Maryland 3.0: Making Eastern Shore Towns “Cool”

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Salisbury Mayor Jake Day, 34, has a floor-to-ceiling erasable board dotted with Post-it notes on the longest wall of his office.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day

It’s a jarring display of terrestrial organization for a millennial, but Day is hardly old school. He’s got two masters degrees, one from Carnegie Mellon in urban design and the other from Oxford in environmental policy. He is also an officer in the Maryland National Guard and a local boy whose father was recently named COO of Perdue Farms.

“There were moments when, as a 9-year-old living in Salisbury, I was thinking I really want to be mayor in this town,” said Day.

So he’s had plenty of time to think about how he’d change things in a city with a history of helter-skelter development and a stubborn crime rate.

“The biggest thing for us has been arts, entertainment and culture,” Day explained. “Recognizing that those things can be more than an ancillary benefit, but a driver has been big for us.”

Day is staring down a core problem in rural Maryland: People are dying faster than they’re being replaced, and where they’re not the numbers are trending that way. So retaining residents and attracting new ones is vital. Because creating jobs, enticing new industries and rebuilding infrastructure matters little if there’s no one around to fill those jobs, drive on those new roads or enjoy those renovated downtowns.

And cities like Salisbury, Frederick and Cumberland — small urban anchors in Maryland’s rural areas — could be where the revitalization begins.

Or where it’s already underway.

A matter of life and death

Garrett, Allegany, Kent, Talbot, Dorchester, Somerset and Worcester counties all had more deaths than births in 2015, according Maryland’s Vital Statistics Report. Leading the way on the Eastern Shore was Kent, which had a third fewer births than deaths. In Western Maryland it was Allegany, where the disparity was 27 percent.

In Wicomico County, where Salisbury is located, the numbers are rosier. In 2015, births beat deaths by 36 percent. However, in 2010 that number was 50 percent. The same trend is there for Frederick County, where births outpaced death two to one in 2010, but slowed to five for every three in 2015.

Population problems in rural areas tend to get framed in economic terms. The argument goes that young people won’t stay if there are no jobs, but the jobs won’t come if there are no young people to fill them. But the jobs are there.

According to Maryland’s Workforce Exchange, there were more than 600 open job listings in Wicomico County, the majority of which were in Salisbury. The numbers are similar in Frederick and Allegany, with more than 500 open job listings in both counties as of late April.

“The problem is that we’re just not adding people at the same rate that we’re adding jobs,” Day said.

Part of the challenge includes boosting the quality, pay and benefits of available jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been a pronounced economic shift in Salisbury over the last 10 years from producing things to delivering services — and with it, more jobs that tend to pay less and come with fewer benefits.

In order to sell employment that might not stack up salary-wise to urban areas, mayors like Day and Randy McClement in the city of Frederick are increasingly turning to what they can offer instead: quality of life.

“The thing we’ve been able to do is make Frederick a destination,” said McClement, who’s been mayor there since 2009. “We’ve done that with a hip feel. Millennials are looking for a livable, walkable city. By delivering that, we’re attracting the younger generation.”

The city of Frederick, basically the model for small to mid-size urban redevelopment in Maryland, has the luxury of being perched at the top of I-270 corridor, in commuting distance to job-rich Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County. Salisbury is more remote, and the people who live near it more reliant on its services.

When asked what Salisbury’s 33,000-odd residents needs most, Day points first to an intangible.

“The thing we struggle to overcome more than anything else is a change to our community self-esteem,” he said. “We look to ourselves in a poorer light than any metric would suggest that we should.”

Day is referring in part to Salisbury’s crime problem. According to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the city’s violent crime rate per 100,000 people in 2015 was almost double the state average, though it has fallen in recent years.

“We’ve had some dark times and those things linger,” said Day. “It’s easy to latch onto them as your identity and it’s a lot tougher to get people to believe that things aren’t so bad.”

Downtown Salisbury

To help put the past behind, Day wants to remake pretty much the entire city. And, thanks to a partnership he initiated between Salisbury and the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning, he has a blueprint to do it.

It focuses on the city’s urban core, dividing it into seven neighborhoods, and includes everything from streetscape redesign to newly constructed modern buildings and bridges along the city’s riverwalk on either side of the Wicomico River, which snakes west to east through Salisbury’s center.

Day is hyperfocused on the city’s physical appearance, particularly its branding and signage, but also its benches, planters and trash cans, which are not uniform at present and clearly bother the mayor’s design sense.

Salisbury’s master plan has a proposed price tag of about $640 million over 20 years, nearly 75 percent of which is meant to come from private sector investment. The plan is aggressive and maybe unrealistic, but also visionary. And perhaps no surprise from a mayor with an undergraduate degree in architecture and a masters in urban planning.

Day is also pursuing smaller, less costly efforts at rebranding Salisbury, including being a finalist to host the National Folk Festival for three years, a 175,000-person event that takes place over a long fall weekend each year. Prior hosts include Nashville and Richmond, with Greensboro, N.C., as the event’s current location.

Finally, one of the simpler efforts Day and his team are doing is something called 3rd Fridays, where the city organizes arts and crafts vendors and live music in the city’s historic quarter.

“We had to focus on our own market first so we stopped worrying about the beaches and Baltimore and Washington for a minute and tried to figure out how to get local people to show up,” Day said.

Initial funding for 3rd Fridays the first year was around $20,000. In 2016, it was $280,000.

Given the size and scope of his efforts, it’s fair to question Day’s ability to keep all of them on track, including management of Salisbury’s 435 city employees.

But Day is a believer in using data to make decisions and runs his weekly management meetings like a military battle briefing. Each of his department heads have between four and six key metrics that they measure and then provide updates on on a weekly basis. These include things like potholes filled and lane miles paved and travel time on fire department calls.

“We’re measuring constantly and we’re making decisions based on that,” said Day, his enthusiasm growing as he drills down on yet another topic. “The weakness is the linkage to mapping. We need to reinvent our use of GIS (geographic information systems).”

Something Day will probably incorporate into his briefings soon.

by J.F. Meils

Opioid Crisis Rural Maryland’s Worst Problem

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DENTON — If there is one hopeful thing about Maryland’s opioid crisis, it’s that no one is denying the obvious.

“Very honestly nothing is working,” said Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

For rural areas where communities are small and the stigma is large, opioids can be particularly insidious. The guy who jumped out of the moving ambulance after getting revived by naloxone might be an old high school classmate. The woman selling drugs at the hospital to fellow addicts could be the little sister of a good friend.

The epidemic is also a serious drag on government and medical resources in places where budgets are already stretched. Then there’s the psychic toll, especially on police, ambulance and hospital workers who slug it out on the front lines, often with the same addicts, day after day.

But while the opioid crisis appears to be kicking Maryland’s rural populations while they’re down, the silver lining might be in the size and inherent closeness of those communities, which are beginning to coordinate efforts to combat opioids in ways that simply aren’t possible in the state’s more populated counties.

Localizing the problem

“In our small area, opioids affect pretty much every family one way or another,” said Tommy Conneely, who runs the Lost Sheep Recovery Mission in Caroline County and said he has been seven years sober from alcohol.

Caroline, like other rural counties, is beginning to harmonize their anti-opioid efforts across a wide range of public, private and faith-based groups. The county’s drug and alcohol abuse council includes a diverse collection of law enforcement, education, substance abuse and mental health officials.

And people like Conneely, who, as an ex-cop now involved in faith-based recovery efforts, brings a wholly unique perspective.

The Caroline drug council is in the midst of a series of events hosted at volunteer fire departments, where the FBI documentary “Chasing the Dragon” is being shown, followed by a discussion initiated by former addicts and their parents.

“We found that we had a lot of family members (attend) who had loved ones in active addiction who needed support,” said Holly Ireland, executive director of Mid-Shore Behavioral Health, a referral and planning agency that receives some state funding and operates in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties.

“What we haven’t quite figured out is how to tackle engaging the community that is addicted,” Ireland added.

In Harford County, which has one of the highest opioid-related per capita death rates in Maryland, the approach is also multifaceted. They’ve got drug education happening in elementary schools, a prescription return program, rehab for opioid-addicted mothers, a special opiate court and a host of other initiatives.

“We broke down barriers between the sheriff, the board of education, the health department and worked together to go into schools,” said County Executive Barry Glassman, R-Harford. “Our program was recognized by the National Association of Counties for the way it was opened up to the whole county to be part of it.”


And yet Harford’s opioid-related death rates have gone up in almost every category since 2014.

“We’re not gonna give up, but it’s gonna be one of those long-term struggles,” Glassman said. “It’s a generational thing that might take 20 years before we get a grip on it.”

Last August, Barry Ronan, president and CEO of Western Maryland Health System, joined an opioid task force that brought together a similarly wide cross-section of people in Allegany County.

It happened after Ronan was forced to ask that a police officer be stationed in Western Maryland’s emergency room from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day to deal with the surge of sometimes violent addicts arriving for treatment.

“Our staff was being spit upon, assaulted, equipment was being broken,” he said.

In the past two years, Western Maryland Health has spent nearly $1.5 million in additional costs from opioid-related patient treatment.

“(The opioid crisis) eats up a lot of resources,” said Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson. “It takes away the ability for us to do normal law enforcement functions like checks on high-crime areas and speeding enforcement.”

The Allegany task force that includes Ronan and Robertson now meets monthly to coordinate efforts and share ideas.

“Trying to address this from a community perspective has paid off,” said Ronan, at least in terms of unifying the county’s approach. Ronan mentioned things like putting mental health professionals in ambulances as one of the efforts the group is now trying.

“Over the last few months, we’ve seen a slight decline in the OD numbers, which is encouraging,” Ronan said.

Emergency state

In 2016, there were 918 heroin-related deaths in Maryland through September according to the state’s health department, up 23 percent from the total in 2015 and up nearly 60 percent from 2014’s total.

Scarier still is the sudden rise in the use of fentanyl and carfentanil, synthetic opioids that can be more than 1,000 times stronger than morphine and are often mixed with heroin, to fatal effect. Fentanyl-related deaths increased nearly 120 percent between 2015 and the first nine months of 2016, to 738 statewide.

On March 1, Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency around the state’s opioid epidemic, committing $50 million over five years to the problem. It was the latest escalation in a series of his administration’s efforts to slow the state’s opioid death toll, which continued to rise in 2016, according to the latest reporting.

What Hogan’s emergency edict calls for is an action plan to be made and then implemented across a slew of state and local agencies throughout Maryland.

The effort is being led by Clay Stamp, the governor’s senior adviser for emergency management and the former director of emergency services for Talbot County, a rural area on the Eastern Shore.

“Education and prevention will move the needle,” said Stamp. “What it does is remove the demand from supply and demand.”

Stamp also said that public health will be the focus of the state’s plan, and likened the scale and approach of forthcoming efforts to those that were used for anti-smoking and HIV education in the past.

Some argue the state’s entire approach is misguided and destined to fail.

“The governor created a task force for heroin and it didn’t have a person in recovery on the task force,” said Mike Gimbel, the director of substance abuse for Baltimore County from 1980 to 2003. “They don’t understand heroin. They really think it’s like teen smoking. This isn’t drug prevention 101.”

According to Gimbel, there’s unlikely to be any headway made against the problem without a primary focus on long-term treatment and rehabilitation, not on naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, and vivitrol, which blocks opioid receptors in the brain for up to a month.

“We’re not going to medicate our way out of it. You don’t solve a drug problem with more drugs,” Gimbel said. “The model should be treatment on demand.”

Funding for Hogan’s state of emergency effort is authorized under the recently passed HOPE Act, which calls for a series of initiatives that revolve around reforming drug courts, naloxone distribution and hospital discharge procedures. The bill also calls for the establishment of “crisis treatment centers,” but requires only one to be up and running before June 2018 and mandates no others.

“It’s important that on the back side, there’s treatment,” said Stamp. “We have to beef up our ability to help people fighting addictions.”

A matter of faith

The inclusion of faith-based organizations on local drug councils is indicative of the all-hands approach in rural areas. What religious groups can bring to the opioid fight is significant in terms of manpower and a direct connection to the community.

“We’re a microcosm of what’s going on in the street,” said Pastor David Ziler of the Union Rescue Mission in Cumberland, a homeless shelter with 62 beds that serves about 200 meals a day. “If it’s happening, we’re going to see it before anyone else is seeing it.”

Ziler believes churches and religious organizations can provide what the government can’t.

“We’re throwing money at the problem, but we haven’t thrown people at the problem,” Ziler said. “(Religious organizations) are the biggest volunteer group in the world and we can offer more man hours than anyone.”

by J.F. Meils

Can Solar and Aquaculture Supplant Big Chicken on the Shore?

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Kevin McClarren has been growing oysters in nets on the Chesapeake Bay for 20 years.

“We were told it would never work,” said McClarren, who manages four acres of floating oyster grounds for the Choptank Oyster Co. near Cambridge in Dorchester County. “Now we’re ground zero for the artisanal oyster movement in Maryland.”

Since 2011, MARBIDCO, the Maryland Agriculture and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp., has doled out 50 loans to budding shellfish aquaculture startups for a total of $3 million.

According to McClarren, the problem is there’s not enough demand in-state for all the newly cultured oysters being produced — or enough distributors to move them to markets beyond Maryland.

Which makes aquaculture — like solar, another relative newcomer to the Eastern Shore — not quite the economic salvation some hope it will be. Similar to Western Maryland and the state’s northern counties, the Eastern Shore is in the process of forging a new economic identity.

Their quandary: finding new industries that create large numbers of decent jobs while protecting the Chesapeake Bay and maintaining the region’s pastoral feel for both tourists and locals. The old economic mainstays of crop farming, raising chickens and catching fish and crabs provide jobs and preserve the area’s character, but all three industries face economic pressures that make their future uncertain.

Big problems for Big Chicken?

There are about 304 million chickens on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, or 670 per resident, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture. In 2015, chicken production was valued at $930 million, or 41 percent of the state’s total cash farm income.

The issue for some on the Eastern Shore is how the broiler business is changing, specifically in the size of chicken houses, which have evolved over time from open-air buildings that were about 16,000 square feet to enclosed structures of some 36,000 square feet, housing upwards of 30,000 chickens each.

“A lot of chicken houses built in the eighties and nineties have run out their useful life,” said Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. “The growth of new chicken houses of the last few years is not going to continue. Companies are not taking on any new growers.”

The impact on air quality from the larger chicken houses is coming under increasing fire from environmentalists and politicians.

In April, the D.C Court of Appeals overturned a 2008 Environmental Protection Agency order that exempted chicken producers from following federal air pollution standards for animal waste. The industry is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court. If they lose or the court doesn’t take the case, chicken growers will have to begin complying with EPA reporting standards as early as July.

“It’s not just the stinky smells,” said Sacoby Wilson, an environmental health scientist from University of Maryland. “There are different contaminants (coming from the chicken houses) that can impact your eyes, nose, throat, mood, cause asthma and contribute to other respiratory conditions.”

Should the industry lose its legal fight, compliance with EPA standards could significantly impact the cost for growing chickens on the Eastern Shore.

“Right now they (growers) don’t have to have any technology to reduce emissions coming out of those houses, so this is actually a game changer,” Sacoby added.

As watermen fade, can aquaculture fill the gap?

There are two people on the Maryland state seal, a farmer and a fisherman. Both are under threat on the Eastern Shore, but the plight of the area’s watermen is exceedingly desperate.

“We are a dying breed,” said Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association.

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the average crab haul in the 1980s was about 45 million pounds a year. By the 2000s, that number had decreased to 29 million pounds per year, prompting sweeping environmental and fishing regulations that went into effect in 2008.

Those efforts appear to be paying off. According to the 2017 Blue Crab Winter Dredge survey, a measure of the total blue crab population, the spawning-age female crab population in the Chesapeake Bay is 250 million, the highest in the survey’s history.

“If you take the long view and you look at the return on investment in making sure water quality is improving, there are very real economic benefits to citizens and communities in the bay watershed,” said Alan Girard, Maryland’s Eastern Shore director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Popular in discussions about future watermen industries with a low environmental impact on the bay is aquaculture, specifically oystering without using the bottom of the bay.

The economics of growing oysters in netted floats versus harvesting them from the wild is stark. Depending on the market, a cultured oyster will fetch more than three times one that is pulled directly from the bay bottom. But the work — and start-up time for new operators — is daunting. It takes two to five years for an oyster to mature. And culling oysters ready for market must be done by hand on a daily basis.

Finding buyers for oysters is another challenge. Even for established operators like Choptank, there are only so many distributors.

According to McClarren, there’s not enough demand in Maryland to consume all the oysters being produced in-state, so selling them outside Maryland is crucial. “Choptank Sweets” can be found as far north as Maine and as far west as Las Vegas.

Lately, Choptank’s sales numbers are dipping. McClarren is worried that Maryland is overenthusiastic about oyster aquaculture without really understanding the limited market for oysters.

“The state’s pushing people into it, but they’re not looking at the back end,” said McClarren. “Nobody’s stepping back and saying let’s assess this program.”

Even if markets open up for increased oyster production via aquaculture, it seems unlikely to be a driver of employment on the Eastern Shore. At Choptank, it only takes three full-time employees to process one million oysters a year.

Food vs. clean energy

Like watermen, the Eastern Shore’s farmers were once a potent economic force in the region. Some argue the bay-oriented environmental regulation that decimated the ranks of watermen is doing the same to the area’s farmers, only slower.

“If each year, the agricultural community is impacted by new and onerous bills from Annapolis, it makes it difficult for folks in the ag industry to thrive,” said Kurt Fuchs, government affairs officer for Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit, which carries about $2.6 billion in outstanding farm loans and has 11,000 borrowers scattered around the region.

According to an analysis of U.S. Census of Agriculture figures from 1997 to 2012, the date of the last census, Eastern Shore farmland is not disappearing. In fact, when combining the shore’s nine counties over the last 15 years of available data, there has been a 4 percent increase in acres of farmland, to just over a million in 2012.

Caroline, the only Eastern Shore county without any coastline on the Chesapeake, ranks first in Maryland in total value of agricultural products sold and is the state’s leading producer of wheat.

But with wheat prices depressed, many farmers in Caroline are hurting.

“The majority of farmers locally have diversified into either the chicken industry or some other industry so they can keep their heads above water,” said County Commissioner Wilbur Levengood, R-Caroline, who still farms about 300 acres near Goldsboro. “Guys who are paying big land rent and doing it on dry land, they’re in trouble,” he added.

Some Eastern Shore farmers are considering solar for revenue, thanks in part to a bill that increased Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard for clean energy use to 25 percent statewide by 2020. Gov. Hogan vetoed the bill in February, but it became law via legislative override.

“I think the Eastern Shore has been favorable (for solar) because of the sheer amount of land not currently in use,” said Leigh Yeatts, interim executive director of the MDV-SEIA, the regional arm of the Solar Energy Industry Association.

The shore’s flat topography, and relative closeness to transmission areas also make it ideal for large-scale solar generation.

The biggest solar installation in the state is under construction in Somerset County. Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp., a Canadian company, is in the process of installing up to 150 megawatts of solar generation on a series of arrays across 1,000 acres on different patches of land south of Princess Anne, the Somerset County seat.

The next largest site in Maryland is in Hagerstown and produces 20 megawatts annually, according to the SEIA.

The plan submitted to Somerset County by Great Bay Solar LLC and approved by the state’s Public Service Commission estimates that upwards of 4,000 direct and induced jobs will be created during construction, but the site will only require 27 jobs once the project is done.

The Algonquin facility’s future energy is already under contract to the the U.S. government’s General Services Administration. The sweetener for Somerset County, whose local officials did not resist the facility, is $2.5 million annually in tax revenue.

But for all the potential clean energy and government revenue that could be generated by solar, not everyone on the Eastern Shore is down with the area becoming a hub.

“The last thing we want to do is replace our food sources with energy,” said Colby Ferguson, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau, which is not against solar, but does not want it located on productive farmland.

Some counties, like Talbot and Frederick, in the past have placed short-term moratoriums on the installation of solar projects in order to devise appropriate regulations.

“Every field has a classification,” said Jennifer Williams, a Talbot County Commissioner. “In certain fields where the quality is marginal, why not use those fields for solar?”

However, the state’s Public Service Commission reviews and approves all solar projects that will generate two or more megawatts, and their authority supersedes that of the counties.

So is this the beginning of a solar gold rush on the Eastern Shore?

Some of the solar land leases being offered to area farmers make it seem that way. The leases usually run for about 25 years and their financial terms can vary widely, but offers in the $1000/acre range are common, with either lump-sum payments up front or made annually or even quarterly.

With some farmers struggling to net $100/acre growing corn or grain, saying no to solar will be hard.

For the time being anyway, most won’t have to choose.

“I think there’s this misconception (in Maryland) that utility-scale solar is going to continue at the rate we have seen, at 50 to 60 megawatts (developed) a year,” said Sara Rafalson, director of policy and new markets for Sol Systems, an energy finance company. “It will continue, but it won’t be this big solar boom where all the state’s farmland will be taken up,” she added.

A good indicator of the demand for solar is the state’s SREC, or solar renewable energy certificate, market. A single SREC is earned by generating 1,000 kilowatts or 1 megawatt, of solar electricity annually.

SRECs are important because Maryland’s utility companies are required to have 2.5 percent of their electricity generated from solar. SRECs can be bought and sold to big utility companies that need to meet state regulations or face fines. The electricity created is sold separately. SRECs generally serve as an inducement to build solar.

“A bunch of folks were developing projects (in 2015), which led to oversupply in the (SREC) market and a crash in 2016,” said Yeatts.

As of May 25, the bid on SREC Trade, an aggregator, for a Maryland SREC is $8. In spring 2015, they were in the $150 range.

“A lot of (solar development) folks are turning their eyes to Virginia because the economics are more favorable than Maryland,” Rafalson said.

By J.F. Meils

Trump’s Defense Plan Would have Mixed Impact on Maryland

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President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget could be a boost to Maryland’s sprawling defense industry but negatively affect the state’s economy in other areas, according to analysts.

The administration’s so-called “skinny budget,” unveiled in March, seeks to increase national defense spending by $54 billion.

Almost any increase would have a ripple effect in Maryland, which ranked fourth among states in defense spending at $20.5 billion in 2015, according to a Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment study.

However, as envisioned by the White House, any increase in the defense budget would be offset by cuts to many other critical programs in the state.

“What matters for Maryland is the overall federal budget,” Benjamin Orr, executive director of the Baltimore-based Maryland Center on Economic Policy, told Capital News Service.

“Increased defense spending means cuts to many other agencies, according to Trump’s plan,” said Orr, noting that the increase would be relatively small compared to the entire defense budget.

The U.S. spent $604.5 billion on defense last year, more than the next 13 highest-spending countries combined, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Many Democratic members of Congress, including those from Maryland, have opposed Trump’s plan because of proposed cuts to the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and numerous health and science agencies.

“The president’s ideas for building up our military at the expense of diplomacy and development, as well as research and development programs, will not make Americans safer,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said in a statement to CNS. “We may need to spend more on defense, but sacrificing domestic programs to pay for more warplanes and battleships only degrade our nation economically and socially.”

Cardin also said he does not see how Trump’s budget proposal benefits Maryland.

“Maryland has a strong base of military facilities, but the work done at most Maryland military installations (is) reliant on research and development funding,” the senator said. “Increases in overall defense spending towards personnel and ship procurement would not benefit Maryland and could potentially further strain and reduce additional research and development work in our state.”

Maryland’s military industry accounted for almost 20 percent of the state’s economy in 2012, according to the most recent study by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.

“There are about 145,000 employees on Maryland military installations, both uniformed and civilian employees,” Mike Hayes, managing director of military and federal affairs at the Maryland Department of Commerce, said in an interview with CNS.

Hayes estimated that Maryland’s defense industry contributes around $60 billion in economic output and has created more than 400,000 jobs for the state. He noted that Fort George G. Meade, the state’s largest employer, is responsible for about half of this economic impact.

“Typically, the state of Maryland is in the top five or six in defense spending nationally,” Hayes said.

However, until a defense budget is passed, Hayes said, it was “too early” to determine the potential impact on Maryland.

“I don’t think Maryland will suffer any particular losses, nor do I see any significant gains for the defense industry,” Hayes said.

Despite Trump touting his proposed defense spending increase as “historic,” Hayes noted that it did not represent a significant increase from President Barack Obama’s budget proposals.

“Trump has made sweeping statements but offered no specifics to his defense budget,” Hayes said.

The extent of the defense increase in Maryland depends on how much of Trump’s proposal, which he called “a public safety and national security budget,” survives deliberations in Congress.

Some clues may be found in the recent deal on fiscal 2017 spending, which is expected to be voted on by the House and Senate this week. The accord includes defense spending increases Trump and congressional Republicans wanted, but also includes $5 billion in new funding of numerous domestic programs that congressional Democrats secured.

The budget negotiations revealed rifts among GOP lawmakers that, according to some congressional observers, gives Democrats power over future spending plans.

If a budget similar to Trump’s 2018 proposal passed, Orr said the net economic effect on Maryland would be “very bad.”

“Cuts made to the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and programs that help children and families will drastically outweigh the benefits of a small increase in defense spending,” Orr said.

While many Maryland politicians have spoken out against Trump’s budget proposal in general, there seems to be some support for increased defense spending.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, “supports increasing resources for our Armed Forces,” spokeswoman Jaime Lennon said in a statement.

She said the congressman thinks a spending hike is “necessary if we are going to address major gaps in troop readiness, research and development and modernization caused by years of sequestration and band-aid budgets.”

“Congress has already told our military leaders to grow their standing forces as we look ahead to challenges including Russia, ISIS and Iran. Now we need to provide them with the funding to do so,” Lennon said.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, Ruppersberger’s colleague on the House Appropriations Committee, also supports enhancing the military.

“It is imperative that Congress provides the military with the resources it requires to keep American citizens safe…I support increased defense spending,” Harris said in a statement to CNS. “The state of Maryland is home to various government agencies and private businesses engaged in defense activities, and will benefit from increased defense spending.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., supports investments in the military but doesn’t think Trump’s budget proposal adequately meets domestic needs.

“Our budgets should also address other vital national priorities like expanding economic and educational opportunities, and keeping our commitments to America’s veterans and seniors,” Van Hollen said in a statement to CNS. “Unfortunately, the Trump budget fails to reflect that balance. I look forward to working on a bipartisan basis to pass a new budget plan that addresses all our national priorities.”

While Trump has support to hike military spending, many observers think Congress will balk at the size of the increase the president envisions.

“An increase that high won’t likely pass because there will be trouble reaching a bipartisan budget,” Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNS.

“Many conservatives want to increase defense spending,” Harrison added. “Democrats want higher defense spending but refuse to make the necessary cuts to the State Department…In all likelihood, the (defense spending) increase will be much less than Trump’s proposal.”

The specific impact of a spending increase on Maryland’s defense contractors, military installations and economy will not become clear until after the 2018 budget is put into final form months from now.

By Nate Harold

Analysis shows Range of Impacts Due to MD Comptroller Error

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An analysis of the Maryland comptroller’s misallocations to municipalities over several years shows that some areas were far more severely affected, relative to their annual expenditures, than others.

The Maryland comptroller’s office revealed in 2016 that it had misallocated millions of dollars of tax revenue when distributing that revenue to Maryland’s municipalities.

 

Between 2010 and 2014, some municipalities received more money than they should have while others received less. The total amount of money gained or lost by each municipality ranged from a few thousand dollars to several million.

For most municipalities, this error accounted for less than 3 percent of their budget each year.

However, a few municipalities gained or lost funds that were quite substantial, relative to their average annual budgets, a Capital News Service analysis found. This chart shows the 20 municipalities that gained or lost the most due to the misallocation, relative to their average annual budget between 2010 and 2014.

By Jacob Taylor

Maryland Could Host the Nation’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm

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The Maryland Public Service Commission is considering two proposals for offshore turbines off the coast of Ocean City, giving Maryland the potential to host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm.

The companies — US Wind and Deepwater Wind — plan to build turbines off the coast, using wind to generate clean energy. The turbines are connected to transmission lines that travel underground, carrying the energy to substations to be stored, distributed and used.

The approval of just one farm would put Maryland on the map with the largest, but the commission could potentially approve both proposals as long as both projects would not exceed an established price and fee increase for ratepayers, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission’s Communications Director Tori Leonard.

Maryland is required to produced a certain amount of renewable energy through its renewable energy portfolio standard. If Maryland is not able to produce that amount within the state, they can purchase energy credits known as ORECs from out-of-state vendors, and vice versa. An OREC, or Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credit, is a way of bundling and selling the clean electricity produced by wind farms.

Maryland’s current standard has a specific carve-out for offshore wind energy of up to 2.5 percent per year. Until an offshore wind project is approved and running, the 2.5 percent of renewable energy is being fulfilled by other fuels, like solar or geothermal energy.

The cost of the credits is capped, so a residential ratepayer would not pay more than $1.50 per month more, and a non-residential rate payer, like a small business owner, would not pay more than 1.5 percent more per month.

“For less than a cup of coffee (per month for homeowners), we can produce cleaner energy,” said Liz Burdock, executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, calling the decision a no-brainer.

If the commission approves both projects, the estimated non-residential rate would increase per bill by 1.39 percent, with US Wind’s totaling 0.96 percent and Deepwater Wind’s totaling 0.43 percent. The estimated monthly residential rate would increase by $1.44, with US Wind’s being $0.99 per month and $0.45 per month, according to a March 21 report from Levitan and Associates, a contractor that provides documents and analysis on the offshore wind projects.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed into law the Offshore Wind Act of 2013. This law set the parameters for wind farms in Maryland, clarifying where they could be located, requiring the commission’s approval, and authorizing the state to provide and purchase energy credits from these wind farms.

The Democrat-controlled legislature overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the 2016 Clean Energy Jobs Act during the 2017 General Assembly session. Under the law, which the governor argued passed along too many additional costs to ratepayers, the state’s requirement for renewable-energy sourced electricity increased from 20 percent by the year 2022 to 25 percent by the year 2020.

Those who support Maryland offshore wind believe the farms will produce clean air, bring jobs to the state, and put Maryland on the map for clean energy.

Opponents are concerned about the costs, and how the visual impact of the turbines would affect tourism and the possible negative affect it could have on the community.

Delegate Robbyn Lewis, D-Baltimore, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service she believes a wind farm could help Maryland reach its renewable energy goal. “Given the fact that the state of Maryland has made commitments to expand renewable energy, this is a perfect time to do it,” Lewis said.

Lewis said while she does not have any comment on which proposal she prefers, it would be a disappointment if the commission did not approve either project.

“I hope the Public Service Commission decides to go forward with this,” Lewis said earlier this month. “I look forward to the possibility of creating more jobs, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and having clean air.”

On Nov. 22, the Public Service Commission announced it was considering the two offshore wind farm proposals, one by US Wind Inc., a subsidiary of Toto Holding SpA, and the other by Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Deepwater Wind Holdings, LLC.

The US Wind project occupies a Maryland leasing area, while the Deepwater Wind farm is projected to be built in a Delaware leasing area. Both projects will bring clean energy to Maryland.

Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, said he believes his company’s project would benefit Maryland in a manageable way, with a strategy to develop the project in different phases.

“We’re the most experienced developer and we’ve proposed a smaller project with an aggressive price,” Plummer said, comparing his company’s proposal to the competing US Wind project.

Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack project would consist of 15 wind turbines about 19.5 miles off the coast, Plummer said. “It will be a 120 megawatt project, which is enough to power about 35,000 houses in the state of Maryland,” Plummer said.

The Skipjack project is planned to be built 26 miles away from the Ocean City Pier, according to Plummer, minimizing visualization. It is expected to be completed by 2022, according to the company’s website.

The US Wind farm proposal includes 187 turbines, which would create up to 750 megawatts of power, enough to power 500,000 homes in Maryland, according to Paul Rich, the director of project development for US Wind.

The company expects to have the project built by 2020, Rich told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. US Wind anticipates its project would create hundreds of engineering, construction and operating jobs.

There are reportedly about 2 million households in the state, according to the U.S. Census. Maryland gets its energy from coal, hydroelectricity, natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind.

While the US Wind project is closer to shore, expected to be built 12 to 17 miles off the coast, there are reports from Europe that the view attracts tourists, according to Rich. “They’ll be seen, although minuscule. I think the upshot is that there are people who want to see them; people see them as a bright side of the future,” Rich said.

Rich said they have reached out to the Public Service Commission to discuss the potential for the US Wind project to be moved five miles further from the coast to address visual concerns. If this happened, the current layout for the farm would change. Rich confirmed this move is not definite, but is a discussion he hopes to engage in.

Lars Thaaning, the co-CEO of Vineyard Wind, a company under Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners that has managed and invested in European offshore wind farms, spoke at an April 20 Business Network for Offshore Wind Conference about the differences between building in Europe versus building in Maryland.

Thaaning said the industry in the United States is still new and developing while the industry in Europe has been established. America needs more infrastructure investment, according to Thaaning. “There will not be a long-term market (for offshore wind in America) if we do not establish a supply chain,” Thaaning said.

The Public Service Commission held two public hearings — March 25 in Berlin, Maryland, and March 30 in Annapolis — where legislators and constituents testified on the proposals.

Don Murphy, a Catonsville, Maryland, resident who said he plans to retire in Ocean City, testified against the wind farm proposals at the hearing in Berlin.

Murphy said the project proposals made him feel outraged, horrified and speechless.

“The decisions you make could have an adverse impact on Maryland’s greatest economic engine, Ocean City,” Murphy said. The sight of the wind turbines could impact tourism in Ocean City, according to Murphy.

Murphy proposed that Maryland hold off building these wind farms until the industry is more established, with the fear that they would make headway on the project and regret doing so without proper research.

“It’s said that the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese,” Murphy said. “Why rush into this venture when you can wait long enough to just (receive) the benefits?”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged Murphy’s concerns during his testimony. “I am concerned about our community and about, as I said, 26,000 property owners and over 8 million visitors that come to Ocean City every year,” Meehan said. Meehan reiterated Murphy’s point that the commission shouldn’t rush into a decision.

“I believe we should more forward, but we only have one chance to get this right,” Murphy said. “…We ought to make sure that we’re not asking questions later that we didn’t have the answers to in the beginning. I can assure you, once this starts, there will be questions.”

Multiple people who gave testimony in Annapolis addressed the concerns from those opposed for aesthetic reasons. One man testifying asked those in the room to raise their hands if they found turbines aesthetically beautiful, to which many people responded in favor.

James McGarry, the Maryland and D.C. policy director for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, urged the Public Service Commission to take action and be the leader for offshore wind. “Maryland is one of the most vulnerable (states) in the country from climate change with sea level rises,” McGarry said.

“Maryland can be a central hub,” he said, during his March 30 testimony.

Morgan Folger, an environment and health fellow for Environment Maryland, testified March 30 that she believed the United States as a whole was behind the curve when it comes to wind energy and that Maryland should take the steps to expand the industry in the country.

“We all breathe the same air and we all drink the same water,” Folger said. “We’re all equally impacted by the pollution.”

Leonard confirmed the last date for the commission to decide to approve one or both projects is May 17.

By Cara Newcomer

Opioid and Heroin Overdoses Have Reached ‘Crisis Level’ In Maryland

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When Carin Miller’s son was about 19 years old, he began to abuse heroin by snorting pills, eventually moving on to shooting up. This went on for six years before he got help.

Lucas Miller’s history of drug use started in high school with smoking marijuana. When he moved out of his parents’ house, one of his housemates had access to between 750 to 1,500 pills at any given time between five houses located in Frederick, Maryland.

“My son was addicted to heroin, he’s in recovery by the grace of God since Thanksgiving 2014, I think that’s where we are at,” Miller said.

Opioid overdoses now rank with cancer, strokes and heart attacks among the top killers in Maryland.

State and federal lawmakers have passed legislation aimed at addressing the crisis, although they and public health experts agree the battle will be long.

On April 10, the Maryland General Assembly passed several bills to address this ongoing statewide crisis. The Start Talking Maryland Act, HB1082, and the HOPE Act, HB1329, were both passed.

The HOPE Act would increase access to naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug and would require hospitals to establish a new protocol when discharging patients treated for substance abuse disorders. It also introduced Keep the Door Open, a provision that provides three years of funding to reimburse community health providers. The act also requires the Behavioral Health Administration to establish a crisis treatment center before June 2018.

The Start Talking Maryland Act would require schools to have defined education programs on opioid addiction.

Other opioid related bills passed by the General Assembly were HB1432, which places a restriction on the number of opioid painkillers a doctor can prescribe to a patient per visit, and SB539, a bill that sets new penalties for distributing fentanyl.

The opioid-related legislation have been sent to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for his signature. The governor has until May 30 to either sign or veto the 900 bills passed by the General Assembly; otherwise they automatically become law.

On March 1, Hogan signed an executive order, declaring a state of emergency in response to the heroin, opioids and fentanyl crisis “ravaging communities in Maryland and across the country.”

“We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency,” Hogan said in a statement. “This is about taking an all-hands-on-deck approach so that together we can save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

The final numbers for 2016 are expected to show that approximately 2,000 people died from heroin and other opioid overdoses in the state over the last year, about double the number of deaths in 2015.

Additionally, drug overdose deaths rose by 19.2 percent from 2013 to 2014 in Maryland, according to a press release from Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

“There’s no question, no question there has been a spike in opioid overdoses,” Cardin said in an interview with Capital News Service. “Let me indicate the numbers in Maryland are shocking as we are seeing the doubling and tripling over the last couple of years, but the Maryland numbers are typical to what we see all over the country.”

Both Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen backed passage of the 21st Century Cures Act and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 (CARA). Van Hollen was a cosponsor for the 21st Century Cures Act.

“The opioid addiction epidemic is having a devastating impact on communities in Maryland and across the country,” Van Hollen said in a statement for Capital News Service. “I fought to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which helps states expand programs to treat those suffering from addiction, but we must do much more to prevent substance abuse and to get help to those who need it.”

The 21st Century Cures Act was signed by President Barack Obama in December. It will provide $1 billion over two years for state grants to support opioid abuse prevention and treatment activities. CARA, a bipartisan bill, was signed into law by Obama last July. CARA assists drug-dependent newborns and their parents.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services has just awarded Maryland a $10 million grant under the 21st Century Cures Act.

“These grants are a small but encouraging step toward addressing the opioid crisis,” Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, said in a statement. He was among those who pressed for the funds in the law. “But to make real progress in our effort to combat the epidemic, it’s the responsibility of Congress to provide additional resources to programs, families and communities in Maryland and across America that are working day in and day out to end the crisis.”

Van Hollen said there is more to be done with the crisis, including “protecting the significant investments made by the Affordable Care Act, and ensuring institutions like the National Institute for Drug Abuse at NIH in Maryland and others across the country have the resources necessary to carry out their critical missions.”

On March 29, President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating a presidential commission designed to combat opioid addiction and the opioid crisis nationwide. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is leading the commission.

A main reason for the doubling of overdoses for Maryland has been a new street drug, fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that dealers are increasingly blending into regular heroin and selling cheaply.

Fentanyl is coming to the United States from China, and that needs to be stopped, Cardin said. The senator added that there also is work to be done with Mexico to stop heroin from flowing from that country.

“We’ve seen an abuse of using these drugs for pain and an abuse of people selling these drugs on the street and getting people addicted,” Cardin said. “There are things we can do to dry up the supply and help people who have addiction and health issues.”

In response to the rise in drug-related deaths, Hogan announced on March 1 that he has budgeted an additional $10 million per year to combat overdoses over the next five years.

Miller said Hogan’s action would help, but more money is needed from the federal government.

Miller is no stranger to opioid abuse as well. She said her husband, Greg Miller, had been abusing opioids since the late 1990s after he was hit by a drunk driver and had an additional, separate accident at work.

It reached a point where her husband’s withdrawals were so terrible that he almost died after being denied narcotics prescriptions at Frederick Memorial Hospital six years ago, Miller said.

“I was trying to get my husband off the pills, never thinking that my own kids would go on them after they saw the hell that I was put through,” Miller said.

Three years ago, Miller co-founded Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates (MHAA), a grassroots organization in Frederick. It was founded “out of necessity,” by a group of women from Frederick in order to save their children from the opioid and heroin epidemic, Miller said.

“We have all been affected in some way, a lot of my colleagues have lost their children to overdoses,” said Miller, who is the president of MHAA.

Miller noted that there is not enough education about these drugs in schools. While one of her colleagues is invited into middle and high schools in Carroll County to give presentations, MHAA is “just nipping the bud” at giving presentations in Frederick County, Miller said.

Frederick County is a 40,000-student district with 10 high schools.

“We really give the principals the autonomy to address any issue in their community,” said Mike Maroke, Frederick County Public Schools deputy superintendent. “They determine if this is something be address or not.”

If the Start Talking Maryland Act is signed by Hogan, it would require schools to have opioid education programs, possibly through presentations such as MHAA’s.

After one presentation at a school, Miller handed out index cards to the students, ranging from seventh to twelfth grades, and asked for their feedback. She recalled what happened next: “One little girl came up to me and handed me her card and it said ‘Thank you for coming out and telling us about drugs because I wouldn’t want to lose any friends because my dad died a couple of months ago from a heroin overdose.’”

 

by Jess Nocera

 

Lawmakers Override Hogan’s Protect Our Schools Act Veto

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Maryland lawmakers voted Thursday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that would specify which measures could be considered when determining a school’s quality, prohibiting student testing from being one of them.

The bill restricts the state’s ability to intervene in failing schools, which opponents worry is intended to limit the creation of charter schools and voucher systems.

The House of Delegates passed the override of the governor’s veto 90-50, and the Senate passed it the same day, 32-15.

Hogan, a Republican, vetoed House Bill 978, known as the Protect Our Schools Act of 2017, Wednesday, saying the bill weakens school accountability, according to a release from the governor’s office. In the press release, Hogan urged legislators to put aside politics and sustain the veto.

The Maryland State Board of Education and the Maryland State Department of Education have sided with the governor in opposition to this bill, according to the release.

Thursday morning, advocates for the bill gathered at a rally to call for an override. Those present included representative from the Maryland State Education Association, the Maryland Parent Teacher Association and some lawmakers.

The bill would help accommodate the needs of the students and allow parents to be involved in the process, Delegate Mary Washington, D-Baltimore, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “We need to do more to end disparities (in education) … we cannot do that giving control to the state,” Washington said.

Bill Sponsor Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, acknowledged the common goal that both sides of the argument shared. “I’m glad we can agree every kid deserves a good education,” Luedtke said on the floor.

Although the State Board of Education opposes the bill, people who are involved in the everyday lives of children, like teachers and parents, support the bill, according to Luedtke.

Multiple delegates opposed to the bill referred to it as a “status quo” initiative on the floor, saying the bill will not bring any noticeable change that would benefit students.

Delegate Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, the House minority leader, said on the floor that this bill is not complicated.

“It traps students in failing schools and lessens accountability in the bureaucracy in education,” he said. Kipke made a point to say the legislation is regressive and takes tools away from the state.

Since both chambers voted to override the governor’s veto, the bill will become law July 1.

By Cara Newcomer

Ecosystem: Lawmakers Blast Trump Budget that would Cut Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

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Lawmakers from states surrounding the Chesapeake Bay on Wednesday expressed bipartisan criticism of President Donald Trump’s proposal to end federal support for cleaning up Chesapeake Bay.

“The president’s budget that would zero out the Chesapeake Bay Program is outrageous,” Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, said at a Capitol Hill meeting with members of the Choose Clean Water Coalition. “It’s dead on arrival.”

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., said cutting investments for the bay clean up will not help the economy.

“Our Chesapeake Bay is an economic engine and the cleaner it is the more it produces economically,” he said.

The nonprofit coalition hosted its fifth annual lobbying day, centered around saving the federally funded Chesapeake Bay Program after Trump last month proposed a “skinny budget” that would eliminate the $73 million bay restoration project.

The Environmental Protection Agency provides the program with monetary support to restore the bay’s ecosystem and reduce pollution.

Started in 1983, the program is conducted under a six-state partnership with Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and the District of Columbia.

Advocates from each state attended the meeting with lawmakers.

“We know how important the Chesapeake Bay is for the entire region,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md. “We are going to fight harder and harder and harder.”

Ruppersberger said the bay generates more than $1 trillion annually and the restoration of oysters, tributaries and streams is a project that needs to be continued.

The bay is a source of drinking water for 75 percent of the region’s 17 million residents, according to the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

The Chesapeake also is the largest estuary in the United States serving as a place for recreational water activities, as well as a workplace for the commercial fishing and crabbing industry.

Made up of 225 local, state, and national groups, the Choose Clean Water Coalition has been advocating for a healthy Chesapeake watershed since 2009.

“The Coalition will work to continue to push back on the president’s proposed budget, and secure the essential funding that is necessary to return clean water to the Chesapeake Bay,” coalition spokeswoman Kristin Reilly said in a statement Wednesday.

Members of the House and Senate said they were pleased to have bipartisan support for clean water.

“The Chesapeake Bay is the perfect thing to come together around and serve energetically,” said Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, last year’s Democratic vice presidential nominee.

He said everyone has to work together to make sure checks and balances are implemented.

“We have an EPA administrator who doesn’t accept science. If you don’t accept climate science, it’s a fair question to ask if you accept science,” Kaine said, referring to Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA.

Trump signed an executive order last week to shut down the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, a program aimed at reducing climate change by cutting carbon emissions from power plants.

“We are faced with a tough budget battle, but an attitude from the EPA that says we can ignore science,” Kaine said.

The bay is a valuable natural resource and if Trump wants more jobs, then he should work to rehabilitate the bay, Wittman said.

The congressman said he was deeply concerned about Trump’s budget plan and wrote a letter to the administration asking to restore resources to the bay.

Wittman wants more money to help revitalize wetlands.

“Our wetlands are the nursery for everything that lives in those ecosystems…mother nature is the sponge that absorbs what man puts in it,” he said.

By Briana Thomas