand reopening, according to Taylor, and will include updated exhibits that feature the Todd family history, Native American artifacts and North Point Peninsula history. War of 1812 re-enactors will be on hand both days.

Local historian and author Scott S. Sheads will offer a talk titled, “What is Past is Prologue: The Lower Patapsco Neck in the War of 1812,” at 1 p.m. both days.

In borrowing part of his lecture title from William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Sheads will convey his theory “that all that happened before has led us to the opportunities we have in the present and in the future,” according to an online description of the event.

Sheads served as a historian at Fort McHenry for many years and is the author of several books about the War of 1812. He is hard at work on a book about the Battle of Patapsco Neck and the defense of Hampstead Hill (now Patterson Park), including an illustrated history of the Aquila Randall Monument and other North Point-area historical markers and monuments.

Each monthly open house weekend for the remainder of the year will focus on a particular theme, according to Mroz. May will celebrate Armed Forces Month, June will pay homage to Flag Day and July will emphasize parks and trails, in partnership with North Point State Park.

Daily admission to the house is $10 for adults 16 and older and $7 for senior citizens 60 and older. Children 15 and younger are admitted free of charge, and annual family memberships that allow unlimited visits cost $30.

For more information or to make a donation to the Eagle Scout porch project, visit the Todd’s Inheritance Facebook page or contact Mroz at 443-803-0517 or

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Fighting breaks out at Dundalk carnival

Fighting breaks out at Dundalk carnival

(Updated 4/4/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

A series of fights broke out on Sunday night at the Jolly Shows Spring carnival on the Eastpoint Mall grounds, resulting in the carnival shutting down for the night.

Shortly before 9 p.m. on April 1., a series of scuffles broke out at the carnival.

“A bunch of little fights were breaking out here and there, and one got out of hand,” said Baltimore County Police spokeswoman Jennifer Peach.

According to Peach, two off-duty officers were working secondary employment as security for the carnival. One of the officers used pepper spray to try to break up a fight, but it seemed to have the adverse effect.

“Once the OC [pepper] spray was sprayed, the kids started running and that caused additional fighting,” said Peach.

The off-duty officers called for backup and received help from the Essex, White Marsh and Dundalk precincts, as well as Baltimore City Police and Maryland Transit Administration Police. The additional help assisted in dispersing the crowd, as well as road closure and breaking up fights around the immediate vicinity.

One juvenile was arrested and there were no injuries reported. Baltimore County Police estimated that about 2,000 teenagers were dispersed from the property, but Peter Joseph, president of Jolly Shows, told The Baltimore Sun that their estimate was high.

“You had a lot of teenagers,” Joseph said. “Just some mischievous stuff.”

The East County Times left a message for Joseph for additional comment, but that call had not been returned by press time.

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County consults public as planning for Bird River dredging continues

County consults public as planning for Bird River dredging continues
This image, courtesy of Baltimore County EPS, shows where maintenance work will be done for the channel, including the proposed new sections for residents at the ends of Stumpfs and Bird River Grove roads. Channel sections delineated but not colored have been determined to be deep enough without needing much, if any, re-dredging.

(Updated 3/28/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Representatives from Baltimore County’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability held a public meeting Thursday, March 22, to give residents more information about the upcoming maintenance dredge of Bird River, planned to begin next year.

Although the meeting was geared toward bringing those property owners into the fold who wish to have spurs dredged to their piers or boat ramps, residents took the opportunity to gather more information on the project and express their concerns.

First announced in April 2017, the county plans to use $4.5 million - including $1.745 million from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Waterway Improvement Fund and the balance coming from county bond sales - to perform a maintenance dredge of the Bird River boating channel. The channel was last dredged between 2002 and 2004, and the new project is based on what was done then.

“That was 25,000 linear feet of dredging,” said Chris Rager of Bay Land Consultants which is helping to design the project. “It ran all the way from [where Bird River meets the Gunpowder River] all the way to the headwaters and down into Railroad Creek.”

The dredged depth for the main channel from the Gunpowder to the mouth of Railroad Creek and west to the Stumpfs Marsh area will be taken to 4.5 feet at average low tide, Rager said. Inside Railroad Creek and above Stumpfs Marsh, channel depth will be between 3.5 and four feet. Private spurs will also have that depth.

While a survey showed that many areas of the main channel are already at or near the target depth, Rager said, “most of these areas that were previously dredged closer to homes are going to be dredged again.”

Two new potential channel sections are also included in the plan in response to concerns from some property owners who would otherwise be a significant distance from the channel.

Peter Terry, a resident of Stumpfs Road, said last April that a spur from his pier to the channel on the far side of the river would have cost him $70,000. And he was concerned that it would fill in with sediment far sooner than the 10-year loan for the work would be paid off.

One new channel section would be cut in the upper river going southeast from the southern channel toward the end of Bird River Grove Road. The other would reach west from the main channel just below Stumpfs Marsh toward the end of Stumpfs Road.

The main channel will be about 50 feet at its widest near the mouth of the river, tapering down to about 30 feet in the headwaters areas, according to Rager. And the spurs will be a minimum of 20 feet wide.

David Riter, EPS’ Waterway Restoration Program supervisor, said barring any hiccups they should be dredging as soon as the work window opens in October 2019.

Due to environmental regulations, work is restricted to the time between October and February so as not to interfere with any fish spawning.

“It will probably take two years to complete like it did last time because of the time-of-year restrictions and just the linear size of the channel,” Riter said.

Riter and Rager said the Bird River project is unique in that it has its own “dedicated” dredge material placement site (DMP) where the sediment taken from the channels will be deposited. The facility is located on Bowerman Road in White Marsh, behind the Eastern Sanitary Landfill and close to the river.

The Bird River DMP was used during the 2002-2004 dredging as well, but this is the last project it will accommodate, Riter said.

“We’re actually having to remove material [from the facility] now to make room,” he said.

“It needs some clearing, it needs some material capacity creation and that project for the DMP site is currently running with our permitting process as we stand now,” Rager added.

Riter told the East County Times the facility has about 91,000 cubic yards of capacity remaining, and they anticipate generating about 75,000 cubic yards of material through the 2019 project.

“One would think that we have sufficient capacity, but because the hydraulically placed dredge material is greater than 90 percent water, we must have twice the placement capacity at the DMP,” he said. “As such, we need to excavate between 15,000 and 19,000 cubic yards of material from the DMP and sequence the construction over a two-year period. Once the DMP has been prepared we’ll have 110,000 cubic yards [of space].”

Riter explained that the first year of dredging will generate about 40,000 of material, for which they will need 80,000 cubic yards of space in the DMP. The dredge material will then dewater and consolidate during the eight months from February to October when work is prohibited, he said.

“When dredging resumes, we will have 70,000 cubic yards of capacity at the DMP to place the remaining 35,000 cubic yards of dredge material,” Riter continued. “At the conclusion of the project, the DMP will be near capacity.”

He said the material being removed from the facility to make room, provided no contaminants are found after testing, will be excavated and taken to an approved location to be reused as fill, cover or some other type of “innovative reuse” to be determined.

For those residents interested in spurs to connect from their piers or boat ramps to the channel, the county is offering 10-year, interest-free loans assessed as a lien on the property. EPS held one public workshop on Wednesday, March 28, to help residents through the process of applying for a spur, and they will hold another at Eastern Regional Park in Middle River from 5 - 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 29 for that purpose.

Applications for spurs must be received by May 11 so that the county can submit its overall project application to the state by June 1. But Riter stressed that property owners are under no financial obligation until the price of their spur channel is known - after the job is bid - and a spur loan agreement has been signed.

Riter noted that each spur will have its own cost and the average cost is $75 per cubic yard of material.

“So the more you dig, the more material you generate, the more expensive your spur is going to be,” he said.

Some residents have lamented that following the last dredging project, their spurs filled in with new sediment after just a few years.

Riter confirmed that even if a spur fills back in before the loan period ends, those property owners will still be responsible for paying off the loan. Though, he acknowledged that the Bird River “sometimes looks like chocolate milk” after a heavy rainfall due to sediment flowing in from upstream in the watershed.

“I’d like to think that the efforts that have been undertaken [upstream] will reduce the sediment in the waterway” and the channels will not fill back in as quickly, he said. “But there’s also channel dynamics out there. When the drainage from White Marsh Run leaves that narrow stream and hits that broad body of water, it slows down and the sediment drops out of it. It’s a problem.”

He also said there is no plan to remove the non-native hydrilla vegetation that can tangle boat propellers except what is removed incidentally via dredging.

Rager added that large storms can degrade the channel. “But our recommendation is to boat in the channel,” he said. “All of you boat in the same channel and it keeps the channel open.

“Stagnant water makes it easier to fill in,” he said. “If you guys are constantly using the channel, [that will not happen].”

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Dundalk food bank up and running at Tradepoint Atlantic

Dundalk food bank up and running at Tradepoint Atlantic

(Updated 3/28/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The Dundalk food bank organized by Laughing Wolfe Resources tried out its new home at Tradepoint Atlantic on Monday, March 26, and by all accounts, it seems to be a good fit.

The food bank used the Steelworkers Local 9477 union hall on Dundalk Avenue from its inception in 2012 until January, when the hall was sold and organizers were told to find another location.

Upon hearing the food bank was being displaced, officials at Tradepoint - the owner of the former Bethlehem Steel property in Sparrows Point - offered space on its campus. After all the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed by all partnering entities, the food bank was given the green light to proceed.

“Today is just a trial run to get a feel for the space,” food bank coordinator Melody Elste said Monday as she assisted with food distribution, coordinated volunteers and chatted with folks using the well-appreciated resource. “This is probably only about half the food we usually give out, but we didn’t know how many people to expect and we have to get a system down in this new space.”

About 25 volunteers were on hand to direct traffic on the parking lot, sign people in, staff tables loaded with food ranging from fresh produce and poultry to boxed mixes and canned goods, answer questions and restock food on the distribution tables as needed.

“The group of volunteers we have is just unbelievable,” Elste said as her “right-hand man,” Steve Stephens, nodded in agreement. “They just showed up this morning and we do what we do - we made it happen.”

Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s vice president of corporate affairs, said he thought the event was “extremely well-run” and lauded the volunteers for their efforts.

The Fitzell Room “worked perfectly” for the mission, he said, and noted any inconvenience to employees was minimal.

“With this being held two times a month, we can handle it,” he said. “And as a result of just the first meeting, one of our employees’ mother wants to volunteer.”

Just one distribution date was scheduled for March, but Elste said the pantry will be open April 9 and 23, and hopes to maintain a twice-a-month distribution thereafter. The food distribution will take place in the Fitzell Room of Tradepoint’s main office building.

Quite a bit of work was required before doors could opened to clients, according to Elste. While the food bank officially opens at noon, volunteers reported at 7:30 a.m. Plastic tarps were put down to protect the room’s carpet and a truckload of food had to be unloaded. Tables had to be set up and volunteers needed to unload boxes and crates and transfer food to the table for easy distribution.

While that work was being done inside, clients began to line up outside, many toting wagons and wire carts, or carrying boxes or reusable bags.

The advertised hours are noon to 3 p.m., but Elste said they will open the doors as soon as all the work is done and volunteers are ready to go. On Monday, folks were signing in by 11:30 a.m.

“We’re not going to make people wait outside if we’re ready to go,” Elste said.

Many of the core volunteers, including Steve Pomeroy

and Bob Price, have been a part of the team since the food bank was created in 2012. On Monday, the two men were the keepers of the grapes, handing out bags of the fruit to those who wanted them and reloading from a nearby stack of boxes.

From the grape table, clients made their way around a wide, U-shaped display where they could collect apples, salad greens, white and sweet potatoes and other fresh produce, boxed macaroni and cheese, pancake mix and syrup, and a variety of canned vegetables before getting to the last tables loaded with unexpected treats: potato chips and two-liter bottles of soda.

“National Beverage gave us a large donation,” Elste said of the soda offering. “And they reached out to me. I didn’t contact them.”

The organizer said she hopes the relationship with National is long-term: “I’m hoping that when they have extra, they’ll contact us,” she said.

When the dust had settled on Monday’s distribution, about 280 people claimed nearly 8,000 pounds of food, according to Elste.

“We actually closed a little early because we ran out of most of the food,” she said Tuesday. “We just had some grapes, apples and nectarines left over.”

Elste said she sees the relationship between Laughing Wolfe Resources and Tradepoint as a lasting one, and said volunteers were excited about the new venue.

“It went very well, considering it was our first time at a new place,” Elste said. “We’ll continue to work out our system and it will just get better.”

The energetic organizer already has several ideas to improve the service, including the possibility of being able to provide pet food for those struggling to keep their family pets fed and partnering with another group to perhaps offer a weekend distribution for working people who cannot make it to a weekday distribution.

“The community has a lot of working poor who just can’t come out at noon on a Monday to get food,” she said. “We’re going to see if we can do something about that.”

Tomarchio agreed that the potential for a longstanding partnership exists.

“This just absolutely makes sense to us, given the history of the property and the difficult times that left families in need,” he said. “If we can do something to turn that around like we’re turning this place around, it all the better fits our mission and we’re happy to do it.”

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SEAC receives update on local school construction projects

(Updated 3/28/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

At the Southeast Education Advisory Council meeting at Patapsco High School on Monday night, March 26, Leslie Lazzeri, who works in the Office of Facilities Management, told council members that most of the projects scheduled or underway in the southeast area are on track.

That would normally suggest an uneventful meeting, but Jackie Brewster, chair of the SEAC, delivered a sharp message to Lazzeri - they are not happy with the renovations at Patapscho High School and Center for the Arts, which are slated to finish in August 2019.

“We don’t really like what’s going on here,” said Brewster.

Brewster recounted to Lazzeri, who was filling in for OFM Executive Director Pradeep Dixit, her issues with the project, mainly that the renovation will not provide overcrowding relief. She noted that there have been overcrowding concerns for decades, and that in 2009 she was informed by a builder that the best course of action would be to construct a new school. Instead of allocating funding to Patapsco, however, funding went to George Washington Carver.

Fast forward to present day, and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s announcement that he would be including funding in the upcoming budget for the planning of a new Dulaney High School has Brewster and the other members of the SEAC feeling like they did almost a decade ago.

“It’s happening to us all over again,” said Brewster.

Lazzeri told the SEAC that just because they were getting a renovation, that would not preclude them from receiving money for an addition later down the line.

SEAC members also took issue with changes made to the classrooms that have already been renovated at Patapsco. Issues ranged from smaller classrooms to only having a single door, which members believe poses a safety issue as well as a traffic flow issue. Students will not be able to enter as others are leaving, leading to hallway backups. They commented that it did not seem like the architects who designed the school took student flow under consideration. Later, they took Lazzeri on a tour of one of the new classrooms for her to take photographs.

While the latter half of the meeting focused on Patapsco, the first portion of the meeting was aimed at providing an update on construction projects around the area.

Lazzeri told the SEAC that she expects an announcement to come out in the next week formally announcing a groundbreaking ceremony for Dundalk Elementary, which is scheduled for completion in August 2019.

Colgate and Berkshire elementary schools are also on schedule for 2020 openings, though the students at Colgate will be relocated to the Rosedale Center for two years while demolition and construction take place.

Because of the size of Colgate’s property, relocation is necessary. The Rosedale Center currently hosts Victory Villa students while their new building is completed. The logistics of the move are still being worked out, but they are expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, according to Lazzeri.

Elsewhere, the roof replacement at Chesapeake High School is almost complete, while Mars Estates Elementary and Kenwood High School will finish their air conditioning projects in the near future.

‘Perennial’ Broening Highway toll bill heard in Annapolis

‘Perennial’ Broening Highway toll bill heard in Annapolis
Southbound (Inner loop) traffic must first pass through the toll plaza and pay the toll for the Key Bridge before exiting to Broening Highway, even though they would not cross the bridge. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 3/28/18)

- By Devin Crum -

For the third time, state Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-6) has introduced a bill that would eliminate what is known as the Broening Highway toll on I-695.

Inner loop traffic on I-695 must travel through the Francis Scott Key Bridge toll plaza before it can exit to Broening Highway. The same is true for those traveling from Broening Highway to I-695’s outer loop. This creates a toll for using Broening Highway even though that traffic does not cross the bridge.

Salling’s bill would see the Maryland Transportation Authority install a jersey barrier to separate that traffic from vehicles that do cross the bridge and not charge those drivers the toll fee.

Salling said the bill is especially important with the growth of the Port of Baltimore and Tradepoint Atlantic at Sparrows Point because many commercial truckers traveling to or from those facilities attempt to avoid the toll by using neighborhood streets.

“It causes really bad, permanent wear [on the streets], and it stresses some of the county areas for financing” to repair the damage, the senator said during the bill’s hearing before the Senate Finance Committee in Annapolis on March 14.

Safety is also an issue, he said, because “trucks are very large and very heavy and they take longer to stop. They’re traveling by homes, by schools and should not be on our residential streets.”

Salling acknowledged that the state stands to lose an estimated $291,000 per year by not making the Broening Highway users pay the fee. He pointed out, though, that that is less than when MdTA lowered the toll rate for EZPass users at the facility.

In addition, MdTA would have to spend $3.5 million to construct the jersey barrier, according to the bill’s fiscal analysis.

He added that $291,000 is a lot of money for small and independent trucking businesses to have to pay, especially when not actually using the bridge.

“Eliminating the tolls for trucks that do not cross over the bridge would be the fair thing to do,” Salling said. “We can save companies and truck drivers from unnecessary expenses, we need to protect our roads from unnecessary wear and, more than anything, we need to protect our kids near the schools.”

Committee chairman Thomas “Mac” Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, said the committee was sympathetic to the concerns about the large trucks going through communities when it heard the bill in 2017. But the testimony from MdTA representatives was that they were looking to develop a long-term solution.

Salling said, though, that he has not heard any specifics from the agency about their plans.

“We really haven’t gotten answers,” he said. “We know what’s happening at the port, and we know what’s going to be happening at Tradepoint Atlantic.”

Tradepoint Atlantic is undergoing the largest industrial redevelopment on the east coast - possibly in the nation - at the 3,000-acre former steel mill at Sparrows Point. And the Port of Baltimore has experienced record growth in recent years, particularly with respect to the amount of cargo moving through the facility.

“You’re talking within five to six years you’re going to have 20,000 jobs,
there are going to be trucks, there are going to be vehicles, it’s going to be a lot of commotion and we would like to see how well we can accommodate them,” Salling said.

Lewis Campion, president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association, also testified in support of the bill, stating that he has spoken with MdTA about their intentions, but they have not given great detail.

Campion noted that the authority’s planned conversion to all-electronic tolling would allow them to develop a “more fair and equitable” solution for trucks only traveling to Broening Highway to access TPA and not actually using the Key bridge. “But more detail I think would be a very important thing,” he said.

He said he appreciated Salling continuing to introduce the bill “because it is a big challenge - it is a neighborhood challenge because there’s only one local route that doesn’t require a toll if you want to access Tradepoint Atlantic from the Port of Baltimore, and that route actually does go down an expressway where there is a school.”

While no one testified against the bill, the committee also did not offer much reason for optimism.

Chairman Middleton simply called the legislation a “perennial bill.”

“I applaud you for not giving up,” he told Salling.

Salling told the East County Times that the bill has never made it out of committee, but he has been working with the Finance Committee’s members to try to get it voted on and passed for an eventual floor vote.

“It’s still in question, but I’m hoping we can get it out of committee,” he said.

If the bill does not progress this year, Salling said he will try for a study of the issue in the next session to determine the best way to address it.

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Public health physician Beilenson sets eyes on school board position

Public health physician Beilenson sets eyes on school board position

(Updated 3/28/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Peter Beilenson is well known in the Baltimore metropolitan area for his work as a physician, health commissioner and health insurance administrator.

So his announcement that he is running to represent the Fifth Councilmanic District on the Baltimore County Board of Education might seem a little out of place. But Beilenson sees the scope of his medical background as a perfect fit for the role he seeks on the school board.

“A lot of my work over the years has focused on school-age children,” he said in a phone interview with the East County Times. “Whether I was working on school-based health initiatives, like increasing the amount of vaccinated kids from 60 percent to 99.8 percent and reducing lead poisoning by 94 percent, or advocating for healthy foods in cafeterias, I have a lot of experience in working for school-aged children.”

Beilenson has lived in west Towson for five years and lived in Baltimore city for 25 years before that. He served in the high-profile positions of Baltimore city health commissioner and health officer for Howard County before serving as president and CEO of Evergreen Health, a nonprofit health insurance cooperative which provided both health insurance and health care delivery.

In addition to his extensive medical background, Beilenson also has 42 seasons of youth sports coaching to his credit and teaches at Johns Hopkins University.

The California native moved with his family to Maryland during his senior year in high school, and he graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Montgomery County. He received his undergraduate degree at Harvard College and earned his medical degree at Emory University School of Medicine. Beilenson came to Baltimore to serve his internship in family medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center and decided to stay in the area after completing his residency in preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In running for the county school board, Beilenson said he has three main priorities.

The first is hiring a “first-rate superintendent who will be transparent with staff and parents,” he said, adding that the selection of a new leader for the schools should be undertaken after December when the new board is seated.

Secondly, Beilenson would work to increase the number of professionals working in the system.

“I would decrease class size by hiring more teachers,” he said. “And then I would increase the number of social workers, psychologists and pupil personnel workers so that behavioral problems could be handled outside the classroom and teachers can concentrate on teaching.”

The candidate’s third priority would be to ensure that children are prepared for school, “whether that means kids are ready for kindergarten through universal pre-k or they are prepared to learn in the afternoon of a school day after having a free lunch to fuel them for the rest of the day.”

Beilenson believes many of the experiences of his past positions lend themselves well to what he sees as his work on the school board. He has extensive experience lobbying for funding at the national, state and local levels of government, as well as developing, administering and managing large, nine-figure budgets.

“And perhaps most importantly, I’m used to looking at data before making recommendations or decisions,” he said. “While some people might speak from emotion or other bias, I use facts and data to reach conclusions and offer potential solutions.”

Beilenson also has a personal interest in serving on the school board. He is the father of five children ranging in age from 12 to 32, and his youngest son attends Dumbarton Middle School in Towson.

“I enjoy teaching, I enjoy coaching, I enjoy working with children and I enjoy public service,” he said. “I think serving on the Board of Education is the next logical step in serving my community.”

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County Council approves PUD resolution for country club property

County Council approves PUD resolution for country club property
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 3/21/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The Baltimore County Council voted 7-0 Monday night to allow county review of a planned unit development application to build up to 312 homes on Sparrows Point Country Club property.

Submitted to the group by Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), the application requests permission to build a community to be known as Country Club Estates, to include townhouses, single-family homes and “age-targeted” villas, in three separate neighborhoods totaling about 76 acres of the roughly 271-acre property bordered by Wise Avenue and Grays Road in Dundalk.

“This is an exciting project for the community of Dundalk,” Crandell told his colleagues. “This fits in with a vision that includes re-creation of our job base, which is occurring at Tradepoint Atlantic, the revitalization of our commercial corridors and the improvement of our housing stock.”

Two Dundalk residents, both running for political office, spoke out against the plan.

Dave Rader, a Republican who is hoping to unseat Crandell on the council, said he is concerned that many communities were left out of the communication process as the development of the plan played out, including his own community of Norwood-Holabird.

Dundalk resident Scott Collier, an unaffiliated candidate running for the Sixth District State Senate seat, said he is worried that “our community is over-saturated now” and believes the Dundalk area does not have sufficient open space.

“So I would have rather seen this property turned into some kind of park,” he told the council. “It is in a beautiful location and [we would] have it where it would have access for the community.”

Conor Gilligan, vice president of Craftsmen Developers, said Tuesday he is confident that he communicated with all relevant local community organizations, and even talked with groups farther away if that community’s schools would be affected by the new housing.

Craftsmen has partnered with the country club in this venture. The club did not sell the land outright to Craftsmen and will share equally in risks and profit. In turn, the club’s profit will be reinvested in the club’s amenities, including a new club house and new irrigation system for the golf course, according to club President Ron Belbot.

The club’s membership, and therefore its income, is dwindling, Belbot has said. They see the partnership with Craftsmen as a way to preserve the bulk of the club’s property, as opposed to the real possibility the club could fail financially and be forced to sell the entire parcel for potential development, Belbot told the East County Times in December.

Now that the PUD resolution has been approved, Craftsmen officials will begin the process of submitting a detailed concept plan, according to Gilligan.

To satisfy tougher standards of the PUD, the concept plan has to be more detailed than usual and must include specifics on architectural details, community amenities and landscape and streetscape designs.

The company will also submit an application for growth allocation, which will request permission to convert a resource conservation area (RCA) to an intense development area (IDA).

“In order to change the designation, you need to prove you are bettering the quality of the Chesapeake Bay,” Gilligan said. “This... tract gives us lots of opportunity for reforestation, wetlands enhancement and shoreline improvement that will go a long way to improve the quality of the water.”

He noted that the country club does not have any stormwater management facilities on the property.

“I can’t provide stormwater management for the entire property, but we will provide it for our development, which will help the quality of the bay immensely,” he said.

While much work remains before construction can begin, Gilligan believes building can start in the summer of 2019, with homes selling as early as the first quarter in 2020.

Community members will be kept informed of the process and be able to comment, with at least one more public input meeting to be held after the concept plan is submitted, Gilligan said.

Times reporter Patrick Taylor contributed to this article.

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Kamenetz unveils free community college tuition plan for high school graduates

Kamenetz unveils free community college tuition plan for high school graduates
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, flanked by BCPS Interim Superintendent Verletta White (left) and CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis (right), touted the College Promise proposal on March 19 as a game changer both educationally and economically. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz unveiled a new proposal on Monday, March 19, that aims to provide community college tuition for college-ready county residents who may otherwise be priced out of higher education.

Kamenetz announced the need-based “College Promise” proposal at CCBC Essex, alongside Baltimore County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Verletta White and CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis.

“This is a real game-changer for students from low or moderate income families for whom the benefits of a college education might otherwise be out of reach,” said Kamenetz. It opens up a lifetime of career income opportunities.”

The plan, which would require approval from the Baltimore County Council, would make up the difference between grants and financial aid and the total cost of tuition, which runs $1,876 per semester for a full-time student.

In the first year, the plan is likely to cost about $1 million, rising to $2.3 million by the program’s third year.

Kurtinitis estimated that there are approximately 1,100 students who have graduated in Baltimore County over the last two years who would qualify for the program.

In order to qualify, students must be county residents with an adjusted household income of $69,000, the median income for Baltimore County. A student would also need a 2.5 GPA and have graduated within the previous two years.

Those who have been out of school for longer than two years and those who need to take remedial classes first are not eligible for College Promise.

“This isn’t about giving anyone an opportunity,” said Kurtinitis. “This is about giving students who are college-ready an opportunity.”

Kamenetz maintained that the College Promise program will yield “transformative” results, both educationally and economically.

“We believe it will increase college graduation rates,” said Kamenetz, adding that a labor pool with better education credentials helps spur growth. He said well over 90 percent of those who get a degree from CCBC stay in Baltimore County, and that an associate’s degree from CCBC will translate to more than $300,000 in additional lifetime earnings.

White added that the opportunity to attend community college cost-free adds extra motivation to high school students who would otherwise be priced out of admission.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our recent graduates, especially those with financial constraints, to take full advantage of the tremendous education and career-advancing opportunities at CCBC,” said White.

The College Promise proposal also already has the backing of a majority on the county council.

“For the people in my district, this announcement will be a true lifesaver,” said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6). “Free college tuition will open up doors that otherwise would be closed. I am so proud to be part of this effort.”

Kamenetz noted that Bevins was one of two people to tear up when they heard about the proposal, the other being an administrative assistant in county government. Bevins has never been shy about noting that she was not able to afford college when she was younger.

The proposal also has the support of Republican councilmen Todd Crandell (R-7) and David Marks (R-5). Crandell commended the push to make college affordable, while Marks said he supports expanding community college and workforce training to all who need it, especially given the cost of the program. Marks did add, however, that he would have liked to have been given the opportunity for input before Monday’s announcement.

“County government works best when the executive branch briefs the legislature beforehand, and not surprisingly, that did not happen with all members of the Council,” said Marks.

With an enrollment around 62,000, many of whom return to college years after finishing high school, this program would not be available for most. In 2017, almost 38 percent of county high school graduates needed to take a remedial English class, and 59 percent needed a remedial math class, according to CCBC.

Similar programs have taken off all around the country over the last few years. There are currently 40 states with similar programs in place, and just last year Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh implemented a similar proposal in the city.

If approved in Kamenetz’s final budget proposal in April, the plan would be implemented for the Fall 2018 semester. Kamenetz is in his last year as county executive and is currently running for governor of Maryland.

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County landmarks commission rejects nomination for Ft. Howard buildings, property

County landmarks commission rejects nomination for Ft. Howard buildings, property
The VA hospital building is slated for restoration, but the future of the Fort Howard property is still uncertain. File photo.

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission voted at its most recent meeting on March 8 not to accept a nomination for historical designation of several buildings at Fort Howard.

The Fort Howard property, owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), has suffered from neglect and vandalism - including several building fires - since the veterans hospital on the site closed for good in 2002 and redevelopment of the property was announced.

In light of the deterioration of the buildings on the property, as well as the news last fall that the historic Rosewood Center in Owings Mills was being de-listed by the state due to the “demolition by neglect” occurring there, a group of concerned citizens decided to nominate Fort Howard for historic preservation.

Scott Pappas, Fort Howard Community Association president and a member of the nominating group, told the Essex-Middle River Civic Council on March 7 that 21 of the buildings on the site have already been deemed eligible for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places. Therefore, those buildings and some of the land around them were nominated for the county’s list in hopes it could give them some leverage to hold the VA responsible in preserving them.

“We thought as a body we needed to put this as quickly as possible into landmark status to preserve these 21 historic assets of our American heritage and culture,” Pappas told the EMRCC.

But Michael Field, attorney for Baltimore County, said federal supremacy prohibits local governments from imposing regulatory authority over federal properties. He added that the key word in the law is “consideration” and that it does not require adherence to local codes.

“So they’ve imposed on themselves already the requirement only to consider, and then to take recommendations from the local authorities,” he said. Additionally, legal action cannot be brought against the federal government by a local jurisdiction for failure to meet requirements or uphold those recommendations.

Field could not say for sure if the county is legally able to landmark the Fort Howard property. “But it’s meaningless” to do so, he said.

As a result, Teri Rising, historic preservation planner with the county’s Office of Planning, recommended that the commission reject the nomination, which Field agreed was the “logical” thing to do.

“To be consistent with the past actions of the commission, it seems reasonable that we would not accept this nomination,” Rising said.

As a result, the commission voted 12-1 to reject the VA property’s nomination for historic landmarking. Only commission member Louis Diggs voted against the action, and member Rose Benton recused herself from the vote since she was a member of the nominating group.

Benton admitted that she did not think landmarking the property would change anything, but raised the point that the buildings are not being taken care of currently.

“Four of those houses have burned down,” she said. “There’s nothing happening there. It’s been sitting there since [2002].”

The commission as a whole, however, felt it was the wrong venue to address the situation. Some members commented that the proper vehicles for the site’s preservation are already in place in the form of the Maryland State Historic Preservation Office’s (SHPO) designation of the property and the programmatic agreement in place between the VA, SHPO and the property’s lease holder and developer, Fort Howard Development LLC (FHD).

The agreement spells out what needs to be done, at what time and by whom to maintain and protect the portions of the property deemed historic. In particular, it states that the developer “at its own expense shall make reasonable efforts to at all times protect, preserve and repair the property and shall keep same in good order and condition.”

It further states, “Prior to and during construction activities, FHD will make reasonable efforts to secure, maintain and safeguard the historic resources listed... to ensure that they are protected against damage and further deterioration until the long-term treatment measures stipulated in the [agreement] are fulfilled.”

State Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6), who introduced a bill in the General Assembly in Annapolis that would require the state to acquire Fort Howard if it is ever offered for sale or transfer, called the commission’s vote “unfortunate.”

He said he generally supported the effort to have the property landmarked by the county, but acknowledged the legal conflict in doing so.

“What we essentially have is the inability to protect a historic property because it’s under a federal purview, except the feds have done absolutely nothing to hold the leaseholders to protect the property,” he said. “It really speaks to the need to have more local control over local assets, as opposed to someone in Washington, D.C. who has been, frankly, completely withdrawn.”

Grammer’s bill was heard by the House Appropriations Committee, also on March 8, and he said except for a few technical questions “nothing really of substance” was discussed during the hearing.

“I didn’t really get that there were a lot of strong feelings either way about it,” he said.

As of Tuesday, March 20, the committee had not yet voted on the bill.

The fiscal note accompanying the bill states that the measure would likely have no material effect on state finances because “there is no imminent prospect of the Fort Howard VA property being made available for acquisition.”

And according to Grammer, the VA has said the developer “still intends to move forward with the project.

“I find that very interesting because we haven’t seen any viable proposal,” he said. “So I don’t see this going anywhere.”

Timothy Munshell, with FHD, at first proposed a mixed-use development for the property consisting of nearly 1,400 residences. More recently, developer Sam Himmelrich presented a plan for around 300 homes on the site, but has been noncommittal about officially signing onto the project.

“Really, ultimately, what we’re looking for here is an opportunity to gain local acquisition in the case that [the developer] walks away,” Grammer said. “We’re looking for a backstop here.”

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Stats show east side crime on the rise in 2017

Stats show east side crime on the rise in 2017

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Violent crime is up in Baltimore County, according to the 2017 crime statistics released last week by the Baltimore County Police Department.

While homicides remained flat at 35 last year, violent crime rose 14.5 percent countywide. In the county, the White Marsh, Essex and Dundalk precincts saw the largest increases in violent crime.

The Essex precinct saw the biggest jump, with a 32.3 percent jump increase year, while the White Marsh and Dundalk precincts saw their violent crime rates rise by 25.9 percent and 22.5 percent, respectively.

All three east side precincts saw aggravated assault numbers skyrocket by at least 29 percent, with the White Marsh and Dundalk numbers rising by 37 percent. Across the county, aggravated assaults increased by 23.5 percent.

Robbery reports also rose considerably on the east side, with the Essex precinct seeing a massive 45-percent increase. The White Marsh precinct saw just over a 15-percent rise in robberies, while the Dundalk precinct settled in at 8 percent.

Regarding homicides, things stayed stagnant in the county, with 35 homicides reported on the year. The Essex precinct saw a rise from four homicides in 2016 to seven in 2017. White Marsh saw homicides decrease from three to one during that time, while the Dundalk precinct saw a 100-percent drop, recording no homicides last year.

“One thing we’ve seen is the result of the opioid epidemic in our area,” said police spokesman Cpl. Shawn Vinson.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz echoed that sentiment to the Baltimore Sun on Monday afternoon after previously declining to comment.

“Our police are well-trained, they’re well equipped with the latest technology and they work well with the community,” said Kamenetz. He added that the county has a “record low crime rate” per capita.

Kamenetz told reporters that his administration has been working to curb the opioid problem, which has ravaged Baltimore County. Last year saw the number of opioid-related deaths surge past 230 in September. Numbers for the final quarter of the year are not yet available. He added that he would like to see the Maryland State Police do more to prevent drug trafficking on I-95.

Exemplifying Kamenetz’s claim about record low crime rates, there were few areas that saw decreases in crime in 2017. Burglaries were down 15 percent countywide, including in eight out of 10 precincts. The White Marsh precinct led the way on that front, with a decrease of 44 percent. In Essex, that number was around a 20-percent decrease while in Dundalk they saw an 11.4-percent drop.

In total, Baltimore County saw a 3.9-percent increase in total crime, which consists of violent and nonviolent crimes. Only burglaries and motor vehicle thefts saw a decrease countywide, while every other category saw at least a minimal increase.

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Application deadline for school board pushed to May 1; public hearings scheduled

Application deadline for school board pushed to May 1; public hearings scheduled
The Baltimore County Board of Education meets at its headquarters off Charles Street in Towson.

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Citing some possible public confusion about the makeup of Baltimore County’s new hybrid Board of Education and a thin pool of candidates who have so far applied for the four politically appointed at-large seats, the deadline to apply has been extended to May 1.

When the original deadline of March 16 passed, only 14 applications had been received, according to Aaron Plymouth, chairman of the Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission.

“When we have to send eight names to the governor to fill four spots and we have 14 applications, that’s just not a real broad pool of candidates,” Plymouth told the East County Times.

Effective with this year’s election, the board will consist of seven popularly elected members for councilmanic districts and four at-large members appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, all of whom will serve four-year terms. An appointed student member serves a one-year term.

Candidates running for election had until Feb. 27 to file their intentions while those seeking political appointment faced the original date of March 16.

When the commission met March 5, members discussed concern over the number of applicants at that point, according to Plymouth, and decided that perhaps more could be done to better inform the public of the process, he said.

Because this process is new to everyone, including the commission, the group decided to extend the deadline to get the word out one last time.

“We also discovered that, according to statute, the commission is required to hold at least three public hearings about the process and we hadn’t done that,” Plymouth said. “So to satisfy the statute and to put forth the best possible candidates, we extended the deadline and scheduled the hearings.”

There also was some last minute confusion about all candidates being required to submit financial disclosure statements to the school board’s ethics committee, and this extension allows people a little more time to file that paperwork as well, Plymouth believes.

“This is just about us increasing our accountability and transparency and giving the public more access to the information needed,” Plymouth said.

The informational meetings will be held around the county as follows: Thursday, March 22, from 7 - 8 p.m. at Cockeysville Middle School; Monday, March 26, from 7 - 8 p.m. at Stemmers Run Middle School; and Thursday, April 12, from 7 - 8 p.m. at Milford Mill Academy.

The nominating commission has its own page on the Baltimore County Public Schools website, Plymouth said. He lauded staff for greatly improving the page, saying it’s easy to navigate and contains all the information potential candidates need, including the ability to download the application.

All relevant information can be accessed at

Applications can be mailed or hand-delivered to the Baltimore County School Board Nominating Committee, in care of Debi Decker, 6901 N. Charles St., Towson, MD 21204. Electronic submissions will not be accepted, according to a statement from the commission.

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Delegate Grammer’s BCPS audit bill dies in Baltimore County House Delegation

Delegate Grammer’s BCPS audit bill dies in Baltimore County House Delegation
The State House in Annapolis. File photo.

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

A bill requiring the Office of Legislative Audits to conduct a special comprehensive audit of the procurement practices and contracts of the Baltimore County Public School System (BCPS) failed to make it out of the Baltimore County House Delegation on Friday, March 16, effectively killing the bill.

With the legislative audit bill dead, that leaves only one avenue for an audit, which would be done locally.

Drafted by Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6) in the wake of former BCPS superintendent Dallas Dance’s admitting to perjury for not disclosing outside income, the legislative audit bill was voted down along party lines.

Dance had received thousands of dollars from technology companies doing business with BCPS, leading to questions about how those companies’ contracts were procured.

“A couple people got sick and a couple who said they were going to vote for it suddenly pulled back out. And it’s really disheartening,” Grammer told the East County Times on Monday night. “The bottom line is we never want to have to experience this again in our county. Parents, teachers and students deserve better. Taxpayers deserve better.”

Grammer stated that there was cross-party support for the bill, but that it “evaporated” when it came time to vote.

“The people in my district were massively in support of this bill. I’ve heard maybe two or three people against it countywide,” said Grammer. “This is not and should not be a partisan issue at all.”

Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-8) voted against the legislation. He told the Times  that, in essence, a legislative audit would be redundant.

“We already have an [request for proposal] RFP out for a true third party review investigation and audit. I dont think it’s wise to have another redundant study at the cost of the county when we already have one going on,” said Bromwell.

Both Bromwell and Grammer blamed political posturing, with Bromwell saying that “a legislative audit is not a true third party audit” because it inserts a political body into “a situation I believe is already political enough.”

The Office of Legislative Audits, which would have overseen the BCPS audit, calls itself an independent, non-partisan agency.

Grammer stated that for an audit to be trusted, it needed to move away from Baltimore County.

“If BCPS is procuring an audit for themselves, is anyone going to trust the findings or the process?” Grammer questioned.

Grammer maintained that those opposed to his legislative audit bill want to see issues plaguing the school system swept under the rug. On Friday, after the House Delegation vote, Grammer took to Facebook saying “The cover up is complete.” He doubled down on that claim Monday night, saying that, in light of both Dance’s plea and the plea agreement of former Baltimore County employee Bob Barrett, local authorities were too intertwined and unobjective.

“These parties are all connected,” said Grammer, adding that there are too many “politically influential people who have been around for a long time.”

Bromwell expressed his displeasure with Grammer’s comments on social media, saying that he had a “very strong objection” to claims of a cover up.

“To accuse your colleague of criminal misconduct is not something that we do down here just because we disagree on a vote,” said Bromwell.

He added that he is in agreement with Grammer on the substance of the audit, just not the source. He cautioned that Grammer’s comments may come back to haunt him further down the line.

“This isn’t how things work down here and this, quite frankly, isn’t how you get things done for your constituents,” said Bromwell. “You don’t want to be the person who says these things about your colleagues from whom you’re going to need a vote one day, and they’re never going to forget that.”

Despite the fact that an RFP had already been submitted, Grammer believes it is the job of the state representatives to ensure independence.

“The counties are an extension of the state,” said Grammer. “They are not derived from an authority of their own.”

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County executive candidates chat with Greater Parkville residents

County executive candidates chat with Greater Parkville residents
Baltimore County Executive candidates Jim Brochin (D, left), Pat McDonough (R) and John Olszewski Jr. (D) introduced themselves to Parkville-area residents and gave their stances on several issues related to the area. Two other county executive candidates, Democrat Vicki Almond and Republican Al Redmer, did not attend the forum. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 3/21/18)

- By Marge Neal -

With Maryland’s primary just over three months away, political candidates are stepping up their efforts to communicate their respective messages to voters, while many community and political organizations are holding forums to hear those messages.

Thanks to a forum on March 8, organized by the Greater Parkville Community Council, area residents heard from 13 candidates, including three running for Baltimore County Executive.

Democrats Jim Brochin and John Olszewski Jr. and Republican Pat McDonough accepted the group’s invitation to weigh in on Greater Parkville concerns and priorities. Each candidate was given five minutes to introduce themselves to the audience and to answer two specific questions as related to the Parkville/Carney/Cub Hill area: what are your priorities for the area and how do you plan to address them, and how do you plan to keep citizens involved in government decisions that affect the community?

Brochin, now a state senator representing the 42nd Legislative District, told the crowd he is “giving up a very safe Senate seat” to run for county executive because he is passionate about cleaning up key problems and improving the general quality of life in Baltimore County.

He cited overdevelopment as a key contributor to a lesser quality of life for county residents and blamed the “pay-to-play” philosophy he believes is rampant in county politics.

“Developers donate to candidates because they expect something in exchange for those donations,” Brochin said. “I’m going to end pay-to-play if I’m elected county executive.”

Brochin believes a wide variety of issues need to be addressed to make Baltimore County a more comfortable and attractive place to call home. He cited the need for additional bike paths, improved efforts at cleaning up trash, increasing the rate of recycling and adding more police officers and increasing neighborhood patrols as ways county life can be improved.

Addressing another hot topic, Brochin said he would work closely with Baltimore County Public Schools to improve its procurement system and help reestablish public trust in BCPS.

Pat McDonough, a delegate representing the Seventh Legislative District, is also giving up what many believe to be a safe seat to run for county executive.

The candidate, who has endeared himself to many by not sugar-coating anything, opened his remarks by sharing an experience he had with a group of residents at a local senior high-rise apartment complex.

“I told them, ‘If you are content with Baltimore County, you do not want me,’” he said. “If you are confident in the future of Baltimore County, I am not your guy.”

Running with an “Excellence in Education” agenda, McDonough was clear that he thinks a change in the top leadership of the school system is needed.

“I don’t want Verletta White permanently; she’s an extension of Dallas Dance,” McDonough said.

White was named to lead county schools temporarily after the sudden resignation of Dance, who was recently convicted on four counts of perjury with regard to outside employment he failed to report to the Board of Education.

McDonough, describing the Baltimore County Police Department as a suburban department serving an increasingly urban area, said he would like to see an increase in the force.

Olszewski introduced himself as a Dundalk native, husband, father and a “blue-collar progressive” in favor of universal pre-kindergarten and free community college tuition.

The former Baltimore County school teacher said it is important to address school overcrowding because it affects learning and safety. He also called for an increase in support professionals such as pupil personnel workers, social workers and psychologists.

Economic development, jobs training and the creation of arts and entertainment districts in the county are other priorities of Olszewski’s.

And in an effort to make county government more accessible and transparent, Olszewski said he would like to see county work sessions - where most public discussion on bills takes place - moved from the middle of the day when people are working to the evening.

After the candidates had used their allotted time, GPCC president Ruth Baisden entertained questions from the audience.

Carney activist Meg O’Hare challenged the candidates to weigh in on the topic of Fred Homan, the county’s administrative officer who many believe has been allowed to become too powerful and authoritative in the day-to-day operation of county government.

“When I get sworn in at 12 noon, at 12:01 Fred Homan is fired,” Brochin said, leaving no question as to his stance. “A lot of people involved in Baltimore County are there to enrich themselves and that needs to stop.”

McDonough said he believes the county “is infested with cronyism and corruption” and he would like to see a more open government that puts people first.

“Everything is covered up,” he said of government operations. “It must be totally reorganized within the first six months.”

Olszewski, while not mentioning Homan specifically, said, “If you’re going to chart a new path, the team needs to look different.”

The GPCC will offer another forum later this spring featuring candidates for state office, according to organizers.

Maryland’s primary election is June 26, with winners advancing to November’s general election.

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Greater Parkville Community Council hosts candidate forum

Greater Parkville Community Council hosts candidate forum
Ed Hale Jr. (left), a Republican challenger for the County Council’s Third District seat, as well as Sixth District Democrat Cathy Bevins and Fifth District Republican David Marks, both incumbents, each participated in the forum for their respective districts. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Marge Neal -

With the filing deadline in the past and ballots set for this year’s election races, many organizations are doing their best to make sure local residents are as informed about and familiar with candidates and their stands as possible.

The Greater Parkville Community Council on March 8 held a candidate forum for candidates running for county executive as well as third-, fifth- and sixth-district County Council seats.

Turnout was robust, with 13 candidates attending to share their backgrounds and agendas with attendees, as well as to answer two Parkville-Carney-Cub Hill-specific questions that were posed to all elected hopefuls.

Each candidate was given five minutes to introduce themselves to the audience and to answer the two questions as related to the Parkville/Carney/Cub Hill area: what are your priorities for the area and how do you plan to address them, and how do you plan to keep citizens involved in government decisions that affect the community?

Ed Hale Jr., Doug Zinn and incumbent Wade Kach, who are vying for the Republican spot in the general election for the Third District Baltimore County Council seat and Democrat Bronwyn Mitchell-Strong participated in the gathering.

Hale introduced himself as a business owner with a trucking company in Rosedale that “runs 40 trucks in and out of the Port of Baltimore.” He said he is concerned about the amount of spending Baltimore County has done in the past eight years and said the county is “dangerously close to maxing out its borrowing limits.”

Citing the moves of Comcast and MediFast, Hale said he would like to stop the trend of businesses moving out of the county and added he would like more education attention paid to trades. Noting that “college is not for everyone,” Hale gave a nod to the success of an HVAC program at Dulaney High School.

“You have kids graduating from high school and going to jobs that pay [up to] $80,000 a year,” he said.

Zinn told the audience of his experience working with the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health and Baltimore County government and said he knows how to raise money and do it well.

He spoke of getting involved in his community and said that throughout his life, he has taken pride in his ability to take responsibility and follow through on tasks at hand.

Zinn cited the success of getting some underground water tanks installed in more rural communities as an example of his ability to see and attack a problem. He realized that house fires were hard to fight in rural areas without close access to water hydrants.

After seeing a local gas station close, he inquired about getting the old tanks cleaned and donated for use as water tanks. That conversation led to the gas company donating new tanks and his community was better prepared to save houses and lives as a result of him addressing the problem.

He agreed that bringing new businesses to Baltimore County is important, but said the infrastructure - including roads, utilities and parking - needs to be there.

Zinn told the crowd that, if elected, he will work full-time for his constituents.

“I will work just for you,” he said. “I won’t have another job, I don’t own a company, I will be your full-time councilman.”

Incumbent Kach said it has been an honor to represent the Third District and cited his experience and accomplishments while in office. He elicited some applause when he said he voted against “$43 million in corporate welfare in Towson,” referring to a recently passed council bill that provided a “bailout” to a “politically-connected developer whose project was failing.”

Mitchell-Strong said she decided to run after “coming face-to-face” with the dark side of Baltimore County when she opened her home to foster care five years ago. She cited the opioid problem, domestic abuse, homelessness and child trauma as some of the reasons she decided to run.

“I’m not here to run against anyone, but to run for our children, the future and the now,” she told the crowd.

She said her agenda will be driven by facts and figures and cited her nonprofit work experience as proof she can be fiscally responsible.

“With my nonprofit experience, I’m used to working on a shoestring budget, where every donor dollar is precious,” she said. “It’s the same with the tax dollar - every dollar is precious.”

Mitchell-Strong said she decided to run for office after realizing she could not ask her children to be the change in the world if she was not willing to do the same.

Incumbent Republican David Marks and Democrat John Torsch, running for the Fifth District seat, also participated in the forum.

Marks introduced himself as a lifelong resident of northeastern Baltimore County. He noted his ability to work across party lines to accomplish things for his district.

“The party doesn’t matter as much as principle and good government,” he said.

Over the past eight years, Marks has played a significant role in the district, getting three new schools and eight new parks, he said. He has held 20 town hall meetings in that time, proving his ability to communicate and keep constituents informed.

His major priorities for the community are public safety, schools, roads and open spaces. He is proud that every school in the Fifth District has air conditioning and that he has “down-zoned historic amounts of space” during his tenure.

“I have worked across party lines to advance the needs of my district and I have consistently supported reforms to keep developers in check,” he said.

Torsch, who is a professional chef and world traveler, described himself as the oldest of the three sons of two hard-working people who were in the room to support him in his quest for public office.

He told the crowd of losing one of his brothers to a heroin overdose in 2010 and said that loss serves as motivation to help his community.

“I’m not here to start a political career, this is my chance to do what I can in my little corner of the world,” he said.

With more than 300 overdose deaths in Baltimore County last year, Torsch said he hopes to do whatever he can to reduce those numbers. He also cited school violence and overcrowding as priority issues.

“My promise to you is absolute transparency,” he said.

The primary election will be held June 26, with winners moving on to the general election in November.

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Stakeholders debate merits of dredging oyster shoal in House committee

Stakeholders debate merits of dredging oyster shoal in House committee
The location and general shape of Man-O-War shoal. Dark lines indicate the boundaries of oyster bars mapped by Yates (1911). Yellow rectangles within the outline of the shoal illustrate the types of cuts anticipated as shell is removed by dredging along the perimeter. However, cuts on the western third of the shoal are no longer planned since those areas were seeded with oyster spat within the last 10 years. Image courtesy of MD DNR.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A bill to prohibit dredging Man-O-War Shoal for oyster shell brought the issue of oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay to the forefront on March 7 when the legislation was heard before a committee in Annapolis.

House Bill 1455, sponsored by Delegate Robin Grammer (R-Essex), would keep the state from following through on a 2009 mandate to dredge the prehistoric oyster bar for shell to be used to restore other oyster bars throughout the bay.

In testimony before the House of Delegates’ Environment and Transportation Committee, Grammer said his bill is necessary, first, because dredging MOWS is a “temporary solution.”

“For several decades, hundreds of millions of bushels of buried oyster shell from multiple areas in the upper bay were dredged for this purpose,” he said. “When the supply was exhausted, the program was ended and our problems persist.”

Larry Jennings, with Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, said the state’s Department of Natural Resources dredged more than 185 million bushels of shell during its four-decade-long oyster repletion program.

That program, carried out by DNR between 1962 and 2006, dredged oyster shell from intact bars in the upper bay to replenish degraded ones in the lower bay. It has been criticized by CCA and other advocates for devastating the bars which it took from and being ineffective for accomplishing its goals.

“That pile of shell, put in Ravens stadium football field [would reach] a mile and a half high,” Jennings said. “Ten years after the program ends, it’s gone. We spent a lot of taxpayer dollars to do that work with no residual benefit.”

Grammer’s second point on his bill was that dredging the shoal is not an effective solution to the state’s need for substrate on which to grow oysters.

“We have watched as previously dredged shell quickly degrades, leaving us with the same problem,” he said.

Dr. Ken Lewis, also with CCA, pointed out that DNR’s own application to dredge states the half-life of dredged shell on which to plant oysters is only three to six years.

“When it’s exposed to the water and other organisms... it does degrade,” he said. “It’s only a short-term solution.

“What happens if you dredge Man-O-War Shoal and it’s 20 years later and you’ve used all the shell and the resource is gone,” he asked. “Where are we in terms of a sustainable oyster population in the bay, which is what all of us want?”

Robert Newberry, with the Delmarva Fisheries Association, agreed that the shell may degrade more quickly in Virginia’s portion of the bay where the water is more saline. But in the upper bay it lasts more like seven to 10 years, he said, noting that there is still shell from the repletion program in the Choptank River.

“This problem isn’t because the shell wasn’t working,” he said. “It’s because an environmental group found it necessary to basically deter the permit from existing after 2006.”

Grammer’s third and final point was that the shoal is a valuable resource that should not be tampered with.

“Man-O-War has been a prized fishing location for the citizens of southeastern Baltimore [County] for generations,” the delegate said. “The shoal provides recreational opportunities that support residents and businesses. If a program destroys a natural resource that is unique to our bay as a temporary reprieve and does nothing toward creating a sustainable oyster population, it should not be pursued.”

Lewis said it is important to remember that when the 2009 mandate was passed, oyster sanctuary development in the bay’s tributaries was just beginning and oyster aquaculture was in its infancy.

“Since that time, there has been extensive experience with other substrates for setting oysters that have been very successful...,” he said, naming granite and concrete as examples.

But Chip MacLeod, an attorney with the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, said it is “preposterous” that some leading environmental organizations say natural oyster shell is not that good for growing oysters, “that the shell Mother Nature designed for oysters is not as good as stone, debris and rubble.”

CCC, an organization of local governments on the Eastern Shore which advocates for fiscal responsibility in Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, has said the MOWS shell is currently covered over with sediment and would be of higher value to the bay ecosystem if dredged and used elsewhere as a base for new oyster growth.

The organization has also pushed for dredging the shell because it is already here in the bay and would not have to be purchased at a higher cost from elsewhere and brought in.

“The major point here is that in the last decade, we have learned to use alternative materials for growing oysters,” Lewis asserted. “And so the necessity for having shell is not where it was 10 years ago, because bay restoration and oyster proliferation in the bay has gone on for the last decade without dredging shell.”

He said there is “no justification” for dredging shell from Man-O-War. “It is a well-used natural resource on which live oysters are presently living and harvested, and it is used by a whole variety of stakeholders in the upper bay.”

MacLeod pointed out, though, that the shoal is approximately 456 acres in total, and DNR’s proposal is to dredge only 32 acres of it.

“It’s amazing that we’re losing focus of how important shell is to bring back oysters,” he said. “With the amount of sedimentation, we need to get the shell up above the mud.”

Allison Colden, a Maryland fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said MOWS is the last remaining example of what oyster populations in the bay once were.

She noted that the DNR permit proposes dredging 30 million bushels of shell from the shoal, which accounts for more than 30 percent of its total volume.

“And even if they were to dredge that amount, it would not produce a significant or lasting benefit for the oyster population,” Colden said.

She added that if all 30 million bushels went to the fishery and was only targeted to the top five producing harvest areas in the bay, only 2 percent of that bottom could be planted, one time. And with the lifespan of the shell, at best, those areas could be harvested just twice before the shell is gone.

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Miele looks for Maryland to move on from PARCC testing

Miele looks for Maryland to move on from PARCC testing
Delegate Christian Miele (standing) met with constituents and BCPS stakeholders for about three hours on Feb. 15 to discuss concerns about disciplinary issues in county schools. The first-term delegate also unveiled a legislative package aimed at curbing these issues. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Last Friday, Delegate Christian Miele presented six bills before the House of Delegates’ Ways and Means Committee, five of which took a sharp focus on Baltimore County Public Schools.

Jokingly referring to his time testifying before the committee as “Delegate Miele Day,” the Republican presented legislation aimed at creating an anti-bullying task force, eliminating the PARCC test, creating an updated anti-drug awareness campaign and a bill that would allow schools to lease naming rights of fields and stadiums as a way to bring in revenue.

A good chunk of Miele’s time in front of the committee was spent on HB:1373, which would put an end to PARCC testing in Maryland.

While there are a host of reasons why Miele opposes the PARCC test, he  primarily pointed to poor scores and wasted school resources.

“What’s super deeply troubling to me is [in Baltimore County] our pass rate for the math portion of the PARCC test among elementary and middleschoolers is 30.3 percent and in English, 36.5 percent,” said Miele. “So we are woefully inadequate in having students succeed in taking this test. Another sticking point is 123 out of 180 school days per year are eligible to be used for PARCC testing. Librarians are kicked out of library for proctoring, resources are unavailable for extended periods of time.”

He added that the test has “created an onerous burden” on students, teachers and administrators due to the fact that the test can take 15 hours to administer per year.

Miele noted that there’s no federal funding tied to PARCC, but added that the issue must be addressed because the contract for the company that administers the test is up for renewal. He went on to contend that there are other available standardized tests like the California Achievement Test (CAT) and the TerraNova test. His sentiments were echoed by Jonathan Roland, a Perry Hall teacher who testified alongside Miele.

Roland said that this was not about  dodging poor assessments, but rather getting accurate assessments. The CAT and TerraNova tests have much easier formats, whereas the format for the PARCC test has to be taught along with the material. Roland also pointed to Maryland’s fall in Education Week’s state ranking, which Maryland topped for five consecutive years until 2013. From 2013 on, Maryland has dropped one place each year, currently occupying the No. 6 position on the list. Roland contended that the implementation of PARCC and Maryland’s fall from the top were intertwined.

“When my oldest children graduated, they graduated from the best state in the nation,” said Roland. “When my youngest graduates, we won’t even be in the top 10 percent. And that makes me angry.”

Legislators on the committee questioned whether the lack of success in Baltimore County had less to do with the test and more to do with the material being inadequately conveyed.

“Because students are failing, I don’t necessarily know that there’s something wrong with the test,” said Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins (D-20).

Wilkins also questioned whether a test designed for California would be up to Maryland’s standards.

Roland told the committee that he preferred the TerraNova test, but that the CAT had been administered for decades until 1991.

Wilkins said it was a “conversation worth having” but remained unconvinced that students’ struggles with the test were due to problems with the test itself.

Roland contested that there is evidence the test isn’t working, pointing to the S.A.T.

“A secondary assessment like the S.A.T. does not show 66 percent of our students below an acceptable standard. The S.A.T. doesn’t do that. So why does the PARCC fail 66 percent of students?”

Miele added that only six states currently use PARCC testing, with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently announcing his plans to withdraw the state in the near future.

While Miele’s push to eliminate PARCC was received relatively coolly by the committee, most of his other bills seemed to have decent support.

When questioned about the anti-bullying bill, Miele told legislators that the plan was to implement the multi-year effort in Baltimore County and see if it proves to be successful. If the task force does come up with findings that can be implemented statewide, he said he would be more than happy to introduce legislation to expand the program across the state.

On schools raising funding through leasing naming rights for fields and stadiums, the only real point of concern was the type of content/business that could be featured. Miele assured the committee that guidelines would be established to prevent anything unseemly from being used.

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Bill to reduce Key Bridge toll rates questioned in committee

Bill to reduce Key Bridge toll rates questioned in committee
Metzgar’s bill would create an annual $100 flat rate for commuters using the bridge. Photo courtesy of Maryland State Archives.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Questions and comments were light Friday afternoon, March 9, on a bill to allow a flat rate for commuters who use the Francis Scott Key Bridge. But some lawmakers expressed concern about the amount of money the state could lose if the plan is implemented.

Delegate Ric Metzgar (R-Essex) introduced House Bill 1332 which would institute a $100 flat rate for commuters using the Key Bridge, allowing them unlimited trips for the year.

Paul M. Blitz, Metzgar’s chief of staff, said the plan would be similar to one currently in place for the Hatem Bridge over the Susquehanna River between Harford and Cecil counties, which allows unlimited trips through that facility for just $20 annually.

Blitz testified on the bill before the House Environment and Transportation Committee in Annapolis last Friday, stating that many residents of the areas surrounding the Key Bridge live on one side of the span but work on the other.

He acknowledged that Governor Larry Hogan had lowered the toll rates on the bridge and other facilities from $4 to $3 for those using E-ZPass. But the new program, he said, would further “help working families by easing the burden of traveling to and from work.”

Sherri Weems, a resident of southeastern Baltimore County who also testified on the bill, said the unlimited use plan would also make shopping easier for residents near the bridge, potentially generating more economic activity.

By comparison, the Baltimore Regional Discount Plan through E-ZPass, which includes passage over the Key Bridge, allows drivers to pay a commuter rate of $1.40 per trip for up to 50 trips every 45 days. That plan would still cost drivers using the maximum number of trips $567 per year. The same number of trips would cost $1,215 with E-ZPass but without a commuter plan, or $1,620 paying cash.

Del. Robbyn Lewis (D-Baltimore) questioned how the state could afford to maintain the bridge if they give drivers such a reduced price for using it.

“I’m wondering how that’s a benefit to people who depend on the safety and integrity of that bridge if we’re not paying to keep it up,” she said.

Blitz told the East County Times, though, that the Key Bridge currently generates more revenue than is needed to maintain it. And unlike other toll facilities in the state, it does not pool its revenue into a shared fund for use by the Maryland Transportation Administration (MDTA) to maintain its facilities.

In looking at the fiscal analysis of the bill, Del. Jerry Clark expressed concern that the state could lose a significant amount of revenue if the bill is passed.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, MDTA advises that anyone who crosses the harbor at least 34 times a year could save money with the plan. The agency estimates there are 45,480 Key Bridge users who could benefit, and if all purchase the unlimited use plan - which they say is likely - revenues would decrease by $6.4 million in the first year and $8.6 million each year thereafter.

However, the bill would also encourage some users of the Baltimore Harbor and Fort McHenry tunnels to purchase the plan and use the bridge instead, cutting into their revenues as well, according to the analysis.

MDTA estimates the total revenue loss among all facilities could be as high as $26.9 million annually, depending on how many tunnel users purchase the plan and use the bridge instead.

Additionally, the agency estimates the one-time implementation cost for the program would be similar to what it was for the Hatem bridge at $450,000.

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Sixth-District council candidates meet with Greater Parkville residents

Sixth-District council candidates meet with Greater Parkville residents
Sullivan (left), Robertson and Geelhaar aim to challenge Bevins in the general election. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Parkville-area residents had the chance to meet and hear candidates for local offices March 8 when the Greater Parkville Community Council hosted a candidates’ forum for county council and county executive hopefuls.

Each candidate was given five minutes to introduce themselves to the audience and to answer two specific questions as related to the Parkville/Carney/Cub Hill area: what are your priorities for the area and how do you plan to address them’ and how do you plan to keep citizens involved in government decisions that affect the community?

Participating Republicans hoping to challenge incumbent Democrat Cathy Bevins for the Sixth District Baltimore County Council seat included Deb Sullivan, Allen Robertson and Glen Geelhaar.

Bevins, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary, also attended.

Sullivan said she is running because of the “many complaints” she has heard in the community over the years. Her emphasis and experience is in schools, she said. She is a graduate of Overlea High School, as are all three of her children.

She has extensive PTA and fundraising experience, citing raising money to replace outdated tot-lot equipment as one example. She said she learned early on to advocate for the children of the community.

“My first love is the schools, and a lot of trouble is brewing,” she said. “Gangs are a problem, even though that’s hush-hush.”

Third-generation Middle River resident Robertson has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and has extensive experience in the banking and financial management industries.

Throughout many years of community activism, Robertson said he on many occasions testified before council members regarding many community issues and concerns.

“I’m here tonight because they’re not listening,” he told the crowd.

The candidate said he believes in term limitations and open communications and transparency and wants to reduce density in communities.

“We have crowded schools and roads and we have utilities paying us not to use electricity,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

In a theme commonly expressed by candidates throughout the night, Robertson said he is not a politician and has never worked for the government. He promised to stop corruption, look at the laws and govern fairly if elected.

Geelhaar, dressed in a blue T-shirt advocating for a new Lansdowne High School, introduced himself as a Parkville native and said he attended Parkville Elementary and Middle schools before graduating from Parkville High.

While attending Villa Julie College - now Stevenson University - he said one of the first things he noticed about his college experience was the individual attention from educators made possible by smaller class sizes. Reducing public school class sizes is vital to student success, he believes.

Geelhaar said the district is flooded with too much retail and said the glut of new retail construction in the White Marsh area has hurt White Marsh Mall.

He told the crowd he has a son with special needs who does not like to be cooped up in the winter and said he and his family frequent the mall.

“The mall is important to the community,” Geelhaar said. “It’s not just a place to shop, it’s a place to socialize.”

Geelhaar said his political agenda is based on the “three Es:” education, economic development and emergency services. He is concerned about schools with brown water and mold, he would like to attract more businesses and jobs, and he wants to see police officers be able to take patrol cars home at night to create the perception of a greater police presence in neighborhoods.

Bevins introduced herself as the incumbent “already serving the Sixth District,” having been elected for the first time in 2010 and then again in 2014.

“My passion is constituent services,” she said. “That’s what I did before I was elected, working with County Executive Jim Smith.”

She noted her role in acquiring $500,000 for improvements to Double Rock Park in Parkville, and said “$1 million in upgrades coming to this senior center if they aren’t already done,” referring to the center - the former Parkville Elementary School - that hosted the forum.

She spoke of 10,000 new jobs coming to the Crossroads development off MD Route 43 and lauded the recent announcement from Stanley Black and Decker that it intends to relocate to that same area and create a significant number of new jobs.

Bevins referred to herself as a common-sense leader and vowed to continue working on behalf of her constituents if reelected.

The Maryland primary election is June 26, with winners moving on to the general election in November.

PGCC plans to offer another forum, featuring candidates for state offices, in May.

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Empire Resources seeks to bring manufacturing back to Essex site

Empire Resources seeks to bring manufacturing back to Essex site
Empire Resources is located at the intersection of Martin Boulevard and Kelso Drive. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 3/14/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Empire Resources, Inc., has announced their plan to bring metals manufacturing back to the former home of Worthington Steel on Kelso Drive in Essex.

Since acquiring the former steelmaking facility in 2015, the New Jersey-based company has used it mainly as a warehouse and hub for its commercial trucking business. But Empire Resources now plans to covert the building, located at 8911 Kelso Drive, into a “cold rolling” mill for aluminum and steel.

The company anticipates creating 150 jobs through the transition and that it would be a 24-hour operation.

Larry Schmidt, a land use attorney representing Empire Resources, described the cold rolling process in that, after aluminum and metal alloys are produced from the raw materials in what is known as a “hot rolling” mill operation, they are then sent to a cold rolling mill where the product is pressed into rolls or coils.

Schmidt compared the process to using a rolling pin to press out dough for cookies.

“There is some heating in the process as they do that to make it more malleable,” he said. “But it’s basically taking this aluminum product that they get from the hot mill and turning it into sort of a finished aluminum product.”

The metals are then available to be sold and shipped to anyone who makes products from those materials, Schmidt added.

The attorney said the company’s owners do not anticipate any “unusual, inappropriate, offensive” noises or emissions such as smoke from the operation.

The operation would be required - as any other manufacturing plant would be - to get permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment in order to operate. But the company has already obtained permits for similar operations elsewhere in the country, according to Schmidt, and typically there have been no problems in doing so.

“They are always within the parameters of the government’s requirements in terms of noise at the property line or whatever it might be,” he said.

With regard to traffic, Schmidt said it would likely be about the same as it relates to the facility, but possibly less than it is currently. He noted that there could be slightly less truck traffic because the facility would have more employees coming and going across three shifts, rather than being used as a warehouse.

Of the 150 jobs, Schmidt said about 125 would be “pretty high quality” manufacturing and support jobs, including a number of electricians, plant technicians, supervisors and so on. The remaining positions would likely be administrative ones.

“We do see it as a great job creator and sort of a return to a manufacturing base,” he said.

The closest residences to the site are in the Aero Acres community, and that neighborhood’s community organization has already signed off on the proposal, according to Aero Acres Civic Improvement Association President Bob Driscoll.

Related to the project, County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, introduced legislation to the County Council on March 5 which specifies what type of zone will allow a cold rolling mill.

The county’s zoning regulations currently have no specific listing for such a facility or where it would be permitted. Bevins’ bill identifies properties zoned for light manufacturing - which the Essex site is - as the appropriate zone for those facilities.

“There are these land uses that come about where there just is no definition” in the zoning code,” Schmidt said, adding that the zoning regulations identify and allow hot rolling mills, but cold mills are left out.

He used solar facilities as another recent example of holes in the zoning code that were rectified using similar legislation.

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George W. Wilbanks, East County Times' founder, dies at 85

George W. Wilbanks, East County Times' founder, dies at 85

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Marge Neal -

George Washington Wilbanks III, a successful eastern Baltimore County businessman whose ventures ranged from carpet manufacturing, sales and distribution to newspaper publishing, died of kidney failure on Feb. 28. He was 85.

Mr. Wilbanks was the owner and founding publisher of the East County Times.

Born May 1, 1932, in the small rural town of Ramhurst, Ga., Mr. Wilbanks was the son of George W. Wilbanks Jr. and Julie Ledford Wilbanks. He was raised on the family farm, growing vegetables and picking cotton. He graduated from Murray County High School and attended Young Harris College, both in Georgia.

Mr. Wilbanks married his sweetheart and the love of his life, the former Angela Geraldine “Geri” Hunter, in 1951.

Shortly after his wedding, Mr. Wilbanks received a notice to report to the Army Induction Center in Georgia to be examined for military service, according to “Memoirs of a Dreamer,” his autobiography.

In Baltimore at the time for the Christmas holiday, he instead went to a local U.S. Air Force recruiting office and joined that military branch. He served in Japan and France in the 1950s and ‘60s on active duty and as a reservist, according to family members.

After moving to Baltimore, Mr. Wilbanks worked in the carpet business and eventually partnered with Ray Jordan in opening RJ Carpet Distributors Inc. Mr. Wilbanks retired after a 38-year career in the carpet business, but not before embarking on a completely different business adventure.

He was recruited to invest in a group looking to expand the scope of The Herald, a community paper centered in Perry Hall. The investment group was looking to start satellite editions, and Mr. Wilbanks enthusiastically became involved in the Essex effort.

“Me becoming a publisher of a newspaper is about as remote as me becoming the governor of Maryland,” he wrote in his book.

It was not long before the Essex publication was enjoying great success, which Mr. Wilbanks credited to the hiring of newspaper professionals who knew what they were doing. When the unwitting newspaper publisher was given the opportunity to buy the assets of the Essex office, he jumped at the opportunity.

“I did and I have not looked back,” he wrote in his book. The result was the Essex Times, which later was renamed the East County Times to better reflect its coverage area after growing to include communities from Dundalk and Edgemere to Perry Hall and Parkville.

Angie Hess, the paper’s art director, was one of three original employees brought on board to launch the new publication in 1995. She credits Mr. Wilbanks’ passion for the mission and the community it served for making the paper the success it was.

“He had a passion for the paper, a passion for the community and a passion for the people of the community,” Hess said of the publisher. “He believed the community deserved a different voice and he was determined to provide that voice.”

Hess also said Mr. Wilbanks set the paper up for success by allowing employees to do their jobs.

“He was an awesome boss; he never hung over your head,” she said. “He knew you knew what to do and he expected you to just do it.”

Friends and associates of Mr. Wilbanks speak of two traits that he carried throughout his life - his strong and abiding faith in Jesus Christ and his wicked sense of humor.

“I was very close to George and I could sit and listen to him talk for hours and hours,” said Del. Ric Metzgar, a friend of more than 25 years. “I found him to be a very spiritual man and he proudly talked of his love for his savior.”

Mr. Wilbanks regularly attended his childhood church and then fell away from organized religion for a time, according to his autobiography.

One day, while standing on the pier at his waterfront home on the Back River peninsula, Mr. Wilbanks experienced an epiphany of sorts and told his wife they would go to church the following Sunday.

It was August 1979, and the couple chose Back River United Methodist Church because of its proximity to their home.

“I remember him telling me that he told Geri they would sit on the back pew and if they didn’t like the church, they would get up and leave,” Metzgar recalled with a laugh.

It was an anecdote Mr. Wilbanks shared in his book, and, as it turned out, there was no need to sneak out that first day; the church took on an important role in the couple’s lives, with Mr. Wilbanks holding many leadership and committee positions over the years.

In a public show of his faith, Mr. Wilbanks dedicated space on the front page of each weekly edition of the Times for a Bible Verse of the Week, and the Christmas and Easter week editions traditionally have the entire front page devoted to the birth and resurrection, respectively, of Jesus Christ.

As steady as Mr. Wilbanks was in his devotion to his faith and his love for his family, he was well-known for a witty sense of humor and a fascination with the scantily-clad servers of a certain restaurant chain.

“He always said he wanted Hooters girls for his pallbearers,” Metzgar said with a laugh. “And he would have arranged it if he could, but I think Miss Geri would have put a stop to that.”

Mr. Wilbanks was even more descriptive in expressing his funeral preferences.

“I tell everyone that when I die, I want 12 bawling and squalling women, six at the head of the casket and six at the foot, playing those tear-jerking country gospel songs,” he wrote in his book.

Metzgar said he will “deeply, deeply” miss the man he considered a mentor, a brother in Christ and a community leader.

“I visited with him in the hospital not long ago and it was a very memorable last talk,” Metzgar said. “I told him I loved him and that he had been a very good mentor to me politically, and he said, ‘Well, son, you’ve been a mentor to me because you stood by your faith.’ I’ll carry that with me forever and my heart and prayers go out for Geri and the family.”

Metzgar said he will miss the personal prayer sessions he and Mr. Wilbanks shared and the sense of humor that lightened moments and put people at ease.

“And I believe there will be an empty chair at Essex Day this year,” he said.

Outside of his church and businesses, Mr. Wilbanks was involved in many facets of community service. He served as a senator and president of the local JayCees; was a longtime member of the Eastern Baltimore Area Chamber of Commerce and served as president from 1994-96; and was the organizer of several Essex Day festivals. He also managed the campaign office for U.S. Senator Helen Delich Bentley.

In his spare time, Mr. Wilbanks loved a good Western movie, especially those starring John Wayne, enjoyed bluegrass and southern gospel music and loved baseball, according to family members. He played left field while in high school and later for many organized community leagues. He especially loved the Baltimore Orioles and was privileged to know many of the players over the years.

Mr. Wilbanks is survived by his wife and sweetheart of 67 years, Angela G.H. “Geri“ Wilbanks; his daughter, Nancy Morales of Perry Hall; son David H. Wilbanks (Donna) of Panama City Beach, Fla.; four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and a host of extended family members, including many loved nieces and nephews.

In addition to his parents, Mr. Wilbanks was preceded in death by sisters Annie Lou Baggett, Aileen M. Baggett, Ethel Wilbanks and Mary Wilbanks, and brothers Jim, Ed, Marvin and Johnny Wilbanks.

The funeral service was held Monday, March 5, at Back River United Methodist Church, followed by interment at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.

The family asks that those who desire make memorial contributions to Back River United Methodist Church, 544 Back River Neck Road, Essex, MD 21221, or the American Diabetes Association, 800 Wyman Park Drive, Suite 110, Baltimore, MD 21211.

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Resident seeks historical designation of Fort Howard VA property

Resident seeks historical designation of Fort Howard VA property
The VA hospital building is slated for restoration, but the future of the Fort Howard property is still uncertain. File photo.

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A resident of the Fort Howard community has filed a request with Baltimore County to include more than 20 buildings on the federally owned Fort Howard site on the county’s historical landmarks list due to their historical significance.

The Baltimore County landmark nomination form, submitted by Scott Pappas, lists some 21 buildings or locations on the roughly 100-acre property, which is currently owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Those sites were chosen because they are listed as historic buildings in the 2013 Programmatic Agreement for the future development of the property, according to the form.

The county’s Landmarks Preservation Commission had previously denied the Fort Howard buildings’ inclusion on the landmarks list finding that they do not have jurisdiction over federally owned property. However, Pappas appealed that decision and the commission will discuss the issue at its next meeting on March 8, according to commission member Rose Benton.

Benton, the Seventh Councilmanic District’s representative on the commission, said at the North Point Peninsula Council’s March 1 meeting that they use four criteria to determine if a property is historic and worthy of placement on the list. They look at whether or not it is associated with a personality, group event or series of events of historical importance; if it is a distinctive example of a particular architectural style or period; if it is a good example of the work of a noted architect or master builder; and if it is a work of notable artistic merit.

“Not every property has to meet all those criteria, but it should meet a couple of them,” she said.

The nomination form states that the buildings and locations nominated fall under the first two criteria.

Asked if the property would qualify for placement on the county’s landmarks list if it was not owned by the federal government, Benton said she believes it would.

However, she said if the property were going to be landmarked by the county, the VA - and the federal government as a whole - would likely have to give up ownership of it.

“According to the legal research that the landmarks commission has done, Fort Howard is not eligible to be landmarked as a Baltimore County landmark because the county has no jurisdiction over it,” Benton said. “As long as it’s federally owned property, they really have no ability to.”

She pointed out that other historic sites in the county, such as the Hampton Mansion in Towson, were landmarked by the county before they became federal property.

An established “pecking order” for the VA to transfer the property to another person or entity would see the property first offered to agencies involved in homelessness and homeless advocacy, according to NPC President Francis Taylor. If they did not want the property, it would then be offered to Native American groups, then to other federal agencies, then the state, then the county and finally it would be offered for sale to the general public.

Benton doubted “seriously” that the county would be willing to take ownership of the property, especially given the potential for environmental contamination there that has yet to be addressed.

Fort Howard is historically landmarked by the State of Maryland, however. And Benton said last Thursday that she brought up at the commission’s February meeting that even if the county has no jurisdiction over the property, they end up being responsible for the fires, injuries or other incidents that occur on the site.

“The fire department is tired of going over there,” she said. “So even if the county can’t landmark it to protect it, it is landmarked as a Maryland state landmark. Therefore, I think what we may have to do is start harassing the State of Maryland to do something about it.”

A bill introduced by Del. Robin Grammer (R-6) in the General Assembly in Annapolis, if passed, would direct the state to acquire the Fort Howard site should the VA ever offer it up.

Taylor expressed concern, though, that whoever acquires the property will have some heavy expenses immediately after taking over.

“Just as a state taxpayer, I don’t know if that’s what the state wants to take on,” he said. “It would be a great park, it would be a great anything for open space. But it’s not as easy, I don’t think, as it sounds.”

Other community members lamented that the state’s historical designation has so far provided the buildings at Fort Howard with little, if any, protection and were skeptical that a county designation would be any better.

Benton said that, in her opinion, the county is more proactive when it comes to landmarks preservation, but agreed that the county’s pockets are not as deep as the state’s for doing so.

Pappas had not responded by press time to requests for comment regarding his motivations for nominating the Fort Howard buildings or what added protection he believes a county designation would provide. However, he told the Essex-Middle River Civic Council in December that he sought to create a historic district at the site consisting of “all 21 buildings at the veterans facility.”

He said at the time that he and supporters of the effort wanted to name the district after the late Al Clasing Jr. for his fierce advocacy for veterans and for keeping Fort Howard as a place for veterans.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will meet to discuss the issue on Thursday, March 8, at 6 p.m. in Room 104 of the Jefferson Building, 105 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson. The meeting is open to the public.

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MDOT determines Nawrocki misused state credit card while at MTA

MDOT determines Nawrocki misused state credit card while at MTA
The Maryland Department of Transportation found through an audit that Ryan Nawrocki - now a candidate for Baltimore County Council - charged what they determined to be personal expenses to his state credit card while working for the Maryland Transit Administration. Photo courtesy of Mass Transit Magazine.

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Devin Crum -

An audit of corporate purchasing transactions at the Maryland Department of Transportation showed that Ryan Nawrocki, while serving as the director of communications at the Maryland Transit Administration, charged his state-issued credit card for nearly $2,000 in purchases deemed not permitted.

Nawrocki left the state agency in July 2017 and is currently a candidate for Baltimore County Council in the Sixth District.

The audit, which covered the period from June 2016 to June 2017, initially found that $2,307.90 had been improperly charged to the state for things like food and beverage supplies for a Keurig coffee maker, gas for his car, napkins, hand sanitizer, tissues, furniture polish, catering, a hotel stay and a ticket to an awards luncheon.

A letter, obtained by the East County Times, detailing the charges and requesting repayment was sent to Nawrocki in November.

However, MDOT sent a revised letter and bill, also obtained by the Times, to Nawrocki on Monday, March 5, updating the requested repayment total as $471.01. They had determined that $202.82 worth of gas purchases were approved due to the use of a state vehicle during business hours, and $169.07 for catering had been approved previously for a training function.

Additionally, $890 for an Atlanta, Ga., hotel stay and a $575 ticket to an awards luncheon, both purchased for a MTA contractor, had been reimbursed by that contractor, the documents show.

MDOT spokeswoman Erin Henson said the department has not yet received payment from Nawrocki and was awaiting his response before sending the claim to the agency’s debt collection arm.

Nawrocki who lives in Middle River, said he was unaware of the issue and had not received the letters, believing they were likely sent to his former address in Rosedale. But he denied that any of the charges were actually for personal expenses.

“I’ve never made personal [purchases] for myself for napkins or a Keurig or whatever,” he said, noting that he was in charge of the communications and marketing department for MTA. “So obviously we had coffee in the office that guests, when they would come in, could utilize.”

He said his department would also host events, so many of the purchases while in the position were related to those.

Regarding the hotel stay and awards luncheon ticket, Nawrocki said the person for whom those were purchased is a contractor with MTA. They attended a social media conference in Atlanta, he said, on behalf of MTA.

“We went through all the proper protocols and procedures,” he said. “Any time that I ever had any work-related expenditures for travel, not only would they be signed off on by my supervisor who was the MTA chief of staff, but they were also then signed off on by the administrator of the MTA.”

Regarding the luncheon ticket, Nawrocki explained it in much the same way. “Again, the chief of staff and the administrator would have signed off on all that because I never just did anything unilaterally.”

The audit documents state, however, that contractors must pay for their own employees’ expenses.

Nawrocki responded to that by stating that, if that is the case, he should not have received approval in the first place from his two immediate supervisors.

“I was following all the proper protocols which we’re supposed to go through,” he said.

Nawrocki explained away the other charges listed, such as the hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, as things purchased for use by MTA employees around the office.

“None of these are expenses that are outside the ordinary of sort of regular, normal business practices,” he said. “I’m sure if I have a conversation they’ll see that the rest of these are all legitimate business expenses.”

He expressed that the issue could likely have been cleared up easily if he had received the information and letters from MDOT and maintained that he properly followed all of MTA’s required protocols in charging the expenses to the state-issued credit card.

“I submitted to my direct supervisor and then got approval on all travel from my direct supervisor and his supervisor, the administrator,” he said. “That’s the procedure that we were told to do.”

In addition, Nawrocki said the charges had to have been initially approved by the MTA’s finance office as well before they would submit payment for the expenses.

“So there were three different stops along the way who all said yes, I was following the proper protocols,” he said.

Nawrocki said it is unfortunate that even three layers of approval was apparently still not enough to account for things he said were done completely by the books.

“That sort of speaks to what we’re focused on in this campaign and reforming these big bureaucracies,” he said.

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Klausmeier’s pharmacy ‘gag rule’ bill passes through Senate committee

Klausmeier’s pharmacy ‘gag rule’ bill passes through Senate committee
Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative President Vinny DeMarco (left) joined Katie Roberts of the Arthritis Foundation and Tammy Bresnahan of AARP Maryland to testify in support of the "gag rule" bill. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A bill to prohibit the practice of so-called “gag rules” between pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) regarding prescription drugs was given a unanimous favorable review by a state senate committee last Wednesday, Feb. 28, in Annapolis.

Seeing no opposition to the bill and that any potential issues had “already been worked out,” the Senate Finance Committee voted on the bill immediately following its hearing Wednesday evening.

“In essence this bill is, if you picture yourself going into a pharmacy and asking for your prescription and you pay $20 for a co-pay and you walk out of the pharmacy and you realize... if you didn’t use your [insurance], it would only cost you $5,” said Senator Kathy Klausmeier (D-Perry Hall), the bill’s sponsor.

She added that such situations come about because of PBMs making agreements between pharmacies, drug companies and insurance companies that bar pharmacists from telling customers about the price difference.

“This bill prohibits [contracts that bar] pharmacists from telling you that the co-pay is more than the actual cost of the drug,” she said.

“It is common sense,” the senator continued. “That pharmacist should be able to tell you, but right now that doesn’t happen.”

Tammy Bresnahan of AARP Maryland, who testified in support of the bill, said the organization surveyed 1,700 members this year about their legislative priorities and more than 80 percent said prescription drug costs were their main concern.

Katie Roberts, with the Arthritis Foundation, said when budgets are tight families have to make a choice between their prescription drugs, school supplies, a family outing and other tough decisions like putting food on the table.

“We strongly feel that consumers and patients should be able to make informed, educated decisions about their health care costs and be able to make price comparisons at the point of sale,” Roberts said. “We need to allow pharmacists to do their job, not only making the relationships with the customers and the patients with that trust, but also helping them inform consumers on the right decision.”

The bill, being pushed by the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, enjoyed concurring support from the League of Life and Health Insurers of Maryland, MedChi and even the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, a PBM organization.

Michael Johanssen, speaking on behalf of PCMA, said the gag rules are not a widespread practice and the association was comfortable supporting the bill.

“We do think it’s the right thing, and many of our members already do this,” he said.

A staffer from Klausmeier’s office confirmed that all parties concerned with the bill were able to come together on acceptable language for the bill that made everyone happy, for which Johanssen said he was appreciative.

Also heard by the committee last Wednesday, albeit not voted on, was MCHI’s keystone bill  for this year’s legislative session, the proposal to establish a Prescription Drug Cost Review Commission. The commission would be able to set acceptable prices for certain drugs and hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for large price increases on drugs, according to the bill which is sponsored by Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) and co-sponsored by Klausmeier.

Supporters of the commission bill, including the Baltimore City Health Department’s senior medical advisor, Shelly Chu, believe it would build on the success of the price gouging bill which passed last year.

Jane Horbath, with the National Academy for Health Policy, said the bill addresses the transparency of prescription drugs by forcing drug companies to justify their prices and price increases.

Pharmaceutical company representatives, however, testified that the bill could destabilize the market for generic drugs even more than the 2017 law did.

Additionally, they said setting drug prices could decrease access to drugs, especially generic ones, because companies would not be able to make a profit. This, they said, would lead to companies laying off employees and opting not to produce some drugs.

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Miele opens campaign headquarters as state senate race begins to heat up

Miele opens campaign headquarters as state senate race begins to heat up
Del. Christian Miele (center, with scissors), cuts the ribbon on his new campaign headquarters in his run for State Senate. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

With the filing deadline for the 2018 Gubernatorial primary passed, races around the state have taken shape. One of the races with the biggest implications in the state is the District 8 State Senate race, which will see Delegate Christian Miele, a Republican, likely square off against incumbent Kathy Klausmeier, a Democrat who has held the seat since 2002.

The race promises to be tight, with Miele receiving the support of Governor Hogan and Klausmeier entering the race with a massive warchest and four terms’ worth of name recognition.

While Klausmeier has the name recognition and funding, Miele thinks he has an advantage over her.

“She can’t run on her record,” said Miele to a crowd of 70-plus at a ribbon cutting event for his campaign headquarters on Saturday, March 3. “The senator is a nice person, but she has unfortunately voted for bills that hurt working families, small businesses and seniors, like voting for the Rain Tax and voting to increase the Nursing Home Tax Act by nearly 40 percent.”

Klausmeier did not respond by press time to requests for comment for this article.

Miele portrayed his campaign as a “grassroots effort” at the ribbon cutting, highlighting his efforts to increase school safety while tying himself to Hogan.

“This campaign is going to be aspirational,” said Miele. “We have so much to work on in our community,” he said, citing growing concerns about school safety and corruption in the county school system.

Just two weeks ago, Miele unveiled a half-dozen bills aimed at increasing security and curbing violence in schools, as well as adding punitive measures for those who bring firearms onto school grounds.

Miele praised Hogan for his work on job creation,  cutting taxes, environmental protection and school oversight, but noted that while Maryland might be moving in the right direction, he thinks Baltimore County is going the other way.

“Baltimore County currently is moving in the wrong direction, and we’re going to get it back on track because we’re all so proud to be members of this community,” Miele said.

Miele was primarily focused on espousing a message of positivity, but he did take aim at campaign contributions to Klausmeier, specifically stating that an overwhelming majority of the donations have come from outside of her district.

“The senator, after a cursory review of her public campaign financial disclosures, takes over 90 percent of her donations from special interests outside the district,” said Miele.

Recent campaign finance reports show that Klausmeier has $194,327.09 in her coffers, with $116,224.99 being rolled over. In the last filing quarter, she reported raising $111,191.05 and spending a little over $30,000.

Of the $111,191 raised last year, $20,000 came from Political Action Committees, while $5,700 came from candidate slate accounts. Notably, Klausmeier has received a decent chunk of change from health and pharmaceutical groups, including Walgreens ($750),  Rite Aid ($500), UnitedHealth ($1,500) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which has given Klausmeier $2,500 to date. She has also accepted $1,250 from Caremark, the prescription benefit management subsidiary of CVS Health.

For his part, Miele has kept things within his district, by and large, with less than half of his donations coming from outside District 8.

Miele’s financial filings are relatively bland, with the freshman legislator raising a shade over $60,000 last year, most of which came from individual donors.

When it comes to Miele’s filing, what sticks out the most is the inclusion of donations from Max Davidson, a patients’ rights advocate who lobbies on behalf of the medical marijuana industry. Since May of 2016, Davidson has contributed close to $1,000 to Miele, and just before the filing deadline closed at the end of February, Davidson filed in District 8 to run as a Democrat to challenge Klausmeier.

A look at Davidson’s donations over previous years show him donating primarily to Republicans, totaling over $1,700 in donations to them. Those include donations to Miele, Delegate Ric Metzgar, Delegate Kathy Szeliga and others around the state. He has also contributed to Democrats, though the amount contributed to Democrats totals just $392.

A post on the website The Seventh State, run by American University professor David Lublin, portrays
Davidson’s entry into the race as an underhanded bid by Miele and Republicans to “soften” up Klausmeier, a charge Miele and Davidson vehemently denied.

“Rather than being eager to take on his favorite state legislator, Davidson’s candidacy smacks heavily of a Republican effort to weaken Klausmeier.,” Lublin wrote. “Davidson presents no real threat to Klausmeier, but Miele would sure love if he softened her up a bit and forced her to expend resources in the primary.”

When asked about the assertion, Davidson called the implication “disgusting.”

“I’m really taken aback by the level of dirty politics that my opponent is undertaking,” Davidson told the East County Times in a phone interview, flummoxed by the implication. “It’s disgusting what they’re doing and they’re trying to make me look illegitimate.”

Miele shared that frustration, stating that “any insinuation that I am beholden to anyone would be a blatant mischaracterization.” He also added that while he accepted money from Davidson, he voted against many of the measures Davidson advocated for, both this year and in 2017.

Davidson said he considered running in other districts before settling on a run for Klausmeier’s seat, but said a chance at the District 8 seat was appealing because it was not a crowded race and it offered the best opportunity to bring about progressive change.

In a conversation with Davidson, he made it clear that he strongly dislikes Klausmeier, saying she “goes against every core tenet I believe in.” But allegations of a plot to undermine Klausmeier via a plant in the primary have no standing, he said.

“I’m disappointed that my opponent’s party is already spreading false information,” said Miele. “I want to run on the issues and I believe that the Annapolis machine is only doing this because she can’t run on her voting record.”

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Overdose death of local restaurant worker inspires new path of service for Perry Hall man

Overdose death of local restaurant worker inspires new path of service for Perry Hall man
John Torsch with a memorial to his brother, Daniel, who died of a heroin overdose. Torsch is working to make the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, and training on how to use it, more readily available to those who need it most. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 3/7/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Perry Hall resident John Torsch lost his brother, Dan, in December 2010 to the opioid overdose epidemic sweeping the nation.

His coping mechanisms to deal with that loss have run the gamut, from resorting to his own methods of self-medication to selling all of his belongings and traveling the world as a free spirit.

“My brother died Dec. 3, 2010,” he said. “And he came to me in a dream in March of 2011 and told me that if I continued on the path I was on, I was going to die.”

John, who had been working with his mother, Toni, to start a foundation in his brother’s name, took the message from his brother as a sign to get his act together. In addition to creating the Daniel Carl Torsch Foundation, the mother and son also started a local chapter of Grief Recovery After Substance Abuse (GRASP).

Always a traveler and an adventurer, John “liquidated his life” by selling all of his belongings. He took the sale proceeds and his savings, minus a “sizable chunk” donated to the foundation, which had just received its nonprofit certification, and hit the globe.

After experiencing adventures that ranged from treasure hunting to serving as personal chef to Richie Booker, Bob Marley’s brother - and living in Marley’s house for a couple of months - John ended the three-year-long wanderlust driven by grief and returned home.

Wearing a variety of hats, John works as a personal chef and spends many hours each week on foundation efforts, including working one-on-one with addicts in recovery. The organization exists to combat drug addiction through prevention, treatment and recovery.

A recent overdose death has carved out a new pathway of service for John to follow.

“Locally, we had a cook die of an overdose in the bathroom of a local restaurant,” he said. “And that got me to thinking about a whole set of people we need to reach in regard to the awareness and availability of Narcan.”

Toni and John Torsch have been instrumental in lobbying state elected leaders to create laws that make it easier to get Narcan - the trade name for naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose - into the hands of those who need it most.

Before laws changed, Narcan could only be prescribed to addicts, according to Toni, who said that made no sense, because that would mean the only person who knew how to use the antidote was unconscious.

Thanks to a statewide standing order signed by Howard Haft, a physician and deputy secretary of Public Health Services with the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, pharmacists can now prescribe Narcan “to any individual who may be at risk of opioid overdose or in a position to assist someone experiencing an opioid overdose,” according to the order.

A person-specific paper or electronic prescription is not required to get the drug, nor is any specific training or education, according to the standing order.

Aside from reversing overdose symptoms, Narcan has no other benefit or dangerous effects. If it is administered to someone not suffering from an overdose, it causes no damage, and it cannot be misused by addicts in search of a high because it does not have those properties, according to John.

Believing that drug use is prevalent among bar and restaurant workers, John is offering free training on the administration of Narcan, as well as donating doses of the life-saving drug to local businesses, including convenience stores and other retail outlets.

“The hospitality industry has such a problem with substance abuse,” John said. “I don’t want that segment of our community neglected so I am specifically reaching out to make this offer.”

Owners of local businesses interested in having the Torsches provide training and a Narcan kit can reach John through email at or by phone at 410-847-4247.

“I often wonder how it would have been if Narcan had been available for my bother,” John said. “He’d probably be here if we had had access to it. But maybe I can prevent someone else from losing a brother.”

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Displaced food bank hopes to put down roots at Tradepoint Atlantic

Displaced food bank hopes to put down roots at Tradepoint Atlantic
Tradepoint Atlantic’s Fitzell Room offers plenty of space to operate the food bank if approved, as well as artifacts on display from the days of steelmaking at the site. Photo courtesy of Tradepoint Atlantic.

(Updated 2/28/18)

- By Marge Neal -

A food bank that has served Greater Dundalk residents, including displaced steelworkers, for several years has been homeless since the end of January.

But thanks to the generosity of Tradepoint Atlantic officials, the food assistance program that previously operated out of the Steelworkers Local 9477 hall at 550 Dundalk Avenue hopes to be back in operation sometime this month.

The former steelworkers union property was sold recently, and the new owner told food bank workers on Jan. 22 they “absolutely could not continue using the building,” according to food bank coordinator Melody Elste.

The food distribution is organized by Laughing Wolfe Resources, a non-profit mobile food bank that partners with the Maryland Food Bank to serve residents in need, according to Elste.

The program was started to provide food assistance to Dundalk-area residents as steelworkers were laid off at the Sparrows Point steel plant and other businesses suffered trickle-down damage as a result of the diminished steel workforce, Elste said.

Elste is concerned about the misconception that the food bank was a steelworker-created program designed to provide food only for displaced steel industry employees.

“You would never start a food bank just to serve a certain group of people,” she told the East County Times. “This program was started through Laughing Wolfe Resources to serve the entire community and we used the steelworkers’ hall because the union was still active at the time.”

Elste said she has a “great group of volunteers,” which includes many retired steelworkers, and they are all anxious to get back to work.

“My volunteers are ready,” she said.
“They call and ask me every week if we have a new place to meet yet.”

The food program is open to anyone in need, according to Elste.

With the program that distributes about 1,400 pounds of food monthly to 500 families - about 1,200 individuals - in danger of folding, Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s vice president of corporate affairs, reached out to program officials and offered a new home.

“We heard they were being displaced and it kinda bothered us a little bit,” Tomarchio told the Times. “So we offered space and are bringing the food bank back to its rightful home.”

Tradepoint Atlantic is redeveloping the 3,100-acre former steel mill property that was home to Bethlehem Steel and its successors for more than a century.

Tradepoint has offered the group the use of the Fitzell Room, a large room in the main office building already used for many community-oriented events, including semi-annual open houses. It also houses several displays of Bethlehem Steel artifacts that have been preserved.

The company will offer the room for the regular distributions, as well as a storage space if needed to store nonperishable food items from one distribution to the next, according to Tomarchio.

“We saw am immediate need and reached out,” Tomarchio said. “We wanted to take care of that need.”

The Tradepoint representative said he met with food bank organizers Feb. 22 to discuss their needs and what Tradepoint could offer to meet those needs.

“We can accommodate the food distributions and even offer storage space for any leftover food that would need to be stored until the next distribution,” Tomarchio said. “So if our offer meets their needs, they have a new home.”

After an 18-month hiatus, the food bank started operating again last October and distributed food once a month through November and twice a month in December and January before being forced out of business in February, according to Elste.

“If all goes right and the Maryland Food Bank approves the new place, we’ll be up and running and ready to go in March,” she said. “The plan is to give out food twice a month.”

A Maryland Food Bank official toured and inspected the proffered space on Monday, Feb. 26, according to Elste. Final details regarding the partnership with Tradepoint are being worked out and will be available soon.

Joanna Warner, director of communications for the MFB, wrote in an email to the Times on Tuesday that “it looks like we’re still working on this with our partner and don’t have any updates we’re prepared to share at this time.”

Area residents in need of food assistance can keep abreast of progress by following the Laughing Wolfe Resources Inc. Facebook page.

“We always keep our Facebook page updated with distribution dates,” Elste said.

If the move is approved, and she believes it will be, Elste said Laughing Wolfe will probably just schedule one food distribution this month.

“We’ll do a trial run to get back in the system of running it,” she said Tuesday. “With a new location, we’ll probably have a few kinks to work out and develop a new routine for our volunteers.”

It will probably take some time to get word out about the new location and Elste said she wants to be sure enough people show up to take advantage of the food delivery.

“We should be back to two times a month by April,” she said.

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County to expand rat eradication program into five more east-side neighborhoods

County to expand rat eradication program into five more east-side neighborhoods
Bus loads of residents from Baltimore County's east-side neighborhoods

(Updated 2/28/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County announced last Thursday, Feb. 22 that it plans to expand its rat eradication pilot program into 10 new neighborhoods, bringing the total around the county to 23.

Of those, 16 neighborhoods - including five new - are on the east side and will begin receiving intensive rat extermination treatments, an extra trash pickup each week and education outreach efforts to help cut down the rat population beginning in July.

First announced last spring, the program began last summer for an eight-week period in 13 neighborhoods, including Bear Creek, Berkshire, Charlesmont, Colgate, Eastfield/Stanbrook, Eastwood and West Inverness in Dundalk; Middlesex in Essex; Hawthorne in Middle River; and Holland Hills in Rosedale.

At the end of that period the program was immediately renewed for an additional eight weeks “for greater effectiveness,” according to county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler, picking up Dundalk’s North Point Village in the process.

The county has spent $261,000 on extermination efforts and $853,000 on additional trash collections in the initial pilot areas, Kobler said. They anticipate spending $155,000 for extermination and $453,000 on extra trash collections for the new group, which on the east side includes Ballard Gardens in Middle River, Country Ridge and Foxcroft in Essex, and St. Helena and Yorkway/Cornwall in Dundalk.

The rat eradication effort also involves Code Enforcement and Public Works representatives working with community groups to increase education and to sponsor community clean-ups in order to reduce trash and debris that can provide a food source and harborage for rats, according to the county press release announcing the program’s expansion.

“People shouldn’t have to live among rats and the feedback we’re getting is overwhelmingly positive that our enhanced comprehensive approach is working well in these targeted areas,” County Executive Kevin Kamenetz stated in the release. “I commend the communities in the pilot program for their partnership in helping us get the word out to people about what they can do to deter rats and prevent them from returning.”

Each of the neighborhoods included in the program was chosen based on county code enforcement officers’ observations, coupled with analysis of rat-related complaints and data, Kobler explained. And while specific figures were not available by press time, she said they have measured the success of the program in than Code Enforcement has seen “markedly fewer” complaints related to rats and “significantly less” evidence of rat infestation in the targeted neighborhoods.

Cliff O’Connell, a leader in the multi-community push to get the county to do more about rats, told the East County Times he thinks the program has worked well so far.

“It’s a success, but there’s still a lot to do,” he said. “Compared to what we were doing before, it’s a success.”

O’Connell noted that people will still see some rats even after treatment, just hopefully with much less frequency.

“If you drive a typical alley [at night], instead of seeing 100 rats running around, you might see five or six here and there,” he said.

O’Connell said the second weekly trash pickup has had a particularly positive impact, working just as well as the exterminations themselves.

“What we still see a lot are people with poor trashcan habits,” he said. “So instead of that trash sitting there for seven days with no lid on it or lying on the ground, hopefully it’s only sitting there three days.”

County Council members Cathy Bevins (D-6) and Todd Crandell (R-7), who together represent all of the communities chosen on the east side, each praised the program’s effectiveness as well.

“Over the past year we have seen a real and tangible effect that the Rat Eradication Program has had on the original 13 communities,” Bevins said. “The fact that the program is being expanded speaks to its success and I look forward to more positive results.” said Bevins.

Crandell echoed those sentiments, stating, “The cost of this program was over $1 million, but it worked... The program was successful and significantly reduced the rodent population in our long-suffering neighborhoods.”

Doug Anderson, senior legislative aide to Crandell, added, “I can honestly say that we’ve put more resources into [addressing rat complaints] in three years than anything else.”

Crandell cautioned, though, that no amount of eradication efforts will work without citizen participation in treating trash and pet waste properly and encouraged residents to help educate their neighbors.

O’Connell, too, said community education is an important piece of the puzzle - one in which he felt the program is lacking.

“The education part of it is where it’s still weak in my opinion,” he said, adding that he would like to see more outreach via public announcements on television, radio or in newspapers.

O’Connell said neighborhoods with strong community organizations and leaders have done well to get the information out to their residents. But he is concerned that some of those chosen so far for the program do not have strong community networks.

“A community that doesn’t have a strong community leader that’s not really doing the job, or a community that has no community association at all, they’re really uneducated on what’s going on,” he said. “I know some of those communities [in the expansion] don’t have community associations.”

He said even though the exterminators hang informational flyers on door handles in the neighborhoods they treat, “it just doesn’t contain enough material to really educate these people.”

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Council members talk economic development with chamber of commerce

Council members talk economic development with chamber of commerce
Councilmembers Cathy Bevins (left), David Marks and Todd Crandell discussed economic development occurring in their districts. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 2/28/18)

- By Devin Crum -

East-side Baltimore County Council representatives focused heavily on economic development and redevelopment happening in their districts at a luncheon with the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday, Feb. 21, touting it as good for the county and its citizens.

The three councilmembers in attendance - Todd Crandell (R-7), Cathy Bevins (D-6) and David Marks (R-5) - were in agreement that, while they would all be discussing development, they could still all talk about different things because there is so much going on.

Crandell: Essex primed for reinvestment
Although Crandell represents both Dundalk and Essex, he focused more on Essex for the purposes of the luncheon because of his audience, which chiefly focuses on Essex, Middle River and White Marsh.

In particular, he praised the work of the group known as the Eastern Baltimore County Task Force, a sub-committee of the chamber which has taken on the task of sprucing up Essex to make it a more desirable place to live and work.

Although past efforts to revitalize Essex’s business core have failed to bear fruit, Crandell sees more promise in this one.

“This isn’t the same elephant,” he said of the revitalization effort. “There were efforts made in the past to revitalize the business corridor of Eastern Avenue and Eastern Boulevard [in Essex]. And for whatever reason - timing, lack of resources, whatever - it didn’t quite work out.”

Crandell praised the task force as well for starting small and working to improve the image of Essex through aesthetics first and “at least make it look investable.”

The councilman noted that, two weeks ago, Governor Larry Hogan held a cabinet meeting with state department heads in Baltimore County. Following that meeting, task force members gave key cabinet members, including Secretary of Housing and Community Development Ken Holt, a tour of the area and the issues it is facing.

Crandell said Holt and other state officials expressed support during that tour for at least a portion of Essex to be designated as a “Sustainable Community.”

“That Sustainable Community designation will enable this task force to go after certain grants for things like streetscapes, beautification efforts or Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative grants,” he said.

He affirmed that the application for that designation is underway with the cooperation of the county’s Department of Planning, and they are hoping to meet an April 6 deadline for filing it.

Echoing the sentiments of task force member and longtime Essex business owner Sam Weaver, Crandell noted that Essex is right in the middle of the large-scale economic development and redevelopment occurring along Route 43 in Middle River and at Tradepoint Atlantic on Sparrows Point.

“So the timing is right to attract new investment to our business corridor on Eastern Avenue,” he said. “It just makes sense.”

Adding to that, Crandell mentioned that the night prior to the luncheon, he had introduced the planned unit development (PUD) resoultion to allow the county’s review of the proposed housing development at the Sparrows Point Country Club in Dundalk.

The plan proposes to build about 300 homes in a mixture of townhouses, waterfront villas and single-family homes ranging from about $250,000 - $600,000.

The project has been talked about for a long time, Crandell said. “And we’re probably two years, at least, away from putting shovels in the ground, but I view this as the residential component to what Tradepoint is doing.”

He said the development would improve the Seventh District’s housing stock, as well as help support Tradepoint Atlantic’s planned retail complex.

Bevins marketing Middle River
Councilwoman Bevins said there has been a lot of change the last few years in the Sixth District. But not everyone likes change, so she has worked hard to strike a good balance with development.

In particular, she said she has been supportive of both big and small business during her two terms on the County Council.

“You have to have strong businesses or your communities fail,” she said.

However, Bevins emphasized the importance of smart growth, preserving smaller, older communities and making sure infrastructure is maintained and updated to accommodate new communities.

The councilwoman also said the council has put a lot of effort into supporting economic development grants for businesses in the county, not just for the big businesses like Amazon or Under Armour, but also for smaller businesses such as a tea shop within the Avenue at White Marsh.

“They probably wouldn’t be there without the grants,” Bevins said of the tea business.

She praised the Avenue at White Marsh as well for investing in and reinventing itself to bring in new customers and keep previous customers coming back.

Regarding Greenleigh at Crossroads, Bevins said 2017 was a great year for the massive mixed-use development on Route 43 in Middle River, but 2018 will be even better.

In particular, she pointed to the recent announcement that Stanley Black and Decker has decided to lease a new building there, bringing in 200 existing jobs and planning to create 400 new ones.

Bevins said the people working those jobs - and the thousands of other high-paying jobs in the corridor - will patronize restaurants and other businesses already in the area and help to support the local economy.

She said while they are trying to use Route 43 to market Middle River, build new communities there and bring in new business, they are taking care to plan it out the right way and get input from all the relevant stakeholders.

“We’re making sure that what happened in Perry Hall, and how all that development just all of a sudden was so overwhelming and we haven’t been able to catch up with our schools and our infrastructure, we don’t want that to happen in Middle River,” she said.

Marks on the ‘challenge’ of redevelopment
Councilman Marks began by saying that Baltimore County is a great, but “challenging” county to represent.

Speaking on development, particularly in places within the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL), Marks said they must be creative.

Baltimore County created the URDL in the mid-1960s as a way to separate the more densely developed areas from the green, rural ones. Marks held this as good environmental as well as economic policy, serving to strengthen the county’s agricultural base.

But because the URDL restricts development outside it, he said, the county is running out of land to develop inside it. As a result, there is pressure to find ways to redevelop and revitalize older communities and business centers within the URDL.

Marks pointed to the Joppa Road corridor - the spine of the Fifth District - as an example of an area that needs to be redeveloped to expand the county’s tax base and to improve the neighborhoods along it.

Governmentally, Baltimore County is a very conservative county, he said, and people expect it to be governed with efficiency. He added that he thinks people are proud of the fact that the county’s tax rate has not been raised in nearly three decades.

“But because we are running out of land to develop, it requires us to be very creative and imaginative as we go forward into the future,” he said.

School overcrowding is an issue in all three east-side council districts, and indeed throughout the county.

Marks said he is especially cognizant of school overcrowding. As a result, he has supported development projects such as the Brightview Perry Hall senior living facility and certain types of development in the Honeygo area to attract older residents rather that younger ones with children that could further burden area schools.

He noted, of course, the two new elementary schools and the new middle school all slated to open within the next three years to serve his constituents as well as Bevins’.

“These are important to business and property owners because so many people look to the schools when they move into an area,” Marks said. “And it represents a lot of investment during the time when we haven’t raised the tax rate.”

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BCPS hears from more angry stakeholders at SEAC meeting

BCPS hears from more angry stakeholders at SEAC meeting
An embattled George Roberts (right) also faced angry parents in 2011 while principal of Perry Hall High School for his decision to end the PHHS boys' soccer team's post season prematurely as penalty for a controversial post-game celebration. File photo.

(Updated 2/28/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Dozens of Baltimore County Public School stakeholders - students, parents and teachers - showed up at Oliver Beach Elementary School in Middle River on Monday, Feb. 26, to express their displeasure with the school system’s handling of discipline issues.

Many showed up angry and left feeling the same way.

“This is B.S.,” said Valerie McDonough, wife of Delegate Pat McDonough (R-7), during a part of a presentation on the school system’s use of restorative practices.

The meeting with stakeholders at Oliver Beach was part of the school system’s outreach on school safety, discipline and restorative measures that have been taking place at education advisory council meetings in all four zones of the county over the month of February, including a Northeast Area Education Advisory Council (NEAC) meeting at Joppa View Elementary School that took place on Feb. 12.

At that NEAC meeting, Community Superintendent George Roberts and other BCPS administrators were also confronted with a harsh crowd, as stakeholders alleged that incidents of violence and bullying were being swept under the rug while pushing back on restorative practice measures.
Those same viewpoints were shared at Monday night’s meeting in Middle River.

“We just had this meeting two weeks ago five miles up the road at Joppa View Elementary, and we’re hearing a lot of the same issues,” said Roberts.

Those issues include lack of communication with parents, sustained bullying and the perception that lax disciplinary measures see troublesome students return to classrooms only to continue disruptive behavior.

Things took an ugly turn when Roberts tried getting stakeholders to jot their concerns and potential solutions on sheets of paper - something BCPS has done at each of the meetings in order to catalogue feedback.

When questioned about what could be done now to help curb disciplinary issues, Roberts tried to segue into a segment where parents jot down their concerns and proposed solutions on a sheet of paper so that BCPS can catalogue and cross-reference the concerns of the SEAC with the other councils around the county.

“We want to hear from you, in regard to where are the problems,” said Roberts, listing off issues that had been raised earlier in the meeting.

“You already know that’s going on,” replied one member of the crowd, slamming his fists. “Tell us what you’re doing about it.”

Roberts maintained that they had outlined some of what they are doing, referencing restorative measures such as circling up and discussing the problem between students, that are supposed to help re-acclimate a child back into the classroom after being removed for a disciplinary reason.

At that point, multiple parents fed up with the responses from BCPS officials walked out, saying they were “fed up with the lip service.”

The East County Times reached out to Roberts for comment on Tuesday, but was told he was in meetings all afternoon.

While BCPS officials struggle to get ahold of the disciplinary issues that plague the system, legislators in Annapolis have pressed for better oversight.

Two weeks ago Delegate Kathy Szeliga pressed Interim Superintendent Verletta White on an alleged firearm incident at Golden Ring Middle School.

Last Friday, at the weekly Baltimore County House Delegation meeting in Annapolis, Delegate Bob Long re-introduced a bill he proposed last year which would see active assailant event training take place at schools in the county.

The bill would require the school system to comply with guidelines established by the Department of Homeland Security or be consistent with those measures, with records for accountability being sent to the superintendent’s office and the board of education.

“It’s a shame we have to be having this discussion, but it’s the reality now,” said Long, citing the recent school shooting in Florida and multiple incidents that have taken place in county schools involving students and replica guns.

When Delegate Susan Aumann (R-42B) raised concerns about the delegation overstepping their boundaries in what should be a local issue, Szeliga pointedly responded that the board of education was “nonresponsive.”

The struggle between legislators to determine their role in oversight of what is a county issue will continue next week when Delegate Robin Grammer’s bill requiring the Office of Legislative Audits to conduct a special comprehensive audit of BCPS goes before the House Appropriations committee on March 8. The bill, HB0428, would see an audit of the school system’s contracts and procurement process, with a focus on technology contracts.

The Sixth District Delegation is also planning to host a town hall on discipline issues in school later this month, though a date and time have yet to be determined.

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Dundalk’s Washington joins Seventh District school board race

Dundalk’s Washington joins Seventh District school board race

(Updated 2/28/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The race is on for the Seventh Councilmanic District’s Board of Education seat with the recent entry of two additional candidates.

Dundalk resident Eric Washington, a longtime Community College of Baltimore County employee, filed Friday morning, Feb. 23, to make it a two-person race, then was joined that afternoon by Essex resident Rod McMillion, the athletic director at Chesapeake High School. The two men join Dundalk resident Will Feuer, who filed Jan. 5, in the race. By publication time, the race could be even more crowded since candidates had until 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, to file.

Washington, who is a student conduct officer at CCBC, considers the new elected school board seat an opportunity that suits his experience and passion.

“For me, it’s a natural fit,” he said. “Most of my professional life has been spent in the academic world and both of my sons are products of Baltimore County Public Schools.”

One son is an Eastern Technical High School graduate now enrolled at Bowie State University and the other is a junior at Eastern Tech.

“I know the school system from top to bottom,” he said.

Professionally, Washington was a high school recruiter for CCBC before taking his current position, and as a volunteer has been involved in parent-teacher associations since his children started school. He has also worked as a substitute teacher within the system.

Additionally, Washington serves on the Board of Directors at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and sits on its quality assurance committee.

In his current capacity at CCBC, he administers the college’s Code of Conduct and addresses student cheating, discipline problems and other violations of academic ethics.

The 15-year CCBC employee worked on the Dundalk campus as a recruiter and relocated to the Essex campus when he assumed his current position.

The New York native received his bachelor’s degree in communications from that state’s Hunter College. He went on to earn a master’s degree in management from what was then called the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

Between his own pursuit of education and his 20 years of experience in one capacity or another in support of BCPS, Washington believes he is in a perfect position to provide a “bigger voice for the people of the community.”

With a nod to a growing national problem, Washington said student safety is a top concern of his.

“I’ll admit that I don’t know what their policies are, and I don’t know what kind of drills are being done, but I do know there are so many students who are afraid to go to school,” he said. “And that just shouldn’t be the case.”

Washington said he is against arming teachers and cited an example of an armed teacher in Utah who, while using a restroom, accidentally discharged the weapon.

“There’s just too much that can go wrong if teachers are carrying weapons,” Washington said. “That is not the solution.”

The nationally-implemented Common Core curriculum is still a concern to Washington, who believes the academic program was “forced down their throats with no communication.”

Washington believes the proposal could have been handled differently and that educators should have had more of a say in the decision.

The school board candidate is also concerned about the allocation and administration of system funding and wants to make sure resources are going where they need to go.

“This is a nonpartisan situation,” Washington said. “This is not about Democrats, not about Republicans; this is about educating our children to be successful and working together toward that goal.”

Washington, who ran for the House of Delegates in the Sixth Legislative District in 2014 but failed to make it out of the primary election, believes he has name recognition in the councilmanic district and will run a grassroots campaign to spread his message.

Earlier in the filing period, Washington filed to run for a seat on the Democratic State Central Committee representing the Sixth Legislative District but withdrew from that race the day he filed his school board candidacy.

“I just didn’t want to sit on the sidelines any longer,” Washington said of the opportunity to work on the school board. “I care about my community and see this as opportunity to serve that community with skills and experience that fit the need.”

With three candidates running for the district’s school board seat, their names will appear on the  ballot of the primary election set for June 26.

The top two candidates will advance to the general election in November.

Any district with two for fewer candidates will automatically advance to the general election.

Washington said he is ready for the challenge and excited to share his message with voters.

“This is a position that literally affects students’ lives and I believe that, with my knowledge of and experience with the school system, I have the skills and the desire to be a voice for our community.”

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At town hall, Delegate Miele unveils half a dozen bills aimed at ensuring school safety

At town hall, Delegate Miele unveils half a dozen bills aimed at ensuring school safety
Delegate Christian Miele (standing) met with constituents and BCPS stakeholders for about three hours on Feb. 15 to discuss concerns about disciplinary issues in county schools. The first-term delegate also unveiled a legislative package aimed at curbing these issues. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 2/21/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Concerned parents, teachers and students showed up en masse to take part in Delegate Christian Miele’s town hall on school safety last Thursday, Feb. 15, at Perry Hall High School, just over a month after a Perry Hall student was arrested for brandishing an air-soft rifle in the school’s parking lot.

While the town hall was called in light of the Perry Hall incident and alleged ongoing disciplinary issues in Baltimore County Public Schools, it fell in the shadow of two other major incidents. The day before the town hall, 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Florida. The day of the town hall, Loch Raven High School was on lockdown after a student brought what turned out to be a pellet gun into the school.

“I’m mad, I’m scared and I’m concerned,” said Darlene Graves, parent of a PHHS student. “I’m concerned because these kids are growing up thinking this is normal.”

At the town hall, Miele unveiled a half-dozen bills aimed at helping curb school violence and disciplinary issues. The proposed legislation looks at a slew of issues from transportation safety and drug awareness to creating an anti-bullying task force and new punitive measures - including revoking a person’s driver’s license for upwards of three years - for bringing a weapon to school.

Miele thanked the crowd of over 100 for attending, stressing that change cannot be made “unilaterally” by politicians. From there he dove into HB1600, which deals with the anti-bullying task force.

“What this bill is designed to do is create a task force comprised of all the relevant stakeholders in our education community,” Miele said.

The bill would require a bipartisan committee to be established and comprised of four members of the General Assembly, multiple BCPS administrators, board of education representatives, principals, teachers and PTA members.

The bill, which has unanimous support in the Baltimore County House Delegation, would charge the task force with studying current disciplinary actions for students found responsible for violations of the Baltimore County Public Schools’ bullying policy, and studying the range of disciplinary sanctions for those violations.

“What we’re aiming at is uniformity,” said Miele. “A lot of parents feel that some sanctions are a little bit too lenient, some are a little more severe. What we’re really driving at is making sure that uniform disciplinary policy is applied across Baltimore County.”

The bill would also charge the task force with determings whether creating a county-wide anti-bulying campaign is necessary.

“This is sort of civility training, golden-rule type training,” said Miele. “We all want a good education for our kids, but after what happened in Florida, after a gun was brought to this campus, after a gun was brought to Loch Raven... safety is the most important thing. Kids can’t focus on learning if they’re too worried about whether or not they’re physically safe, or whether or not they’re going to be emotionally abused by their classmates.”

The task force will also look at the possibility of expanding e-learning to more egregious and repeat offenders. Current policy does not allow for a student to be expelled outright. Instead, the child is either placed in an alternative school for up to the remainder of the year or they are placed in home and hospital learning. But, according to Miele, some offenders have already been given too many chances.

“We don’t want these kids to get kicked out of the system and ruin their life; that’s not our goal,” he said. “But if they demonstrate over a period of time that they’re just not equipped to behave in a way that’s conducive to everybody else’s learning... then they probably don’t belong in a general student population and we need to explore what that looks like - whether or not we’re going to expand our e-learning abilities so they can get their degree online.”

While Miele would like the anti-bullying task force to make disciplinary recommendations, the first-term delegate already has one punitive measure in mind - revoking an offender’s driver’s license.

The proposed legislation, HB 1474, would require the Motor Vehicle Administration to revoke a person’s driver’s license or privilege for one to three years if the person is convicted of carrying or possessing a firearm on school property under certain circumstances. While bringing a firearm or replica onto school grounds is already illegal, Miele thinks there needs to be more of a disincentive.

“We have to be innovative and creative in how we are going to think about solutions, and how we’re going to think about deterrents to disincentivize kids from bringing firearms to school,” he said.

While Miele and other lawmakers look to come up with new solutions, some parents are calling for more drastic measures.

“We had a shooting at this school, but what have we done to make this not happen here again?” Graves asked. “Maybe we need metal detectors. D.C. has metal detectors in their schools.”

While disciplinary issues continue to plague BCPS, many - including parents, board of education members, teachers and legislators - have called for an examination of students being sent to county schools while residing in the city. Before addressing his transportation safety issues, Miele threw cold water on the notion that the ills of BCPS should be put on the shoulders of purported city students illegally attending county schools.

Addressing comments on a social media post regarding the recent Perry Hall gun incident, Miele said that accusations that offenders were from outside the Perry Hall area were not factual, noting that every student involved in the incident except one lives in the Perry Hall area.

“Our community values are such that every Baltimore County resident and parent has the same dreams for their kids,” he said in an impassioned aside.

On March 2, the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee will hold a second hearing on the driver’s license revocation bill at 1 p.m. On March 9, Miele has a triple-header in front of the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee will hold hearings on the anti-bullying task force bill, a new drug awareness campaign bill and a bill aimed at punishing the falsification of residency records for the purpose of attending county schools with a fine.

Other area legislators have bills pertaining to BCPS slated for upcoming hearings. Delegate Robin Grammer (R-7) has a hearing scheduled on March 8 in front of the House Appropriations Committee for his bill seeking to enact a legislative audit of BCPS. Delegate Bob Long (R-6) also has legislation being considered. Long has been pushing his bill, requiring active assailant training and drills at schools, since 2016. That hearing will also be held on March 2.

“This is a good bill that ensures we continue to work together, and this provides accountability to the School Board,” said Long. “We must do everything in our power to ensure the safety of our schools and to provide a safe learning environment.”

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With one bus stop problem solved, Dundalk activist hopes to tackle others

With one bus stop problem solved, Dundalk activist hopes to tackle others
The area where the benches and trash cans were placed has remained mostly clean thanks to the efforts of Angel Ball and bus riders. Photo courtesy of Angel Ball.

(Updated 2/21/18)

- By Marge Neal -

To say Angel Ball is frustrated is an understatement.

The Dunmanway Apartments property manager, known in the Dundalk community for tackling problems and getting things done, is doing her part to eliminate what many have long considered to be neighborhood eyesores: trashy, unkempt public bus stops.

And while she has a solution that many are willing to pitch in for, and she has the Maryland Transit Administration’s blessing and support, she believes she is being ignored by perhaps the most important partner in the project - Baltimore County.

Ball’s involvement in the issue began with the county’s removal of two benches and a trash can at the bus stop at the corner of Dunmanway and Dunran Road, in front of the apartment complex. Ball had the benches built and installed and had a staff member empty the trash can three times a week.

Without any prior communication to Ball, a county Bureau of Highways crew picked up the benches and trash can on Jan. 29. With a little bit of detective work, Ball tracked down the benches and was told they would be returned that afternoon. When that did not happen, she took her case to social media, wondering why the county would take away something designed to keep the neighborhood clean and bus rider-friendly.

County officials clammed up, but MTA’s Janeen Kuser reached out to Ball and told her about the transit system’s Adopt a Stop program, which encourages individuals, businesses, schools and other organizations to adopt a local bus stop. The program is similar to the state’s Adopt a Highway program, according to Kuser.

The two women met on Feb. 8 to discuss the bus stop adoption program, through which MTA provides trash bags, gloves, cleaning tools and trash grabbers to volunteer crews that take responsibility for a particular stop.

Kuser told the East County Times she was excited about working with Ball and the potential for bus stop adoptions throughout Dundalk.

“What Angel is doing is amazing and I will do whatever I can to help her,” she said. “But we don’t own the land where bus stops are located - the local jurisdiction does - so we will need the county’s approval to move forward.”

The program has few rules, according to Kuser.

“We ask that they perform bi-weekly cleanups and let us know of any problems we need to take care of,” she said. “Like if a mattress or something big were to be dumped at a stop, we would pick that up, the volunteers wouldn’t be responsible for that. And we discourage picking up drug paraphernalia.”

Ball said she is frustrated that, while she is working with state officials and fielding calls and messages from residents ready to volunteer for the program, Baltimore County officials have seemingly turned a deaf ear, first to her specific problem and then to her request for a meeting to discuss the program on a bigger scale.

While Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell did not personally communicate with Ball, he posted this comment to Facebook on Jan. 30 after she publicly complained about her benches being removed: “After receiving the initial complaint yesterday about the trash can and benches being removed at Dunmanway and Dunran, I am pleased to report that a resolution to the issue is coming together and I want to thank all those involved.”

When that comment was posted, Ball had not yet been informed of any pending resolution and didn’t have any idea who “all those involved” were, but she knew she was not among them.

“How can he be working on a resolution to my problem without involving me?” she asked. “This is just ridiculous.”

Ball has since been informed that the Dunmanway stop will receive a county-approved bench and trash can that her staff will install and maintain, though she has not been given a date when that will happen.

She is happy her stop will be restored, but wants the county to see the “big picture” solution the MTA partnership offers.

“My bus stop is not the only problem here - once they opened this can of worms - and this partnership was handed to me through the MTA,” Ball wrote in a message to the Times. “It is a much larger picture than just the bus stop on Dunmanway.”

Kuser said that, other than complaints about buses missing a stop or being late, littered bus stops generate the most complaints made through MTA.

“We know our bus stops can be a downfall, we know they can be a problem,” she said. “That’s why the adoption program was started - to work with community residents to clean up these problem spots.”

But MTA’s hands are tied because they do not own the land, she said. MTA does not install benches or trash cans - where they exist, local jurisdictions have undertaken the effort.

After meeting with Kuser about the adoption program, Ball sent an email on Feb. 13 to Crandell and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, explaining the state’s adoption program and requesting a meeting with them to discuss how the county could embrace the concept.

Crandell has not formally responded to the email, according to Ball, but he did send a text message to her private cell phone the evening that she sent the email which stated, “I’ve been in touch with Bryan Sheppard consistently and spoke with him today after seeing your email. I agree that you have been more than patient. He will be in touch with you shortly - a solution is coming.”

Ball and Kuser are both mystified at the lack of communication and the perception that the county is not willing to support a program that will beautify many local areas while also putting the responsibility for cleanup in the hands of volunteers. That volunteer effort would theoretically free up county workers to do other work, both believe.

“Angel’s effort here is making the county and the councilman look good and I don’t understand the lack of response to the request for a meeting,” Kuser said.

Ball said she has verbal commitments from at least five parties willing to adopt a bus stop but needs the county’s stamp of approval to move forward.

She understands there might be budget limitations to having benches installed, as Sheppard - an assistant to Kamenetz - pointed out, but believes tackling the problem has to start somewhere.

“I just want an agreement with the county to support us and then I am willing to do the work to get this rolling,” Ball said. “This could be a good partnership that benefits the county, neighborhoods and MTA - it should be a no-brainer.

“And I’ve got plenty of good samaritans lined up and ready to go.”

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‘Rec-storation’ happening in two east-side state parks

‘Rec-storation’ happening in two east-side state parks
Due to the design of the blocks, all of the spaces within the wall can be seeded with plants to grow in and actually make it stronger. And a new path directs visitors around the wall. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 2/21/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Restoration of water quality in recreational spaces is happening on Baltimore County’s east side in the form of two stormwater management (SWM) projects in area state parks.

As part of Governor Larry Hogan’s regional cabinet meeting in Baltimore County on Feb. 12, Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton visited one of the projects, a bioretention and living wall facility, located in the Hammerman Beach area of Gunpowder State Park in Middle River.

Belton coined the term "rec-storation" to describe the project as having benefits for both recreation and restoration.

The facility consists of a SmartSlope living wall and a bioretention pond populated with native plants to capture and treat stormwater runoff from the adjacent parking lot before it makes its way to the tidal Gunpowder River and the Chesapeake Bay. It was designed and planned using $81,500 in seed money from the Chespeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund’s Innovative Technology Fund, and constructed, beginning in October 2017, with roughly $106,000 from the CACB fund itself.

SmartSlope is a vegetated retaining wall system that utilizes open-celled precast concrete modules and polymeric reinforcement strap, according to a fact sheet for the project. It was constructed by Furbish which produces the concrete blocks that make up the wall.

The tiered, open-celled retaining wall creates habitat for native plants not only on top of but growing within the wall itself.

Michael Furbish said the idea is to create the structure, but to also allow plants to grow through it to reduce the impervious surface. This also helps mitigate the urban heat island effect associated with paved and concrete surfaces in summer.

“All these pockets will be filled with plants,” Furbish said. “And when things go right you won’t see any concrete at all.”

Bryan Seipp, watershed manager with the Center for Watershed Protection, said planting on the wall is about 85 percent complete, and when the weather becomes more agreeable in the next month or so, they will finish the job.

The project is expected to be fully complete by this spring.

Ranger Dean Hughes, assistant manager for Gunpowder Falls, North Point and Hart-Miller Island state parks, said prior to the project the entire area was a steeply declining slope from the parking area down to the public beach.

“What we had was a lot of clay and densely compacted soils. And the visitors had made their preferences known for where they wanted to go,” he said, referencing the path worn into the slope where beachgoers traversed from the building or parking lot to the beach instead of using the path built for that purpose.

Hughes said during storm events the water would run off the parking lot down the slope and erode the beach below, as well as the slope itself due to the worn path.

“Big channels would get cut right through [the sand] into the water,” he said. He was happy to see the project completed to slow down the runoff water, reduce the beach erosion and create a positive, aesthetically pleasing addition to the park.

The second project, currently under construction at North Point State Park in Edgemere, involves replacing the main gravel parking lot with pervious pavers that allow storm water to permeate through rather than run off, according to Seipp.

That lot, Seipp said, is close to the water and has been a “constant” problem for the park due to its condition and their inability to properly manage the parking there because of the lack of striping or lane markers on the lot.

“So it takes a lot of effort for them to sort of manage people parking during busy times,” he said.

The new pavers, while providing a more manageable parking structure, will allow storm water to seep into the lot itself and into the ground or make its way slowly to an existing SWM facility that has reverted into a wetland, rather than running off into the bay.

“So where people park is essentially pavers with big gaps in them and large gravel beds underneath that allow water to be stored and infiltrate into the ground,” Seipp said.

The project is mandated to be completed by Memorial Day to avoid the peak park visitation season. And while Seipp was confident they will meet that deadline, he was concerned that the cold, rainy weather has already slowed their progress.

“I think as the weather is projected to be this week, we’re really struggling,” he said Tuesday, Feb 20. “We’re still working, but it slows us down a bit.”

Still, he anticipates finishing the project by the end of March or in mid-April.

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Bevins plans continued focus on constituent service, bettering district if reelected

Bevins plans continued focus on constituent service, bettering district if reelected
Councilwoman Cathy Bevins as she filed her paperwork for reelection at the county's Board of Elections office in Catonsville. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 2/21/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Two-term Sixth District County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Democrat, filed for reelection to her post last Thursday, Feb. 15. And if reelected, she plans to continue doing much of what she believes has gotten her elected twice already.

Bevins frequently touts her focus on and accomplishments with regard to constituent service since that is how she got her start in local government and a large part of what she has done while in office.

“My first job in government was serving as the constituent services coordinator for former County Executive Jim Smith where I was able to personally assist 5,000 east-side residents,” she said in a statement announcing her reelection campaign. “As a councilwoman, constituent services remains a top priority and my office has successfully handled 5,500 constituent issues since 2010.”

On the legislative side, Bevins told the East County Times she has also sponsored and helped pass several pieces of legislation to improve the quality of life in the district, which includes Middle River, White Marsh, Rosedale, Parkville, Overlea, parts of Perry Hall and some more western communities.

One bill in particular that stuck out in her mind was the one that instituted background checks for recreation council volunteers, which passed in 2014.

“How can we have tens of thousands of volunteers in Baltimore County and not know who they are or where they’ve been,” Bevins remembered thinking at the time. “Even the lunch ladies in schools have to get background checks.”

Some may not have thought it would be a difficult bill to pass, but it was for her, she said, because County Executive Kevin Kamenetz opposed the measure on the grounds that it would be an added financial burden for the county.

“But I stood my ground,” she said, “and I think it was the toughest thing I’ve ever done since I’ve been in office.”

The councilwoman added that she is happy to support other councilmembers’ bills if they make sense to her.

“I support legislation that I think is a good fit for my district,” she said, no matter the sponsor’s party affiliation.

Bevins said she has been able to successfully attract businesses and high-paying jobs to her district, mostly in the area of the Route 43 extension in Middle River.

Route 43 was built for jobs, she said, particularly those projected through the federal government’s military Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program. But when that fell through, the county had to figure out another way to attract them. So the County Council created an overlay district for the area around the highway which allowed residential uses and paved the way for the massive Greenleigh at Crossroads development now under construction.

Naysayers said, according to Bevins, that it would lead to the area being developed entirely for residential and not bringing the desired jobs.

“But I knew that wasn’t true because I knew how it worked at Maple Lawn,” she said, referring to the Howard County project after which Greenleigh was modeled.

There are now some 6,000 jobs located along the Route 43 extension in Middle River, with major employers including coffee and liquor distributors, a candy manufacturer and Stanley Black and Decker which recently announced its relocation to the area.

Bevins has faced criticism in recent years for the amount of development happening in the Sixth District since she took office, as well as the amount of campaign donations she has received from developers, with some saying she is beholden to them to grant approval for their projects.

But the councilwoman called that “absolute nonsense.”

“I wish that people knew how many times I’ve said no” to developers, she said.

Bevins pointed out that she declined in 2012 to rezone several properties along Ebenezer Road in Middle River to allow for 1,200 new homes to be built.

In 2016, she similarly denied a development plan for 80 new townhomes off Allender Road in White Marsh, instead obtaining Project Open Space (POS) funds to purchase and preserve the land for public use as part of a larger 100-acre tract. Bevins pointed out that Michael Paul Smith, son of Jim Smith, was the development attorney for that project.

“The community didn’t want it and I said no,” she said. “So now there’s 100 acres of contiguous land in front of the Bowerman-Loreley Beach community that can never be developed.”

While she said she could not stop development of what is known as the Tito property along Bird River Road in Middle River, admitting that the owner of that property has donated to her campaigns, she did turn down what could have been a much more dense project there. She also obtained POS funds for a nearby 12-acre property at Wampler Road which already had an approved  development plan and the needed zoning.

Regarding the donors to her campaigns, Bevins advised critics to look at the campaign finance reports of her colleagues on the County Council as well, noting that they have many of the same donors, including developers.

“People who are doing business in Baltimore County, whether they are real estate, big business or small business, they want good representation on every level of government, [especially at the local level]. They want a person who is making good decisions,” she said, adding that they will support them and want to keep them in office.

As for her plans for the future, Bevins said she will push for a new Police Athletic League (PAL) center for Middle River, as well as a new technical high school for the area.

Programs at the school, she told the Times, could include an automotive program focusing on boats, as well as marine biology and even the science of farming since those are disciplines highly related to the area.

“With 200 miles of waterfront between Dundalk and Middle River, I think that would be something that could really serve a huge population,” she said.

Although there have been rumors that Bevins could see a primary challenger in this election, none had filed as of press time. However, the councilwoman has said in the past that as an incumbent she believes she should not have a primary challenger.

“I just feel like I’m doing a good job,” she said. “I’m a Democrat in a purple district that has survived two elections.”

She added that, at the end of the day, regardless of her party affiliation, she’s just Cathy Bevins who works with communities to address their needs. And the 5,500 constituents’ issues resolved is “proof that we do the work,” she said.

Bevins said she does not currently have a time in mind when, should she continue to be elected, she would decide to retire or move on. But she is only nearing the end of her second term and “things take time,” she noted.

“I’m running in 2018, I’m enjoying this job, my staff wants to continue to do the work and I don’t know what I’ll do four years after that,” she said. “At the end of the day, people just want someone they can count on, and I think people know they can count on Cathy.”

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Governor Hogan brings his cabinet to Baltimore County

Governor Hogan brings his cabinet to Baltimore County
Samuel E. Moskowitz (right), president of Medstar Franklin Square Medical Center, gives Hogan a rundown of the Franklin Square facilities. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Governor Larry Hogan and his cabinet split from Annapolis for much of the day on Monday, Feb. 8, to bring the state government to Baltimore County.

Hogan opted to hold a “regional cabinet meeting” at CCBC Essex before he and his top aides toured various parts of the county, including trips to Franklin Square Hospital, the new Dulaney High School and more.

The day began early at Boulevard Diner in Dundalk, with the popular Republican governor visiting a key district that flipped from blue to red in the last election, helping Hogan gain a strong footing in Baltimore County.

“He’s a rock star in these parts,” said Delegate Ric Metzgar, who represents the area. “And it’s deserved. He’s done a lot of good for the people of this area. When was the last time you saw a governor bring his entire cabinet to the east side?”

Those sentiments were shared by most local officials throughout the day. County Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall), who worked for Governor Bob Ehrlich, remarked to The East County Times that he could not remember an administration doing this.

The day had the feel of a massive campaign event, with Hogan and his team touting the administration’s efforts over the last three years while deriding County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s administration for lagging on school air conditioning and construction, supporting the “road kill” bill and failing to pay for midge treatment on Back River.

Kamenetz is vying for the Democratic nomation to challenge Hogan in November.

After the cabinet meeting, Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford and George Owings, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, stopped by the Essex American Legion Post 148 to hear from local veterans and tout this administration’s work to better the lives of Maryland’s veterans.

“I’ve worked in this position across multiple administrations, and none have done more for our veteran’s than the Hogan administration,” said Owings, who was first appointed to his position under Gov. Ehrlich in 2004.

That contention was backed by Brian Sann, commander of the Essex American Legion Post.

Sann, who has been a member of the Essex American Legion for 26 years and commander for three, told the East County Times that it was “pretty special” having a man of Rutherford’s stature visit. Sann also could not recall ever having a visitor with such a high profile.

With regard to Owings’ claim that Hogan’s administration has been more dedicated than others in the past, Sann agreed. He highlighted Hogan pushing to make state parks free for veterans, as well as discounts for fishing and hunting licenses.

“I think that they have done a whole lot,” Sann said. “There are some initiatives that have been put forward that have not been approved yet, and a big one is tax relief on military veterans’ retirements.”

Currently, only the first $10,000 per year is tax free for a veterans’ pension. For the last few years, Hogan has pushed to make 100 percent of military pensions tax free, but legislation has not made its way through the General Assembly.

Early in the afternoon, Hogan was joined by a few of his cabinet members on a tour of Medstar Franklin Square Medical Center, where they visited the neonatal care and oncology centers.

In the neonatal care center, Hogan learned about neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when a baby is born after having been exposed to drugs in the womb, most often opioids. One of the newborns Hogan visited was born weighing just over a pound and suffering from withdrawal.

From Franklin Square, Hogan jumped around the county, visiting Dulaney High School and the Pikesville Armory.

This is the third time Hogan has held a regional cabinet meeting, with the administration making trips last year to Washington County and Carroll County. A fourth is in the works that will focus on Southern Maryland.

With the gubernatorial race slated for November and a host of important local elections with major implications for the General Assembly, Hogan’s deputy communications director, Amelia Chasse, acknowledged there are likely more visits in store for the east side.

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Public boat ramp, pier still a go at Shaw’s Discovery, developer says

Public boat ramp, pier still a go at Shaw’s Discovery, developer says
The boat ramp and three proposed piers are shown along the water line as part of the development.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The omission of a community boat ramp and fishing pier on a shoreline stabilization permit application filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is strictly an administrative problem and does not reflect a change of plans for the Shaw’s Discovery project in Edgemere, according to developer Mark Sapperstein.

“This is absolutely just a paperwork issue and not an issue of desire,” Sapperstein told the East County Times. “Once this permit is approved, I’ll amend the plan to the Corps to make sure the boat ramp and pier are included.”

Sapperstein is developing the Edgemere land known locally as Bauer’s Farm, creating a 143-home community to be known as Shaw’s Discovery. He is building the project using a planned unit development designation, or PUD, which allows a builder to work outside of current zoning in exchange for the community receiving a “benefit” from the project.

In this case, Sapperstein was given permission to build a higher density of housing than would have been allowed on the former agricultural land in part because of his promise to build a public boat ramp and fishing pier on the waterfront property. He has also stated that community residents will have full access to a series of walking trails planned for the residents of what will be a gated community.

Sapperstein said he has talked to Fran Taylor, president of the North Point Peninsula Council, regarding the application oversight and assured him there are no plans to back out of providing the community benefit.

Taylor said he is disappointed that “everything wasn’t written down” with regard to the public amenities promised to the community and hopes that the amended application gets approved.

While Taylor is concerned that an amendment might not be approved, Sapperstein said “there is absolutely no chance” of an amended plan not being approved.

“And I plan to take it to the community before I file it to make sure it includes everything,” the developer said.

The application Sapperstein filed is to get Corps of Engineers approval of a shoreline stabilization project that will restore nearly 2,800 linear feet of tidal shoreline. The proposed stone revetment will replace the existing failing bulkheads, according to the document.

It also spells out the process for mitigation required by the “permanent impact” of forested land that will be or has been cleared for roads and storm water management facilities. Sapperstein has proposed an area off of Back River Neck Road as the site for the reforestation required by law.

Taylor expressed concern that the mitigation will not occur in Edgemere, but the Back River site satisfies the requirement of being in the same watershed that suffered the impact.

Sapperstein said he is working on the amended plan now and will keep the community updated as the project progresses.

The Corps’ approval is needed to begin work on several remaining infrastructure needs, such as the creation of a deceleration lane on North Point Road and the construction of a pump station at the end of the newly constructed entrance road, according to Sapperstein.

NV Homes is the builder, and Sapperstein said he expects them to begin construction within 10 days of the Corps’ approval. NV will build six model townhomes to start and then build additional units as homes are sold.

“The builder can build a group of six houses about every 75 days,” Sapperstein said. “They’ll put the models up first to gain interest and then build as they get commitments. I think it’s going to be a hot market.”

Public comments regarding the Corps application are being taken through Feb. 16. Sapperstein expects to hear a decision about a week after that.

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Grammer introduces bill to force state to acquire Fort Howard property

Grammer introduces bill to force state to acquire Fort Howard property
The VA hospital building is slated for restoration, but the future of the Fort Howard property is still uncertain. File photo.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Delegate Robin Grammer, an Essex Republican, has introduced a bill in Maryland’s House of Delegates which seeks to take the 100-acre Fort Howard property out of federal hands and place it in the hands of the state.

House Bill 952 would require the State of Maryland to acquire Fort Howard should the federal government make all or part of it available for sale or other transfer of ownership. The bill is co-sponsored by fellow eastern Baltimore County delegates Bob Long, Ric Metzgar, Pat McDonough, Kathy Szeliga, Joe Cluster and Christian Miele, all Republicans, as well as delegates David E. Vogt III (R-Frederick, Carroll counties), C.T. Wilson (D-Charles County) and Pat Young (D-Catonsville).

Grammer told the East County Times that the bill came about after U.S. Senator Ben Cardin visited with the Baltimore County House delegation recently in Annapolis. Grammer used that occasion as a lobbying opportunity with the senator “because we haven’t had help from our federal delegation throughout this process,” he said.

“[The bill] would require action on behalf of the state,” Grammer said. “And my bill is to assure that if the federal government does take action to transfer ownership, that the state would take advantage of that.”

The Fort Howard former Veterans Administration hospital and campus which comprise the property are owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, the site is slated for future redevelopment under a 75-year lease held by developer Timothy Munshell and signed in 2014.

If the VA were to break its lease with the developer and seek to offload the property, the federal government’s procurement process dictates that it could be offered to other federal government agencies or outside groups. This has led to concern from people in the community that any number of undesirable projects - such as public “Section 8” housing or even a prison - could be planned for the site with little to no public input or influence.

“The problem is currently, if the developer that currently has the lease walks away, we don’t really have any control over what happens,” Grammer said. “We just want to make sure that if we do get the opportunity we take advantage of it so that we can have some kind of project that would serve our veterans.”

He said if the property is in the hands of the state, whatever is done with it “would be led by the community and political leadership” at the state and local, and possibly federal levels.

“What the state would do with it, I think that’s a blank page that we could
write the story if we get the opportunity,” the delegate said. He noted that the major problem with things currently is that elected officials and the community have little to no control over what is done with Fort Howard since it is being overseen by the VA. “And they’re disgusted with the state of the currently proposed development,” he said.

“The developers who have the lease now, I don’t think they can get the job done,” Grammer continued. “The new developer who came in to assist, they haven’t even provided a traffic study.”

Developer Sam Himmelrich, of Baltimore-based Himmelrich Associates, Inc., joined the conversation in October 2016 with a new proposal for the site and subsequently met with community groups multiple times. But he still has not officially decided to sign onto the project via the lease.

Grammer’s aim, through HB952, is to put the political leverage back in the hands of the community, he said.

“If they can’t come up with a development that is for the veterans and that the community agrees with, they could walk away and we could lose control of the property, and I think they know that,” he said.

Grammer said putting this “backstop” in place to give the state default control would put the leverage back in the hands of the community.

“Any party who is part of this project is going to understand that,” he said. “The community is going to have a huge stake in whatever project is ultimately developed there.”

The delegate admitted, though, that a big question mark for the issue still is whether or not the VA, or some other entity in the federal government, would even be willing to sell or otherwise transfer the Fort Howard property to the state. He said that is where the help of federally elected officials would come in.

“Senator Cardin sounded very amenable to helping us out with that, and we’re going to continue that line of dialogue until we work out that problem on the federal side,” Grammer said.

A hearing on the bill in the House Appropriations Committee has been scheduled for March 6 at 1 p.m.

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Parents, local officials put the heat on BCPS over discipline issues

Parents, local officials put the heat on BCPS over discipline issues
Verletta White (center) took multiple trips to Annapolis this year to provide answers to lawmakers. Her answers then and in subsequent follow-ups have left many local delegates feeling slighted. File photo.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

In the midst of heavy scrutiny over ethical failures of Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) leadership under former Superintednet S. Dallas Dance, team BCPS is back under the spotlight as parents and local and state officials are calling for a review of the county’s disciplinary policies.

Citing a perceived uptick in violence and issues with discipline, parents and legislators have questioned whether or not BCPS is sweeping incidents of violence under the rug.

Interim Superintendent Verletta White appeared before Baltimore County’s House Delegation in Annapolis on Friday morning, Feb. 9, and BCPS representatives were present at the Northeast Area Education Advisory Council (NEAC) meeting on Monday night, Feb. 12, at Joppa View Elementary to hear from stakeholders. The message passed along to BCPS was straightforward: the public is losing trust in the school system.

“We need an independent audit to look over not just ethical concerns, but how the system handles disciplinary issues,” said one parent present at Monday night’s meeting. “Without an independent audit we can’t trust the findings.”

Throughout Monday night’s meeting, disgruntled and frustrated parents sounded off at Community Superintendent George Roberts, opining that BCPS’ unwillingness to act on disciplinary issues causes a strained learning environment that makes it impossible for students to learn, creating an unsafe environment.

Incidents being covered up to keep up appearances was an issue brought to White’s attention by multiple members of the House Delegation on Friday morning with Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6) questioning whether or not schools had “unwritten rules” about reporting violence and incidents involving firearms. White responded by saying she was not aware of anything of the sort.

“There is a bigger lack of trust with leadership and the board of education to the point where parents, students and teachers have completely lost trust,” Grammer said after the hearing. “It applies to spending and procurement issues, but it also applies to discipline.”

Grammer noted that he has been hearing about school discipline issues since he was elected in 2014. He told the East County Times that between a non-responsive Board of Education and teachers fearful of repercussions for speaking out, state legislators hear the brunt of concerns.

Last June, Grammer and County Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7) issued a joint statement calling for a public hearing on disciplinary issues. According to Grammer, the response from BCPS Chief Communications Officer Mychael Dickerson was muted, with Dickerson saying, “I believe a lot of this is being brought up by social media and people sharing videos, but many of those that I’ve seen have been old, old videos.”

Grammer also contended that teachers from various schools in his district have highlighted the unwritten rules as a barrier.

“When you hear from multiple parents and go to different schools in the district and hear the same things, it ceases to be a conspiracy,” said Grammer. The writing is on the wall.”

Shortly after Grammer finished his line of questions, White was questioned by Delegate Kathy Szeliga (R-7). Three days before White’s visit to Annapolis, Szeliga and Delegate Joe Cluster (R-8) sent a letter to White about an incident that allegedly occurred a few months ago at Golden Ring Middle School. In the letter, obtained by the Times, Szeliga and Cluster detailed an incident they heard from a source close to the situation in which a child brought a gun to school and received a one-day suspension. The Times was unable to contact that source for this article.

White promised to follow up with Szeliga and Cluster, but as of Monday they had not heard a response. Dolores Pierorazio, an assistant to Dickerson, said “we have asked staff to look into [the allegations]” but “so far we have no information that is true.”

One of the biggest areas of frustration for parents has been disclosure. Multiple elected officials and parents have recently expressed frustration over being left out of the loop when it comes to punishment of a perpetrator of violence in schools.

But White and Roberts both noted that they are barred by law from divulging information about students. Roberts told those gathered at the NEAC meeting that the best the school system can do is offer to arrange a sit-down meeting between parents and students, and if the parents of the perpetrator do not show up there is no other way to learn more.

“We’re limited in what we can divulge about the investigation,” said Roberts. “I know that can be frustrating, but our hands are tied.”

Roberts said that he and his team would work on communication issues and pointed to a letter received by Perry Hall High School parents recently that served as a reminder about social media policy. He stated that in that instance, BCPS was being proactive.

But many in the crowd noted that BCPS usually reserves that type of communication for after an incident, leading many to believe that something had happened and they were being kept in the dark.

After the meeting, Councilman David Marks (R-5) expressed his frustration with the current situation, but remained hopeful.

“I believe we are making some changes, such as the 62 new cameras that have been installed at Perry Hall High School and the new staff members in the proposed budget who will review residency,” he said. “But my constituents are generally unsatisfied with what they see as permissive discipline policies, and that needs to change.”

That sentiment was echoed by Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer, who is in the midst of a campaign for county executive.

“It’s painfully apparent that there’s a deep disconnect between parent expectations and how the administration responds,” said Redmer.

On Thursday, Feb. 15, Del. Christian Miele (R-8) will host an education town hall at Perry Hall High School at 7 p.m. The Southeast Area Education Advisory Council will host a school safety and discipline meeting on Monday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. at Oliver Beach Elementary School.

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‘Triple threat’ Laura Clary named county’s Woman of the Year

‘Triple threat’ Laura Clary named county’s Woman of the Year
GBMC's chief nursing officer labeled Clary a "triple threat" because of her art of caring, her knowledge of the science behind forensic nursing and her ability to empower her patients to take back their lives. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Laura Clary has her dream job at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson.

The Essex resident has always had a passion for clinical medical care and forensic science and has been able to blend those two passions in her role as a forensic nurse examiner and manager of the hospital’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) program.

That passion, exceptional leadership and team-building skills, her caring nature and community service have landed a title that is icing on the perfect job cake: Baltimore County’s Woman of the Year for 2018.

“It came as quite a surprise,” Clary told the East County Times of the honor bestowed upon her by the Baltimore County Commission for Women. “It is very humbling, to say the least.”

Clary was born and reared in Essex, where she lives with her husband, Joe, and two children. The 2002 graduate of Eastern Technical High School knew early on she was interested in a medical career and enrolled in the school’s allied health program.

She continued her education at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Essex campus, where she received an associate’s degree in nursing. While working full-time as a nurse, she completed her bachelor’s degree in nursing through American Sentinel University, an online institution.

While Clary is honored by the award, she gives the credit to “an awesome team of nurses and victim advocates that makes my job easy.”

Now staffed with 17 team members, the SAFE program provides clinical and emotional support to victims of adult and child sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking, according to Clary.

“We do forensic exams and photography to document the assault and to gather evidence,” she said. “And then the evidence is packaged and sent to the Baltimore County crimes unit.”

While most patients come from Baltimore County, Clary said the GBMC program provides care for anyone who shows up, regardless of where the assault took place.

She credits her team for making her job easy, but her colleagues and supervisors believe she is the one who has made the team a tightly-knit, collaborative group of professionals.

“I think she is a phenomenal team leader,” said Evelyn Kim, a forensic nurse examiner. “Laura allows all of her forensic nurses to be leaders and fosters an environment for us to claim responsibility for our decisions.”

The team is available 24-7-365, according to Kim, and team members often work alone and have to be confident in their patient care and decision-making.

“With Laura, you know you’ll be supported in your decisions and encouraged to be your own leaders,” Kim said. “Allowing your team to exercise leadership is strong stuff.”

Clary’s trust in and empowerment of her team members has created a positive environment with little to no turnover, according to Kim.

“There is no selfishness here, we all collaboratively work together,” Kim said. “Thanks to Laura’s leadership, we have a team where people stay forever.”

JoAnn Z. Ioannou, GBMC’s senior vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer, had no shortage of superlatives when talking about her star employee.

“It is no surprise to us that Laura was named Baltimore County’s Woman of the Year,” Ioannou said in a phone interview. “She is absolutely amazing, extremely knowledgeable and an engaging, caring leader.”

Calling her a “triple threat,” Ioannou cited Clary’s art of caring, her knowledge of the science behind forensic nursing and her ability to empower her patients to take back their lives as just a few of the reasons she is so successful and respected.

“We are incredibly proud of her,” Ioannou said. “She is absolutely deserving of this award.”

The team’s meticulous work leads to a “high success rate for convictions,” according to Ioannou, and plays a role in helping patients recover from “the worst day in their lives.”

Clary is no stranger to significant awards. Last year, she was named America’s Most Amazing Nurse by Prevention magazine and television program “The Doctors.”

“Tons” of nominees were whittled down to five finalists, according to Clary, who were invited to New York for interviews and a photo shoot. Clary was selected as the winner and was treated to a trip to Hollywood, where she appeared on an episode of “The Doctors.”

She also received $1,000 to give to her charity of choice, which she ultimately donated to SAFE, and will also travel to Iceland in May, thanks to an all-expenses-paid trip provided by the contest.

Clary and other award winners will be honored March 1 in a ceremony hosted by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Parkville resident Jennifer Aubert-Utz, Baltimore County’s assistant fire chief, was named the Woman Making a Difference honoree and Catonsville High School senior Gabriella Mclean was named the Young Woman of the Year.

The Woman of the Year honor is especially meaningful because of her roots, Clary said.

“I’m a product of Baltimore County, a product of Baltimore County Public Schools,” she said. “Baltimore County is where my heart is so this award is special to me.”

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Marks announces run for reelection, is again running unopposed

Marks announces run for reelection, is again running unopposed
David Marks (left) and supporters march in an Independence Day parade. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 2/14/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Councilman David Marks announced on Tuesday, Feb. 6, that he will run for reelection to his Fifth District seat on the County Council, the same day that he filed his candidacy with the county’s Board of Elections.

The Fifth District includes the communities of Towson and some of Loch Raven Village in its western portions, as well as Carney, Perry Hall, Kingsville and parts of Parkville, Nottingham and White Marsh in northeastern Baltimore County. Marks has held the seat since first being elected in 2010.

When he first came into office, Marks said in an interview with the East County Times, he wanted to operate in a bipartisan manner to work with political leaders and community activists of all persuasions.

“I wanted to set a tone of getting things done from the beginning,” he said.

Marks’ specific priorities after being elected included the need to preserve green space throughout the district, revitalize commercial areas and decrease school overcrowding. While his office has made progress in each of those areas, he said, those remain his priorities.

The councilman pointed out that eight new parks have either been completed or are under construction in the Fifth District since he was elected, four of which are in Perry Hall. Those include the Perry Paw Dog Park, Gough Park, the Soukup Arena and Angel Park, a handicap-accessible playground meant to be able to be used by children of all abilities.

“And through zoning decisions we have preserved a significant amount of acreage throughout the northeast,” he said, referring to the 2012 and 2016 rezoning cycles, through each of which Marks reduced the building densities on thousands of acres of land in his district.

Now, Marks said he has the specific goal of getting a regional park center built in Kingsville on the site of the former Mount Vista golf course, which is currently a 111-acre public park.

Regarding commercial revitalization, Marks said his office has made a lot of progress in downtown Towson and along the Joppa Road corridor. Additionally, he established the Perry Hall Commercial Revitalization District and brought attention to several blighted areas of Perry Hall.

“I think we’re making progress there,” he said.

School overcrowding, however, has been the most difficult issue to address because it is the most costly, according to Marks.

“We pursued a two-pronged approach,” he said. “First we downzoned a significant amount of acreage in the most overcrowded school districts. And during that time, we worked with the county executive’s staff and the school system to obtain funding to actually build new schools.”

Marks noted that two new elementary schools which will serve children in his district will be finished within the next two years and a new middle school for the area is slated for completion in 2021.

“I think we’re making progress in that area too,” he said.

On top of that, Marks said his office has gotten a “significant” amount of road resurfacing done, including along Forge, Hines, Chapel and parts of E. Joppa roads, as well as Bangert Avenue. He also advocated for funding and construction of two new volunteer fire stations to serve communities in his district - in Kingsville and White Marsh - each of which is in progress.

While Marks tallied his accomplishments in Perry Hall and other areas of the eastern parts of his district, he said he has focused a lot of attention on the western areas as well, particularly Towson.

Marks, a Republican, said Towson is the most Democratic part of his district and conceded that that is where he was least known when first elected. He noted he has spent a lot of time since then meeting with community leaders and focusing on issues in that area.

“Certainly I’ve paid attention to Towson because it is the area where I had the least amount of experience before I was elected,” he admitted.

“Having said that, my record reflects work from Charles Street to the Harford County line,” he said, referring to the entire east-west breadth of the district.

As of press time and with just two weeks left before the Feb. 27 filing deadline, no other candidates had yet filed to challenge Marks in either the 2018 primary or general elections, meaning Marks is fully unopposed for the second term in a row.

In response, Marks said, “I think I have demonstrated an ability to reach across the party divide, and people find that refreshing. I’ve demonstrated a sense of bipartisanship and of getting things accomplished.”

He said he thinks people also respect that he has an “independent streak.”

“I’ve challenged developers when they were wrong and I have gone against the county executive when he is wrong,” Marks said.

“Good policy represents good politics,” he added. “When you’re doing the right thing people recognize that, and I think it brings you support as an elected official.”

When first elected, Marks made a campaign promise that he would term-limit himself to three terms. And he said he intends to keep that promise, making his next term his last if elected. He added that he would not change his mind if he happened not to accomplish everything he hopes to over the next four years.

He said he is a firm believer in term limits and that a natural turnover on the County Council is healthy.

“I’m sticking to my term limits pledge,” he said. “I think you should leave office with a significant amount of accomplishments but ready for something new.”

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Nonagenarian recognized for work to honor veterans, first responders

Nonagenarian recognized for work to honor veterans, first responders
State Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (center) presented Catherine Hughes (right), 95, with a Maryland state flag and a Maryland Senate citation for her efforts to honor veterans and first responders. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A 95-year-old Perry Hall woman has for the last few years written cards and letters to active service members and military veterans, as well as police and firefighters, thanking them for their service.

And on Saturday, Jan. 27, state Senator Kathy Klausmeier presented her with a Maryland state flag and a Senate citation recognizing her efforts to honor those who protect and serve the community.

According to Joseph Hughes, son of Catherine Hughes, his mother has written at least 3,000 notes and cards to “American heroes.”

“She sits at our kitchen table virtually every day and writes dozens of cards and notes,” he said.

Klausmeier said while presenting the citation to Mrs. Hughes that there comes a time in everyone’s life when there is something you want to do that is special.

“And today is that time,” she said. “On behalf of everyone that you’ve ever sent a letter to - a little note to brighten up the day - thank you very much.”

“I did it from my heart and I love doing it,” Mrs. Hughes said, adding that even after sometimes hours of writing them she never gets tired from doing it.

She told the East County Times that a friend buys the cards for her and she writes in them, inscribing messages to veterans and first responders of how they are heroes and thanking them for their service.

Mrs. Hughes noted that she was a former duckpin bowling champion at the age of 91, but at 92 she suffered an injury while bowling that limited her mobility.

Seeing that she felt depressed, a friend got her started writing the cards to give her something uplifting to do, she said.

“It helped me so much to write these cards,” Mrs. Hughes said. “I put my heart in it.”

Although she has now recovered from her injury, she continues to write the letters and cards because she loves doing it, sometimes handing them out in person.

Mrs. Hughes even visited a local restaurant to hand out cards and thank veterans and first responders in person on Veterans Day last year.

She plans to continue writing and giving out the cards as long as she can, she told the Times, and noted that she had written about 70 in the few days leading up to getting the citation.

“I do it because I want to,” she said.

Mrs. Hughes is the daughter of Italian immigrants, according to her son, Joseph. She and her late husband - who served as a field medic in World War II and participated in the D-Day invasion - married when he returned home from the war.

“For Catherine Hughes, a super nonagenarian and patriot, her benevolent and caring ways should be a challenge to all Americans,” Joseph said. “Keep patriotism in your heart, and remember to thank the men and women who protect and defend our way of life.”

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Tradepoint officials to ‘respectfully’ move 1800s family plot

Tradepoint officials to ‘respectfully’ move 1800s family plot
The burial plot is located near the intersection of I Street and 9th Street at the center of the Tradepoint Atlantic property. Some community members wondered why Bethlehem Steel was able to simply build around the graveyard and TPA is unwilling. And a TPA representative wondered why the graves were not relocated when the company town was razed in the 1970s. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Marge Neal -

When members of the Trotten family were laid to rest on the family farm at the tip of Sparrows Point in the early to mid-1800s, their final resting spots overlooked the Patapsco River from a pastoral, bucolic vantage point.

More than 200 years later, those graves are in the middle of a heavily industrial site, where the lay of the land has been greatly altered thanks to the dumping of slag - a by-product of the steelmaking process - that created artificial land and extended shorelines.

“The land mass has been drastically altered and the site characteristics have been dramatically changed over these now nearly 200 years,” said Aaron Tomarchio, vice president of corporate affairs for Tradepoint Atlantic, which owns the former steel mill property.

Out of respect for the interred remains and because of a business need to build on the land, Tradepoint officials have begun the legal process to exhume and rebury the remains of four Trotten family members buried on the site, according to Tomarchio.

The company, which will cover all the costs of the relocation, must follow a stringent legal process to move the remains, he said. The plan to move the graves must be published in a local news outlet in an effort to notify any next-of-kin and to make the public aware of the plans.

Tomarchio said efforts already made to find local descendants of the Trottens have been unfruitful, although one relative was found “out west.”

A funeral director will be hired to be in charge of the process and to supervise the work as the graves are unearthed, Tomarchio said.

“From all the research we’ve done, we expect there will probably be very little to no remains to be found,” Tomarchio said.

Citing the funeral practices and procedures of the time, Tomarchio said company officials have been told to just expect areas of darkened dirt that would indicate where the bodies once rested.

“We will respectfully remove that dirt and place it in smaller vessels and then place them in a new grave,” Tomarchio said. “And we will have a new marker made that will list all four of the family members.”

A history of Sparrows Point compiled by Community College of Baltimore County faculty member Bill Barry for the Historical Society of Baltimore County in 2014, lists the buried family members as John Trotten, who died in 1809 at age 38; Sarah Trotten, who died in 1856 at 68; James Trotten, who was nine months old when he died in 1804; and Thomas Long, who died in 1823 at 16.

The new marker, at the request of community members, will also note the remains were originally interred on Sparrows Point, according to Tomarchio, who added Tradepoint officials are in talks with a Dundalk cemetery about the relocation and reinterment of the remains.

The original grave stones are fragile and worn and are difficult to read; one is damaged, according to Tomarchio. Tradepoint officials plan to preserve them, with some early discussion about either Todd’s Inheritance or the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society taking custody of them.

Fran Taylor, a member of the Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site’s Board of Directors, said his group has not yet formally discussed the suggestion, but he believes the historic house on North Point Road in Edgemere would be an appropriate place to preserve the stones.

A Todd family tree on display at the Todd’s Inheritance house lists a Mary Trotten-Todd, which shows the two local families were connected by marriage.

While Taylor believes board members would be amenable to hosting the stones, he also said there are many options for their display.

A Todd family plot is on site, and is administered by Oak Lawn Cemetery, which would have to approve displaying the markers there.

“And of course, we wouldn’t do anything in the plot without getting the approval of the Todd family,” Taylor said.

Given the age and delicacy of the stones, the best way to preserve them would probably be with an indoor display, Taylor believes. In any case, he said, there is much discussion yet to be held before reaching a final decision.

Once the Trotten family remains have been exhumed and are ready for reburial, Tradepoint will hold a graveside service, likely in March or April, for the reinterment, according to Tomarchio.

“We want to hold a service that community members can attend,” he said. “And I believe this move will be much more respectful of these individuals and will preserve their memories much longer than remaining in an unmaintained graveyard at an industrial site.”

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Glen Arm neighbors object to plans for Nepali-American worship center

Glen Arm neighbors object to plans for Nepali-American worship center
The Glen Arm estate, once belonging to a distant relative of Napoleon Bonaparte, sold in March 2017 for $661,000. Photo courtesy of

(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

What once was a country estate in Glen Arm owned by a distant relative of Napoleon Bonaparte is now envisioned as a house of worship for Hindu and Buddhist families from Nepal.

“It’s the first of its kind in Baltimore County,” said Kris Ghimire, a realtor based in Fullerton who started a fundraising drive more than a year ago to find a location for the future Nepali American Cultural Center of Baltimore.

The 31-acre site at 12231 Harford Road is located across from the entrance to Bonaparte Avenue and south of the newly competed Mt. Vista Road traffic circle. Nearby on Mt. Vista Road are the Beachmont Christian summer camp and the Redeemer church and school.

The property at one time belonged to Charles Joseph Bonaparte, who served as the U.S. Attorney General from 1906 to 1909 and founded the agency that would become the FBI. the original house burned down but was later replaced with a concrete house.

The Nepali group bought the property last year as a foreclosure, and in order to open the center the purchasers needed to apply to Baltimore County for a special exception that allows a worship center in a rural area.

At a public hearing on Jan. 17, Nepalis and supporters filled one half of the room, while immediate neighbors opposed to the project filled the other. Reviewers with county agencies did not object to the plan.

On Jan. 22, county Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen granted the special exception with conditions that require county-approved well and septic systems, an access permit from the State Highway Administration, and a sign with the center’s name posted at the entrance.

Rulings can be appealed to Baltimore County Circuit Court, and a group of neighbors organized as the Gunpowder Falls Watershed Preservation Association was considering an appeal as of Monday, Feb. 5.

Ghimire and Harford Road neighbor Dewey Clark, who spoke on behalf of the association neighbors at the hearing, also spoke with each other on Monday and discussions are expected to continue.

Contentious hearing
At the three-hour hearing, Clark questioned Ghimire about plans for the center, followed by more than half a dozen other neighbors citing concerns about well capacity, crowds at special events and additional traffic on an already dangerous stretch of Harford Road, which has two sharp turns nears the site’s entrance.

Resident Scott Striebinger, president of the Greater Mt. Vista Association, asked for caps on the number of people to visit the center at any one time.

He also argued that the local geology could not handle another large well and  septic system, citing efforts in the past to cap activity at the Beachmont property.

“We do live in the area, we have got to protect our investment,” he said.

Some neighbors on Harford and Hutschenreuter roads and Bonaparte Avenue also took exception to the fact that the Nepali group had not directly alerted them in advance about a two-day outdoor fundraising event last summer that attracted people from around the region.

Neighbors complained about the noise, heavy traffic and visitors driving into a local driveway.

A complaint was subsequently filed with county Code Enforcement alleging the center was being used without a permit, but the inspector concluded that the event was outdoors and the house itself was not yet fully renovated or operational.

Ghimire said he had met with the Greater Kingsville Civic Association and thought that a local neighbor who attended would relay information about the center.

At the hearing he said that no more fundraisers are planned and that he did not expect more than about 150 people on site at any one time.

That is in part due to the fact that, unlike other religions that meet for group prayer on certain days, Hindus and Buddhists can visit a temple any time on any day.

“There’s no set worship times; it’s more of a personal thing,” he said. “People arrive and depart on their own schedule through the week.”

He said an imprecise Google map contributed to some visitors getting lost last summer and that since then Google was contacted and the map has been remedied.

Ghimire also said a right turn only out of the center’s driveway onto Harford Road might help alleviate concerns about the potential for accidents at the turns.

The center plans to host an open house once it opens and is also working with the Kingsville association to preserve the original carriage house on the property, he said.

Located between India and China, Nepal is about the size of Iowa. It is home to Mt. Everest and the birthplace of the Buddha.

There is an existing Hindu-Jain temple in Finksburg, but Hinduism and Buddhism are uniquely intertwined in Nepal, which is why some local Nepalis were interested in opening their own center.

Ghimire estimated there are more than 5,000 people from Nepal living in the Baltimore area, drawn in part by the opportunities to open small businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and small shops in malls.

An immigrant himself, Ghimire came to the U.S. in 1998 to study information technology at UMBC in Catonsville. He became the IT director of a mortgage company and later founded his own mortgage company. He then founded his own real estate company after the 2008 recession.

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Deadlines loom for appointed, elected Board of Education hopefuls

Deadlines loom for appointed, elected Board of Education hopefuls
Julie Henn (left), Edward Kitlowski and William Feuer have each filed as BOE elected candidates in eastside districts.

(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Marge Neal -

With filing and application deadlines looming for both elected and appointed positions on the Baltimore County Board of Education, interest so far appears to be lukewarm.

Baltimore County residents who wish to run for elected seats have until 9 p.m. on Feb. 27 to file their candidacies. Residents seeking a political appointment to the school board have until March 16 to submit applications.

By way of legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2014 and 2017, the board that takes office Dec. 3 will be the first in the county to have elected members. All previous members have been political appointments, leaving many residents to believe they were beholden to elected leaders and not necessarily looking out for the best interests of the school system and county residents, according to reports during the process to change the law.

All current board members’ terms expire Dec. 2, regardless of when they were appointed, according to Debi Decker, a Baltimore County Public Schools employee who is facilitating the application process for the selection committee.

As of Tuesday, Feb. 6, only five candidates had filed to run for elected positions, with one each in the First, Second, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh councilmanic districts. Sitting board member Julie Henn, as well as Edward Kitlowski and William Feuer are running in the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh districts, respectively, on the east side of Baltimore County.

June Eaton, current Seventh District board member, told the East County Times she will neither run for reelection nor seek an appointment. Sixth District representative Steve Verch and Fifth District representative and board Chairman Edward Gilliss did not respond to questions regarding their future school board intentions.

Residents who wish to apply for an appointment to the school board must submit an application by March 16, according to a statement from the school system.

Public candidate interviews will be held at five locations around the county, including May 7 at Perry Hall High School and June 4 at Dundalk High School. Times have not been announced.

The newly created Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission, led by Chairman Aaron Plymouth, will select nominees to recommend to Gov. Larry Hogan for appointment to the four at-large positions, according to the statement.

The 19-member commission has a roster that represents a variety of organizations and interests, including the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, Towson University, Student Council, PTA Council, NAACP, Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters, according to the BCPS website.

The commission met for the first time on Dec. 4, according to Plymouth, and a second planned meeting was canceled because of inclement weather. As a result, many logistics of the process have yet to be ironed out.

“I like to say we have entered uncharted waters and we’re taking a brand new ship out for its first voyage,” Plymouth said of the creation of a hybrid school board. “But so far, the waters have been pretty calm.”

The chairman said he and his commission colleagues are looking forward to receiving a “good number” of qualified applicants and recommending the best of those candidates for appointment after carrying out a “flexible, transparent and accountable” process.

The law states that the commission must submit two nominees for each opening, so the group will send eight names to Gov. Hogan for his consideration, according to Plymouth. In addition, should no one file to run in an individual councilmanic district for an elected position, the commission would be charged with sending the names of two nominees to fill a councilmanic vacancy.

Applicants interested in an appointment to the school board must submit their applications by 4 p.m. Friday, March 16. The application form can be found on the school system’s website.

Completed applications can be mailed to the Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission, c/o Debi Decker, 6901 N. Charles St., Towson, MD 21204.

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Local, state legislators call for extensive audit of Baltimore County Public Schools

Local, state legislators call for extensive audit of Baltimore County Public Schools
Verletta White (center) took multiple trips to Annapolis this year to provide answers to lawmakers. Her answers then and in subsequent follow-ups have left many local delegates feeling slighted. File photo.

(Updated 1/31/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

After the news broke on Jan. 23 that former Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Superintendent S. Dallas Dance had been indicted on four counts of perjury, local and state officials from around Baltimore County called for an independent audit of the school system to evaluate procurement contracts and relationships between the school system and vendors.

On Friday, Jan. 26, Interim Superintendent Verletta White met with Baltimore County’s state senators in Annapolis to discuss expanding the scope of an audit White ordered last year. The audit was originally slated to cover only 2016, but last December, White expanded the audit to cover 2014 through 2017, with a focus on technology contracts.

Still, senators urged White to start the audit from 2012, the year Dance took over as Superintendent.

“There is nothing to hide, so I would be open to any kind of audit,” said White. “We will do what we need to do to restore public trust.”

Senator J.B. Jennings (R-7) told White that she needed to “bring respect back to this jurisdiction.”

“I know it may cost the county some money. In extreme times you have to take extreme measures,” Jennings added.

Only two of the six senators present pushed back on the idea of expanding the audit. Senators Shirley Nathan Pulliam (D-44) and Delores Kelly (D-10) both pointed out that law enforcement would be investigating 2012 and 2013, adding that the overlap in investigations and audits might prove wasteful.

But Jennings refuted that claim, noting that law enforcement likely would not share information regarding an ongoing investigation. After the meeting adjourned, he told the East County Times that the cost of an audit would be equal to the salary of one school administrator, but that it would be worth it to potentially save millions of dollars on future procurements.

On Friday afternoon, after White’s meeting with county senators concluded, Delegate Robin Grammer joined the fray, filing legislation which would require the state to execute a full audit of Baltimore County Public School system procurement, as well as relationships between public school officials and vendors.

“Taxpayers have an immediate need for accountability in how we spend hundreds of millions of dollars and parents have an immediate need for a restoration of trust in our public school leadership,” Grammer said in a statement.

A vote on the bill could happen within the week.

While White was open to the idea of an audit mandated by legislators, Brochin and Jennings were more apprehensive. They stressed that White and school board chair Edward Gilliss needed to step up and be as transparent as possible, adding that legislators should not be spending valuable time in the General Assembly voting on something that should be easy to implement.

Jennings added that a strong school system spurs economic development and drives home prices.

Both Brochin and Jennings urged White and Gilliss to acquiesce to the requests of the minority members of the school board and expand the audit to 2012 and include contract procurement.

“Once we have consensus from our overall board, not one or two members, but our overall board, on what’s needed, then we can move forward,” said White.

So far, four members of the school board have called on the state education officials to do an independent audit, but were told by state officials the request had to come from either a majority of the school board or at the direction of local officials.

When asked late last year if the county executive’s office would initiate an audit at the state level, Ellen Kobler, spokewoman for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, told The Baltimore Sun that “the County Executive has complete confidence in Superintendent White to manage the school system, and the answer to your question is no.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Larry Hogan called for the creation of an Education Inspector General’s office, citing widespread corruption in school systems around the state. He pointed to both Dance and White receiving funds while doling out contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

While Hogan’s proposal has support among legislators, it was opposed by Kamenetz. “There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that has been brought to my attention that there is criminal activity afoot with the use of these iPads,” he told WYPR.

Despite Kamenetz’s assertion that White and the school board can handle things, Baltimore County’s three Republican members of the council - Wade Kach (R-3), David Marks (R-5) and Todd Crandell (R-7) - have all called for an independent audit, as have Democratic representatives Vicki Almond (D-2) and Cathy Bevins (D-6).

“It is time for an independent audit and ethical evaluation of Baltimore County Public Schools. Parents and students need to know that BCPS leadership is looking out for them and not for themselves,” said Bevins in a statement. “There must be more transparency and accountability at the top. We must begin to rebuild trust in our school system and its leaders.”

Crandell went a step further, calling for behavior and discipline issues to also be evaluated. That sentiment was echoed by State Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-6) at Friday’s meeting in Annapolis.

Salling broached the subject of discipline and violence in county schools at the beginning of the meeting with White, but the subject was largely pushed aside due to discussion over the audit.

After the meeting adjourned, Delegate Pat McDonough (R-7), who had observed the meeting from about the halfway point, told the East County Times that he was unimpressed with White’s answers, adding that she is a “continuation of Dallas Dance on policy.”

“I didn’t see any real strong effort here for change,” McDonough said. “Senator Jennings talking about the system being great, well, the system is not great. The system has serious problems.”

McDonough added that he would be filing a request with state officials to look into violence in the school system.

“The audit is going to be done,” said McDonough. “I don’t have any concerns about that.”

While most of the Annapolis meeting was focused on auditing the school system, White began the meeting by addressing concerns that she, like Dance, lied on disclosure forms. She told the group of senators that not only was the form ambiguous, but that she had no intent to deceive.

White had collected $3,000 per-year over a four-year span, all of which she failed to disclose. She said that she did not think she had to claim payments from the Education Research and & Development Institute (ERDI) because BCPS did not do business directly with the firm. However, ERDI does represent multiple technology firms that have won no-bid contracts worth millions from BCPS.

Still, White defended herself, saying that she “didn’t have anything to do with contracts as [chief academic officer]” and had nothing to do with them now.

“I don’t touch the contract process. I don’t touch the procurement process. I didn’t then, and I don’t now,” said White.

Gilliss added that the contract procurement process is often misunderstood, noting that the goal is not just to seek out the lowest bidder, but to find a bidder whose work meshes with the curriculum, as mandated by state law.

“I think it’s probably best to have an educational forum about school system contracting so that there’s not misunderstanding,” he said.

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Residents, councilman unhappy with Klausmeier Manor proposal

Residents, councilman unhappy with Klausmeier Manor proposal
Farmdale Road, which currently terminates on the site would be extended to join Millner Road on the opposite side and 34 of the homes would be built along it. Much of the middle of the site is environmentally constrained and cannot be built upon.

(Updated 1/31/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A development proposal for 49 new homes in Perry Hall was not well received last Wednesday, Jan 24, when it was presented to the community for the first time.

As is typical in Perry Hall and many other eastern Baltimore County areas, residents of the existing community decried that school overcrowding and traffic congestion are already major issues caused by development and the last thing the area needs is more homes.

Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents the area, also called it a “missed opportunity” for what could have been a new public park.

The plan, dubbed Klausmeier Manor, proposes 49 single, detached houses on the 28.3-acre Klausmeier farm property, adding to the one existing home on the site which will remain, according to Larry Schmidt, attorney for the developer.

The property is bounded by Klausmeier Road on its southern frontage, as well as existing homes on Holiday Manor Road to the east and Lovelock, Lovebird, Perry Brook and Hallbrook courts to the west. It backs up to the Gunpowder Elementary School property to the north.

While the property’s zoning - 3.5 homes per acre - would allow up to 99 homes to be built on the site, due to environmental constraints on much of the acreage, the developer has opted to build only half that amount, Schmidt said.

Much of the middle of the property is unbuildable due to wetlands and a pond used for stormwater management. The site plan also shows eight specimen trees on the property  which would likely have to be preserved, but the site is otherwise unforested having been farmed for many years.

While State Senator Kathy Klausmeier, who represents the area on the state level, is related to the owners of the property, she married into the family and has no legal say in the site’s sale or development, according to Schmidt.

With respect to traffic, residents complained that Klausmeier Road already has major issues, pointing out that speeding vehicles make it difficult for other drivers to pull out onto the road from other area streets. Additionally, the road is narrow and has no sidewalks, which makes it dangerous for pedestrians using the road.

“You take your life in your hands to try to walk down that road,” one resident said.

While the developer and property owner do not have the authority to widen all of Klausmeier Road, Schmidt said, they would be required to install sidewalks along their property frontage. These would tie in with existing sidewalks along Klausmeier Road west of the property and possibly with those on Holiday Manor Road.

However, there are three properties between the eastern edge of the subject site and Holiday Manor, so those owners would have to either sign off on the sidewalks or go through the county’s legal condemnation process for that tie-in to happen.

Regarding schools, although enrollment for the 2017-18 school year at Gunpowder Elementary is at 124 percent of capacity, Marks - who did not attend the meeting - stressed in a statement that two new elementary schools and a new middle school will be built for the area prior to the development’s completion if it is approved.

Since the project would be carried out by right under the property’s existing zoning, that too was a hot topic at the meeting and neighbors were frustrated that Marks was not there to answer their questions of why he did not decrease its allowable housing density during the last rezoning cycle in 2016. They were similarly frustrated with the lack of county agency representation at the meeting to answer questions about the project.

But Marks said after the meeting that county law prohibits County Council members, who are legislative representatives, from attending development meetings which are carried out by the executive branch of county government.

And Darryl Putty, a project manager with the county’s Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections, said the meeting was merely preliminary and there is not much engineering that has gone into the plan at this point. Therefore, the county agency representatives would not have many specifics on which they could comment.

Perry Hall Improvement Association Vice President Karen Harms said at the meeting that the organization had raised the property as an issue for downzoning during the 2016 rezoning cycle and it was ignored by the councilman.

However, PHIA President Jack Amrhein told the East County Times that Harms had misspoken and they did not raise the Klausmeier farm as an issue. He said it had been on their preliminary list of issues to raise but did not make the “final cut.”

“We shied away from it because there had been discussions with the family... that they didn’t have plans to develop,” Amrhein said.

Marks noted that his downzoning decisions in 2016 targeted the areas with the most heavily overcrowded schools.

“The schools west of Belair Road are not as overcrowded, and at the time when we were starting rezoning they were not overcrowded at all,” he said, referring specifically to Gunpowder and Seven Oaks elementary schools.

In addition, had Marks decreased the density to one home per acre, the developer would still be able to build 27 new homes, which he called “significant,” noting that the government cannot simply block all development of the land.

The councilman called the situation “frustrating” and said the site would be an “optimal” location for a public park.

“Last winter, I met with the Klausmeier family to urge them to consider selling the land to Baltimore County for public uses,” Marks said. “I was specifically interested in this becoming a park. I thank the Klausmeier family for meeting with me, but ultimately they proceeded with this development, which is their right.

“Make no mistake - I am not happy with this property being developed,” he continued. “It is a missed opportunity and that is unfortunate, but it is ultimately the Klausmeier family’s decision.”

Marks held out hope, however, that there may still be a chance to match the developer’s offer and have the land preserved after a new county executive takes office in December.

With little recourse to stop the development, Amrhein said the PHIA will instead advocate for the proper infrastructure to go with it.

“Road enhancements, sidewalks, traffic improvement, pedestrian crosswalks if need be and development standards” are all things that are needed, he said.

Marks said traffic is also a concern for him and he will be putting together a task force of local residents to recommend improvements to the road network in the area.

“I will do all I can to mitigate any impacts of this project should it move forward,” he said.

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Dundalk activist’s efforts to keep bus stop clean thwarted by county

Dundalk activist’s efforts to keep bus stop clean thwarted by county
The area where the benches and trash cans were placed has remained mostly clean thanks to the efforts of Angel Ball and bus riders. Photo courtesy of Angel Ball.

(Updated 1/31/18)

- By Marge Neal -

With her boss’ blessing and financial support, Dunmanway Apartments property manager Angel Ball has become much more than just a property manager in the Greater Dundalk area.

The energetic community leader and activist has thrown herself into many existing community efforts, projects and special events and has created others to fill needs that she saw.

Throughout the community, she has established a reputation of being the go-to person to get a wide variety of issues solved, to procure needed items for the less fortunate and to supply volunteers - her trusty and devoted residents - to any variety of community events.

So it is understandable that she is upset about some bus stop benches and a trash can being removed from in front of the apartments she manages without anyone addressing the perceived problem with her first.

On Monday morning, Jan. 29, Ball was in her office when a maintenance man rushed in to tell her that a Baltimore County crew just loaded the benches and trash can in to a yellow county truck and drove off.

The benches and can were installed near the bus stop by the apartment complex in an effort to keep the corner clean and to have a comfortable place for bus riders to wait between bus runs.

Ball said she immediately jumped in her car and attempted to track down the truck. She went to the county maintenance yard at Chesterwood Park, thinking the benches could have been taken there.

After a lot of phone calls, conversations and what she described as a “huge run-around,” Ball was told the benches were picked up by workers from the county’s highways bureau in response to a complaint filed by County Councilman Todd Crandell’s office.

She was also told the benches would be returned that afternoon. When they had not been returned by 3 p.m. Monday, she posted photographs and a video on Facebook, complaining of the removal and expressing her anger over not being contacted before taking the drastic action of removing the items.

“There was not one single word to me that this was an issue,” she told the East County Times. “Why would they just pick this up without giving any kind of notice or warning?”

Ball said a staff member in Crandell’s office told her the complaint did come from there, but the complaint involved the condition of a bus stop closer to Dunmanway and Liberty Parkway.

“So mine were taken by mistake,” she said. “That makes no sense and makes me even angrier.”

Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler, in an email to the Times, provided this explanation: “Baltimore County received a complaint about a make-shift bus shelter, trash, litter and clutter near Heritage Park, and Highways dispatched a crew to clean up the area. During that effort, two non-approved benches and a trash can in front of Dunmanway Apartments, that were in our right-of-way, were removed. We will continue to reach out to the apartment complex representatives to address this issue further.”

In an effort to keep the property line clean, Ball said she had a “no littering” sign and a trash can put at the bus stop about four years ago. Last year, when she had several benches built for residents to use in a complex open space, she had two extras built for the bus stop.

“I went to the people using the bus stop and asked them if they’d be willing to help me keep that bus stop clean if I put a bench there for them to use,” Ball said. “They were thrilled and agreed to help clean - and they have; everyone puts their trash in that can.”

Ball employs a porter who works three days a week whose duties include emptying the bus stop can. It never overflows unless it gets heavy use over a weekend and then it gets emptied on Monday.

“Why would the county want to destroy an effort we’re making to keep this area clean?” Ball asked. “We are helping them out with this.”

As frustrated as Ball was with the lack of communication and clear answers from Baltimore County officials, she was as thrilled when she was approached by Janeen Kuser-Wolf, director of partnerships for the Maryland Transit Administration.

“Janeen contacted me to tell me about the MTA’s Adopt a Bus Stop program,” Ball said Tuesday. “She reached out to me after seeing the video on Facebook.”

With Kuser-Wolf’s help, Ball said she will take an incident that “went sour” and turn it into a “blessing” for the community.

Ball plans to meet with Kuser-Wolf next week to get the details of how the bus stop adoption program works and what the apartment complex will need to take care of the stop at Dunmanway and Dunran Road.

Once Ball gets educated on the program, she plans to share the information with neighborhood organizations and community leaders with the hope of transforming many of Dundalk’s bus stops.

“There’s a bus stop right in front of Dundalk Elementary School,” Ball said. “Maybe they could adopt that one, get them out there and give them a sense of pride in taking care of their community.”

Ball said she may never get the straight story about what happened to her benches and who took them. In spite of a promise otherwise, she does not expect to see them again and anticipates building new ones when she officially adopts the area with the state’s blessing.

“I’m so tired of all this good-old-boys stuff; it’s time to make some changes,” she said. “This has just whipped me up.”

The bus stop adoption proposal from Kuser-Wolf has reenergized her, she said: “I am so on a mission now.  I’m going to take this bad experience and make the glass half-full. We will use this to transform our community.”

Crandell’s office did not respond to multiple requests for information, and Kuser-Wolf could not be reached.

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Personal loss inspires Holliday to run for House of Delegates

Personal loss inspires Holliday to run for House of Delegates

(Updated 1/31/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Dundalk resident Justin Holliday is running for the House of Delegates in the Sixth Legislative District for personal reasons.

And he chose a special date on which to officially file his candidacy with the Maryland State Board of Elections: Sept. 28, his late father’s birthday.

“I lost my father last year when he lost his battle with addiction,” Holliday told the East County Times. “The opioid crisis played a big role in my decision to run and will be at the forefront throughout my campaign.”

The 22-year-old Democrat is a lifelong West Inverness resident and a 2014 graduate of Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts. He is a government and public policy student at the University of Baltimore, from which he expects to receive his bachelor’s degree in May.

Holliday is passionate about several social issues he believes are hitting the Essex and Dundalk areas particularly hard. In addition to the overall opioid crisis, he is concerned about homeless military veterans and the quality and cost of health insurance and health care.

He wants to see a more multi-pronged approach to opioid treatment, with more medical resources available to patients and a tougher criminal justice system to handle the habitual abusers and dealers.

“We can’t arrest our way to sobriety,” Holliday said. “But right now, there is a one-size-fits-all approach when treatment or punishment needs to be more individualized to meet the needs of each person.”

As he talks about opioid use on the campaign trail, Holliday said he meets resident after resident affected by the problem.

“I haven’t come across anyone not touched by this, whether it’s a son or daughter, parent, co-worker or friend,” he said. “We need to do more as a society and a government to increase the medical resources available to fight this disease.”

Holliday believes the state could increase its efforts without placing additional burden on Maryland taxpayers. He said there is “some waste in government and we could redistribute existing money without raising taxes.”

He would like to see more oversight of doctors and the pharmaceutical industry to tighten the distribution of prescription opioids and believes the criminal justice side of the equation needs to issue harsher sentences as a deterrent.

Holliday also “fully supports” medical marijuana and thinks it could be just as effective and less addictive than opioids in the treatment of chronic pain.

“It is government’s role to do everything it can to cut back on this problem,” he said. “That’s why, if elected, I’d like to serve on the Health and Government Operations Committee.”

Holliday would also like to see Maryland make a concerted effort to end veteran homelessness in the area. Noting that homelessness in general is a problem in many jurisdictions, he said “You have to start somewhere and what better place to start than with those who have risked their lives for us.”

He points to a Virginia plan that has significantly reduced overall homelessness and “effectively ended” that state’s homeless veteran population.

“I’d like to see Maryland try something similar; they have a program that is working,” he said.

As of Jan. 30, Holliday and Megan Ann Mioduszeski were the only Democrats registered to run in the Sixth District race. They are challenging Republican incumbents Robin Grammer, Bob Long and Ric Metgar.

The deadline to file is Feb. 27 and if additional people register to run, Holliday said he is ready for the competition.

He said he is running a “grassroots” campaign that involves a lot of door knocking, an Internet presence and word of mouth to get his message out. He plans to challenge the incumbents with what he says is a “record of broken promises” and a habit of “passing the buck.”

Holliday does not plan to raise or spend a lot of money and admitted that fundraising is his least favorite part of politics. In the most recent campaign finance report cycle, Holliday submitted an affidavit stating he would not raise or spend more than $1,000 in the covered time period.

He is considering signing up for public financing, which limits the amount of money participating candidates can spend. He does not believe money should be allowed to buy elections and hopes to run a down-to-earth campaign that resonates with local residents.

He considers himself a moderate Democrat and said governing should be a bipartisan effort with emphasis on issues and people, not political parties.

Holliday said he realizes Democrats do not enjoy the popularity they once had in the district, but believes he has a campaign message that should transcend party politics.

“I’m paying attention to my race and I’m not aware of anyone else planning to run,” he said. “But my campaign’s fine and I’m ready for the competition.”

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Bromwell, Klausmeier continue push for pharmaceutical transparency

Bromwell, Klausmeier continue push for pharmaceutical transparency
Delegate Eric Bromwell (left) and State Senator Kathy Klaismeier (center right) hosted a town hall event with the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative at the Parkville Senior Center to discuss prescription drug affordability. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

During the 2017 state legislative session, Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-8) co-sponsored legislation forcing pharmaceutical companies to explain sudden price hikes on off-patent or generic drugs and allowing  the attorney general to sue companies who partake in gouging.

This year, there are two bills that will be introduced that aim to curb the cost of prescription drugs while increasing transparency. One bill would put an end to gag clauses in pharmacy distribution contracts and the other would create a commission to review drug costs.

Last year’s price gouging bill (HB631) saw some pushback from Governor Larry Hogan, who noted in a letter to House Speaker Michael Busch that “this legislation only addresses the pricing of generic and off-patent pharmaceuticals, and does nothing to address the cost of patented products and medical devices which may be associated with drug delivery.”

“In a way, these two new bills are a response to Governor Hogan,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.

Bromwell and State Senator Kathy Klausmeier (D-8) are co-sponsoring legislation that would prohibit gag rules that prevent pharmacists from telling consumers that they could save money by paying for certain prescriptions out of pocket, bypassing the insurance co-payment.

Speaking to a group of seniors at Parkville Senior Center on Monday, Jan. 22, Bromwell explained that all drug stores have to go through a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM). A PBM acts as a middleman for pharmacies, insurance agencies and pharmaceutical manufacturers, negotiating the price of a drug with manufacturers, as well as negotiating billing costs with insurers.

The PBMs also set the price of reimbursement for a pharmacy regarding that drug.

So if a pill costs $6 but your co-pay is $25, the $19 difference goes to the benefit manager, in what is known as a “clawback.”

“The pharmacists want to tell you [it is cheaper to pay out of pocket],” said Bromwell. “It’s the contract that, as it’s written, is keeping them from telling you that. A lot of them want to tell you...especially your independent pharmacists. This is literally stealing.”

Bromwell recommended that everyone ask their pharmacist whether or not it is cheaper to pay out of pocket.

Klausmeier maintained that eliminating gag clauses was a simple way to combat the rising cost of prescriptions and a measure that would instantly put money back into the pockets of Marylanders, especially seniors who are likely to take more medications.

But Bromwell had other concerns, most notably that PBMs were cutting reimbursement rates to independent drug stores, then later offering to buy out the independents when times get tough.

“These PBMs are trying to put independents out of business,” said Bromwell, adding that they are taking the clawbacks and opening up more chain drug stores, which in turn will take business from independent stores.

At the end of last year, a poll released by MCHI found that 64 percent of voters were in favor of preventing pharmacy managers from restricting what pharmacists can tell consumers. With favorable numbers, Bromwell expects this initiative to pass without much opposition.

On Jan. 9, the Washington Examiner published a statement from The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, the trade association for pharmacy benefit managers, with the group saying they support “the patient paying the lowest price available at the pharmacy counter for the prescribed drug.”

While the gag rule might make its way through the legislature without much of a battle, passing legislation to establish a review commission might be a bit trickier.

The main goal of the bill, sponsored by Delegates Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) and Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) is to make all high-cost prescription drugs, including name-brand and specialty drugs, more affordable, with “upper payment limits” set up by the Prescription Drug Cost Review Commission.

In order for the commission to take up a review, a name-brand drug would either have to have a starting price of $30,000 or more; an increase of more than $3,000 per-year for a brand name or $300  per year for a generic; or have a generally unattainable price for Marylanders.

DeMarco pointed to the cost of Duopa Gel, a drug designed to treat motor fluctuations in patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease. A 30-day supply of the drug costs $6,054, and of the 4,649 Maryland residents battling advanced Parkinson’s, only 32 are currently receiving the advanced treatment.

In the Jan. 11 issue of the East County Times, Eighth District Delegate Christian Miele said he was withholding judgment on the proposed legislation as he had not seen the bill, but cited a wide array of reasons lawmakers should be cautious about wading into this issue. The Perry Hall Republican pointed to funding for research and development, noting that there are more drugs that never make it to market than do. He added that he’s “anxiously waiting” to read the bill and looking forward to hearing arguments for and against it.

DeMarco expects the pharmaceutical companies to have the same arguments that Miele presented, but he believes their approach is too narrow.

Pointing to Sovaldi, a $90,000-per-treatment drug prescribed to treat Hepatitis C, DeMarco told the Senior Center crowd that only 20 percent of Maryland residents who needed it were able to afford it.

“Our position is, why not cut the cost and make it available to 80 percent of Marylanders? They would still make plenty of money and help more people at the same time” said DeMarco.

DeMarco also pointed to Washington Post research from 2015 that showed big pharmaceutical companies spend much more on advertising than on research. Johnson & Johnson spends $17.5 billion per year on advertising and $8.2 billion per year on resarch, DeMarco noted, while Novartis, Pfizer and Glaxosmithkline all spend about $5 billion more on advertising than on research.

The two bills also have the backing of the AARP. Tammy Bresnahan, the organization’s associate state director for Maryland, said a survey of 1,700 members found that 80 percent said prescription drugs were their top issue.

“They’re afraid that their prescription drugs are going to put them out of their home,” said Bresnahan.

She applauded the efforts of Bromwell, Klausmeier and MCHI, saying that inactivity in Congress has pushed states to act.

According to MCHI, overall drug prices increased nearly 9 percent in 2016, and drug prices have risen at an average of 10 percent annually since 2013. Over that same stretch, inflation has only increased 1.2 percent.

There are at least 16 lawsuits in the U.S. looking to prohibit clawbacks, filed against CVS; Walgreen’s; UnitedHealth Group Inc., which runs the benefit manager OptumRx; Cigna Corp., which contracts with OptumRx; and Humana Inc.

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County no longer moving forward with plan for turf fields at ERP

County no longer moving forward with plan for turf fields at ERP
The new turf fields would have replace existing grass fields on the eastern side of the park near the parking lots and the one existing turf field. Image courtesy of Huntley Sports Group.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County has made an administrative decision, as of Jan. 16, not to continue with a proposal to allow a developer to install and operate four new turf fields at Eastern Regional Park.

The partnership would have brought ERP’s total number of turf fields to five and optimized the scheduling for the fields’ usage, according to the developer.

However, despite approval from at least three of the four priority user recreation councils for the park’s fields, a county spokesperson said there was not enough community support for the project.

“This public-private partnership concept seemed to have potential and was worth approaching the recreation councils and community,” said county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler. “It could have been an opportunity to combine a community recreation resource with a major regional sports tournament venue that would create positive economic activity for the area. The feedback that we have received indicates that there is not enough of a community consensus to move forward at this time.”

When pressed for more information about who specifically made the decision to cancel the project or what factors were considered in the decision, Kobler refused to elaborate. She also declined to say how much community support there was for the project or how much the county needed in order to proceed.

The East County Times reported last month that Huntley Sports Group was looking to split the $3.5 million cost with the county to install the new fields, and in return they would be contracted to operate the fields with regard to scheduling and maintenance.

HSG partner Athan Sunderland assured that all recreation council programs currently using the fields would be able to maintain their level of usage at the same or reduced cost. And the time left unscheduled could be sold to outside groups for HSG’s profit.

Leadership from the Bengies-Chase, Rosedale and Middle River recreation councils - each listed as a priority user in the ERP charter - confirmed that their boards voted, albeit in split decisions, to officially support the proposal. The Essex-Stembridge Recreation Council, the fourth priority user, was reportedly still in talks with Sunderland over whether to support it when the county’s decision was made.

Although not a priority user, Overlea-Fullerton Recreation Council President Nicole Wilson said that council also supported the proposal because they always support facilities improvements on the east side.

Other councils, however, which are at least occasional users of the park had concerns that they could incur high costs to use the fields when they need to under HSG’s management.

County Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall) said the Perry Hall and White Marsh councils opposed the proposal out of concern that they would have to pay high fees - up to $150 per hour - to use the fields as secondary users.

“The benefit would have been to the primary recreation councils which are all in the Essex and Middle River area,” Marks said. “But the ones up in the north would’ve had to pay more to use the fields,” he said, adding that PHRC and WMRC use ERP’s fields as backups when fields in their own area are not available.

“My frustration was that, once again, the county executive’s office did not fully involve my office and apparently other County Council members as well,” he said referring to Councilman Todd Crandell.

Crandell, who represents Essex and Dundalk, posted to his Facebook page on Jan. 16 that the proposal to “privatize” ERP had been scrapped.

“This is a win for our local rec. programs who were left out of the deal and would have had to pay large fees to use the park.”

Sunderland contended, however, that he had reached out to all stakeholders and been open with them throughout the process. In addition, he said only soccer and lacrosse clubs and other non-rec. council users would pay to use the fields.

In the field scheduling, Sunderland said, “HSG provided 1,435 hours for free rec. council use, which allowed for 25-percent growth in local rec. soccer programming and 50-percent growth in local rec. lacrosse programming. Those 1,435 hours are first made available to priority users, [Eastern Area Soccer League], Perry Hall Rec. lacrosse, Overlea Rec. soccer, and two tournaments: EASL’s Boo Bash and the Overlea Cup.”

He said 1,435 hours is equal to having five fields for the entire soccer season, plus three fields for the whole lacrosse season, each for five nights per week.

Regarding how they chose the priority groups, Sunderland said, “First, HSG was asked to follow the ERP charter to identify priority users. Second, HSG looked at recorded historical use at the park and approached those groups to ensure continued utilization. Third, we made public at every meeting and through public outreach that any rec. councils that have a need or use should reach out to us so we may meet to discover a workable plan.

“After HSG completes its initial programming objectives, we would offer available hours to local rec. councils at minimal to no cost,” he affirmed.

Charles Munzert, vice president of the Board of Recreation and Parks and the Middle River-area representative, agreed with the county’s decision due to a lack of understanding in the councils about how the project would work. However, he was optimistic that with time, everyone would be more clear about it and it could move forward in the future.

“I think that’s the proper way of doing it, is to make sure everybody understands it before we do it,” he said.

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Water’s Landing developer holds public meeting on growth allocation

Water’s Landing developer holds public meeting on growth allocation
This graphic shows an aerial view of the site with its Critical Area and non-Critical Area portions identified. Image courtesy of Daft, McCune, Walker.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A review committee is set to deliver its recommendations to the Baltimore County Planning Board by Friday, Jan. 26, regarding whether a Chesapeake Bay Critical Area growth allocation should be granted to the Water’s Landing at Middle River development in Essex.

The developer for the project, Manekin Construction, seeks to build 187 homes on a 56-acre waterfront site along Weber Avenue. But to do so, the project needs to be approved for a growth allocation which would allow homes to be built using only a 100-foot buffer from the shoreline rather than a 300-foot one, which is typical for new construction in the critical area.

The CBCA encompasses a 1,000-foot zone along any tidal shoreline.

“So pretty much this entire peninsula is within the critical area,” said Jason Vettori, land use attorney for the project with Smith, Gildea and Schmidt.

For CBCA purposes, the site is currently mapped as a Limited Development Area, and using the growth allocation would upgrade it to an Intensely Developed Area, using 56 of the county’s 88.2 remaining acres for that purpose.

Patricia Pfarr, of the county’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability and who chairs the Growth Allocation Review Committee, said a requirement for converting from LDA to IDA is that the subject site must adjoin parcels with the same designation.

Water’s Landing does adjoin IDA parcels, and the adjacent Hopewell Pointe development also used some of the growth allocation acreage when it was built.

Of the 187 homes shown in the plan, 180 would be within the critical area. And while the average distance of all of the homes from the shoreline would be about 200 feet, according to plan engineer Sam Neuberger, the plan shows 49 within the typical 300-foot buffer and the closest just 119 feet from the shoreline.

Vettori noted that the developer has spent a lot of money to remove buildings and illegally dumped materials from within the areas closest to the shoreline which were harmful to the environment.

“We worked with the county representatives to try to come up with a plan that takes into consideration the most important wetlands and tidal areas to, at the end of the day, protect the habitat and other water quality issues,” he said.

Eric Chodnicki, environmental services manager for the project with Daft, McCune, Walker, said most of the trees being cleared on the site for the development are outside the 300-foot buffer, and where they have cleared within it will be replanted with understory shrubs and other plants.

He added that more trees will be planted within forested areas on the site as environmental mitigation, and trees will also be planted and wetlands created on two properties in the area to account for the remainder of the required mitigation.

Chodnicki said about 17.8 acres of farmland on the Celmer property near the Essex Skypark will be reforested and some wetlands created on the property to account for some mitigation. And 9.4 acres of farmland reforestation on the Peige property along Luthardt Road in Bowleys Quarters will cover the rest, he said, noting that it is adjacent to 150 acres of existing forested land.

“So it’s going to provide some really good habitat and functional value with that forest that’s existing today,” he said.

Pfarr added that all undeveloped areas of the site under the plan would be entered into a critical area easement and classified as “non-disturbance areas” to be permanently protected from development.

However, Bowleys Quarters resident Allen Robertson took issue with the two mitigation sites, partly because this type of mitigation is meant to be done within the same watershed as the development and one of them is in a different watershed.

He pointed out that the Celmer property drains to Back River, not Middle River. And the Peige property, while on Middle River, is on Seneca Creek which connects to the lower portion of the river.

Robertson said the trees being removed from the Water’s Landing site and the associated impacts are on the upper Middle River and Hopkins Creek, which have experienced algae blooms and other water quality issues in recent years.

“So that’s where the mitigation needs to happen,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the Bowleys Quarters Community Association, Robertson said they support granting the growth allocation for the acreage and homes outside the 300-foot buffer, with a 35-foot setback from that buffer line for permanent structures.

“But we would oppose the allocation of the acreage for any land that is 335 feet or closer to the water,” he said.

“We appreciate you reforesting the Luthardt [Road] farm area, however, that farm drains into Seneca Creek... and they haven’t had any algae blooms recently,” Robertson continued. “It was actually the upper part of Middle River that had the algae bloom most recently that we would be concerned about taking more forest buffer away from.

“With that in mind, we would prefer that the 300-foot buffer stays in place,” he said, although they would excuse some houses if they only slightly crossed the line.

The GARC, comprised of Pfarr as well as representatives from the county’s departments of Planning, Economic Development, Public Works and Permits, Approvals and Inspections, looks at CBCA requirements for things like water quality and habitat protection when considering growth allocation requests.

Their recommendation will be sent to the Planning Board which will hold its own public hearing and make a recommendation to forward to either the County Council or the Board of Appeals, whichever is deemed applicable.

Although nothing is yet scheduled, Vettori said the Planning Board’s hearing would likely be sometime in March and the County Council or Board of Appeals would then likely take up the issue in June or July to make the final decision.

Following the county’s decision, the state’s Critical Area Commission must still approve the growth allocation, Pfarr said.

The county will then hold another public hearing for the overall Water’s Landing development sometime following the growth allocation decision, Vettori said.

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Feuer running for school board to combat ‘eastside neglect’

Feuer running for school board to combat ‘eastside neglect’
Will Feuer filed as a candidate for the Board of Education on Jan. 5 at the Baltimore County Board of Elections office.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Will Feuer has become an active member and leader in many of Dundalk’s community organizations since buying a house in West Inverness six years ago.

Currently the president of the Dundalk Renaissance Corp., Feuer is also a vice president of the Eastern Regional Lions Club and the immediate past president of the Optimist Club of Dundalk.

But there is one more element of community service he is hoping to add to his résumé - that of Board of Education member. He filed on Jan. 5 to run for the Seventh Councilmanic District seat on the school board that will this year have popularly elected members for the first time.

“I’m running because I want people to be proud of Essex and Dundalk like I am,” Feuer told the East County Times. “I see all the neglect Towson has for this side of town and I want to change that.”

Feuer, a Parkville High School and Community College of Baltimore County graduate, originally got involved in Dundalk-area education issues because of proposed renovations to Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts.

“I didn’t think that what they had planned was enough; the renovations didn’t go far enough,” he said.

He is concerned that Greater Dundalk’s comprehensive high schools - Dundalk, Patapsco and Sparrows Point - are all overcrowded and planned new housing developments will only worsen the situation.

“Dundalk High School is brand new, and it already has two trailers out back,” Feuer said of mobile classrooms employed by the school system to accommodate overflow students. “That school is less than five years old and it’s already overcrowded. That just strikes me as poor planning. They plan in the moment or react, they don’t plan for the future.”

Regarding behavioral and disciplinary issues, Feuer said teachers and administrators “need latitude to address the issues,” but also sees the need for “clear, across-the-board policies.”

He is concerned that the identical infraction could be addressed different ways in different schools.

“I understand the need to do everything possible to keep a child in the classroom and learning, but there also needs to be repercussions for bad behavior and also respect for the students who follow the rules and want to learn,” Feuer said.

The candidate said he believes one of his strengths is the ability to see “the big picture.”

“I don’t know everything but I have a willingness and the time to become knowledgeable of the issues facing Baltimore County schools,” he said. “And I have the ability to hunt out the resources to find the information needed.”

Feuer has adopted the acronym COAT - community, oversight, accountability and transparency - as the guiding philosophy of his campaign.

“These are the four principles that, as I run my campaign and if I am fortunate enough to be elected, I will uphold,” he said.

As of press time, Feuer was the only candidate to have filed for the Seventh District school board seat. The deadline to register is 9 p.m. Feb. 27.

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Rumor untrue about WMVFC private access road to MD-43

Rumor untrue about WMVFC private access road to MD-43
A concept rendering of how WMVFC's new station will look when complete. The new station will not have direct access to MD-43 via a private road.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Ever since the departure of the Paragon outlet mall project in White Marsh in January 2017, neighbors have sought information on what it means for the nearby White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company.

Paragon had promised to fund construction of a ramp connecting MD-7/Philadelphia Road with eastbound MD-43/White Marsh Boulevard to improve traffic flow around their property, as well as to provide easier access and improved response times for WMVFC. But that plan died with the outlet mall project.

Although Paragon was able to complete design on the ramp and get it approved by the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), the state does not currently have funding allocated to build the ramp itself.

Recently, a rumor has circulated through the community that WMVFC was going to be given access to eastbound MD-43 via a private access road, only for their use. However, company representatives and a SHA spokesperson have said they have no information on such a project.

“We know of no plan to allow us access, but we would welcome it,” said a source within WMVFC who preferred not to be named. “That’s obviously much needed.”

Additionally, SHA spokeswoman Shantee Felix said the agency had no information about a private road being built in that area.

Neighbors have also expressed some concern about the “for sale” sign on the front of WMVFC’s current building since they believed the Maryland Emergency Management Agency was set to provide grant funding for the demolition of the building following the company’s move to its new site and the property was going to remain open space.

But the unnamed source confirmed the building and property are for sale.

“We obviously need to sell it to help pay for our project down the road, which will better serve the community,” the source said.

WMVFC President Kevin Palmer said the MEMA grant was dependent on federal funds which were turned down by the state.

Palmer noted that federal restrictions prevent public safety infrastructure from expanding or doing new construction within flood plains; a portion at the back of their current site is within a flood plain. But a commercial use would not have that same restriction.

“So whereas we couldn’t expand or reconstruct the fire station because of the parameters placed on public safety, a commercial resale is a little bit different,” he said. “They would have a better ability to do renovations or expand, as long as it didn’t encroach in the flood plain itself.”

The property is zoned BL (business local) which allows commercial uses such as retail, restaurants, banks, offices and other similar uses.

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New housing going up in Rosedale

New housing going up in Rosedale
The Martin Farms site plan done by DS Thaler and Associates, courtesy of Klein Enterprises.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A planned complex of 77 townhouses off Rossville Boulevard in Rosedale offers quick access to Interstate 95, but it is also close enough to the highway to require noise barriers for the people who will live there.

The 12-acre former Martin Farm site is bounded on two sides by I-95 and Rossville Boulevard. Because the site is within 500 feet of a designated highway, barriers will be required to muffle the sound for the three-story townhouses.

Developer Klein Enterprises of Pikesville asked for a waiver from Baltimore County’s noise policy at a public hearing on Thursday, Jan. 18.

Also requested were multiple setback variances that would allow tighter grouping of townhouses due to a stream and woods on the southern end of the site that make part of the acreage unbuildable.

No one from the neighboring area attended, and a decision by a county administrative law judge is expected by the end of January.

A study of exterior noise levels from the highways indicated decibel levels above 66 dBA, the maximum allowed without mitigation. Because a wall could be more than 30 feet high, the developer asked for a waiver that would allow a lower wall as long as noise levels inside the townhouses do not exceed 55 dBA.

Granting the waiver would enable meeting the required noise levels on the ground floor, but not necessarily on the second and third floors. Potential buyers would be notified at the time of purchase about the condition, according to an attorney for the developer.

The only way in and out of the development would be off Rossville Boulevard at the existing traffic light across from the entrance to the Community College of Baltimore County Essex campus.

Located in groups of six to seven, Martin Farms units have one- or two-car garages and the community offers several amenities. The developer is paying $164,682 in lieu of fully meeting open space requirements.

Shady Springs Elementary School, the school district in which the new development is located, is over capacity. But other elementary schools in the area - Elmwood, McCormick, Red House Run and Orems - have room for students, according to the county’s Department of Planning.

An engineer for Klein testified that the additional traffic generated by Martin Farms will not result in creating a failing condition at intersections in the immediate area. An F-rated intersection means that a developer cannot apply for building permits until congestion is mitigated.

Other new residential construction in the area includes the fast-rising Overlook at Franklin Square, a complex of 356 luxury apartments in eight buildings with a two-story clubhouse and leasing office, as well as additional townhouses in Franklin Pointe at Deerborne.

Located near Martin Farms, the Overlook entrance is farther south off Rossville Boulevard at the traffic light across from Franklin Square Drive.

Four buildings are already being leased, and there are currently 20 occupants, according to an on-site leasing agent.

One-bedroom apartments start at $1,470 and three-bedroom apartments start at $2,225, she said.

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BQVFD ‘extremely grateful’ for gift of land from former delegate

BQVFD ‘extremely grateful’ for gift of land from former delegate
Most of the wooded property near the corner now belongs to BQVFD. While the cleared portion still belongs to developer Clark Turner, Hammen said the fire company may approach him to purchase that land as well. Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Former State Delegate Nancy M. Hubers is a proud 50-year resident of the Bowleys Quarters community.

The staunch public servant who served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1999-2003 said she has always felt “safe and secure” while living on the peninsula, in part because of the presence of the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department.

She beamed with pride Saturday, Jan. 13, when she presented a ceremonial deed of ownership, representing a gift of more than nine acres of land for future fire station use, to past President John Hammen.

“The future of the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department should be of prime concern to every resident in Bowleys Quarters,” she told the crowd gathered for the group’s annual installation of officers and awards program. “I hope this acquisition helps secure the future of the Bowleys Quarters fire department.”

Hammen elicited laughter from the crowd when he recalled a time when volunteers were called to assist with an incident that occurred on Hubers’ property.

In sharing what he described as “one of the strangest calls” he was involved with, he told of a boat that ran up into Hubers’ waterfront lawn and crashed into an oak tree.

“She came out and said, ‘Get that boat out of my yard,’” he said with a laugh.

The gift of about 9.25 acres of land situated near the intersection of Bowleys Quarters and Carroll Island roads is the result of a long and complicated process, according to Hammen.

Noting the desire to move the fire station to higher ground and to a location that would allow quicker access to Eastern Avenue, Hammen said he approached Hubers about three years ago to express the department’s interest in buying the land.

Hubers suggested making the land a gift, but discovered that her late husband, Dan Hubers, had bought the land with a couple of partners. With those partners also deceased, heirs needed to be tracked down so the land could be legally transferred.

Several lawyers, nearly three years and countless meetings and phone calls later, the effort resulted in the ultimate transfer of the land from Hubers to BQVFD. The legal transaction was finalized in October 2017. The gift is valued at about $1 million, “give or take,” according to Hammen.

Hammen thanked Shawn Vinson, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department and an attorney, for guiding the complex legal maneuvering that resulted in the gift.

Although the land is now under the ownership of the fire department, how to ultimately use it is still undecided.

“No decision has yet been made; that’s another set of extremely complicated decisions that have to be made,” Hammen told the East County Times. “We have to figure out where the money will come from, do we sell what we have, do we completely relocate, do we keep the hall that we currently have and just move the station?”

While about 90 percent of the calls responded to by the department are along the Eastern Avenue corridor, Hammen said the group’s Marine Emergency Team is also a vital component of its services.

BQVFD keeps one rescue boat at Long Beach Marina and another at Beacon Light Marina, which allows members to quickly respond to water emergencies on both the Middle River and Seneca Creek/Gunpowder River sides of the peninsula.

Another boat is kept trailered at the station for assisting water rescue efforts outside of the immediate area, according to Hammen.

The potential move would expedite land calls but make water rescues more complicated.

“Now when we get a water rescue call, the guys can just run across the street and be on the boat in minutes,” Hammen said. “So a move up the road would mean getting in cars to drive to where the boats are kept.”

In any case, the membership will take some time to assess priorities, funding, the future of the banquet hall and what is in the best interest of the community before deciding how to best utilize Hubers’ gift.

“We are a good, active group with our act together,” Hammen said of the department that boasts about 150 total members, with about 45 active firefighting and medically trained first responders. “We’re extremely grateful for this gift and we will use it in the best interests of the community we serve.”

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Tradepoint’s Royal Farms store moving forward; dredging begins in polluted tin mill canal

Tradepoint’s Royal Farms store moving forward; dredging begins in polluted tin mill canal
The canal’s northern section cuts through TPA’s planned retail complex. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A planned Royal Farms convenience store at Tradepoint Atlantic’s proposed shopping center off Bethlehem Boulevard in Sparrows Point got the go ahead from county reviewers last week and is expected to open late this year.

Located near Tradepoint’s marketing center building at the southern end of Peninsula Expressway, the convenience store will have gas pumps and a car wash, according to plans discussed at a Jan. 9 meeting of the county’s Development Review Committee.

Royal Farms was the first tenant to be announced for the retail and restaurant center component of TPA’s redevelopment of the former steel mill site that will serve industrial tenants, visitors and travelers, as well as the nearby Edgemere residential community.

Also planned is a 115-room hotel.

“[There are] no additional tenants to announce as of now; however, we are actively working the market to attract additional tenants,” said Tradepoint spokesman Aaron Tomarchio on Friday.

The Royal Farms site within the planned shopping center was formerly used as a marshalling yard and parking lot for a tin mill that operated until 2012 when it closed and was subsequently demolished along with most other steel mill buildings on the peninsula.

Environmental regulations sometimes allow the paving over of contaminated ground with parking lots and building foundations to protect people on site from coming into contact with the pollutants.

“Like the FedEx and Under Armour [distribution center]] sites, the [Royal Farms] development will serve as a cap for any residual contamination,” Tomarchio said.

The exact location of the future shopping center buildings will depend on remediation deemed necessary for the Tin Mill Canal, including buffers and fences approved by the county’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability.

Before construction can begin on the shopping center, work must be done to remediate and monitor the remaining canal, a 1.4-mile waterway that drains 800 acres of the peninsula and also received contaminated discharges from the mill and other operations.

About 15 feet deep, the canal cuts across the shopping center site on its way west through the Humphreys Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant before draining into Bear Creek.

A plan was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in October to guide the remedial work and monitoring.

Work began this month to excavate and remove contaminated sediments so the canal can continue to be used as a stormwater collector, but with less treatment required at TPA’s treatment plant because of the cleaner conditions.

However, two environmental groups - Blue Water Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation - argued during the comment period for the plan last summer that missing from the plan is data about the level of contamination in groundwater, which also drains into the canal.

“Generally speaking, having as much information [as possible] for the development from the onset just makes sense,” said Angela Haren, harborkeeper with Blue Water Baltimore. “Historically, the canal is one of the most contaminated locations at Sparrows Point, and we need groundwater monitoring to protect human health.”

The EPA argued in response that the issue will be addressed in the overall evaluation of ground water on the peninsula that has been occurring for about two years.

“The area around the Tin Mill canal has been studied and will be part of the comprehensive groundwater evaluation underway for the entire property,” said Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Disposal of sediment
The plan is to remove sediments going about two feet down from the bottom of the canal, which is expected to take about a year.

“The project consists of excavating sediment material from the canal, installing a geotextile liner, and capping the canal with clean material and rip-rap,” said Tomarchio. “The sediment being removed contains VOCs, SVOCs and inorganics (metals).

“The canal will be pumped out during the excavation and capping process, which will occur on a section by section basis,” he wrote. “The water will be pumped to the on-site wastewater treatment plant.”

Once excavated, the sediments will be disposed of at Grey’s Landfill, owned by Tradepoint, north of Bethlehem Boulevard.

Disposed of elsewhere will be material from a 200-foot section heavily polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that will be taken to an off-site hazardous waste facility.

“They will divert a section, scoop out the sediment, move it to a drying pad, line and repeat down the line till they get to the PCB area, which will require different material handling since the PCB soils will be hauled off-site to a disposal facility,” Apperson wrote in an email.

Still to be worked out is how stormwater runoff from Tradepoint’s paved shopping center will be integrated with the existing tin mill canal.

County regulations typically require that stormwater systems be designed to serve a particular parcel. But in this case, the shopping center is part of a much larger redevelopment.

“Other stormwater issues will be addressed by Baltimore County and MDE for the retail once the final design plans are submitted,” Apperson wrote.

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New Marshy Point program to expose kids to nature at early age

New Marshy Point program to expose kids to nature at early age

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A new program at Marshy Point Nature Center in Middle River called the Chesapeake Adventurers Pre-K, meant to give young children nature education and exposure, has its roots in a European concept known as “Forest Kindergarten.”

Ben Porter, the nature center’s senior naturalist and director, said the concept seems to have gained significant ground in environmental education.

“And it spread to a lot of different places in the U.S. to do a preschool program that is nature-based,” he said.

Chesapeake Adventurers offers children a nature-focused learning experience during which adventurers will set out on daily expeditions in the center’s park.

Porter said the children, accompanied by two “adventure guides,” will spend as much of the day as possible outside exploring and learning in the center’s 500 acres of park land.

“One of the ideas is that kids can learn from their environment and then from each other, and also from our adventure guides,” he said.

The program, which is scheduled for this spring, will run during the months of March, April and May on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each day.

Snacks will be provided through the program, but participants are asked to bring their lunches.

Porter said it will build on the popularity of their pre-K drop-in program which allows preschool-aged children to visit the center with their parents for an hour on Mondays and participate in nature-related activities.

“They come in... and do a different topic depending on what the time of year is, and that’s been very successful for about the last five or six years,” Porter said.

Like most of the other happenings at MPNC, Chesapeake Adventurers’ activities will follow the seasons, according to the director. And they are starting in March because the weather will be getting warmer and they will start seeing signs of spring.

“March starts to wake up the amphibians, so they’ll be exploring different habitats,” he said. “They’ll study our pond and wetland habitats here, they’ll hike through the forest, they’ll visit different parts of the Chesapeake Bay [habitat] on Dundee Creek here at Marshy Point.”

He added that the kids will participate in team activities as well as “free-form nature play.”

Porter, who grew up in the area around Rocky Point Park in Essex and then in the rural northern areas of Baltimore County, said he remembers having fun playing on the beach, in the creeks and in the woods in those places.

“That seems like what’s missing a lot in our world today,” he said. “So we want to give that experience to up to 16 kids from the local area, ages 3, 4 and 5.”

The program will also take some cues from the center’s summer camps, which have had abundant success each year providing similar types of activities for children in several different age groups.

“This, to me, seemed like a great way to provide an opportunity at a different time of the year and in a little bit different way,” Porter said.

Chesapeake Adventurers will lead into the summer camp season and will pick back up in September after the camps conclude.

Participant costs for the program are $90 per week for MPNC members and $100 per week for non-members and will contribute to paying the guides, providing snacks and covering the center’s investment to outfit a second classroom in their building.

Even simpler than providing a formal education, Porter said the goal of the program is just to expose kids to nature.

“There’s something special that time in the outdoors does,” he said. “It’s a really essential part of your humanity to connect with something bigger than yourself and the broader outdoor world.”

People can learn about themselves as well by spending time in nature, Porter said. “And I think that is important to start even at a very young age.”

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School board candidate Kitlowski knows the system ‘inside and out’

School board candidate Kitlowski knows the system ‘inside and out’

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Marge Neal -

As a youngster, Edward Kitlowski was inspired to become a teacher after watching “Room 222,” a 1970s television program about the inner workings of a school that had its share of problems.

“And years later, I got to teach history in Room 222 at Sparrows Point High School,” the Loch Raven resident said. “It was like a lifelong dream had come true.”

The now-retired educator wants to bring his teaching career full circle by becoming a member of the Baltimore County Board of Education. Kitlowski has filed to run as a candidate representing the Sixth Councilmanic District.

He is excited about the potential to get in on the ground floor of a newly formed Board of Education that he thinks is long overdue. With this year’s election, Baltimore County residents will for the first time elect seven members of the school board who will serve alongside four political appointees and an appointed student member.

“For many years, the Board of Education wasn’t accountable to anyone save maybe for the governor,” Kitlowski told the East County Times.“And that needed to change.”

Kitlowski attended Cromwell Valley Elementary School and graduated from St. Paul’s School in 1976. He received his bachelor’s degree in history from Ithaca College in 1980 and earned a master’s degree in education from then-Loyola College in 1986.

Kitlowski worked at a private school for students with learning disabilities for four years before beginning his career with Baltimore County Public Schools in 1986. He retired in 2016, having spent his final years as a teacher at Kenwood High School in Essex.

In his 30-year experience with BCPS, Kitlowski said he watched the culture of leadership change from one of partnerships to one of antagonism.

As he gets his campaign underway, Kitlowski is running with the slogan of providing a LIFT to the school system, with the acronymn referring to leadership, integrity, focus and transparency.

“I think that, from my perspective as an educator, I will bring a lot to the BOE that perhaps other candidates won’t have,” he said. “I want to put the focus on the culture of leadership, how is the money being used, how are new policies being implemented and received?”

He pointed to recent school years in which teachers were overwhelmed with implementing new grading systems, adopting new curricula and other new policies and procedures, all at a time when internal support for teachers has diminished, in his opinion.

The federally mandated No Child Left Behind, with its emphasis on data-driven outcomes, removed a lot of the individuality and creativity from the teaching process, he believes.

“No Child Left Behind shifted the culture, the dynamics, the relationships of the building,” he said of the achievement testing mandates created during the George W. Bush administration. “Those tests became all-important - more important to the teachers than to the students - and created an antagonism between teachers and students, teachers and department chairs, department chairs and principals and principals and higher administrators.

He is also concerned that the school system could be doing better by its students by graduating students who are actually college and/or career ready.

“We are preparing our students to graduate but we aren’t preparing them for life,” he said. “Nationwide, less than 50 percent of kids who enter college graduate, and a lot of the time that’s because they aren’t prepared for the level of work required in college.”

He also believes not enough attention is being paid to trades and careers that do not require a formal college education.

“A lot of students just don’t want to go on to college,” Kitlowski said. “We need to be more encouraging to students who want to pursue trades, we need to provide the training for the jobs that can never go overseas - plumbing, HVAC, welding, auto mechanics - and these are well-paying jobs.”

Noting that there is still a stigma attached to trades - as opposed to white-collar careers - Kitlowski believes parents should want their children to be independent and self-sufficient, regardless of what they choose to do for a living.

Kitlowski recalls a time when, as an educator, administrative support for teachers was much more apparent.

“I remember when Walt Amprey was an assistant superintendent and he’d walk into my classroom and ask me if there was anything I needed from him,” Kitlowski said. “We mattered as teachers and there was more support offered to make us be successful at our jobs. A lot of that is gone.”

In addition, he would like to see more idea sharing, not only from teacher to teacher but between jurisdictions.

“Baltimore County has in the past been narrow-minded in looking at other school systems for ideas that work,” Kitlowski said. “There has been a philosophy that if an idea didn’t come from the superintendent’s office, then it wasn’t a good idea.”

While he admits that much of his conversation about the school system might sound negative, he maintains that most teachers in Baltimore County are “phenomenal” and he does not fault principals who often have their hands tied with testing mandates and other state and federal requirements that can bog down the educational process.

He would like to see teachers treated more professionally with less micromanaging and putting a stop to intimidation and retaliatory actions that ultimately shut down communications and idea sharing among colleagues.

Kitlowski believes his extensive classroom experience across many superintendents and federal administrations makes him ideal for the school board.

“I  think it’s in the best interests of all Baltimore County taxpayers to have someone on the Board of Education that knows the system inside and out,” he said. “I’d like to see the school system keep its phenomenal teachers and make the commitment of changing the culture so people really do feel appreciated and are allowed to do their jobs.”

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Gov. Hogan’s paid sick leave veto overturned in General Assembly

Gov. Hogan’s paid sick leave veto overturned in General Assembly
Gov. Hogan (left) addressed the House of Delegates - alongside Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and House Speaker Michael Busch - on the first day of the session on Jan. 10. The next day the House overrode his veto of paid sick leave legislation.

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

A day after the General Assembly reconvened in Annapolis last week, the Democratic majority worked quickly to override multiple vetoes enacted by Gov. Larry Hogan at the end of last year’s session.

Most notably, the House of Delegates and the State Senate voted to overturn the veto of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, colloquially known as the paid sick leave bill. The bill will require businesses with 15 or more employees to provide five days of sick leave. Democrats contend the bill will help more than 700,000 workers in the state, but a task force convened by Hogan earlier this year estimated the number was below half of that.

Needing 85 votes in the House of Delegates, the Democrats secured 88. Every member of the House representing Districts Six, Seven and Eight on Baltimore County’s east side voted to sustain Hogan’s veto. In the Senate, the override passed with a 30 - 17 count, and Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-11) ultimately providing the bump needed to push the override. Zirkin was one of four Democrats - including Kathy Klausmeier (D-8), Jim Brochin (D-42) and James DeGrange (D-32) - who voted against the bill last year. He was the only one to flip.

“The sick leave bill Governor Hogan vetoed - which the legislature overrode - takes us in the wrong direction,” said Delegate Bob Long (R-6). “The bill is too complicated and goes too far. It unfairly exempts too many for unexplained reasons, and it could require disclosure of private medical information to your employer as a condition of actually taking a paid sick day.”

Those sentiments were on display on the floor of the General Assembly on Jan. 11 as the Democrats and Republicans got their last words in before the vote. House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-7) told lawmakers that “while the bill was certainly well-intentioned,” there were too many flaws. She called it “overly constrictive” and highlighted “privacy concerns,” especially for those dealing with deeply personal issues like assault or abuse. She also pointed to a portion of the bill that required businesses to hold onto records for three years.

Szeliga urged lawmakers to consider Gov. Hogan’s bill, the Paid Leave Compromise Act of 2018, which would see the threshold for providing paid sick leave pushed from 15 to 25 employees. It would also take three years to be phased in, with hardship waivers available for businesses who can prove that cooperating with the measure would cause financial hardship.

“I support [Hogan’s proposal]. The compromise bill had the benefit of a study undertaken during the interim, and attempts to fix the major flaws,” said Long.

With the override of the veto, the law is set to be implemented in 30 days. But Thomas Middleton (D-28), the lead sponsor in the Senate, told reporters that lawmakers will consider a separate measure to delay enforcement provisions - such as fines - for 90 days.

“Is this the end of the discussion? Absolutely not,” said Middleton.

Amelia Chasse, deputy communications director for Hogan, issued a statement calling for legislators to fix the flaws in the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act.

“Now that this political posturing is over, it’s time for the legislature to get down to the business of fixing the serious flaws in this bill that Senator Middleton and numerous others openly acknowledged today,” said Chasse. “Given their own admission that [the bill] will hurt small businesses, we urge legislators to fast track the governor’s Small Business Relief Tax Credit to ensure employers aren’t forced to close their doors and lay off employees.”

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‘Migration’ pulls together eclectic group of dancers for original production

‘Migration’ pulls together eclectic group of dancers for original production
Pucci directs dancers during one of the production’s rehearsals in the CCBC Essex field house. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Marge Neal -

A genetics research project that has tracked the patterns of human migration over the past 50,000 years has revealed that Earth’s human population shares a common origin - that all humans are descendants from a single source and migrated across the globe.

That concept is the inspiration for an original dance production that will have its world premier at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 28, at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Essex campus.

CCBC alumnus and internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer Peter Pucci has created the original production titled “Migration” to honor researcher Spencer Wells’ work and to provide a unique creative experience for an eclectic group of dancers they would not have otherwise had, he told the East County Times.

Wells founded the Genographic Project, an anonymous, nonmedical and nonprofit effort, for National Geographic in 2005. Pucci said he reached out to Wells to tell him about his research being the inspiration for the production, and the researcher plans to attend the event.

“We’re all linked, going back 50,000 years, to a single tribe in Africa,” Pucci said of Wells’ research. “That inspired me to make a dance about migration, with a cross-pollination of many levels of dancers - professional, college, high school and community dancers - to represent that common linkage.”

Many local dancers are familiar with Pucci’s work and have benefitted from his expertise. The East Baltimore native received his associate’s degree in physical education from then-Essex Community College. A single dance class taken by chance served as the seed that would determine his life’s path and he said he enjoys being able to give back to the community that set him on that path.

“Migration” is an intricate piece of choreography that Pucci likens to a jigsaw puzzle, with separate but complementary pieces performed by different groups involved with the production.

About 50 dancers from CCBC, Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, St. Timothy’s School, Towson University and The Collective, a Baltimore-based professional dance company, are involved with the production.

Claire Sweet, chairperson of Patapsco’s dance department, considers the opportunity for some of her students to work with Pucci  “an invaluable experience.”

“It’s really all about the artistic vision,” she said of the chance to work with a professional like Pucci. “Being able to be around someone who is a master with the vision to bring this project to fruition is amazing for our students.”

Patapsco senior Jessica Kirkner is one of five Patriots taking advantage of the opportunity to work on “Migration.” She plays the role of a member of the original African tribe who branched out and started her own tribe.

Kirkner has not yet decided if she will pursue a career as a professional dancer. But she said she has learned a lot about her own abilities and the demands of dance as a profession.

“I think this experience shows me what I could do professionally if I chose that, and also that I could stay involved in dance even if I don’t choose that path,” she said. “These rehearsals require 100-percent effort and we take them more seriously that we do perhaps others.”

In addition to “cross-pollinating” the program’s cast of dancers, Pucci is fulfilling another creative fantasy by staging the production in a nontraditional performance space.

“I straddle both worlds,” Pucci said of athletics and theater. “I went to CCBC because I wanted to be a physical education teacher and I was involved in many sports - track and field, football, lacrosse, all of them really.”

In spending so much time in field houses for athletic events, he began to dream about holding a dance production in a sports facility.

The concept of “Migration” and its theory of cross-pollination made the production the perfect candidate for yet another performance experiment, Pucci said. To that end, “Migration” will be staged in Essex’s domed field house, with the dancers performing on a rubber floor poured over concrete and audience members sitting on bleachers.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to put dance in a very different context,” Pucci said. “We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments and the rehearsals have been very difficult on the dancers.”

The floor, with little to no give to it, exhausts the performers and wears out their legs, he said. And it is not unusual for birds, bugs and squirrels to visit during rehearsals, to say nothing of leaves and bits of debris that blow in.

“It’s very different, that’s for sure,” he said with a laugh. “But it has been a really great experience for all the students.”

CCBC commissioned Pucci to create “Migration” with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Cretella Mars Foundation. The production is part of CCBC’s yearlong Baltimore Stories Performing Arts series that involves many artists and performers who either live in the Baltimore area or have local roots.

The dance production is free and open to the public, but tickets are required. Tickets can be reserved by calling the CCBC box office at 443-840-2787.

In keeping with the theme, Pucci hopes to fill the gym with a cross-pollinated audience that will further carry out the theme of connections and commonality, in spite of individual differences.

“The dancers have all been working really hard on this production,” Pucci said. “We’re throwing together groups that would never have worked together, and I hope we have a great audience to witness their work and dedication to the project.”

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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]’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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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,  call 443-764-4249 or email 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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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 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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Politicians outline legislative agendas at Chamber breakfast

Politicians outline legislative agendas at Chamber breakfast
The State House in Annapolis. File photo.

(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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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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Essex community tree lights up the night

Essex community tree lights up the night
A large crowd braved the snowy and cold evening to enjoy the Essex community Christmas tree’s first lighting on Dec. 9. The tree was donated by Sam Weaver, owner of Weaver’s Marine Service, and decorated by Cliff O’Connell of Cliff’s Hi-Tech/Direct Effect and others. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Community leaders, elected officials and residents of Essex and Middle River gathered Saturday, Dec. 9, for what has become a grand event in recent years - the lighting of the community tree at the Heritage Society of Essex and Middle River in Essex.

Feelings of warmth and community were evident as the tree was lit even though the weather was snowy and cold. And many in attendance agreed that the tree looked even more beautiful with its dusting of snow.

Sam Weaver, owner of Weaver’s Marine Service, again donated this year’s tree, a 27-foot spruce which is three feet taller than last year’s.

Weaver, Cliff O’Connell of Cliff’s Hi-Tech and Cliff’s Direct Effect, and workers from Baltimore County combined their efforts to deliver and install the tree at the Heritage Society museum at 516 Eastern Blvd. And O’Connell, Back River Restoration Committee volunteers and others all helped to decorate the giant tree.

Joining the crowd on behalf of Governor Larry Hogan was Maryland’s deputy secretary of state and Essex resident, Luis Borunda, who remarked that the Heritage Society’s tree lighting is an excellent community tradition that helps - along with the snow - to put all into the holiday spirit.

Also in attendance were State Delegates Robin Grammer, Bob Long and Ric Metzgar and County Councilman Todd Crandell - all of whom represent Essex - as well as Del. Pat McDonough, who is running for Baltimore County Executive.

Crandell noted his awe at the size and beauty of the tree, along with the size and energy of the crowd gathered. He said although he is from Dundalk, “Essex is doing it better” when it comes to community Christmas trees.

Guests were also treated to cookies, tours and visits with Santa.

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Eastern Regional Park could get four new artificial turf fields

Eastern Regional Park could get four new artificial turf fields
The new turf fields would have replace existing grass fields on the eastern side of the park near the parking lots and the one existing turf field. Image courtesy of Huntley Sports Group.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Devin Crum -

A new proposal is at the forefront to improve both the facilities and event scheduling at Eastern Regional Park in Middle River as part of a public-private partnership between Baltimore County and a developer.

Under the proposal, the Huntley Sports Group would partner with the county to replace natural grass fields at ERP with four new, lighted artificial turf fields, bringing the park’s total number of turf fields to five.

ERP would then be the only public facility in the county - possibly the state - with five turf fields, according to Athan Sunderland, executive vice president of Pinkard Properties, which is a partner with HSG.

The project would not involve any of the baseball/softball fields in the park.

The county would split the project’s estimated $3.5 million cost roughly down the middle with HSG.

If approved, HSG would then be put in charge of scheduling and operation of the fields to optimize the use of the fields. But Sunderland assured that Baltimore County will still own, manage and maintain the park.

“It’s no different than the people cutting the grass,” he said. “The county doesn’t buy their tractors and they’re not responsible for cutting the grass.

“In this instance, the county isn’t paying for all of the turf, we are. And so we’re going to manage the turf. We are simply helping them solve a gap for the capitalization of something that we all want, which is turf fields,” he said.

Sunderland added that the county will put a contract in place to ensure that HSG operates in the park like any other contractor - and can be fired if they fail to fulfill their obligations.

Sunderland said HSG - which is a partnership between “lacrosse legend” David Huntley, Pinkard Properties and MFS Partners as the capital advisors - has studied the utilization of the fields at ERP in their current state and for the past several years and found that there is a lot of time when the fields are not in use.

“What we were able to determine was that there was an exorbitant amount of wasted time because of unused permits or permits that were put back into the general public for availability because they were held off for reserve,” he said. “Our job is to be sure that there isn’t wasted time there for this particular park.”

Sunderland explained that HSG would handle the scheduling for all sporting events seeking to use the fields. The recreation councils listed as priority users - Bengies-Chase, Middle River, Essex-Stembridge, Rosedale and Kingsville - would be guaranteed the same utilization rates, at the same cost, they have now.

In return, HSG would be allowed to sell unused time on the fields to other groups for profit.

“In other words, if we take the four or five priority users and we aggregate it... there’s more than enough time for these fields to be used by the rec. councils, as turf fields, just as they were in the past, and not even including the other fields out in the community,” Sunderland said.

“Our job is to be sure that when it’s not being used by the priority users, we drive additional consumption either by other people within our county, other counties or out of state through events and tournaments to generate localized revenue,” he said. “We’ll use those revenues to pay for our investment in the turf, and what is left over is ours for the operating company.”

In that leased-out time, HSG is hoping to bring in soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and football events, all while allotting space for the priority users to grow their programs and use of the fields.

And if the priority users’ programs grow to use up all of the allotted time, “we’ll build another park,” Sunderland laughed. “That would be a great thing.”

He said it is important for people to know, though, that the proposal is not expected to be “tremendously profitable.”

“It pays for the debt, and it pays for a little bit of the expense to run it,” he said.

HSG’s real objective through the venture is to prove that the model can work, “that it is replicable and scalable throughout the county,” Sunderland said.

“Because we only have nine municipally owned turf fields in the county,” he said. “This is adding almost a 50-percent increase in our current inventory.”

Charles Munzert, vice chairman of the county’s Board of Recreation and Parks and the Council District 6 representative on the board, clarified that recently installed turf fields in some areas, such as Perry Hall, were paid for by the recreation councils themselves, and use of such fields at schools is handled differently than at parks.

“And so if we can do it here and we can make it work, we have the opportunity to continue to expand,” Sunderland said.

He acknowledged that other parts of the county, such as Catonsville, Owings Mills and Towson, need more access to turf fields too. Therefore, this project could be a model for replication in those areas.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to demonstrate how we can use private capital to create a public benefit,” Sunderland said.

The project at ERP was originially proposed roughly two years ago as an adjunct to the 43 Fields project, which sought to develop an athletic field complex along the MD-43 extension in Middle River. It was a development project spearheaded by Pinkard Sports Development and Pinkard Properties.

That complex would have hosted sporting events and tournaments for profit, similar to what is proposed at ERP.

The 43 Fields project folded this summer, but Sunderland stressed that it was not a failure.

“It just was determined that its parts would be better off differently,” he said, “and that put Eastern Regional Park at the forefront” with HSG as the operator for programming and events.

“The 43 Fields project, while it did not come to fruition, its components were so important to getting us where we are today,” Sunderland commented. “And it gave birth to what could be a great road map to these public-private partnerships.”

Under the current proposal, HSG would have a 10-year lease to operate the fields, and all scheduling and permitting for field use would go through them, according to Sunderland.

He admitted that this would mean the recreation councils will have to cede control over that scheduling to HSG. But the group believes they can optimize field use simply by using a website to publish the available time slots for each field and having an online mechanism for interested groups to request time, potentially years in advance for large events.

“On [the website] will be a published schedule of all activities for each day on those fields,” Sunderland said. “So members of the community will be able to see what is being used, by whom and when.”

Regarding access to the fields by the general public, he said they will be open to anyone provided they are not booked.

“I never understand why we put fences around turf fields and you get chased off of there,” he said, adding that they want people, especially kids, to be able to use the fields.

“My approach to this entire park is that if you can go play and there’s no one on that field... whatever it is [you want to do], go for it,” Sunderland said. “If somebody’s got it booked, we’re going to come say you’ve got to move.”

County leadership has expressed support for the project, so long as the recreation councils are on board and in agreement, Sunderland said. And if they get approval, barring any hang-ups, HSG could have the new fields in place by Sept. 1, 2018.

Sunderland and Munzert both said the feedback they have heard from the priority user recreation councils has been positive and supportive.

“At this point, I basically feel comfortable saying the rec. councils approved it with some questions,” Munzert said.

He noted that those questions involved how parking would be handled at the facility and how it would work with the councils getting their field permits from HSG rather than the county.

“But I’m sure that’s going to be laid out [in the operator’s contract], he said. “The county’s going to put that together.”

Munzert said the Board of Recreation and Parks was scheduled to discuss the proposal at its meeting Wednesday, Dec. 13. However, he did not know if they would vote on anything related to it.

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BOE candidate Henn wants to continue the work she’s started

BOE candidate Henn wants to continue the work she’s started
Julie Henn has been a member of the Baltimore County Board of Education since being appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan in 2016. She is now running for popular election to the post. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Perry Hall resident Julie Henn has carved out a piece of Baltimore County electoral history for herself.

By filing her paperwork on Nov. 2, Henn became the first official candidate for Baltimore County Board of Education in that body’s first election that will result in a hybrid board of popularly-elected and politically-appointed members.

Appointed to an at-large opening on the school board in December 2016 by Gov. Larry Hogan, the passionate and energetic public education advocate hopes to retain her seat so she can continue the “important work” being carried out by the 12-member group.

Henn, 43, has lived in the Carney/Perry Hall area most of her life. She attended Harford Hills Elementary and Perry Hall Middle schools before graduating from Mercy High School.

She received her bachelor’s degree in communications from Marquette University and earned an executive MBA from what is now Loyola University Maryland.

The mother of two first started advocating for local schools because of seeing overcrowding in her children’s schools and problems with bus transportation.

“I got involved because I saw the immediate need to reduce overcrowding and fix transportation problems in our schools,” she told the East County Times. “I’m very much an advocate for smaller classes and less crowded schools.”

After speaking out locally on school-related concerns, Henn became a member of the Northeast Area Education Advisory Committee, a body of volunteers that provides a geographical voice to the county-wide school board. She eventually served as chairperson of the group.

She worked closely with Baltimore County Councilman David Marks to address Perry Hall-area school overcrowding and is proud that the dogged work of many is paying off, with two new elementary schools scheduled to open in the next couple of years and “a new middle school is on the horizon,” she said.

In addition to physically eliminating overcrowding with new schools and additions, Henn also sees the need to better police student residency to ensure students are attending the schools they are geographically supposed to be attending.

“I’d like to look closely at the residency verification process to see if that could be made more efficient,” she said. “We have students from outside the county attending our schools, and we have students attending schools that are not their assigned home schools.”

There is a process for students to apply for special permission to attend a school outside of their home boundaries, but many students are breaking the rules by attending selected schools without permission.

Henn is also concerned about the cost of out-of-county residents who are enrolled in county schools.

“I sympathize with Baltimore City parents who are concerned about the quality of schools there and are trying to do better for their children, but it places a burden on the county school system,” she said.

Henn would like to see an audit of the system’s residency verification process and change it, if necessary, to make it easier for residence investigators from the Pupil Personnel Office to do their job.

She also expressed concern with what she sees as systemic problems with discipline and the perception that students with behavioral issues are not properly addressed.

“Every school is different and each school’s kids are different,” Henn said. “We need to empower our principals to address discipline problems with the latitude they need to adequately handle those problems.”

She expressed concerns over classroom behavior that spills outside of the school, namely to school buses.

“The buses are overcrowded and do they all have aides?” she asked rhetorically. “Are the drivers getting the support they need? They can’t drive the bus and supervise the kids at the same time.”

She is concerned that reports of bullying take too long to address and believes the definition of bullying is too narrow.

“It very often takes multiple reports and parental intervention to get these incidents handled and it shouldn’t be that way,” she said.

Henn believes that some schools do a much better job in responding to bullying incidents and would like to see a more consistent approach across the school system. The proliferation of technology and the popularity of social media websites can make bullying an environment from which children cannot escape, she said.

Because of the spillover of bad behavior to buses and into homes via the internet, Henn said the “classroom isn’t a bubble and that puts more demands on our teachers; we need to have more support for our teachers which in turn creates more supports for our students.”

Another concern of Henn’s is the system’s overall spending, and the amount of money that is being spent on technology, perhaps sacrificing other areas that need attention.

She is “very concerned,” she said, with the number of no-bid contracts that have been executed by system administrators, which “raises a huge red flag” in her eyes.

Henn, an information technology director at Baltimore City Community College, said she of all people understands the importance of technology in today’s world. But she wants the use of technology in the classroom to be balanced with other teaching methods.

“We’re so dependent on devices and software, but how much teaching can be happening if the teacher is constantly working with one student because their device isn’t working?” she said. “If not used effectively, devices can be a distraction to learning.”

Henn would like the system to look into using open education resources, or OERs, which are teacher-created and classroom-tested educational materials like informational handouts, test questions, quizzes and lesson plans, that are in the public domain and can be used at no cost.

She would like to see a wider ray of transparency within the system, and said she has already seen a change under Interim Superintendent Verletta White’s tenure.

Under former Superintendent Dallas Dance’s leadership, “there was no sense of accountability or response to concerns,” Henn said.

Dance resigned abruptly in April and has since come under investigation for paid educational consultation work that he did not disclose to the school board.

That said, she added that such a sense of secrecy and covert decision-making “transcends any one individual.”

“The system operates in many ways under a ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ philosophy and we need a cultural shift in the school system,” she said.

There is no shortage of Henn’s ideas, concerns and passion for the county’s school system.

Now she just needs to have the support of voters: “I would never have thought of myself as a candidate running for office, but this means that much to me; I want to be able to continue what I’ve started,” she said.

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Two solar arrays proposed for Kingsville, third at Mt. Vista Park on hold

Two solar arrays proposed for Kingsville, third at Mt. Vista Park on hold
An existing solar array currently sits along Pfeffers Road in Kingsville near the proposed sites for new arrays. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Baltimore County residents and businesses who like the idea of tapping into the power of the sun will have a chance to sign up for two local solar projects now under development in Kingsville.

Turning Point Energy Inc., a private company based in Denver, has been working with Kingsville residents to fine tune its plan for a solar array on part of the former Huber farm at the intersection of Raphel and Philadelphia roads.

A public hearing on its request for a special zoning exception from a county administrative law judge for the site at 11956 Philadelphia Road is set for Monday, Dec. 18, at 1:30 p.m. in Towson.

A representative of the Greater Kingsville Civic Association did not respond by Monday to a request for comment.

“We have taken their feedback, questions and concerns and adapted our solar project design and development approach to ensure it is in alignment with our neighbors and community members,” wrote Turning Point in an email.

If the project is approved, Turning Point expects to start signing up subscribers in the spring.

Still to be scheduled is a hearing for a solar project on the northwest corner of the Raphel/Philadelphia intersection headed by Power 52 Energy Solutions on land owned by BGE, which operates a large substation nearby on the south side of Philadelphia Road.

Both commercial projects are participating in the Maryland Public Service Commission’s three-year “community solar” pilot program, which enables solar companies to build arrays and sell power to subscribers.

The program is intended to diversify the generation of power, encourage investment in solar projects and increase access to solar power for renters and others who don’t have panels on their own roofs.

Those who sign up would receive a credit for the energy they use on their BGE bill. Provisions also allow discounts for low- and moderate-income customers.

Power 52 Energy Solutions, based in Ellicott City, is a for-profit entity that hopes to sell 30 to 40 percent of the energy it produces to qualifying customers in south Baltimore.

The company was co-founded by former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, whose jersey number was 52. It is affiliated with the non-profit Power 52 foundation, which is introducing at-risk youth to the basics of solar array construction with the goal of preparing them for jobs in the industry.

In July, the Baltimore County Council passed Bill 37-17, which allows for solar arrays on land zoned for resource conservation, business and manufacturing under certain conditions. It does not apply to farms that use at least two-thirds of the energy generated for agricultural operations.

Under the law, solar panels cannot be more than 20 feet high, they must be enclosed by a security fence and landscaping is required if the array is visible from a residential neighborhood or public road.

Nine solar sites are currently registered with the county and another six are grandfathered under the bill, which does not affect sites under development prior to Oct. 19, 2016, according to a list of projects maintained by the county.

One of the approved existing sites is a privately run solar array in Kingsville located between two cornfields off of Pfeffers Road.

A Baltimore County government plan to install solar panels at Mount Vista Park in Kingsville, as well as sites in Woodstock, Parkton and Southwest Area Regional Park in Lansdowne, is on hold pending the selection of a new vendor.

Solar City, now owned by Tesla, was originally picked for the work but withdrew, according to county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.

“Tesla informed Baltimore County that it was terminating the solar projects in the face of previously unforeseen challenges that rendered these specific projects not viable,” wrote Kobler, who could not immediately provide more information, in an email.

“Baltimore County remains committed to the use of solar power and will be issuing a new [Request For Proposal] looking to utilize solar power at Baltimore County facilities,” she wrote.

The Turning Point hearing is set for Monday, Dec. 18, at 1:30 p.m. in the Jefferson Building, 105 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson.

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New senior housing proposed for property near Josenhan’s Corner

New senior housing proposed for property near Josenhan’s Corner
The darkened area, located on Old Eastern Avenue in Essex between Back River Neck Road (right) and MD-702 and just north of Mars Estates Elementary School, is being eyed for an 84-unit senior apartment complex.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The owners of a piece of land in Essex, which has been eyed for development in recent years, are seeking approval from Baltimore County for a new planned unit development (PUD) on the site.

The property is located on Old Eastern Avenue between MD-702/Southeast Boulevard and Back River Neck Road, near what has historically been known as Josenhan’s Corner.

The plan, put forth by Herman and Kittle Properties, Inc., would see a senior living apartment complex built on the site consisting of 84 units for residents aged 65 and older.

“That means not assisted living; just apartments for seniors 65 and up,” said David Willmarth, director of development for H&K Properties.

The project would be built as a four-story building with a mixture of one- and two-bedroom units, Willmarth said. It would be funded using a combination of conventional mortgage through a local bank and housing tax credit equity, meaning the developer would receive tax credits from the state in a competitive process.

“If we win the process, we’re awarded credits that are syndicated to big companies” like banks or insurance companies, he said. “They purchase the tax credits and we get cash to help us build the building.”

Willmarth said the tax credit equity could pay for roughly half of the project’s estimated $20 million total cost, and the combination of the two funding sources allows them to keep rents considerably lower than the market.

The developer noted that residents of the complex would earn 60 percent or less of the area’s median income, or about $38,000 per year, which he said is actually more than most of the seniors in that particular census tract.

At the Dec. 6 meeting of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council where the plan was presented, the federal government’s affordable housing program, commonly known as Section 8, immediately came up with regard to the type of residents who would live in the new housing.

But Willmarth assured they would not seek those with Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers or any other kind of project-based rent subsidies, in fact agreeing to it in their contract with the owners.

“This is just folks paying their own rent,” he said.

However, they would not turn down someone who has a voucher, provided they pass a credit and background check.

“If they pass that and they have a voucher, they’re welcome,” he said, noting that the check includes criminal records. Felony or drug-related convictions would be turned away, but lower-level offenses would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The project would include some parking for residents who want to lease spaces, as well as abundant green space including several mature trees being preserved on the property, Willmarth said.

He added that they must meet the most current standards for building with respect to the environment, including stormwater management.

But the EMRCC membership pressed Willmarth to do so without seeking any zoning variances or waivers so the project fully complies with current codes.

The project is being pursued through the county’s PUD process due to the mixture of zoning classifications currently on the property, including residential, office and community business.

PUDs allow developers to skirt existing zoning in exchange for a better project and a benefit for the community.

Willmarth said they would leave it to the community to decide what community benefit they would like. And EMRCC members floated the idea of having it be something for the closest community to the site, or potentially something to support the Eastern Baltimore County Task Force’s efforts to revitalize the area.

A previous development proposal for the site, also sought as a PUD, called for “workforce housing” apartments which were staunchly opposed by many in the community due to the potential for it to become more Section 8 housing in an area that already has a lot of it.

To get the funding they sought, that project had to include a percentage of affordable housing, said Sandra Kwiatkowski, one of the site’s current owners.

“The moment that Section 8 was mentioned, it was jumped upon and that was the end of that,” she said.

Additionally, as workforce housing, the project was not required to provide an extra benefit since the county classifies workforce housing itself as a benefit.

The previous developer offered to refurbish and maintain a problematic bus stop nearby, but community members did not feel that was enough.

Kwiatkowski pointed out that she grew up in the area and currently lives on the subject property.

“This is my community too,” she said. “It’s not that I’m just here to sell and see everything torn down. I’m part of this community and I want to see good things happen here.”

Sam Weaver and Karen Wynn, two leaders in the aformentioned task force, said they support the concept plan as presented, but they could only speak for themselves because their entire group had not yet met to discuss it.

“What we’ve heard so far, it seems like it would be an improvement,” Weaver said. “If they’re willing to spend that kind of money it would start the ball rolling for an uplifting for the whole area.”

The EMRCC voted that they were not opposed to the project moving into the county’s development review process, but did not necessarily give support for the project itself.

Since the project is located in County Councilman Todd Crandell’s district, Crandell will decide whether or not to introduce a resolution to the County Council to allow the project to begin the county’s review process.

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Swimmer Long goes 8-for-8 with world championship gold medals

Swimmer Long goes 8-for-8 with world championship gold medals
Long does her best Michael Phelps impersonation, posing with her eight gold medals. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Each time Jessica Long jumped in the Francisco Marquez Olympic Swimming Pool in Mexico City at the World Para Swimming Championships last week, she emerged from the water having earned another gold medal to add to her growing collection.

The swimming phenom who grew up in Middle River went eight-for-eight in the competition to lead the American team in total and gold medals. She won six individual races and was a member of two gold-medal-winning relay teams.

Long’s medal haul might not be as significant as it would have been had the meet taken place as originally scheduled, but she put in an impressive showing, nonetheless.

The championships were supposed to be held in September but a major earthquake that hit central Mexico on Sept. 19 caused a nearly two-month delay of the meet. As a result, some teams originally scheduled to compete dropped out of the rescheduled event.

For example, in both relay races in which Long participated, the U.S. team was the only qualifier. A clean race with no disqualifications guaranteed gold for the team.

“There were a few other teams in those particular events that unfortunately couldn’t attend,” Olivia Truby, a spokeswoman for the United States Olympic Committee, said in an email to the East County Times. “However, it was still a very competitive field throughout the whole meet, and we are very appreciative of everything Mexico City did to put on an incredible event.”

When the six-day meet ended Dec. 7, the U.S. had banked 54 total medals, good for second place on the overall leader board, while Long’s eight golds made her the meet’s most decorated female athlete, according to United States Olympic Committee officials.

Queenie Nichols, director of high performance for U.S. Paralympic Swimming, said she was  pleased with the performance of both veteran athletes and program newcomers.

“We are incredibly happy with how Team USA performed at world championships, especially swimming at altitude,” she wrote in an email.

China claimed the team medal title, with 56 total medals, including 30 golds. Italy finished third behind the U.S. with 38 medals and an impressive 20 first-place finishes.

Team USA’s medals were won by 18 individuals, including Timonium’s Becca Meyers, who won four medals (one gold, two silvers and one bronze), and Mt. Airy’s Zach Shattuck, who was a member of a bronze-medal-winning relay team.

Long, the daughter of Middle River residents Steve and Beth Long, is no stranger to the awards podium, regardless of the level of competition. She said her experience in Mexico City was “awesome.”

“It’s definitely been a really wonderful world championship experience,” she said in a statement from the USOC. “To come away with eight gold medals, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Long started the meet with three gold-medal performances on Sunday, Dec. 4, and capped off her perfect outing Thursday, Dec. 7, with a first-place finish in the SM8 (disability classification) 200-meter individual medley.

Between those days, she also won the S8 100m backstroke, the 34-point 4x100m medley relay, S8 400m freestyle and the S8 100m butterfly.

“Jessica continues to show why she’s one of the most successful Paralympic swimmers,” Nichols said in an email. “To sweep her events and win gold in every event is truly a testament to how great a swimmer she is.”

Not only did Long win eight gold medals, she did so convincingly. While many swim races are decided by tenths and hundredths of seconds, Long defeated each of her nearest competitors by at least five seconds. She finished nearly 25 seconds ahead of the second- and third-place finishers in the 400m freestyle and bested fellow American Julia Gaffney by more than 17 seconds in the 200m individual medley.

But while she enjoyed big leads in the pool, she was considerably slower than her own world record times in two of her races. Her time of 2:49.93 seconds in the 200m individual medley was nearly 13 seconds slower than her world record of 2:37.11, set in Montreal in 2013. With a final time of 1:12.81 in the 100m butterfly, Long was three seconds slower than her world record time of 1:09.79, set in Scotland in 2015.

A year removed from the Rio Summer Paralympics - where Long won six medals - and three years from the next games in Tokyo, Long is not at the peak of training. She has told other publications she is enjoying a lighter training load and taking it easy for a while.

She is enjoying success outside of the pool as well. Long was recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, which names 30 young people to watch in a variety of categories, including sports.

She also looks forward to the June 2018 release of her book, Unsinkable, written with her sister, Hannah Long.

Long revealed a picture of the cover of the book on her Facebook page this fall.

“Crazy excited to reveal the cover of my new book, Unsinkable,“ she wrote in the post. “This book is so special to me... it’s been two years in the making and it’s written by my little sister, Hannah Long.”

Long has also signed on with the Fitter and Fastest Swim Tour, where she will join other high-profile and elite swimmers who conduct swim clinics for athletes looking to improve their performance.

The four-time Paralympian has plenty of time to “take it easy” before she ramps up her training regimen in preparation for the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

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Star of Bethlehem once again lights the Christmastime sky

Star of Bethlehem once again lights the Christmastime sky
An event attendee inadvertently showed the scale of the behemoth decoration when he moved closer to take his own photo. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Placing the star atop a family’s Christmas tree comes with mixed emotions.

There is the poignancy of the moment, when the chosen family member delicately places the decoration in its place of honor. But there is usually some trepidation as well - that momentary fear that one wrong move will topple the carefully decorated tree.

As you’re carrying out that task this year, just be grateful your star is not 28 feet tall and doesn’t weigh in at more than 1.5 tons.

That is the size of the Star of Bethlehem, an iconic symbol with multiple meanings that graced the L-Blast furnace at Bethlehem Steel for decades.

The star was crafted to honor the steelmaking industry, Bethlehem Steel’s hometown of Bethlehem, Pa., and the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Saved from the recycle pile by Tradepoint Atlantic employees, the much-loved star once again shines over the Greater Dundalk area, even if it is from a temporary home on the side wall of the former steel plant’s wastewater treatment building.

More than 100 area residents joined elected leaders and Tradepoint officials on Nov. 29, when the star was brought to life for the third time under TPA’s ownership.

“This star at Bethlehem Steel was for decades a source of community pride during the holiday season,” Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said during the brief ceremony. “And as we know in 2012, that star dimmed with the closing of RG Steel and we lost 2,000 jobs.”

He thanked Tradepoint officials for their investment in Baltimore County and for ensuring that the Star of Bethlehem once again shines brightly over the Sparrows Point peninsula.

Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s vice president of corporate affairs, called the star a “hand-crafted symbol of the Bethlehem Steel workers” and thanked the TPA employees responsible for its resurrection.

The behemoth decoration that is illuminated by 196 bulbs symbolizes the “strength and tradition and community” of the plant that provided jobs for multiple generations.

Noting that the star is in a temporary location - its perch atop the L-Blast furnace was much higher and could be seen from greater distances - Tomarchio said the star is still visible to many, including Francis Scott Key Bridge travelers.

After a countdown from 10, the switch was thrown, all 196 bulbs came to life and folks began taking selfies with the iconic star shining brightly in the background.

Because it’s all about the history and legacy of the generations of people who worked at “The Point.”

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Cowenton apartments to move forward despite councilwoman’s action

Cowenton apartments to move forward despite councilwoman’s action
Traffic at the intersection of MD-7/Philadelphia Road and Cowenton Avenue backs up heavily in the evenings, particularly in the eastbound direction on Philadelphia Road. SHA says light cycle adjustments and an added through lane could help solve the problem. File photo.

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Although County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins moved in May to delay a planned development at a busy intersection in White Marsh, the project will now move ahead as scheduled after Baltimore County determined the project is vested.

Cowenton South, consisting of 325 for-rent apartments on Cowenton Avenue at MD-7/Philadelphia Road, was hit with a road block back on May 1 when Bevins, who represents the area, changed the county’s Basic Services Map to label the intersection as “failing” by traffic standards.

The intersection sees an average of 16,000 vehicles per day, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) - which controls the intersection because it is a state road - and traffic backs up on eastbound Philadelphia Road and westbound Ebenezer Road approaching the intersection beginning around 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Because the developer for Cowenton South, Keelty Homes, had not yet applied for their building permits at the time, Bevins’ action served to freeze the project until traffic improvements could be made to the intersection.

However, the county’s Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections (PAI) determined that the project is vested, meaning the developer had already completed enough work on the project to make it identifiable to the public by the time Bevins changed the intersection’s grade. Although the intersection is still labeled as failing, the project can now move forward.

PAI Director Arnold Jablon told the East County Times that the developer had done grading and installed the necessary utilities and roads on the property, and the project has actually been vested since 2009 or 2010.

“As far as the county’s perspective, the project was vested a long time ago,” Jablon said. “The plan that they have is protected.”

The director said when determining whether or not a project is vested, the county has to look at what kind of work has been done.

“There has to be sufficient work to be able to tell the public, according to the Court of Appeals, what’s going in,” he said. “When you put roads in and you do utilities and you do grading, that’s obviously giving notice to the public of what’s coming.”

Following her action in May, Bevins said she met with representatives of Keelty to discuss the issue and possible solutions since the added traffic will make problems there worse, and children living in the apartment complex will add to already-overcrowded schools in the area.

Despite being able to continue building, Keelty has promised to build only the first phase of the project - 185 units - and its community center until improvements are made to the intersection, according to the councilwoman. The developer has also agreed to contribute to the pot of money needed to fund the necessary traffic improvements, she said, which will incentivize the state to fix the intersection.

“The last meeting I had with them, they said they would make it a priority,” Bevins said of the SHA. “And I’m hoping that they do.”

SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar affirmed that the proper solution to traffic congestion at the intersection would be the addition of a through lane on eastbound Philadelphia Road to get more vehicles through during each light cycle.

“But this is a long-term improvement which is not yet funded for construction,” he said. However, the agency did add the intersection to its list of congested intersections to address as funding becomes available, he added.

In the meantime, SHA has recommended changing the traffic light phasing there to allow eastbound Philadelphia Road traffic to turn left onto westbound Cowenton Avenue after yielding to oncoming through traffic, while eastbound through traffic continues on Philadelphia. Currently, the left-turn and through lights are independent of one another.

“This will help ease the delay time and level of service for the side street traffic, as well as improve overall intersection operations,” Gischlar said. “With this interim improvement, we should be able to roughly reduce the overall total intersection delay by about 20 seconds.”

He said SHA is reviewing the proposal and, if approved, the signal upgrade could be scheduled for installation by summer or fall of 2018.

Gischlar did not specify a cost for the long-term improvements to the intersection, but Bevins said the through lane would cost “millions of dollars” and that seven properties would need to give up land on the road frontage for the state right of way to complete it.

She said she planned to appeal to all of the other developers with planned projects in the area to see if they too will contribute funds for the intersection’s needed improvements.

It will take two years for Keelty to build Cowenton South’s first phase, Bevins said, and she is hoping the improvements can be completed by then.

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Crandell wants answers regarding Fort Howard environmental status

Crandell wants answers regarding Fort Howard environmental status
The dots shown on the map indicate the sites where contamination has been documented with regard to Fort Howard. The orange dots are the active, "medium risk" sites and the blue dots are inactive sites. Image courtesy of ProPublica.

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7) on Tuesday, Dec. 5, called on the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and any other relevant government agencies to explain the status of documented hazardous waste sites on the North Point peninsula at Fort Howard.

ProPublica on Nov. 30 published the first comprehensive map of sites across the nation, one of which is Fort Howard, that have been contaminated with toxic waste and explosives due to military use. The publication identifies four sites on the peninsula - two active and two inactive - where contamination has been found, all of which are within the county-owned Fort Howard Park.

The inactive sites - one a landfill and the other a site where contaminated fill was used - are those where military cleanup actions are complete, according to DOD records, which indicate the final cleanup actions were completed in September of 1998 and 1999, respectively.

The active sites are identified as “Multi-Use Range Complex No. 1,” a water site and a land site. Together, they represent a total estimated cleanup cost of $7.66 million, and the USACE estimates the cleanup to be complete in September of 2034 and 2035, respectively.

The sites, which are part of the USACE Military Munitions Response Program, are contaminated with heavy metals, including antimony, nickel, copper, zinc and lead, and are listed as a “medium” risk. However, the DOD and USACE have placed no limits on public access of those areas.

“This information, I don’t know if anybody knew about this,” Crandell told the East County Times.

“I am not an alarmist, but if this information is accurate, it is of serious concern,” he said in a statement.

Crandell noted that his office had contacted Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger’s office with a request that the environmental concerns be addressed so the community is as informed as possible on the potential future of Fort Howard.

The land making up the park was transferred to Baltimore County from the federal government in 1977, according to county tax records. The portion of the peninsula that is still owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is slated for future residential development, potentially including senior housing.

Crandell said the developer is nowhere close to having a plan in place for development of the VA property. But “if the site is contaminated or environmentally unsafe, I’m not even going to think about putting housing or senior housing there.”

The councilman also pointed to a recommendation from the Maryland Department of the Environment in 2010 that “the three landfill areas be further evaluated due to the pending planned use of the facility.”

“We know that MDE recommended further evaluation of the property as far back as 2010,” his statement read, “and if there is substantial remediation to be done, the Department of Defense is on the hook for that.”

Although the identified sites are all within the pub
lic park portion of the peninsula, Crandell took the stance that they could have implications for the rest of the peninsula.

“It’s still close enough to the VA property to cause concern, especially when MDE suggested years ago that further evaluation of the sites be undertaken due to the fact that housing was planned there,” he said.

Additionally, he has concerns about public exposure to the contaminants by nature of visiting the park.

“I’m going to err on the side of caution here because I’m not sure the public is aware that this munitions cleanup is even planned or occurring,” Crandell said. “I just need the answers. I need to know the environmental status of the sites.

“I want the DOD and the VA to be straight with us and address the concern,” his statement read. “I would love to be told this is not as serious as it looks and why, but until we get answers I will be on guard for the safety of the public.”

Crandell noted that sites in or near eastern Baltimore County such as Pooles Island and Aberdeen Proving Ground - some of which includes Carroll Island, as well as Battery Point near Gunpowder Falls State Park - are off limits to the public because munitions are or are suspected to be buried there.

“Until I’m told by the appropriate agencies and given assurance that it is safe for people to be around it and that we’re not contaminated or [have] the possibility of live munitions on the site, you’ve got to question people potentially living there, and now at this point, the safety of the park,” Crandell told the Times.

“At the very least, this is worthy of investigation,” he said, “which is why we asked Dutch’s office to look into it.”

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Officials take first step toward possible TIF for Tradepoint Atlantic

Officials take first step toward possible TIF for Tradepoint Atlantic
Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Baltimore County Council members unanimously passed a resolution on Monday, Dec. 4, that could lead to helping Tradepoint Atlantic pay for needed upgrades to roads, bridges, water and sewer lines and other public infrastructure at Sparrows Point.

At the request of Tradepoint and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Resolution 109-17 designates the boundaries of a new development district to encompass the 3,100-acre former steel mill site that Tradepoint is redeveloping with distribution centers, manufacturing operations and port upgrades to handle bulk commodities.

It also enables the possible funding of upgrades through tax-increment financing (TIF), which typically involves the borrowing of money by issuing bonds, then paying the money back out of the higher taxes collected on higher assessments due to new construction.

If implemented, Tradepoint would continue paying property taxes to the county based on 2016 assessments with the added tax revenue from redevelopment being used to pay off bonds.

“The resolution establishes a development district which locks in the 2016 land values for the project,” wrote Aaron Tomarchio, senior vice president of administration and corporate affairs for Tradepoint, in an email.

With demand for industrial land currently high, Tradepoint argues that public help now to complete the upgrades will help it to better compete with other East Coast locations to attract employers and the resulting jobs that will benefit Maryland.

“Having the necessary infrastructure in place will allow TPA to attract marquee tenants and employers that value shovel-ready sites when evaluating where to locate,” Tomarchio wrote.

Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents Sparrows Point, Dundalk and Essex, said Monday that the Tradepoint redevelopment promises to be “transformational” in reversing the loss of jobs following the demise of Bethlehem Steel.

He said the Monday vote sets the development district boundary but does not obligate the county to necessarily adopt a TIF. A lot of number crunching and a thorough cost-benefit analysis will need to be done before the county decides whether or not to get involved, according to the councilman.

“We’re a long way from doing a TIF,” Crandell said about a study period that is likely months away from starting. “We don’t yet have the information about the mechanics or dollar amounts.”

However, TIFs typically mean that the increase in tax revenue tied to higher assessments goes toward paying down the bond debt instead of going toward  the county’s regular spending on public services and projects such as roads, senior centers and parks.

Councilman Wade Kach, who represents northern Baltimore County, said Sparrows Point will continue to develop with or without a TIF and that if a TIF is implemented, it will mean less money for the general fund.

“It’s going to mean that revenue in the near future is lost to Baltimore County. You miss that income,” he said.

Kach said he is also concerned that the county’s debt service is expected to rise in the next five years, and that repaying TIF funds would only add to the burden.

Meanwhile, the possibility of a TIF is not the only option for Tradepoint, which is also researching other options.

“We are also looking at EB-5 financing, Private Activity Bonds and other potential federal grants that could assist in the massive infrastructure requirements needed to realize the full buildout of a multi-modal global center of commerce,” he wrote.

Under the federal EB-5 program, foreigners receive visas if they invest at least $500,000 in American projects that employ 10 or more workers. Private activity bonds are another way to raise money for a private company.

Tomarchio said if Baltimore County were to support a TIF, the Maryland Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO), a private corporation set up by the state to raise money for capital projects, would issue the bonds.

“The county would only pledge future property tax revenues generated by the increasing value of TPA to MEDCO to pay off any bonds issued for key infrastructure like roads, water, sewer, etc.,” he wrote.

Establishing base value
Determining the added value created by new construction at Sparrows Point is made clear by including in the resolution the base value of the development as of a certain date, in this case as of Jan. 1, 2016.

“This solidifies the increment potential and places the project already on sound footing for bond repayment,” Tomarchio wrote. “Again, this just preserves the option at this point in time.”

Tradepoint purchased the land in 2014 and spent several years on demolition and cleanup. It only recently began work on the building of large distribution centers for Fed Ex, Under Armour and Amazon that will result in significantly higher assessed values and tax revenues.

For example, the only parcel of seven listed with the resolution that shows new construction and higher assessments so far according to state tax records is an industrial parcel totaling 66 acres.

For the tax year ending June 30, 2018, the assessed value on the parcel is $8.8 million, with $96,530 paid to the county in taxes. The assessed value for new construction in the third quarter is much higher at $58.2 million with $480,290 paid to the county in taxes.

Kach asked about postponing a vote on the resolution until the county has more information, but Tradepoint and the other officials want to at least set a possible option in place now.

Voting on the resolution in 2017 automatically sets the base value as of Jan. 1, 2016, according to state law, officials said.

Debate in the coming year over the pros and cons of a possible TIF will likely  include a broader discussion of spending priorities for the county, said some Council members.

A TIF approved by Baltimore City for Under Armour’s redevelopment of Port Covington also included public involvement.

“A TIF is going to take a lot of work and time,” said Council Chairman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville and Arbutus.

“This is just the first step,” he said about the resolution.

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Swimmer Long kicks off world championships with three gold medals

Swimmer Long kicks off world championships with three gold medals
Long with one of her gold medals and a bouquet next to the swimming event sign in Mexico City. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Marge Neal -

The World Para Swimming Championships kicked off about two months later than they were supposed to, but the delay apparently did not phase former Middle River resident Jessica Long.

The four-time Paralympian won three gold medals on Sunday, Dec. 3, her first day of competition.

The meet in Mexico City was originally scheduled for September but was postponed because of a major earthquake in central Mexico on Sept. 19. The delay caused some last-minute adjustments in training schedules, to say nothing of the logistics of canceling and rescheduling transportation and lodging arrangements. But the team took it in stride and hit the pool Saturday ready to compete, as evidenced by its medal haul over the weekend.

When the dust had settled on the first day of competition, held at the Francisco Marquez Olympic Swimming Pool on Saturday, Dec. 2, the U.S. team found itself atop the medal leaders board with nine medals overall, including three golds.

Long, a double below-the-knee amputee, and Tucker Dupree, a swimmer from North Carolina, were named captains of the team. Longtime disabled swimming presence and Atlanta resident Curtis Lovejoy was selected as the team’s flag bearer in the opening ceremony.

When she hit the pool on Sunday to begin her competition, Long did not look back. At the end of the day, she had made three trips to the top of the awards podium, claiming gold medals in the SB7 (disability classification) 100-meter breaststroke, the S8 100-meter freestyle and the 4x100 34-point freestyle relay.

Long, the daughter of Middle River residents Steve and Beth Long, posted a picture on her Facebook page Sunday night of herself wearing one of her medals.

“First day of racing done,” she wrote. “I am off tomorrow but back at it Tuesday. So, so happy with my races tonight. Three gold medals and lots of fun.”

Her sustained success no longer surprises family members and friends who witness her devotion to her sport.

“I expected Jess to perform well at World Championships because she expects to win and she works hard to make it happen,” Steve Long told the East County Times.

Once considered the baby of the swim team, Long at 25 is now the grande dame of the successful group that has made its mark in all levels of international competition. Her Paralympic career began when, as a 12-year-old, she was named to the team that represented the U.S. in Athens in 2004. She also competed in Beijing, London and Rio de Janiero and has her eyes set on Tokyo in 2020.

Though she set off for Athens as an unknown entity in international competition, she returned home as a swim sensation, with three gold medals in her suitcase. She has been a force to be reckoned with ever since.

She now owns 23 Paralympic medals, with 13 of them gold. She has also enjoyed abundant success in previous world championships, most notably when she won nine gold medals at the International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2006.

Her longevity in the sport, her work ethic and her dedication to the team all have combined to make her a role model for younger athletes, as evidenced by comments made by a fellow team member to USOC officials after she finished third in the S8 freestyle on Sunday.

“It feels really good,” team member Julia Gaffney said when asked to describe the experience of winning two medals in her world championship debut. “I’m really honored to swim on Team USA... It’s always been my dream to race against Jessica Long and now it’s amazing to share a podium with her.”

Through Monday night, Team USA remained the leader in the overall medal count with 23. Long and McKenzie Coan lead the team with three gold medals each.

Long was scheduled to race on Tuesday in the 100-meter backstroke and the 4x100 medley relay. The meet ends Dec. 7.

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Metzgar hosts church security conference in wake of Texas massacre

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

On Monday night, Dec. 4, approximately 75 pastors from Baltimore County, Baltimore City and elsewhere around the state gathered at the Eastern Assembly of God (EAG) in Dundalk. They were not there to discuss the teachings of Jesus, but rather to take part in a conference regarding how to respond to an active shooter situation.

“It’s really sad that it’s come to this,” Delegate Ric Metzgar (R-6), the event’s sponsor, told the East County Times before the event. “I never thought we would come to a day, come to a point, that we would have to have a church security conference... I’d rather be proactive than reactive.”

Metzgar cited the recent church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas as his motivation for holding the conference. The shooting, which occurred on Nov. 5, ended with 26 dead and 20 injured.

“I was flying on that Sunday, but by that Tuesday afternoon I had called the pastors, the Lord told me in my heart to prepare his people,” said Metzgar.

The delegate assembled a panel comprised of current and former law enforcement officers, as well as private security personnel, and reached out to EAG’s Pastor Ed Michael about hosting the event.

The two-hour conference kicked off with Maryland State Police (MSP) Master Trooper Michelle Workman giving a lengthy presentation on how to respond to an active shooter situation, using the guidelines designed in 2002 in the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Program at Texas State University. The program - which has become the standard since its creation - lays out a strategy called ADD, which stands for Avoid, Deny, Defend.

The program notes that people should avoid active shooter situations by taking in their surroundings, noting emergency exits and moving away from the source as fast as possible. If you cannot avoid the danger, according to Workman, you should try to put space and barriers between you and the danger. That includes turning off the lights, barricading doors and trying to keep hidden against walls to avoid being seen. If all else fails, defend yourself. That includes using uncommon tactics like throwing shoes and other objects at the attacker.

Most importantly, someone needs to take the lead.

“More often than not our first response is to deny that anything is wrong,” said Workman. “We continue to go about what we’re doing because we’re in a state of denial. You really need someone to stand up and take charge in these types of situations.”

Workman showed the crowd a clip from The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island that occurred in 2003, which killed 100 and injured 230. The video included a timer to show that people only started reacting to the fire 30 seconds after it started. By that time it had already begun spreading and concert-goers proceeded to make for the exit. Only, instead of using all of the exits, most tried to exit the same way they came in. That led to a jam in the exits and kept people inside, many of whom lost their lives.

“Not only do you need to take note of the other exits, but you also have to realize that in those types of situations you need to look for unorthodox escapes,” she said. “In this instance, there was a whole row of windows that people could have broken and jumped out of. In other cases we’ve heard of people punching their way through drywall. You just need to find a way out.”

After Workman’s presentation, she was joined on stage by Sergeant Fred Shiflett of the Anne Arundel County Sherrif’s Office, Christopher Boggs of Dignitary Security and Nick Paros, a retired major from the MSP.

Quite a few of the pastors in attendance told the panel they had parishioners working as security, but Paros advised against that. He noted that doing so puts a lot of liability on the church, and that the best course of action is to hire private security. Shiflett and Workman advised the crowd to reach out to local law enforcement to see what they could do.

When asked what to do about the elderly or disabled during an active shooter situation, Shiflett proposed coming up with a plan ahead of time.

“The way my church works, we have an area that most of the handicap people will get set up, right by the exit where there’s a ramp,” said Shiflett.

At one point, Paros stated that the most important aspect of keeping people safe from a shooter was keeping a potential shooter out.

“What you need to think about is how you’re going to mitigate that from getting inside, and that starts outside the front door,” said Paros.

The former MSP officer told the audience to try to take note of changes in the lives of others, whether it is relationship or employment related or anything else. He also recommended keeping the doors locked when possible. But when that is not a possibility, private security is the way to go.

“I know since you all represent churches you’re in the business of keeping your doors open,” he joked. “And if you are going to do that you need to make sure you’re protected in other ways.”

For information about church safety or to find out about upcoming active shooter conferences in the Baltimore County area, contact Del. Ric Metzgar at 410-622-5232.

Lighted boat parade dazzles thousands, collects donations for needy

Lighted boat parade dazzles thousands, collects donations for needy
This year’s finale boat, designed and captained again by Nick Hock of Middle River, was decorated like a biplane complete with a working propeller and pulling a banner reading “Merry Christmas.” Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The 15th annual Middle River Lighted Boat Parade continued its trend of growth and spectacle on Saturday, Nov. 25, while collecting donations for a good cause.

While parade organizer Jim High did not have official numbers yet as to the amount of toys and other donations they were able to collect during the event, he said each of the collection boxes at area restaurants was full when picked up.

The donation boxes had been placed at three local restaurants with views of the parade.

The charitable beneficiary for the event was Santa’s Elves of Dundalk. And Middle River Stand-Up Paddleboard, owned by High, also donated a stand-up paddleboard for each collection box, he said.

“It was really kind of flawless,” High said of the show.

He joked that he “couldn’t count that high” when asked how many boats ended up participating in the event.

Some 95 boaters had registered to be in the parade, according to High, but some ended up not being able to make it. And as expected, because of the good weather, others decided to join in on the day of the event.

As a result, High said he could only put the final count somewhere between 80 and 100 boats.

He noted as well that the line of boats stretched three to four miles long, and “thousands and thousands of people lined the shorelines all over, from Bowleys Quarters to Wilson Point, to Hawthorne and down into Bauernschmidt and Turkey Point and Middleborough” to see the show.

“The area has a fantastic Christmas tradition,” High said. “Calling it the Mid-Atlantic’s largest lighted boat parade didn’t disappoint.”

Visit us on Facebook for more photos from the parade.

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In Dundalk, planes, trains and automobiles to welcome the Christmas season

In Dundalk, planes, trains and automobiles to welcome the Christmas season
The Hoopla festivities are set to begin with the unveiling of the intricate train garden at the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society. File photo.

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Dundalk will roll out the green and red carpet this weekend for Holiday Hoopla, a comprehensive collection of events to welcome the holiday season.

Many organizers brag that an event offers “something for everyone,” but Holiday Hoopla is one of the few events that truly seems to meet that description.

Do you enjoy holiday train garden displays? Check. Never miss a parade? Check. Want to have pictures taken of the kids with Santa Claus? Check. Do the kids like to express their creative sides with crafts and other fun activities? Check. Do you have the need to rub shoulders with neighbors in a festive street fair atmosphere? Want to eat lots of great Christmas cookies without the hassle of baking them yourself? Want to get some early Christmas shopping done and support locally-owned small businesses at the same time? Check, check and check.

Throw in some seasonal music, roaming characters, a moonbounce and some face painting, add vendors and free ice cream courtesy of Turkey Hill, and there really is something for everyone, according to Chris Pineda, community engagement coordinator for the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, one of the sponsoring organizations of the day-long celebration.

The day’s festivities kick off at 4 Center Place in downtown Dundalk at noon on Saturday, Dec. 2, with the opening of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society’s 18th annual train garden. The multi-tiered display consumes about 300 square feet of space and employs about 90 animated figures that create many themed scenes, according to a statement from the group.

Also popular with train garden visitors is a scavenger hunt that encourages them to search the scenes to find designated objects and characters.

At 2:30 p.m., DRC officials will celebrate the restoration of a historic advertising mural painted on the side wall of 20 N. Dundalk Ave. The mural was discovered when the neighboring building was torn down, and DRC offered $7,500 in grant funds to have the painting professionally restored.

The celebration will include the unveiling of a commemorative plaque and refreshments, according to Amy Menzer, DRC’s executive director.

Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council’s annual Christmas parade will kick off at 4 p.m., according to chairman Alan Holcomb, who said he is looking for a “park stretcher” because the parade continues to grow from year to year.

While many crowd favorites are scheduled - including equipment from the Baltimore County Fire Department and the Wise Avenue and North Point-Edgemere volunteer fire companies, the Department of Natural Resources, Civil Air Patrol and lots of antique cars - Holcomb is excited about several new entries as well.

“I just talked with the folks from Mystic Moon Farms and we are going to have horses in this year’s parade,” Holcomb told the East County Times. “And no, I will not be marching behind them on cleanup duty.”

Baltimore County Animal Control will participate with its new Cuddle Shuttle, a mobile animal adoption center. Sparrows Point High School’s marching band will provide instrumental music and the Encore Girls will wow the crowd with their singing, according to Holcomb.

The parade, traditionally anchored by Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and a certain famous group of reindeer, winds through Old Dundalk and the Dundalk Village Shopping Center before ending on Trading Place at the entrance to Heritage Park.

Santa and Mrs. Claus then set up shop at the park’s gazebo, where they will greet hundreds of children before the night is over. Each child will receive a small gift after visiting with the benevolent duo, and free refreshments will be served from Mrs. Claus’ kitchen.

At the same time - roughly 4:45 p.m. - the DRC’s Holiday Cookie Tour and Center Place Street Fair will begin.

In addition to children’s activities and vendor displays, visitors are encouraged to participate in the popular Cookie Tour. Thousands of donated cookies will be available at many shopping center businesses, and visitors can collect their free cookies in a bag available across from 11 Center Place, according to organizers.

Some bakers opt to participate in the cookie recipe contest, with judges getting the tough job of tasting the entries and bestowing a variety of prizes to winners.

There will be some spillover from the parade to the street fair, according to Angel Ball, one of Holcomb’s “happy little helpers.”

“We’re going to have Andy the Armadillo from Texas Roadhouse there and the Chick-fil-A cow and they will walk around and be available for photos,” Ball said.

The street fair generally shuts down around 7:30 p.m., according to Menzer, while Holcomb said Santa will stay until the last child has had a chance to visit and share their holiday wishes and dreams.

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Council passes bill to allow new residential development in White Marsh

Council passes bill to allow new residential development in White Marsh
The site, shown here on the left, is the last undeveloped parcel as part of the Town Center area. Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Last Monday, Nov. 20, the Baltimore County Council passed Bill 66-17 which allows for residential development in the vicinity of the Town Center district of White Marsh.

The new law, introduced by Councilwoman Cathy Bevins who represents the area, allows for residential uses by right on land currently zoned for light manufacturing if it is at least 10 acres in size and within 525 feet of White Marsh’s Town Center district.

The Town Center district of White Marsh centers on White Marsh Mall and is bounded by White Marsh, Perry Hall and Honeygo boulevards.

The law also applies to similar districts in other parts of the county.

Bevins said the bill applies to an undeveloped parcel bordering Sandpiper Circle between Corporate Drive and Honeygo Boulevard. The site’s owners, Owings Mills-based Chesapeake Realty Partners, have proposed a project to build “high-end,” luxury apartments there, but could not do so under the zoning prior to the new law.

CRP also built the Winthrop apartments in Towson, which the councilwoman called a “spectacular project.”

However, Bevins said she limited the White Marsh project to a maximum of 325 residential units.

“By right they could do like 500 and some,” because of the site’s nearly 13-acre size, she said. “But I put a limit on it.”

Last year, when the subject property was owned by Corporate Office Properties Trust, the real estate trust requested a zoning change for the site through the county’s Comprehensive Zoning Map Process to allow a similar project to the current proposal.

Bevins said she met with the would-be developer for that project and was impressed with his previous projects and the proposal but could not come to an agreement with COPT on the size of the project.

“What happened with that deal, it wasn’t the developer, it was COPT,” Bevins said. “They wouldn’t give me a covenant or declaration on the total amount of units. They were almost 600 units and I just thought that was too much.” Therefore, she did not change the zoning.

But she reviewed all the documentation from the rezoning cycle on that particular zoning issue, she said, to see how the public had reacted to it.

“We went through all the testimony and we kept files on every single issue,” Bevins said. “There was no opposition to it.”

She said she took that as a sign that most people did not care about having housing in a Town Center district. She also noted that the site is “kind of in a donut hole” as it relates to community representation, with neither the South Perry Hall Improvement Association, the Linover Improvement Association nor the White Marsh-Cowenton Community Association covering the area.

The councilwoman admitted that the new developers missed the rezoning cycle, “but I didn’t want to miss that opportunity,” she said. “I think it’s really good timing with [all the new development on Route] 43.”

Bevins recognized some preconceptions some people have about apartments, but defended the proposal for its quality.

“They said that they are planning on bringing the highest rents in Baltimore County - $1,850 [per month] for a one-bedroom,” she said. “They think they’re going to be able to get more there than in the Winthrop in Towson.”

She added that The Arbors, another luxury apartment complex on the White Marsh Boulevard extension in Middle River, is not far behind the new project in rental price.

“And they are 100-percent leased all the time,” Bevins said, adding that the average income of residents there is about $90,000 per year.

She said CRP has already done a market study as to the viability of the White Marsh project.

“They’re not going to build that kind of quality and not know that they can get that [rent].”

Bevins said the developer is also thinking in terms of the site’s proximity to other amenities in the area. She said that is why she “bought into” the project.

“They’re looking at what [Route] 43 is bringing, they’re looking at the jobs, they’re looking at, logistically, how close it is to [Interstate] 95, downtown, the airport, the MARC [train],” she said.

Bevins noted as well that the project would be built and marketed for people who want to live in an urban, city-like setting, particularly young people.

“They park their car, they like walking to the bars, walking to the restaurants, walking to get their hair cut, they walk to the liquor store, walk to the movies - they want to walk to everything, and they like to get on their bikes,” she said.

Regarding schools, Bevins said this type of development would likely have little impact on area class sizes, again using The Arbors and Winthrop as examples.

“Not to say there aren’t any kids, but it’s very few,” she said of The Arbors. “And at the Winthrop, there’s less than three children in that building.

“This is for empty nesters, young professionals, couples, people that haven’t started a family yet,” she added.

The project is also planned to have copious amenities, according to Bevins, such as a fitness center, pool, billiards room, conference center and more - “all those things that are what people want,” she said.

Bevins said the project could have a positive effect on businesses in the area as well, pointing specifically to nearby White Marsh Mall, which she said is “failing.”

Although the site is not within any particular community association’s boundaries, Bevins said she suggested the developers meet with the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company to discuss a contribution to their new station to benefit the community, which they did.

“We’re working on a big number there,” Bevins said.

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‘Little church food pantry’ needs big community support

‘Little church food pantry’ needs big community support
Lucy Leimbach (left) instructs volunteers on what to give out to each recipient. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Marge Neal -

The food pantry run by the Chase and Piney Grove United Methodist churches might be small in size and scope, but it is a mighty lifeline for the families that regularly depend on it to make ends meet from month to month.

“We have about 20 people who depend on us regularly, and our shelves pretty much get wiped clean each month,” pantry volunteer Sherrie Tester told the East County Times. “We start over from scratch each month.”

With donations low and need for nutritional help high, the Times has partnered with the two churches to serve as a food donation drop-off point through Dec. 31. Nonperishable food items, including boxed pasta, bottled sauces, canned vegetables, soups, fruit, tuna and chicken, peanut butter, pudding and fruit cups and bags of beans and noodles can be dropped off at the Times’ office, 513 Eastern Blvd. in the heart of Essex, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

While the pantry is open just one Saturday each month, residents in need can call either church and an administrator will make sure the immediate need is met, according to pantry volunteer Lucy Leimbach.

In addition to nonperishable foods, volunteers try to have a package of frozen meat to give out to each person when the pantry opens each month.

“And at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we give out turkeys to the first 15 visitors,” she said. “We’d like to be able to give turkeys to everyone, and that’s Sherrie’s goal, but 15 is about all we can afford to buy.”

Local grocery stores will often give the pantry shoppers a discount and they shop around to catch the best sales. Leimbach said they usually can buy turkeys for about 49 cents a pound to get the most from their cash donations.

Chase UMC, which is a new name for the merged Ebenezer and Sharp Street Methodist congregations, is a small church with about 50 worshippers each Sunday, according to Leimbach.

Sharp Street’s historic building on Eastern Avenue burned in 2009, and Ebenezer’s leadership opened its door to Sharp Street so they could continue their worship services, according to Leimbach. Two churches resided in one building and held separate services before deciding to merge as one congregation, leading to the birth of Chase UMC, according to Leimbach and Tester.

At Chase, congregants are family members, according to Leimbach.
“We are family and we are helping family with this pantry,” she said. “We don’t refer to our family members as needy, we don’t tell them to get a job, we don’t judge, we’re just giving a little help to family members who need it from time to time.”

At a recent food distribution in time for Thanksgiving Day, food recipient Sandra Lyons echoed that sentiment.

“There is no judgement here; I don’t feel ashamed coming here,” the Hawthorne resident said. “These are the sweetest people and I really appreciate what they do for us.”

Lyons, who suffers from a host of medical problems that prevent her from working, uses the pantry each month. The food she receives can usually last at least a week, and longer if she needs to “stretch it out.”

Parkville resident Gail, who asked that her last name not be printed, receives the food to help stretch the budget for her family of six, which includes an adult child with autism and three young children.

“It makes a huge difference to us and it helps keep food in the house,” she said. “We make do; we’re not starving and the kids are growing.”

As grateful for the help that recipients are,  it is also important to know, Leimbach said, that many people who use the pantry also give as they can. She cited one man who was gifted with a case of pudding cups. He kept a few for his family and donated the rest to the pantry, stating that he would like to share when he is able.

“They might be getting but they’re giving as well, and that’s just so precious to me,” Leimbach said of pantry clients. “And they’re giving from their heart; it makes them feel good when they are in a position to give back.”

The pantry ministry might be small, but volunteers do everything they can to make sure the shelves have at least the bare minimum to help keep local residents afloat. In addition to food items, volunteers try to keep a stash of personal hygiene items, like toothpaste and tooth brushes, toilet paper, paper towels and deodorant on hand.

“We always run out of those items first, but they aren’t a priority,” Leimbach said. “They’re important, and people who depend on food stamps can’t use that money to buy anything other than food, but we think it’s more important to feed our people.”

The volunteers are hoping to build the pantry’s stock as the major fall and winter holidays approach. Tester said she would love to get enough donations so the shelves are not bare when the pantry closes each month.

Leimbach said she had no idea what a lifeline a small, rural church’s food pantry could be.

“I didn’t realize how important these little church pantries are to folks who just need a little boost from time to time,” she said. “We’re just doing what God asked us to do and we enjoy doing it; we’re happy and honored to do it.”

Editor’s Note: Nonperishable food, personal hygiene and grocery store gift card donations can be dropped off at the Times office, 513 Eastern Blvd. in Essex. To make other arrangements, call Chase UMC at 410-335-2172, or Piney Grove UMC at 410-335-6927.

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BRRC updates members on status of midge treatments at fall meeting

BRRC updates members on status of midge treatments at fall meeting
BRRC and DNR sampling of midge larvae in the Back River sediments has found their numbers to be much higher than what is considered a nuisance. Photo courtesty of BRRC.

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Midges were top on the agenda at the fall general meeting of the Back River Restoration Committee last Tuesday, Nov. 21, and organization leaders gave updates on what has been done so far to address the swarming nuisance.

Many residents who live on or near Back River have likely seen midges covering their boats, in their pools or on their houses, according to Tom Parham of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“They look like mosquitoes, but they’re a little bit bigger than that,” he said.

He added that they do not bite or carry diseases so they are not a health issue. But in high concentrations they can impact businesses.

“They are certainly a nuisance,” he said. “You go out there on a summer night... when you walk by the river and it’s just a cloud of midges. That’s something we wanted to try to deal with.”

Parham said Essex marina owner and BRRC President Sam Weaver first contacted him in 2014 about the swarms of midges affecting his business and several others in the area during the summer.

“Back then, we hadn’t heard of this before so we put together an expert panel to figure out how to deal with this,” Parham said.

Then early this year, Governor Larry Hogan appropriated $330,000 to fund a pilot program to try to cut down the midge numbers in and around Back River.

Midges exist all around the world, but eradication treatments had never been done before in tidal waters or on such a large scale, according to Parham.

“Like everyone else, we’re learning,” he said.

He noted that midges eat algae, which thrives in nutrient-rich waters and sediments, making Back River the “perfect habitat” for the bugs.

“When we sample out in the river, [midge larvae] are a large percentage of what is on the bottom,” he said. Their life cycle is less than two weeks. But adults only come up when it is warm.

Since their funding is limited, BRRC, DNR and the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which is leading the program, had to figure out what the most cost-effective way to get the job done was - using the best treatment dosage at the right time to knock down the midge populations.

Bti - a naturally occurring bacteria that only affects midges, mosquitoes and black flies - is the substance being used to kill the midge larvae in the river.

“So this is a safe substance when it’s applied properly,” Parham said. “It doesn’t affect fish or other vertebrates.”

Regarding their methodology, he said they are not trying to treat all of Back River right now.

“It’s kind of a proof of concept,” he said, noting that Back River is about 4,000 acres. The desired result is simply for people to be able to enjoy their outdoor areas more during the warmer months.

During the first treatment administered on the river in September, about 260 acres were treated, stretching from near Virginia Avenue to about Thompson Boulevard. And prior to the treatment, nearly all of the test areas showed the amount of midge larvae to be above what is considered nuisance levels, according to Parham.

“In the grand scheme of things, if you looked at an area... of maybe two square meters, that would probably have 1,000 or 1,500 larvae in just that little area,” he said, pointing out that anything above 500 per square meter is considered a nuisance.

Following the treatment, sampling done within a week showed midge larvae populations to be below the nuisance levels for nearly all of the test area.

Additionally, residents at the BRRC meeting said they did notice a reduction in midges they saw near the test area.

Because midges are dormant in the winter, the next treatment - the second of five total - will not occur until April, Parham said. They will then stagger the treatments to carry on into the summer, and after those they will have a better idea of how effective the treatments have been and what is working or not working.

“But it’s a promising sign that [people] are seeing less midges after one treatment,” he said.

Those involved will be doing more planning during the winter, according to Parham, such as for how to improve their equipment and how to go about sampling adult midge numbers.

Weaver noted that the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant has begun operating its Enhanced Nutrient Removal system which reduces the amount of nutrients going into the river, cutting the food source for the algae and, thus, the midges. Reconstruction of the Stemmers Run stream bed near the I-95/I-695 interchange is also nearing completion, which should stem the flow of nutrient-rich clay sediments into Back River.

While the Bti treatments will not eliminate the midges for good and must be repeated regularly, Parham explained, reducing the nutrients and the food source for the bugs will take care of the problem more naturally in the long term.

“So this is kind of the stop-gap measure as we work to reduce the nutrients in the river itself,” he said.

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Royal Farms continues to expand, gains approval at Fullerton Bingo site

Royal Farms continues to expand, gains approval at Fullerton Bingo site

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A Royal Farms request to allow a gas station at its planned convenience store in Fullerton was approved by a county administrative law judge on Oct. 31 with conditions.

The store, which will replace the existing Fullerton Manor Bingo at 7560 Belair Road, will also include gas pumps but will not include a car wash as originally proposed. Neighbors objected to a car wash at a rezoning hearing in 2016.

Per the order, fuel delivery trucks are prohibited from using the narrow, residential Glade Avenue, which borders the south side of the property, to enter and leave the convenience store site.

Royal Farms is also required to hire a third-party contractor to inspect and maintain the planned on-site storm water management system to control runoff. It  must also submit a lighting and landscaping plan for county approval.

In addition, the company, which is expanding regionally, plans to build a store on Philadelphia Road across from the General Motors plant in White Marsh.

The store will be located on the north side of Nottingridge Road as part of a retail area that also includes space for three restaurants, according to a KLNB site plan posted online and shown above.

Also planned is a new store at the corner of Perry Hall and White Marsh boulevards in Perry Hall and a relocated, expanded store on North Point Road in Dundalk.

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County officials break ground on new Northeast elementary school

County officials break ground on new Northeast elementary school
In keeping with a recent trend, the school's ceremonial groundbreaking took place well past the beginning of actual construction on the school. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

More than a dozen local elected and school officials gathered at the site of the new Northeast elementary school on Monday morning, Nov. 20, to break ground on the project.

While a large portion of the structure has already been put in place, the groundbreaking represented the ceremonial kickoff to the project. The school is slated to open at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.

The $49 million school is located at 4816 Joppa Road, near the intersection of Honeygo Boulevard. Most of the cost was footed by Baltimore County, with 71 percent of the funding coming from the local government.

For years now, parents, teachers and stakeholders in the Perry Hall area have been clamoring for overcrowding relief. Plans to build the school were announced in 2015, with the design work beginning in early 2016. The school will have a state-rated capacity of 725 students.

“We’re actually adding 10,000 seats [around the county] while taking children out of trailers and into modern learning environments,” said Kamenetz, citing his administration’s $1.3 billion construction initiative.

Councilman David Marks (R-5), who has been fighting for a new school since he took office in December of 2010, expressed his delight with the new school.

“This is Perry Hall’s first new school in a quarter-century, and one of three additional schools that will reduce overcrowding in northeastern Baltimore County,” said Marks, who represents the area. “It is a significant milestone for the families of Perry Hall and White Marsh.”

Charlene Behnke, who was named principal of the new school earlier this year, opened the remarks on Monday morning, highlighting her own experiences living and working in the Perry Hall area.

“Families have a strong pride here and they love their schools,” said Behnke, who previously held the position of principal at Vincent Farm Elementary. “Very soon we will be joining that strong community of schools and adding yet another school in Perry Hall where teaching and learning are at the highest possible level.”

Behnke has been working in the Baltimore County Public School system since 1991, starting off as a teacher. She took over as principal of Vincent Farm  in the beginning of the 2013 school year.

“This is amazing, it’s such a beautiful place,” said Behnke. “And with my children having grown up in Perry Hall schools, I know what a great education boys and girls get here, and I’m ready. We’re going to bring it here too.”

The new school, which has yet to be named, is going to be the prototype for new elementary schools moving forward, according to Edward Gilliss, chair of the Board of Education.

According to Gilliss, the school will  not only bring great relief to the area, but will also launch the area into the 21st century.

“The communty will have a school to be proud of, the students will be able to benefit from the best of instruction and the most updated technology, and all in the most nurturing and inspiring of learning environments,” said Gilliss.

With a new school comes redistricting, and over the last couple of months the school system has been working to solidify plans and present options to community stakeholders. In total, nine elementary schools are taking part in the boundary process, including Carney, Chapel Hill, Gunpowder, Joppa View, Kingsville, Oakleigh, Perry Hall,  Seven Oaks and Vincent Farm.

All of the information about the boundary process, including a breakdown of the proposed plans, a running log of community feedback, video archive and survey submission form can be found at

The excitement over the groundbreaking was palpable, with many displaying both relief and anticipation at the thought of reducing overcrowding in the area’s elementary schools.

“Our rezoning decisions have lightened the impact of development on overcrowding, and now we have officially broken ground on the first of three new schools to eliminate this problem,” said Marks. “I grew up a half-mile from this school site.  It will serve the bulk of central Perry Hall, both older neighborhoods and the newer Honeygo communities.”

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Middle River Lighted Boat Parade to hold toy drive this year

Middle River Lighted Boat Parade to hold toy drive this year
One of the more unique displays from the 2016 parade included a sailboat shooting off fireworks as it moved along its route. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Middle River Lighted Boat Parade has grown in participation nearly every year since it began, indeed experiencing more rapid growth in recent years.

Now in its 15th year, the parade - an area favorite held each year on Middle River on the Saturday after Thanksgiving - already had 80 boats registered to participate as of Nov. 16 and could potentially see even more.

“If the weather is nice we should have somewhere between 80 and 100 boats,” said Jim High, one of the event’s chief organizers.

That number would top last year’s total which was in the 70s, according to High. It would also make the parade the largest of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic region and likely among the top five in the nation.

He attributed the growing success of the event at least partly to the $325 “captain’s package” that each boat captain receives for their participation. The package includes $25 gift cards to each restaurant on the parade route plus Pizza John’s in Essex, as well as paddleboard rentals from Middle River Stand-Up Paddleboard and kayak rentals from Stansbury Yacht Basin.

“That captain’s package is what’s making this such a big deal,” High said of the increased participation each year. “So if we have 100 boats, that’s [more than] $30,000 worth of stuff [given away]. That’s what’s paying for the party.”

There is also no cost for participants to enter the parade, he said.

The event is scheduled to begin at approximately 5:45 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 25, when the procession will depart from Stansbury Yacht Basin.

As a way to give back and not just entertain the community, parade organizers will hold a toy drive during this year’s event as well, High said. Donation boxes have been placed at three waterfront restaurants - The River Watch, The Crazy Tuna and Carson’s Creekside - along the route so that people going to view the boat parade can donate a toy, canned good or a coat while there.

“[The donations] will be distributed to local families before Christmas,” High said. “It adds a little bit of a charitable aspect to the Lighted Boat Parade which is something that we haven’t had in the last couple of years.”

Prior to the 2016 parade, the event benefitted a group called Captains Sharing and Caring.

In the same vein, event organizers also held a “Christmas in July” charity toy collection event which brought in roughly 4,000 toys for needy children.

“And they’re getting donated right now to a Dundalk charity called Santa’s Elves,” High said.

To kick off the event, boats will gather and line up at Stansbury Yacht Basin, then depart toward Carson’s Creekside restaurant, which they are expected to pass at about 5:50 p.m. before heading toward Wilson Point Park, according to High.

Public viewing will again be limited at Wilson Point Park due to Lockheed Martin’s ongoing environmental remediation work and Dark Head Cove being closed to boats as a result.

But after turning around at Wilson Point Park’s boat launching ramp, the procession will then pass Kingston Point Park in the Hawthorne neighborhood, where additional public viewing will be available, High said. He added that anyone viewing from that park should get “a real nice view of the party” at 6 p.m.

Next, the parade will round Hawthorne Point to pass by Middle River Yacht Club, The Crazy Tuna and The River Watch between 6 - 6:30 p.m., he said.

From there, “We will go into Norman Creek, passing Norman Creek Marina and Crescent Yacht Club,” High said. “As we exit Norman Creek, if the weather, the tide, the current and the waves are minimal, we’re going to come out to the [mouth of Middle River] out in front of Sue Island, Rockaway Beach and Bauernschmidt [neighborhoods].”

He stressed, though, that those stops will be a “game time” decision at the time the parade begins.

The parade will then cut across the river toward Bowleys Quarters and head up into Frog Mortar Creek past Sunset Cove - which High noted will be open the night of the event despite its ongoing renovations - and turn around again in front of Conrad’s Ruth Villa.

Finally, they will pass Strawberry Point and Wilson Point before dispersing back at Stansbury Yacht Basin at about 7:45 p.m.

“At that time, most of the boats will go back to one of the original restaurants they got started from,” High said.

Typically the parade also includes an extravagantly lit or engineered “finale boat” as the last boat in the line. But High said he will not know about that for this year until the night of the parade since he does not maintain contact with Nick Hock, who has been the architect of many of those designs in the past.

High called Hock the “genius” behind the finale spectacles. “He is the Tony Stark of the Middle River zip code,” he said. But “we don’t talk too much. He just shows up and does what he does.”

High described the annual boat parade “a great Middle River Christmas tradition” which was started as a way to get people to patronize local restaurants on what is typically their slowest night of the year.

“I’m so happy with this the way it is,” he said. “It’s a good gig.”

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Democrats looking to use testimonials to influence healthcare votes in Congress

Democrats looking to use testimonials to influence healthcare votes in Congress
Robert Rose (left) offered his story during the forum about how Medicaid saved his life. MCHI President Vincent DeMarco said Rose's story was typical of others heard around the state. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and U.S. Senator Chris VanHollen joined healthcare advocates and eastern Baltimore County residents last Thursday, Nov. 16, to talk about healthcare - specifically Medicaid - at the Ateaze Senior Center in Dundalk.

While the forum’s organizers brought people together with information and resources regarding healthcare, they stated that their purpose was to hear people’s stories and experiences with Medicaid more than anything else. The elected officials could then use those individual stories to advocate on Capitol Hill when trying to persuade others to vote their way on legislation related to healthcare.

“If we’re going to advocate for positions [on legislation], instead of just saying ‘We’re for Medicaid...’ I find it’s more effective when you’re trying to get other individuals in Congress to listen to you, it’s better to talk about specific cases,” Ruppersberger (D-2) said.

Ruppersberger and VanHollen said Thursday’s forum was particularly timely because the tax cut bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives and was working its way through the U.S. Senate, could have devastating effects on Medicaid.

VanHollen (D-Md.) said the tax bill would add $1.5 trillion to the national debt. And to make up for those losses, the upcoming 2018 budget proposal would seek to cut Medicare by $473 billion and Medicaid by $1 trillion.

“The reason they’re out there looking for cuts [to Medicaid] is because there’s a lot of money in it,” Ruppersberger said. “But every time you cut Medicaid you hurt people.”

The congressman also said the largest amount of money the federal government gives to Maryland is in Medicaid grants.

“That’s really relevant and important, because if in fact they start cutting Medicaid, the state will have to pick it up,” he said. “And if the state picks it up, that means taxes are going to have to rise.”

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said the forum was the fifth in a series they have been holding across the state to highlight the benefits of Medicaid. He said the most important thing they have done in the series was to hear from people who have benefitted from the program.

“At each of these events, people talked about how Medicaid saved their lives, made them much healthier, kept them from financial ruin,” DeMarco said. “It’s a story that the people of Maryland, the people of America, need to hear.”

Robert Rose, who MCHI and the other organizers arranged to speak at the forum, said he had always had employee-based health insurance, but lost all of that when the company he worked for folded. And the prices of private insurance plans were “atrocious.”

“So I was without insurance for almost a year,” he said, during which time he became “extremely obese.”

Rose said he weighed more than 400 pounds before getting healthcare again, and as a result his blood pressure was “through the roof” and his knees were “completely blown out.”

Rose eventually worked with Healthcare for the Homeless to get healthcare through Medicaid and his life began to turn around. He got access to blood pressure medication and was able to see a doctor who he said treated him like a human being.

“It pretty much saved my life,” he said, noting that his weight and blood pressure are now under control, he is back to work and has even gone back to school to further his education.

DeMarco said Rose’s story is similar to what they have heard around the state, and it exemplifies the importance of Medicaid.

“The Medicaid program saves lives and it helps all of us,” he said. “People with jobs, they lose them, the Medicaid program keeps them on their feet.”

DeMarco also said that since the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, went into effect, there has been a drop in uncompensated care - people going to hospitals without insurance - of more than $300 million in Maryland alone.

“And they can’t pay, so who pays - all of us with higher healthcare premiums,” he said. “It’s what we call a hidden healthcare tax.”

He added that premiums have increased a lot more slowly under the ACA.

Dr. Bonita Taylor, who represented MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, said she has been a family practitioner for the last 30 years. She said MedChi members are hopeful and are fighting to make sure that Medicaid is successful.

“Nothing is more frustrating to a physician than to make the diagnosis and set up a treatment plan... and then to watch as the patient deteriorates because there wasn’t insurance and things weren’t covered,” she said.

Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services Director Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch said in 2013, the year before the ACA went into effect, about 140,000 people in Baltimore County were eligible for Medicaid. That is compared with 190,000 people in 2017, he said, and the increase is largely a result of Medicaid expansions done by the state and federal governments.

Branch also commented that Medicaid is a “significant” factor in combatting drug addiction, noting it is “one of the best coverages” that helps pay for substance abuse and mental health services.

VanHollen said the ACA resulted in more than 400,000 Marylanders getting healthcare who had not had it before. Some were able to purchase healthcare through the exchanges and others got access to care through expanded Medicaid, he said, noting that in Maryland more than half were the latter.

The senator also said that two-thirds of the money spent through Medicaid program is spent for seniors in nursing homes or families with someone with a disability.

“It is a major source of funding to help people who are in... fragile situations due to their age or because of a disability,” he said.

The other third helps lower-income families access care.

VanHollen said it would be wrong for people to think that because efforts to repeal the ACA were defeated that they had also stopped the efforts to cut Medicaid or roll back access to affordable healthcare.

“I just don’t want anyone to think that we’re out of the woods when it comes to proposed big cuts to Medicaid or Medicare because it’s right there in the budget,” he said.

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Neighbors oppose Pulaski Crossing townhouse plan; hearing scheduled for Dec. 8

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A plan for 150 townhouses on Pulaski Highway in White Marsh is scheduled for review by a county administrative law judge at a public hearing in about two weeks.

Known as Pulaski Crossing, the project of one-garage townhouses on 31 acres is set to replace an earlier plan for a Carmax auction center at 11301 Pulaski Highway that was previously used by the Schwaber family for a drive-in movie theater.

The Bowerman-Loreley Beach Community Association of about 150 single-family homes located to the south between the cleared site and Bird River is opposed to the project, which it argues is in stark contrast to the existing commercial and industrial businesses along that stretch of the highway.

In 2016, the County Council rezoned a small adjacent agricultural parcel to allow 5.5 housing units per acre. The change enabled the rest of the commercially zoned Pulaski Crossing site to be developed residentially instead of commercially per regulations in the County Code.

The public hearing is set for Friday, Dec. 8, at 10 a.m. in the Jefferson Building in Towson.

The development plan shows two entrance/exit points without traffic lights on a section of Pulaski Highway that is divided by concrete median barriers.

Neighbors say that residents who want to head toward the Beltway will need to turn right, drive east to Allender Road and then turn around to head in the opposite direction toward Baltimore.

However, there is a break in the median barrier at the current entrance to the property.

Still to be undertaken is a traffic study of the failing intersection at Pulaski Highway and Ebenezer Road due to already heavy traffic, said county reviewers, who discussed the plan at a pre-hearing conference on Wednesday, Nov. 15.

Builders will not be able to get building permits for Pulaski Crossing until improvements are made to the nearby intersection to relieve backed-up traffic, they said.

Also requested is a study to determine compatibility with the surrounding commercially zoned areas that include Shemin Nurseries and the Brooks-Ramsey automotive businesses.

The plan shows a large stormwater pond close to the highway, and a smaller pond toward the southern end of the site near residences. The ponds on the plan comply with regulations, according to reviewers.

However, they also noted potential problems with preparing the site for construction.

“The contours on the plan reveal rather excessive grading,” according to a comment by the Bureau of Development Plans Review.

“Development of this property through stripping, grading and stabilization could result in a sediment pollution problem, damaging private and public holdings downstream of the property,” the comments read.

The Office of Planning recommends that the plan include more amenities near the southern end of the site such as a playground and swimming pool, and also recommends new fencing to improve the appearance of the stormwater ponds.

Also still required is a school impact analysis to determine whether the new townhouse population will add to already overcrowded classrooms at Perry Hall High and Middle schools.

Library toy drive ‘makes all the difference’ in a child’s life

Library toy drive ‘makes all the difference’ in a child’s life
White Marsh branch Assistant Library Manager Olivia Mirot (left) and circulation assistants Dawn Filippou and Vanessa DiGregorio help to wrap gifts for the toy drive. Photo by Will Malkus of BCPL.

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Each year at Christmastime, many local churches and organizations organize toy and gift drives to help neighbors in need. And far too often, supplies do not keep up with need.

For the fourth year, Baltimore County’s public libraries are partnering with community groups and homeless shelters to help fill that gap with their annual Connecting the Community Toy Drive.

Through Dec. 6, library patrons can drop off new, unused toys, books, games, dolls, puzzles and any other item a child might enjoy at any of the system’s 19 neighborhood branches, including seven in eastern Baltimore County.

Each branch has named a local nonprofit organization or church to be its beneficiary, and those groups are grateful for the extra boost the drive supplies to their efforts, according to organizers.

St. John’s Lutheran Church in Essex holds an annual Christmas season toy giveaway that is so popular that people camp out the night before the “shop” opens.

“We tried to discourage the overnight camp-outs,” the Rev. Charlene Barnes told the East County Times in a phone interview. “We tried giving out numbers one year but that caused some arguments so we stopped that.”

St. John’s collects toys year-round thanks to donations made to Miss Ann’s Closet, a ministry that distributes clothing and other needed items monthly to those in need, according to Barnes.

Closet founder Ann Brooks, a St. John’s member, goes through donations each month and sets aside the toys in the best condition for the December giveaway.

St. John’s is the beneficiary of the Essex branch’s toy drive. The roughly 10 bags of new toys the church has received from past drives “makes all the difference in what we are able to offer in new toys,” Barnes said.

The toy drives at the Rosedale and White Marsh branches both benefit the residents at the Eastern Family Resource Center, where the donations “make a huge difference,” according to April Stevens, volunteer coordinator for the Community Assistance Network, which oversees the homeless shelter at the center on Franklin Square Drive.

“Many of these children wouldn’t have a Christmas otherwise,” Stevens said. “These families struggle to put food on the table; gifts are out of the question.”

The shelter, which now can house 250 people thanks to the new facility that opened in October, is home to children from birth to age 18, according to Stevens.

“We need everything, from clothing and diapers for newborns to toys, clothing and toiletries for older children and adults,“ she said.

The toys and gifts the children receive for Christmas are special because they belong to the child, Stevens said. To have something that they can take with them when they leave is “huge,” she said.

Library staff members get as much enjoyment out of the collections as the recipients.

“This project links back to our strategic plan of connecting with the community on many levels,” Rosedale Branch manager Justin Hartzell said. “It’s a great initiative and everyone rallies around it.”

Sandy Lombardo, White Marsh branch manager, said her library’s effort has grown from the original toy drive to include a hat and mitten tree and toiletries.

“We try to be mindful of a very loved stuffed animal and get toys that will become that special, loved toy,” she said. “We also encourage donations of items that don’t have a lot of parts that can be lost and to choose things like small, hand-held electronic games that a child can play by themselves if no other children are around.”

Staff members even wrap all the gifts and put tags on them to denote the appropriate gender and age group, Lombardo said.

The library has partnered with Honeygo Village Dentistry, which has donated toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss to the cause.

The drive “is a good thing to do,” Lombardo said. “People are always looking for ways to give back to the community and this is a feel-good way to do that.”

To Stevens, the toy drive results in a priceless gift for children whose young lives have experienced only struggle and difficulties.

“With these gifts, on Christmas morning, a child gets to be a child, for a moment anyway, without worrying about adult things,” she said. “You can’t put a price tag on that.”

Other local library branches collecting toys and their beneficiaries are North Point and Perry Hall (Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County); Parkville-Carney (House of Ruth); and Sollers Point (Turner Station Conservation Teams).

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Royal Farms announced as first tenant at Shoppes at Tradepoint

Royal Farms announced as first tenant at Shoppes at Tradepoint
An artist's rendering of what the new store could look like when completed. Image courtesy of Royal Farms.

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Tradepoint Atlantic has announced that Royal Farms will be the inaugural tenant of its retail center to be known as the Shoppes at Tradepoint.

The convenience store chain will build a retail store, gas pumps and a car wash on a 3.7-acre parcel of land along Bethlehem Boulevard at the foot of Peninsula Expressway, according to Roger Sauerhaft, a spokesman for Tradepoint.

“Royal Farms has signed a long-term contract and will be the first tenant at the Shoppes of Tradepoint,” he told the East County Times in a phone interview.

Tradepoint officials successfully petitioned Baltimore County last year during the quadrennial rezoning process to get about 70 acres of former steel plant land rezoned for retail use. Royal Farms will occupy one of seven free-standing retail pads, according to a statement issued by Tradepoint officials.

“We are excited to welcome Royal Farms, which is a brand both highly recognizable to Baltimore-area consumers and is known for its consistently impressive quality,” Eric Gilbert, Tradepoint’s chief development officer, said in the statement.

The location will be easily accessible to Baltimore Beltway travelers, with the southbound ramp on Peninsula Expressway and the northbound ramp around the corner on North Point Boulevard.

Both Royal Farms and Tradepoint officials expect that “thousands of people who work at Tradepoint Atlantic and the tens of thousands that travel I-695 every day will welcome this highly accessible retail development to the area,” according to the statement.

The Tradepoint Royal Farms store will offer nearly 5,400 square feet of retail space, a car wash bay and a total of 15 fueling pumps, including 10 multiple-product pumps and five high-flow diesel pumps, according to Shelby Kemp, a spokeswoman for the chain.

Until just recently, the North Point Peninsula had only two small, family-owned, independent gas stations. Convenience store chain 7-11 this year opened a new store with gas pumps at 5230 North Point Blvd., resulting in more competitive prices that local residents were happy to see, if comments made on social media sites are any indication.

Baltimore-area residents have always raved about the quality of the store’s fried chicken, but that reputation got a national boost this past summer when Food & Wine magazine named the popular fast food as the top entry on the list of “10 Gas Station Foods Across the Country That Are Worth the Detour.”

The article says that, while many people think only items like “Slim Jims, Twinkies and watery coffee” are available in gas station shops, “some remarkable food and drink is coming out of those little convenience stores.”

The new store and fueling station are expected to open in late 2018, according to the statement. Royal Farms, headquartered in Baltimore since 1959, manages more than 180 stores in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Tradepoint will continue to pursue other tenants for its retail complex. Officials have said at past TPA open house sessions that hotels, a grocery store, fast-food restaurants and other retailers will be courted.

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State veterans commission honors vets at war memorial

State veterans commission honors vets at war memorial
Ron Holcomb (right) and Todd Miceli delivered a proclamation from the governer recognizing veterans for their service. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans Memorial at Holly Hill Memorial Gardens in Middle River was the site of an intimate gathering on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, to celebrate and honor all veterans and remember those lost in their respective conflicts.

Saturday’s informal gathering, held each Veterans Day at the monument, was spent honoring and remembering veterans through song, prayer and telling stories of their service.

The tradition began in 1989, the year the monument was dedicated, according to LLW Veterans Committee member Keith Roberts.

The veterans memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 29, of that year. And on the following Veterans Day, there was no official service planned at the monument, Roberts said. But the monument’s founder, the late Al Clasing Jr., and his late wife, Marie, decided to visit the site on their own to say a prayer for veterans.

“When they got here, they found that there were a couple other veterans that had the same idea,” he said during the gathering. “And thus began this informal service every Veterans Day.”

During the service, representatives from the Maryland Veterans Commission, Todd Miceli and Ron Holcomb, delivered a proclamation from Governor Larry Hogan which recognized that veterans are the reason for the freedoms that we enjoy. It also stated that, following their service, they returned home to be responsible and productive members of society and honored them for that.

Also held Saturday at the LLW memorial site was the annual Luminary Service in the evening, which features red, white and blue lights to illuminate the stone monoliths, along with luminary candles positioned around the monument, each representing a name engraved onto the stones.

Roberts said he and the monument committee decided to dedicate this year’s informal Veterans Day ceremony at the monument specifically to Korean War veterans.

The Korean War began in June 1950 and ended in July 1953, with a total of 1,789,000 American soldiers sent to Korea during the conflict, Roberts said. Of that number, 36,000 were killed and 103,000 were wounded.

U.S. troops in Korea were part of the United Nations forces in the country, which included soldiers from 21 nations around the world. However, 88 percent of the troops sent there were Americans. And the U.S. spent $67 billion for its involvement in the conflict.

Perhaps most striking about it, Roberts said, is that 77,000 American soldiers who fought in Korea are still unaccounted for.

“That’s an incredible figure,” he said. “We still are finding and, through the use of DNA, identifying the remains of some of those soldiers.”

Roberts pointed out that the remains of Louis Damewood, Edward Saunders and David Wishon - three of the last four names listed under the Korean War deceased on the monument - were recently identified using DNA evidence.

The names listed on the stone slabs at the center of the monument are those eastern Baltimore County residents who gave their lives in military service during the respective conflicts. Those on the stones in the outer circle are veterans who have honorably served in any branch of the U.S. military.

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Brochin, Olszewski spar in first Democratic county executive candidates’ forum

Brochin, Olszewski spar in first Democratic county executive candidates’ forum
John Olszewski Jr. (left) and State Senator Jim Brochin (right) took their places separated by an empty podium marked for no-show Councilwoman Vicki Almond. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The first candidates’ forum of the election season was held last Tuesday, Nov. 7, at Loch Raven Recreation Center, with former Delegate John Olszewski Jr. and State Senator Jim Brochin squaring off.

Notably absent from the event was Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who formally announced her candidacy in Owings Mills on Nov. 1. An official from the forum’s organizers, the Baltimore County Grassroots Coalition, noted that Almond had twice stated that she intended to be present at the forum, but pulled out at the last minute for an undisclosed reason.

With an empty podium marked for Almond in between Brochin and Olszewski, the evening proceeded without her.

Immediately, Brochin and Olszewski laid out their respective visions for Baltimore County. Olszewski won the coin toss and gave his opening statement first, stating that there was a hungry optimism in Baltimore County that he was looking to harness. He was quick to move to the left of Brochin, stating he was “proud to be a blue-collar progressive,” before highlighting aspects of his platform that included universal pre-kindergarten, campaign finance reform and more public/private partnerships to build jobs.

“As a teacher, I knew what it was like to see a kid who didn’t come to school with a meal. I knew what it was like to learn in a classroom without air conditioning. So we’ll give every kid the best possible start and the education they deserve by doing things like enacting universal pre-K in Baltimore County and expanding access to school meals,” said Olszewski.

In Brochin’s opening statement, he highlighted his efforts to be a voice for his constituents. Pointing to his environmental record, Brochin stressed the importance of keeping green space in the county and building more recreation fields. He also pledged to build the first opioid treatment center in Baltimore County, noting that “you would be hardpressed to find anybody who doesn’t have a friend, a family member or a loved one that has an addiction problem.”

But where Brochin pushed especially hard in his opening statement was on developer contributions to political campaigns. For the better part of a year, Brochin has been deriding contributions to Baltimore County elected officials since the County Council is the gatekeeper with development projects. Brochin contends that contributions from developers and their immediate family should be banned, citing similar legislation passed in Prince George’s County back in 1992.

“We have a system in Baltimore County, that predates this executive and council, where developers give campaign contributions to the council and country club memberships to the executive,” said Brochin. “They build whatever they want, wherever they want, and we are the collateral damage. And it’s got to end, and as Baltimore County Executive I will aim to end pay-to-play.”

Being a Democratic primary, there was plenty of agreement between the two candidates on the night. Both men agreed that there needed to be more investment in school construction and that there needed to be increased transparency. But there were often minor differences in approach.

Sticking with campaign contributions, Olszewski touted his plan to completely overhaul campaign finance and shift to public financing when Brochin was finished presenting his plan to limit developer contributions. Olszewski highlighted the use of public funding in Governor Larry Hogan’s successful 2014 gubernatorial run, as well as the implementation of a public campaign funding law in Montgomery County in 2014. He told the crowd that there needed to be a “more holistic” approach that curbed all special interests.

“We know it works, we know that it encourages competition, and we know it takes not just developer money out politics; it provides a real alternative to all special interest money,” said Olszewski. “There’s a lot of special interests in Baltimore County.”

Brochin disagreed with Olszewski’s assessment of special interests in the county, saying a look at the financial contributions for County Council members and the county executive reveals that the contributions are predominantly coming from developers. He went on to stress how inappropriate the contributions are, especially with the council often invoking “councilmanic courtesy,” which sees the rest of the council defer to the councilperson who represents the district where development is being discussed.

Aside from disagreeing with Olszewski’s assessment of special interests, Brochin also argued that the former delegate’s public campaign funding plan would require raising county taxes.

“What do you cut? Do you cut police, do you cut school counselors?” Brochin asked, noting that campaign finance just adds “another expenditure.”

Later in the evening, Brochin would again question Olszewski on how he planned to implement his vision to enact his school construction initiatives, his push for more school programs and meals, campaign reform and more, without increasing taxes.

Olszewski stated that, if elected, he would look at ways to shift money around and make things more efficient. He also questioned some of the spending decisions made in the past, including the decision to commit $330 million for students to receive laptops in Baltimore County Public Schools. He would not say whether or not he would do away with the program, but stated that initiatives like that should take a backseat when, citing issues like those at Dulaney and Lansdowne high schools where they have brown water or are sinking into the ground.

There were other times during the night when things got heated. On the HOME Act, a proposed piece of legislation that would see landlords forced to accept Housing Choice/Section 8 vouchers, Brochin was put on the defensive. Olszewski stated he supported the legislation and framed the argument as one of discrimination, stating that he would be an advocate for all.

Brochin, who opposed the legislation in its most recent form, stated that he could not back it because it would be unfair to landlords who only own a handful of units. He told the crowd that oftentimes the payments from the government come three or four months late, and that landlords who only own a few units can’t take that financial hit.

On minimum wage, Brochin took a cautious approach, saying that he would not support a $15 minimum wage right now. He referred to it as a “job killer” that would send jobs to other jurisdictions, and that any such initiative should be statewide.

“And I support the state raising that wage to $15 an hour and I hope that all of our legislators from Baltimore County and across the state are sponsors of that legislation this upcoming session,” Olszewski said. “Some of the jobs are changing and we need to make sure there’s a chance for people to earn a decent wage to provide for their families.”

When pressed by Brochin about if he  would push for a $15 minimum wage at the county level if elected, Olszewski expressed doubt that it could be passed in Baltimore County, agreeing that a push would need to happen at the state level. He countered by asking Brochin if he would sponsor that legislation next session, but Brochin said he would not.

“We’ll hit $10.10 in 2018 and I think we’re on the right path,” he said. “I want $10.10 to be enacted in 2018 and we can move forward after that.”

When given a chance to remark on the current administration as the evening came to a close, both men praised County Executive Kevin Kamenetz for his fiscal stewardship of the county and promised to show the same restraint.
When pressed about how they would differ from the current administration, Olszewski was measured in his response, simply stating that if elected he would push Baltimore County into the future. Brochin was a bit harsher in his response, saying that there’s a “culture straight out of the 1950s,” and that his administration would be the most diverse administration ever assembled.

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MDE recommends dredging Man-O-War Shoal; others still opposed

MDE recommends dredging Man-O-War Shoal; others still opposed
The location and general shape of Man-O-War shoal. Dark lines indicate the boundaries of oyster bars mapped by Yates (1911). Yellow rectangles within the outline of the shoal illustrate the types of cuts anticipated as shell is removed by dredging along the perimeter. However, cuts on the western third of the shoal are no longer planned since those areas were seeded with oyster spat within the last 10 years. Image courtesy of MD DNR.

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Maryland Department of the Environment has recommended granting a permit to dredge fossil oyster shell from Man-O-War Shoal to be used as a base for restoring oyster reefs around the Chesapeake Bay, despite objections from many local residents and environmental advocates.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources applied for the permit to dredge the shoal after the Maryland General Assembly passed a law in 2009 requiring them to do so. And in its review of DNR’s permit application, MDE has concluded that the proposed project would not have enough of an adverse effect so as to outweigh their desired goals.

The permit, if granted, would see the removal via hydraulic dredge of up to 5 million bushels, or about 300,000 cubic yards of oyster shell from the shoal in two phases over a five-year period. Each phase would be preceded and followed by monitoring periods to determine the ecological effects of the project. And if no significant negative impacts are found, DNR could apply for a new permit to increase their total haul to 30 million bushels or about 1.8 million cubic yards.

That amount would constitute approximately 30 percent of the available shell currently on the shoal, according to the MDE report.

Fossil oyster shell is widely regarded as the best surface for new oysters to attach and grow, but it is in short supply around the bay due to sedimentation and degradation of oyster shell, the report states. Therefore, many see Man-O-War as an abundant source of shell to form a base for new and replenished oyster bars in both sanctuaries and managed public harvest areas, as well as for aquaculture.

However, others see the program as a wasteful repeat of past failed programs which could potentially do more harm than good.

David Sikorski, government relations chairman for the Coastal Conservation Association, pointed to the oyster “repletion program,” which took place from 1960 to 2006 and was an effort to dredge fossil oyster shell throughout the upper Chesapeake Bay with the purpose of rebuilding oyster reefs elsewhere.

Between 185 million and 200 million bushels of shell were dredged during the program, “and what happened to it?” he asked.

“It ended for good reason,” Sikorski said. “It was the destruction of habitat in one place to attempt to replenish habitat in another by removing that shell. And after all those years and all those public dollars being spent and the upper bay being changed forever, we have no tangible benefit to the public from that program.”

Sam Weaver, owner of Weaver’s Marine Service on Back River and president of the Back River Restoration Committee, echoed those sentiments and said that for environmental reasons there is no reason to disturb the shoal.

“I don’t know why they would want to destroy one of the last real shoals around,” he said.

In its report, MDE acknowledged concerns that the project could negatively impact the shoal habitat and the value of the location for commercial and recreational fishing. But the department concluded that oyster production on the shoal currently is “very limited.”

“The existing Man-O-War oyster population has been supported primarily through seed plantings,” the report states, noting that no dredge cuts are proposed for any areas of the shoal that have been seeded with oysters within the past 10 years.

Additionally, while dredging is likely to result in a loss of benthos, according to DNR, “benthic communities probably will recover to pre-dredging levels of abundance, biomass and number of species within [six] to 12 months after dredging is completed,” they stated.

They also concluded using past fish surveys that those communities would not be substantially altered by the dredging.

Sikorski said supporters of dredging the shell say it is to support the oyster fishing industry and for restoration of the oyster population to benefit the bay as a whole.

“But [DNR] has admitted that the amount of shell available or proposed to take from Man-O-War doesn’t even meet half of the immediate need,” he said.

DNR’s application indicates that the shell dredged under the initial permit would be enough to recreate approximately 7 percent of the acreage of oyster bars estimated to be lost each year. And by their numbers, the total 30 million bushels to be dredged could recreate about 40 percent of that lost annually.

“That sounds like an awfully expensive proposal for a very limited return,” Sikorski said. And he attributed the massive need to DNR not ever putting proper and sustainable limits on harvest for oysters.

He also criticized the oyster fishing industry for being unwilling to adapt their harvesting techniques to the use of alternate substrates for growing oysters, such as stone or reef balls.

Sikorski said granite has been shown in Harris Creek and other sanctuary reef projects to be a good base for oysters to attach to.

“Oysters love to attach to it; they succeed by connecting to it,” he said.

Additionally, the BRRC through its Boy Scout venturing crew has been working with CCA to build and distribute concrete reef balls around the bay for oysters to grow on, Weaver said.

Sikorski noted that stone makes it more difficult for oyster harvesters using power dredges because it has a lot of vertical reliefs and they would then have to sort through a lot of the stone that comes up with the oysters. It is also a concern for fishermen using trot lines in those same creeks to catch crabs in the summer because the lines can get worn out or hung up on the rocks.

“They’re realistic concerns, but sometimes, if you’re going to better the bay as a whole, you might as well use a technique and materials that can make it work and are available,” Sikorski said.

The permit application is now being considered by the state’s Board of Public Works. Additional written comments regarding the project can be sent to William Morgante, Wetlands Administrator; Maryland Board of Public Works; 80 Calvert Street, Room 117; Annapolis, MD 21401 or emailed to by Nov. 21.

After that deadline, anyone submitting comments will be notified of the date of the BPW meeting at which the application is scheduled to be considered.

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Sixth District council candidate Geelhaar to run ‘campaign of the people’

Sixth District council candidate Geelhaar to run ‘campaign of the people’

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Parkville native and current resident Glen Geelhaar is a consistent sort of guy.

The public schools and special education advocate attended Parkville Elementary, Parkville Junior High and Parkville Senior High schools and earned two associate’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree, all from Villa Julie College, now known as Stevenson University.

With the exception of a stint of residency in Harford County, Geelhaar, 53, has lived in Parkville his entire life and now wants to be the Baltimore County Council representative for the community in which he was born and raised.

The lifelong Republican was among the first candidates to file for the 2018 election when he filed his paperwork to run for the Sixth Councilmanic District seat on March 23. He has since been joined in filing by Deb Sullivan and Eric Lofstad, while Ryan Nawrocki has announced his intentions to run but has not yet filed.

A staunch supporter of public education, Geelhaar credits a ninth-grade social studies class assignment with igniting his lifelong interest in politics. The students were told to follow the 1980 presidential race and Geelhaar jumped into the assignment with gusto.

“I was hooked; I was impressed with a candidate named George H.W. Bush and I fell in love with Reagan,” he said. “I couldn’t vote for them then because I wasn’t old enough to vote but I did get the chance to vote for them both in 1984.”

His run for the council seat is his first personal campaign, but he is no stranger to political campaigns, having served as a volunteer for Helen Delich Bentley while he was still in high school. Since then, he has aided several local Republicans, including Fifth District County Councilman David Marks and state Delegate Chrisitan Miele and former Delegate John Cluster, each of the Eighth District, with tasks like door-knocking and envelope stuffing.

In discussing his political agenda, Geelhaar refers to what he calls the “three Es.”

“I’m most concerned about education, economic development and emergency services,” he said.

He believes the Baltimore County Public Schools system is in good shape but has room for improvement.

“The schools have a good reputation, but we have to protect that reputation; we can’t let it slide,” he said.

He points to school overcrowding and the number of schools that have much of their campuses eaten up by “rows and rows” of trailers that provide overflow classrooms. He is a strong advocate of a new elementary school in Parkville, something he says could be accomplished by reopening the former Parkville Elementary or by building a new school on one of several county-owned parcels in the Hiss Avenue corridor.

Geelhaar is disappointed by the “turf wars” that exist along district lines, particularly with regard to school issues.

While he understands he would be elected to advocate for the Sixth District’s issues and concerns, he also believes the council should work together to prioritize needs and make sure the most egregious problems are taken care of first.

He cited recent media coverage of a tour of Lansdowne High School, which has a mold problem and other serious structural deficiencies.

“[State Comptroller] Peter Franchot was quoted as saying that if you kept your pets in that building, you’d go to jail,” Geelhaar said. “So while I would certainly advocate for new schools in my district, if Lansdowne is making kids sick, that needs to be taken care of first.”

Geelhaar said he would promote some different thinking in the administration and running of the public safety departments. He supports the idea of an elected police chief (as opposed to the individual being politically appointed) and would like to implement a pilot program for police officers to take cars home.

“If you let police officers take their cars home with them, perhaps that presence of that car in the neighborhood or at the grocery store deters crime,” he said.

He also would like to see the county test out some hybrid police cars that get 38 miles per gallon of gas, as opposed to the 18 miles per gallon that the Tauruses now in use get.

“Our officers have to keep their cars running to keep their equipment charged up and much of that gas is burned up by idling,” Geelhaar said.

By contrast, the hybrid would stop running its combustion engine and keep the equipment charged with its battery, with the engine coming back on only when the battery needs charging, he said.

In terms of economic development, Geelhaar said he recognizes the value of the MD-43/White Marsh Boulevard corridor and acknowledges that many county officials see the area as a “jobs engine.”

But he also believes that other, older retail districts are being ignored and is concerned by the high rate of vacancies along many of the country’s traditional Main Street corridors, including Eastern Boulevard, Harford and Belair roads and Pulaski Highway.

He cited the success achieved by Marks, who targeted a failing shopping center in Perry Hall, where the high number of vacancies was threatening the well-being of the remaining businesses, including a bowling establishment.

“Councilman Marks targeted that center with an effort to boost occupancy and now that center is thriving again and the bowling lanes are no longer in danger of closing,” Geelhaar said. “We need to do that for more of our neighborhood retail places.”

If anything sets Geelhaar apart from his opponents, he believes it is his ability and willingness to try a different approach when it comes to problem-solving.

“I have ideas and I have back-up ideas,” he said. “I’m a plan B and Plan C kind of guy.”

Geelhaar also said he plans to hold fundraisers at a price point for everyone to be able to participate if they choose.

“I don’t have developers writing checks for $6,000; I’m getting donations of $20 and $100,” he said. “I see my campaign as a campaign of the people.”

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Freezing weather programs open early for homeless people

Freezing weather programs open early for homeless people
The North Point Government Center will now only be used as a standby center for homeless individuals when the Eastern Family Resource Center in Rosedale reaches capacity during freezing temperatures. File photo.

Dundalk center now on standby

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

For the first time in eastern Baltimore County this winter, the county is providing 35 overnight beds for single homeless men when temperatures drop below freezing, as they did last Friday night.

The newly created beds in the recently relocated and expanded Eastern Family Resource Center on Franklin Square Drive in Rosedale mean that the North Point Government Center in Dundalk will no longer offer beds in freezing weather except as a backup facility.

“It’ll be on standby,” said Terri Kingeter, homeless shelter administrator with the Department of Planning, which oversees shelters in the county.

Normally, the county’s freezing weather facilities open Nov. 15, but this year they opened early because of the freezing temperatures experienced in the area over the weekend, she said.

Kingeter said she alerted the police and fire departments, and also called Prologue, Inc. which is contracted by the county to reach out to homeless people with information about shelters and other services.

Staff at the Medstar Medical Center also referred some homeless individuals to the Rosedale shelter.

As a result, eight people stayed there on Friday night and five on Saturday night, according to Kingeter.

“Normally when we open, we get nobody on the first night because nobody knows about it,” Kingeter said.

Every year the county’s shelter for men in Catonsville offers beds on a drop-in basis without requiring a referral from the Department of Social Services when temperature and wind chill factor drop below freezing.

The county also traditionally opened beds during freezing temperatures at the North Point Government Center, a former school at the southeast corner of Wise Avenue and Merritt Boulevard.

Now, instead of using the Dundalk site, the department will be referring single men to the Rosedale center, a three-story building on Franklin Square Drive that replaced a smaller center closer to the Medstar center. That center had previously only served women and families.

Homeless people looking for shelter services are advised to call the county at 410-853-3000, option 2, to check if beds are available that night on a drop-in basis due to freezing temperatures, Kingeter said.

Calling in advance also helps the county decide whether to activate standby beds, including those at the North Point Government Center, if needed.

People can arrive after 6 p.m. and stay until 9 a.m. the following morning, she said.

Administrators will try to inform overnight visitors before they leave in the morning about whether the shelter is expected to reopen again that evening because of expected continuing cold.

“That way they won’t have to leave and wonder [if they can return],” she said.

The county’s annual freezing weather shelter program is scheduled to run through April 15, 2018.

For more information, visit and search for “shelter and housing.”

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Dreamers liquor license in limbo; other bars fined for violations

Dreamers liquor license in limbo; other bars fined for violations
Dreamers is located at 4000 North Point Road in Dundalk. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

The Dreamers adult entertainment bar in Dundalk recently went on the market for sale, but without its income-generating liquor license, at least for now.

The Baltimore County Board of Liquor License Commissioners denied the owners’ request to extend the license on Oct. 30 after they failed to pay their annual $1,500 renewal fee and outstanding fines.

The owners have since appealed the decision to Baltimore County Circuit Court, which puts the potentially lucrative license in limbo pending the outcome of that case.

In the meantime, the marketing of the land and building at 4000 Old North Point Road is actively going forward with the hope of getting a good offer with or without the license.

Even if they win the appeal, the owners want to get out of the business, said agent Harry Cohen with ReMax First Choice in Essex, which is marketing the property and license.

A former president of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association, Cohen said if the owners win the appeal and the license is preserved, it could be sold as a regular tavern license without its current designation as an adult entertainment license.

He also said it could be used on Dreamers property or anywhere in the 15th Election District. The number of licenses is capped in each district based on population, making them valuable commodities when they become available.

Cohen said some potential buyers have shown interest in the property since it went on the market, but added “the license is important to these people.”

On Monday, Nov. 13, the liquor board fined several other bars in eastern Baltimore County, including the Malibu Beach Bar in Dundalk, Gussie’s liquor store in Essex and Brix Sports Bar and Grill in Rosedale.

The Malibu Beach Bar on Eastern Avenue was fined a total of $1,250 for a public disturbance after failing to control a fight between a security guard and a patron in the parking lot, for selling alcohol to a minor and for having an employee under age 21 on the premises after 9 p.m.

Gussie’s on Old Eastern Avenue was fined $750 for selling alcohol to an under-aged police cadet. The owner said he failed to card the cadet because he was dealing with an influx of customers at closing time. The owner was also fined $250 for selling cigarettes to a minor, but the fine was waived because he had paid a fine to the state Comptroller’s office for the same violation.

Brix Sports Bar and Grill on Pulaski Highway was fined $500 for failing to card an under-aged customer. No action was taken on a charge of selling to an intoxicated person after the owner said he stopped serving the patron, offered him food and also offered to get him a cab.

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