Park to Be Dedicated to Louisa Carpenter

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The recreational area of Chestertown’s Washington Park is to be renamed to honor the late Louisa D’Andelot Carpenter in ceremonies Saturday, June 25.

The Chestertown Council approved the renaming at its meeting Monday, June 19, upon a request from members of the Washington Park Committee and Brant Troup, chairman of the Chestertown Recreation Commission.

Brandt Troup (L) , chairman of the Chestertown Recreation Commission, and representatives of the Washington Park Committee at the town council meeting Monday

Louisa Carpenter (1907-1976)

Carpenter, who died in a private plane crash in 1976, was a DuPont heiress and philanthropist whose projects included donating the land for Camp Fairlee, building the former bowling alley on Church Hill Road, and the creation of Washington Park, for which she donated the property and arranged funding for low-income families.

Councilman Sam Shoge, in whose ward Washington Park is located, put the request before the council, He said the dedication ceremony would be at 9 a.m. Saturday, and open to all. He said the community would install signage to recognize the new name at a future date. The park is at the intersection of Lincoln and Kennedy Drives, off Flatland Road.

Councilman Marty Stetson said he had known Carpenter, who he said “did a lot of good in the community.” He suggested that the committee see if there are any Carpenter relatives still living and extend an invitation to them. He said former mayor Elmer Horsey had worked for Carpenter and suggested contacting him to see if he knew of any relatives.

Shoge said the committee had gone through Horsey to contact the Carpenter estate about the use of her name, for which they received permission, He said they would follow up with him to see if there were any relatives who wished to attend the ceremony.

Troup also reported that the Recreation Commission and the Washington Park Committee are working with Zoning Administrator Kees de Mooy on an application for a Community Parks and Playgrounds grant from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He said a similar application a few years ago was unsuccessful, but he hoped that the community’s involvement in working to upgrade the park facilities would work in favor of receiving the grant this time. Among the upgrades are the addition of benches, a swing set, and horseshoe pits. Future projects would include a walking trail, a pavilion and some landscaping, and renovation of the small basketball court, He said the application would go out in the early fall.

In the event the grant application is unsuccessful, Troup asked if the Recreation Commission budget would remain stable over the next  couple of years, so as to provide a contingency fund for more gradual upgrades on the park.

Mayor Chris Cerino said that in his experience the Community Parks and Playgrounds grants are very competitive. He said that if the application is turned down, the commission should plan on more gradual upgrades, as were done with the Ajax playground near the rail trail.

Troup also said that the Recreation Commission is planning to team with the Kent Athletic Center to sponsor a kickball league, which he said might draw as much interest as the very successful bocce league.

Finally, Troup said his term as chairman of the commission expires at the end of the month, and the bylaws prohibit his return in that capacity. He said he has a prospective candidate to replace him, and would give the name to the council to consider. He said he would be glad to continue on the commission as a regular member.

 

Pennsylvania Starts to Draft Plan to Address Bay Shortfall

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Pennsylvania’s effort to write a more robust Bay cleanup strategy was launched last week in a packed hotel auditorium where more than 200 people gathered to offer their initial thoughts about what a new — and more implementable — plan would look like.

The state is so far behind its Bay cleanup obligations that it is jeopardizing Chesapeake restoration efforts as a whole. All states in the Bay drainage have to write new Watershed Implementation Plans in the next year and a half to guide cleanup their efforts through the 2025 cleanup deadline, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has singled out Pennsylvania’s plan-writing process for increased scrutiny because of its shortfall.

“The challenge is great, but we can do it together,” Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell told the gathering, noting that efforts to clean the Bay will also benefit state waterways.

It will indeed be a challenge. According to the EPA’s most recent review, Pennsylvania needs to control 34 million pounds of nitrogen runoff from 2016 through 2025 — about 70 percent of the total remaining nitrogen reduction for the entire Bay watershed.

Nutrient pollution spurs algae blooms in the Bay that clouds the water, blocking sunlight from critical underwater grass beds. When the algae die, they deplete water of the oxygen needed by fish, crabs and other species.

Because of its gaping shortfall, the EPA recently warned state officials in a letter that the agency was ramping up oversight of Pennsylvania’s cleanup efforts and could take further actions if the state doesn’t come up with a viable cleanup plan —one that specifies beefed-up regulations and new funding — in the next 18 months.

“I think everyone in the room is aware of the consequences of us not meeting our obligations,” McDonnell said. Those consequences could include more EPA inspections of farms and municipal stormwater systems, specific nutrient-reduction goals for large-scale animal feeding operations and stormwater dischargers, and mandatory upgrades of wastewater treatment plants, among other actions.

State officials anticipate — at least for now — that 80 percent of the needed nitrogen reduction will come from the more than 33,000 farms in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake basin, which they acknowledge will be a challenge.

“I worry every day about the 80 percent and the pressure on agriculture to get this done,” Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said in an interview.

He said more of the nutrient reduction responsibility may ultimately have to be shifted to other sources. But that won’t happen unless the agricultural sector can show that farmers are stepping up.

As part of that, many county conservation districts, along with state agencies, have ramped up farm inspections since last fall to check that farmers have required conservation plans — and, ultimately, are implementing them. That effort is critical, Redding said, to showing others that the agricultural sector is addressing its challenge.

“You can’t have an intelligent conversation about changing [the 80 percent number] until you really get folks who have a current obligation to do the plan,” Redding said. But it’s a massive job, he said, noting that Lancaster County alone has 5,500 farms. Still, he added, farmers are beginning to accept the oversight, noting that complaints about the increased farm inspections have been fewer than expected.

“There hasn’t been hostility to that,” Redding said. “I’ve had one phone call out of the 1,194 visits that the farmer was really pushing back on why this is happening.”

For any program or new initiative, the key issue will be funding. The EPA, in its letter, said the state needs to show how it will come up with the funds needed to implement the updated Bay cleanup plan. Gov. Tom Wolf has called for $45 million in increased funding over the next three years to help support Bay efforts, but that’s well short of what is needed. EPA officials have estimated the state needs a $50 million to $80 million increase just its agricultural cost-share program.

McDonnell said the governor’s proposal was only a “down payment.” The legislature is considering several proposals that could generate more money for clean water projects, but the viability of those efforts is uncertain, and they are unlikely to be part of the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Funding for state environmental programs has declined over the last decade, and budget deadlocks between the legislature and the governor in recent years have made the situation even worse.

Ensuring that the General Assembly comes up with additional funding, said Cindy Dunn, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, will be a critical to making any new plan a reality. “Even as we sit here, across the river important decisions are going to be made that will affect our ability to carry out the aspirations of today,” Dunn said, referring to the ongoing General Assembly session in Harrisburg.

Leaders emphasized that while the need to meet Bay cleanup goals is driving action, state water quality will benefit from the work. “This is a clean local water plan for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” McDonnell said.

Indeed, Dunn said the state has enough woes of its own so that water quality conversations “don’t have to include the words Chesapeake Bay to be effective.”

Pennsylvania doesn’t touch the Bay itself, but half of the state, including all or parts of 43 of the state’s 67 counties, drains into the Chesapeake, primarily down the Susquehanna River.

“Tragically, on some of the hottest days of the summer, after a rainstorm, we have to close beaches at parks because the E. coli levels are too high,” Dunn said.

At the June 5 event, about 240 people gathered to share ideas, more than had attended any meetings during the development of earlier Bay cleanup plans developed in 2010 and 2011 — which many considered a top-down exercise that resulted in unrealistic plans.

Repeatedly, officials emphasized that the new plans had to be, in McDonnell’s words, “realistic and achievable and gets us where we ultimately need to go, which is cleaning up local water quality.”

The meeting drew representatives for agriculture, local government officials, conservation districts, watershed groups and others to present ideas — the type of inclusion state officials had hoped to see. So many people wanted to be part of the process that organizers had to turn away several requests to register, said Veronica Kasi, coordinator of the DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Office.

They met in small groups to discuss topics as varied as funding, roadside drainage management, local goal-setting, citizen science, messaging and new approaches to riparian forest buffers.

McDonnell said that participation by “everyone who’s partnered with us” on the plan will been necessary to make it a reality.

“Sometimes I walk into a room and conversation shuts down,” he said. “So engaging with conservation districts and engaging with some of the ag associations is essential in getting this done. The encouraging thing to me is that they’ve wanted to be actively engaged as a partner.”

By Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and executive director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991.

Chesapeake Bay’s ‘Dead Zone’ Expected to be Larger than Average this Summer

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A year after experiencing its best water quality in decades, the Chesapeake Bay is expected to have a larger than average “dead zone” this summer, where fish, crabs and shellfish will struggle to breathe.

Researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the University of Michigan are forecasting that the volume of oxygen-starved water in the Bay will grow to 1.9 cubic miles, enough to fill nearly 3.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“Dead zone” is the popular term for water that’s low in oxygen, or “hypoxic.” Fish often avoid or leave such areas, but if they’re trapped — or are immobile, like shellfish — they can suffocate.

“The forecast is a reminder that the improvements such as we saw last year are subject to reversal depending on weather conditions—two steps forward, one step back,” said UMCES President Donald F. Boesch.

Last year, dissolved oxygen concentrations in the Bay mainstem and the tidal portions of its rivers were the best they’ve been in three decades. Many areas maintained levels high enough to sustain fish and other aquatic life, and no place experienced “anoxic” conditions, in which there is virtually no oxygen in the water. The diminished dead zone came on the heels of a robust rebound of Bay grasses and improved water clarity in much of the Chesapeake.

But last year’s good conditions stemmed in part from below-average rainfall. This spring, scientists say, heavy rains fell in Pennsylvania and New York, flushing an above-average amount of nitrogen down the Susquehanna River.

Scientists expect an above-average volume of hypoxic water, while the smaller anoxic zone is expected to be average in size early in summer – 0.35 cubic miles — before it grows to slightly larger than average by late summer, at 0.49 cubic miles.

“Although the higher forecasts for this summer seem to buck a recent trend toward lower anoxic volumes in Chesapeake Bay, they are consistent with known links between high river flows and oxygen depletion,” said Jeremy Testa, assistant professor at the UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.

The Bay’s chief water-quality problem stems from nutrient pollution. Excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus from farm, urban and suburban runoff, and from sewage treatment plants, among other sources, feed massive algae blooms in the Bay and its tributaries. The algae then die and sink to the bottom, where their decomposition consumes oxygen in the water. Typically, a large area of hypoxic water forms each summer, stressing fish and shellfish, while a smaller area experiences anoxic conditions.

This spring’s heavy rains in Pennsylvania and New York delivered 81.4 million pounds of nitrogen to the Bay via the Susquehanna, a little more than the long-term average. The dead zone forecast is based on mathematical models developed with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and it relies on nutrient estimates provided by the U.S. Geological Survey. Scientists say that notwithstanding the return this summer of a worse-than-average dead zone, the Bay’s water quality does appear to be trending better overall.

“Despite this year’s forecast, we’ve made great strides in reducing nutrient pollution from various sources entering the Chesapeake Bay, and we are starting to see positive long-term signs,” said Rob Magnien, director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. “However, more work needs to be done to address non-point nutrient pollution, from farms and other developed lands, to make the Bay cleaner for its communities and economic interests.”

The Trump administration has proposed eliminating federal funding next year for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, in addition to deep cuts in other federal programs that contribute to the restoration effort.

Boesch said the forecast shows why the federal government can’t let up on the Bay restoration effort, which began in the early 1980s. After slow progress and repeatedly missed cleanup deadlines, the EPA imposed a “pollution diet” in 2010. The six states in the Chesapeake watershed and the District of Columbia have until 2025 to take all the steps needed to reduce nutrients and maintain good oxygen levels year-round — which in turn benefits the plants and animals that depend on that oxygen.

“This underscores the critical importance,” Boesch said, “of continued investments by federal agencies in science and monitoring as the states continue to implement the Bay’s pollution diet.”

by Tim Wheeler

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for the Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

KRM Development’s Dixon Square Project — an Update

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There are big doings in the works just north of Chestertown.

Well, technically the area is already in Chestertown – some 80 acres north of Scheeler Road and east of Route 213 were annexed by the Mayor and Council last year at the request of KRM Development, which owns the tract. The property, currently undeveloped, is destined to be the site of Dixon Square, a new warehouse complex for Dixon Valve and Coupling – and a lot more. The Chestertown Spy sat down with Kate Gray, president of KRM, and Bryan Matthews, KRM’s vice president, to talk about plans for what appears to be one of the most ambitious projects to come to Chestertown and Kent County in a long time.

Kate Gray and Bryan Matthews of KRM Development  (photo by Jane Jewell)

Spy: Could you tell us how this project came about?

Kate Gray: We looked at an opportunity for Dixon, which is our parent company, to expand and to grow in the area.  Their success is going well, and the opportunity to grow in Chestertown was an exciting venture for us. So as a real estate division of Dixon, a manufacturer, we were able to look at property in town and look to construct a business campus.

Bryan Matthews: I came on board last July, and at that point the team had already acquired 80-plus acres just north of town, where we remember the old airport used to be, and that had already been annexed, so the design process, the concept of not only expanding some Dixon facilities but also the opportunity and possibility of other properties there, was well under way at that point.

Kate: The initial piece of it is the warehouse or distribution center for Dixon Valve, currently located in the Chestertown Business Park, across from Dixon’s main building. It will be an expansion of that facility and enable them to have an upgraded warehouse and distribution center here in town – which will be the kickoff project within this business campus. We’ll actually be starting site work on that within the month of June. So it’s very exciting to be able to put a shovel in the ground here shortly. Soon after that we will be beginning the site work for the apartment complex. There will be two phases for the apartments. The first phase is three buildings, which is about 85 to 88 apartments. And ultimately there’s the potential for six buildings, so there could be double that, depending on the market absorption.

Bryan: This will be and in all likelihood will be a mixture of one-bedroom, two bedroom and three- bedroom apartments. And most importantly, I’ve been asked by members of our mature population, will there be elevators? And the answer is yes, we will.

The next phase would be a fitness center, and assuming everything else in the development happens, it’s logical to move the Kent Athletic Club up where the corporate headquarters and warehouse are. That’s also in the design phase that we’re working on at this point. Then ultimately what you see in this picture is the possibility of multiple commercial speculative space, which is what KRM does – build business parks and then attract new businesses and new jobs to Kent County. And that’s one of the exciting pieces of this project to all of us, the economic opportunity of impact to the local area, with new jobs and new businesses.

Site plan for Dixon Square

Kate: (showing site plan) On the west is Route 213 and on the south is Scheeler Road. The apartments will be off Scheeler Road. There will also be a road that goes in – it’s currently Haacke Drive, which will extend into the business campus. There will also be an entrance off 213, which will be the main entrance to the business campus. So the buildings can eventually be accessed from 213 or off of Scheeler Road by Haacke Drive. KRM Development is managing the full business campus development with our construction company KRM Construction, with some contractors that they’ll hire as well. Ultimately we will not be operating the apartments. The large blue building will be the Dixon Valve distribution center, the potential headquarters building; the purple is the potential future fitness center, which would be Kent Athletic Club moving to that location. The yellowish-gold are the speculative spaces that could be a variety of uses. Flex, commercial, warehouses, maybe even restaurants.

As you can see, this is an unprecedented economic development opportunity for the area – the town, the county and really the region. We haven’t seen development of this scale in Chestertown in quite some time, and it’s really important to us that the town and the school systems and the jobs that the town area are able to offer are quality – and it all builds one healthy community. It’s growth opportunity and the hope that this business campus will be the live/work/play theory of development.

Bryan: Another example of how when you get involved in a large project like this, new and exciting opportunities kind of present themselves. Within the first phase of the warehouse, there’s the possibility of utilizing some of the space there as a career training center there, which would be a workforce development opportunity. Dixon already does a tremendous amount of training for their employees. And the thought is that we double down on it. Dixon’s already good at it for their employees — can we expand that to the greater community for other job training, not just Dixon? And we’re in conversation with some potential partners on that. We may really help provide an opportunity for training and retraining for new careers and jobs for people in the Upper Shore. If you have a world class training program right here, people might want to come in from anywhere, spend six weeks here, get the training, get the certification, then be job-ready in that particular field. The high-speed fiber coming to Kent County is the game changer for us as well. For a project like this, when we’re talking to businesses in other parts of the country, trying to attract them to come here, one of the keys certainly is having that high-speed fiber.

Kate: Putting all the pieces together, the fiber coupled with all the exciting things that are happening in the downtown area, the arts and entertainment and the marina, and this project, I think Chestertown’s really poised to grow and to benefit from it. We need to attract young people to the area – I know that’s said over and over again, in many different venues – but from our standpoint of KRM and Dixon, having young people to work at Dixon and the ability for them to live and work within the business campus is certainly attractive.

Bryan: That’s one of the reasons why the apartments are part of this project. Residential housing is not what KRM usually does – it’s not the business we’re in – but with the need for housing in this area, both to attract young people and for others to be able to stay in this area of the community, it’s why we included it in this project.

Spy: What encourages you to believe that this project will have a better chance than some of the past ones that didn’t turn out (Stepney, Clark Farm, etc.)?

Kate: We’ve had a lot of cooperation with the town and the county and the state also, and it’s encouraging that there can be growth in the area. We’re fortunate that Dixon is, if you will, the anchor tenant for the space. In terms of the apartments, we also have done feasibility studies and there is a shortfall of rental property in the area. So the feasibility studies have come back with glowing results that the market certainly can handle this type of multi-family housing. But from the business campus perspective, it certainly is Dixon being the anchor, and then the hope with the fiber, and the other economic development excitement that’s happening in the area – those things can make for a successful business campus – which we have done in other areas. The Chesapeake Bay Business Park in Stevensville has certainly been the old adage – “you build it and they will come.” And it’s been extremely successful. We have about 80 businesses that occupy space in our buildings there, with about 1100 employees that make up those businesses.

Bryan: Paul Reed Smith is back in there. And the Chestertown Business Park is larger than most people realize – between 25 to 30 businesses there, and more than a couple of hundred jobs, people working in there. So as Kate says, there’s experience doing this. We’re not new at the business park side of things.

Spy: How are the hospital’s plans going to impact you?

Bryan: Especially when it comes to trying to recruit and attract new businesses that are considering relocating to Kent County, schools and medical care are two of the highest priorities, and the first questions we get, along with what kind of a trained work force do you have in your area. So having a quality hospital here is absolutely a key piece of the puzzle for us. That’s why we are very vested in that process and the communication that’s going on. We certainly are encouraged by what seems to be moving in this direction, but we’re paying close attention to it, because it makes a difference.

Spy: You said you’re breaking ground on warehouse in June; what’s the time frame for the apartments?

Kate: The apartments will follow shortly behind that; some of the site work will actually overlap, because of the road structures and water and sewer that need to be put in. So I believe that within the next week we will be awarding the contract and within the next month start with the site work and with them rolling into the apartments as well.

Sp;y: Do you have a completion date?

KG: We had that conversation yesterday – we’re not quite ready to pinpoint that yet. We’re working on the schedules, though.

Bryan:  As you can imagine, there’s a lot of initial site work that has to go on before you see any buildings go up. There’s water, sewer, stormwater, roads – so there’s quite a lot of infrastructure work that will have to be done before we start seeing any buildings.

Kate: The first step is to mow it.

Spy: Will you be moving your offices there?

Kate: Right now, KRM will stay where we are in this building (the former Chestertown Bank on High Street). The office space is fully occupied, but the old bank lobby and former teller area still remains beautiful and untouched. We were able to get permitting to add some restrooms and we’ll be able to rent it out as a venue or event space. We’re probably a few months out from that since we’ve just begun renovations.

 

 

 

Council Passes $5 Million Budget for FY18

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The Chestertown Council, meeting Tuesday night, passed a $5.3 million budget for fiscal year 2018.

The budget anticipates a shortfall of revenue against expenditures of $14,729, which is to be covered by the possible sale of assets including town-owned lots along College Avenue. Alternately, it will be covered from unallocated funds from the 2017 budget.

At a budget public hearing before the main meeting, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll summarized the key points of the budget. The major expenses remain public safety and public works, together accounting for just over $3 million.

The property tax rate remains unchanged, he said, and revenues from that source – the largest portion of the town’s income — have remained flat for several years at around $2.3 million. However, he said, there have been several new housing starts that he expects to produce increased revenue in the near future. Also, he said, conversations with the Kent County Commissioners about a tax differential to compensate for duplicated services – notably roads and police protection – suggest there may be help from that quarter in next year’s budget.

Another possible source of additional revenue, Ingersoll said, is a payment in lieu of taxes from Washington College, an issue that has been discussed for several years. And there are several “Air B&Bs” in the county that Ingersoll said have not been contributing their share of the county hotel tax, a portion of which benefits the town.

Ingersoll said there had been several adjustments in budget hearings over the last month. Among them was a reduction in the allocation for the July 4 fireworks display, which Ingersoll said needs to be scaled back this year because the location from which the display would normally be shot off will be unavailable due to construction of the new Washington College boathouse. He said the town has set aside a smaller amount for a more modest display which will be visible from Wilmer Park.

The utilities commission is “totally solvent,” Ingersoll said. As for the town-owned marina, the renovation work now taking place is covered by grants. Cerino showed photos of some of the work currently under way for bulkhead and walkway repairs. He said Phase I of the marina upgrade is “near the finish line.”

Councilman Marty Stetson noted that the town has not raised the tax rate in 10 years. He said the town “can’t do everything for everybody,” but he said he hoped some of the budget could be allocated to street repairs.

Ingersoll said the town knows which streets are in the worst shape, and will use unallocated surplus funds to repair them.

There were no public comments on the budget, which the council passed without dissent. Council members Linda Kuiper and Sam Shoge, both of whom were absent, submitted their votes in writing.

*          *          *

4-H’ers Casey Turner, left, and Sarah Hofstetter hand over the Kent County Horsemen’s Cup to Mayor Chris Cerino for display in the Chestertown Council chambers.

Also at the meeting, Dave Turner of the Chestertown Horsemen’s Club and members of the Bits and Bridles 4-H Riding Club handed over the Kent County Horsemen’s Cup, a trophy recognizing an individual promoting horse activities in the county, to Cerino for display in the council chamber. A special shelf for the trophy has been installed in the rear of the chamber. This year’s honoree was Dr. Harry Sears, chosen because of his contributions to the Washington College riding team. 4-H’ers Casey Turner and Sarah Hofstetter presented the trophy to Cerino.

Turner said that Chestertown is in many ways “identical to” Lexington, Va. and Lexington, Ky., two towns that have capitalized on their equestrian traditions to attract tourist dollars and boost the local economy. He suggested that a similar focus on horse-related activities would be “a perfect fit for our town’s character.”

Also at the meeting, John Hanley of the Chestertown Environmental Committee gave a brief presentation on the University of Maryland Extension Program’s Bay Wise program that encourages property owners to adopt practices that reduce impact on the Chesapeake Bay. He mentioned several steps that can be taken, including planting native species, avoiding use of gas-powered mowers and reduction of fertilizer use. Property owners who meet certain criteria can receive the Bay Wise certification, which is determined by one of the area’s master gardeners.

Councilwoman Liz Gross noted that some of the large property owners in town would have a larger impact that a number of individual homeowners if they adopted Bay Wise practices.

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

Washington College Names Kurt M. Landgraf as Next President

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CHESTERTOWN—The Washington College Board of Visitors and Governors today announced the appointment of Kurt M. Landgraf as the next President of the college. President-elect Landgraf, who was determined to be an exceptional and highly qualified candidate during the Board’s most recent national search in 2015, will begin his tenure July 1.

Kurt M. Landgraf – New President of Washington College

“Throughout his remarkable career, Kurt Landgraf has set himself apart from his peers as an exceptional leader and an exemplar of the values we seek to instill in our students, faculty, and community here at Washington College,” said Board Chair H. Lawrence Culp, Jr. “We believe his collaborative leadership style, his ability to craft ambitious and integrated strategies, and his operational experience will be an asset to Washington College.

“We are thrilled that such an exceptional candidate was available to lead our College in support of the groundbreaking work of our students and faculty,” Culp continued.

“I am deeply honored by the opportunity to join the Washington College community, and to continue the work of my predecessors in providing students with the best possible education,” said Landgraf. “To join the ranks of this storied and historic institution is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m certain that by working with the faculty, staff, student body, and board, as well as others in the community, we will be able to accomplish extraordinary things. And while new leadership always brings change, rest assured that President Sheila Bair’s exceptional work to address the national student debt crisis and to launch a comprehensive campaign will not only continue, but I hope will be energized and invigorated.”

Landgraf is well known to both the Washington College Board of Visitors and Governors and the most recent presidential search committee. In 2015, that search committee— proportionally comprised of faculty, senior staff, and board members—began its national search for a new president, considering nearly 400 candidates and seriously vetting nearly 60 contenders. During that process, Landgraf proved himself to be an outstanding candidate.

Landgraf comes to Washington College with a decades-long résumé as a senior executive with DuPont (including serving as Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chairman of DuPont Europe Middle East and Africa, Chairman and CEO of DuPont Pharmaceutical Company and CEO of DuPont Merck Company), and a 13-year tenure as President and CEO of ETS, one of the world’s leading providers of measurement programs and evaluations for schools, including both the K-12 and higher education communities.

Currently, Landgraf serves as a member of the boards of directors for Corning Incorporated and the Louisiana-Pacific Corporation. He has also served as President of the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, and was nominated, confirmed, and served as Vice Chairman of the Higher Education Commission for the State of New Jersey, the state’s governing body for higher education institutions.

“Kurt Landgraf’s vision of cooperative co-governance will be a strong foundation from which to work together as a campus, and he has already shown a willingness to embrace the Washington College strategic plan. I’m certain his leadership will lend our campus and community essential guidance, and assist us in every facet of operations, from helping fight the national student debt crisis, to accomplishing our unprecedented fundraising goals as part of our Forge a Legacy campaign,” said Jonathan McCollum, Chair of the Washington College Faculty Council and Chair of the Department of Music. “It is a pleasure to welcome President-elect Landgraf to campus, and I look forward to working with him to continue instilling in our students the core values of Washington College: critical thinking, effective communication and deep, abiding moral courage.”

“Kurt is an exceptional leader who has an impressive record of success in higher education and the corporate world. At ETS, he did a remarkable job advancing its social mission, reimagining the future of the organization, and building a strong organization and culture,” said Robert Murley, who served as Chair of the ETS Board of Directors for four years during President Landgraf’s tenure as CEO, and who has been an ETS board member for nearly 18 years. “As a result of his leadership and his commitment to diversity and to ensuring fairness and equity in assessment, promising students have been able to realize their dreams to attend college and graduate school regardless of their financial circumstances. Washington College is fortunate to have him as its next president.”

About Washington College

Founded in 1782, Washington College is the tenth oldest college in the nation and the first chartered under the new Republic. It enrolls approximately 1,450 undergraduates from more than 35 states and a dozen nations. With an emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning in the arts and sciences, and more than 40 multidisciplinary areas of study, the College is home to nationally recognized academic centers in the environment, history, and writing. Learn more at washcoll.edu.

 

Washington College Transition: Bair Resigns

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The Washington College Board of Visitors and Governors today announced the resignation of President Sheila Bair.

“We are grateful to have had the opportunity to work with President Bair for these past two years, and wish her all the best in her future endeavors,” said Board Chair H. Lawrence Culp, Jr. “Her work on behalf of both this institution, and the nation’s undergraduate population as a whole, to diminish our national student debt crisis has been remarkable, and we both thank and commend President Bair for her dedication to improving access to high-quality education for all students.”

“It was my privilege and pleasure to serve as President of this historic college, and my time here is an experience I will treasure for the rest of my career and life,” said President Bair. “Being a part of an institution co-founded by our nation’s own Founding Father, George Washington, will be impossible to match, and I thank the students, faculty, staff, and Board of Visitors and Governors for their support these past two years, particularly for our access and affordability initiatives. Unfortunately, this job has required that I be away from my family quite a bit, and I underestimated the hardship that would create when I took up leadership of the college. I regret that I am not able to serve my full five-year term, but in many ways, thanks to the dedicated efforts of our hardworking campus community, we accomplished in two years what would have required five at other institutions.”

President Bair came to Washington College after serving as Chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from 2006 to 2011, where she played a key role in stabilizing the banking system during the financial crisis. She was officially appointed in May 2015, and served as the institution’s first female president in its 234-year history.

A native of Independence, Kansas, Bair earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the University of Kansas in 1974 and a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1978. She began her career in public service as an aide to Kansas senator Bob Dole and later served as a commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a senior vice president for government relations at the New York Stock Exchange, and Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. For four years, she was the Dean’s Professor of Financial Regulatory Policy for the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Appointed to lead the FDIC by President George W. Bush in 2006, Bair was recognized for sound fiscal management and for raising employee morale. She was one of the first officials to warn about the damage the growing subprime mortgage crisis would pose to millions of homeowners and the economy at large. Consumer advocates praised her relentless efforts to represent the interests of homeowners, bank customers and taxpayers. She helped shape and implement the Dodd-Frank Act, which gave the FDIC expanded power to “wind down” rather than bail out a failing bank, and created the Advisory Committee on Economic Inclusion in an effort to bring banking services to underserved populations.

Bair chronicled her five years at the FDIC in Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself, a New York Times bestseller published in September 2012. A prolific writer, she has been a regular contributor to Fortune and has written three books for children that offer lessons in financial literacy.

During her presidency at the college, she pioneered several student debt reduction programs, including a program to match scholarship dollars to every dollar spent out of a family’s 529 or Education Savings Account, and George’s Brigade, offering full scholarships to highly qualified, low-income students. In addition, she ushered in Fixedfor4, a tuition plan that guarantees entering students that their tuition will not go up during their four years at the College, bringing certainty to one of the largest expenditures a family makes.

Launched in the fall of 2016, the Brigade saw 14 first-generation students complete their freshmen year. Twenty new George’s Brigade scholars are expected to matriculate in the fall. Another affordability initiative, Dam the Debt, is a “back-end” scholarship that helps pay off the federal loans of graduating seniors. Since its inception, Washington College has dispersed a total of $659,000 to graduating seniors, reducing their overall debt by over 10 percent.

The College expects to continue the efforts that began under Bair’s leadership. Her contributions to the improvements in diversity, retention, advancement, and alumni participation are greatly appreciated, as is the contribution she made to help raise the public profile of the College

President Bair’s resignation will be effective June 30.

Residents Air Health Care Concerns

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A public hearing by the Maryland Health Care Commission on the Rural Health Care Work Group nearly filled 164-seat Norman James Theater at Washington College Wednesday night. The audience — largely made up of older residents — was there to express concerns over the long-range future of the Chestertown hospital, now called University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown. While officials have repeatedly said there are no plans to close the facility, there are many who doubt their reassurances. The hearing was an opportunity for the public to address the issues.

Ben Steffen, executive director of Maryland Health Care Commission, answers a question at the public hearing on rural healt care Wednesday in Chestertown

Ben Steffen, executive director of the Maryland Health Care Commission, chaired the meeting. After brief remarks by Delegate Jay Jacobs and state Senator Stephen Hershey, he summarized the 2016 legislation establishing the work group. The act, Senate Bill 707, also set a framework for hospitals that were losing patient volume to convert to freestanding medical facilities – ambulatory hospital campuses or emergency rooms. Among those affected were hospitals in Laurel and in Harford County. Among the provisions of the act was a stipulation that the Chestertown hospital would remain open until 2022.

The work group, which has been meeting since September, includes four advisory subgroups, looking at health care workforce, economic development, care for vulnerable populations, and transportation issues in rural counties. It has met four times, at different locations around the Shore, and will meet again in July and September before delivering its report to the Senate Finance Committee. “Right now, we’re really getting into the weeds and starting to address a lot of the issues with health care services in the rural counties, “ he said.

Steffen then opened the floor to comments. He asked speakers to keep their remarks brief and to the point – “We’re not looking for oratory,” he said, but he said he would not be cutting speakers off. “We want to hear your suggestions and requests,” he said.

First to speak was Carl Gallegos, who introduced himself as chairman of the Chester River Hospital Foundation, which raises funds for the hospital. Gallegos told the audience he had attended the work group session that afternoon – “it’s important to have representation at the meetings,” he said. “It’s important to make our voices known; they listen to us,” he said. The Chestertown hospital is a viable part of Shore Regional Health, the University of Maryland’s umbrella group for the Easton and Chestertown hospitals. He said it was important to maintain the Chestertown hospital.

Bryan Matthews of KRM Development addressed the impact of the hospital on economic development in the local community. KRM is in the process of developing a large business campus on the north side of Chestertown, a multi-million dollar investment, he said. In the process of recruiting new businesses to occupy the space, he said, KRM is routinely asked three questions: the quality of the schools, the availability of health care, and the current workforce. “Health care is out of our control, but we can’t attract new businesses without it,” Matthews said.

Rural Health Care Work Group members Garrett Falcone, Kay MacIntosh, Dr. Joseph Ciotola, Deborah Mizeur, Ben Steffen (Executive Director of the Maryland Health Care Commission), and Dr. Gerald O’Connor

Matthews said he was particularly concerned with the uncertainty whether the town will have a hospital after 2022, which he said creates a “silent dead period” for attempts to induce new businesses to settle in Chestertown. Prospective businesses are leery of investing in a location where the hospital may not be there in five years. The project “will come to a screeching halt” if the hospital closes or downsizes, he said. “We want and need good health care,” he concluded.

Jane Hukill, president of HomePorts, asked what the effect of President Trump’s health care program would be on local health care.

Steffen said there is a broad consensus on health care in Maryland, and gains under earlier administrations won’t easily be given up. He said the state’s Medicaid expansion has benefited many residents in rural areas; “The consensus is, we’d hold onto it,” he said. Also, he said, the state has a different system for reimbursing hospitals than many others, and rural hospitals are well provided for. “So we have some protections,” he said. He noted that the Trump administration has provided some degree of flexibility for individual states under its health care proposals, and Maryland will probably take full advantage of it.

Leslie Price of Worton spoke on behalf of the retirement community, which she said requires not just good health care, but access to hospital beds. “I worry, if there isn’t a hospital with beds, how well Heron Point can keep attracting people,” she said. She said there are times when the hospital is so completely occupied that patients are put in beds in the hallways or kept in the emergency department until beds become available. She said the availability of more beds is critical to providing the kind of service the community needs.

Nancy Carter said recruitment and retention of trained personnel is a key issue. She urged the commission to pay close attention to it.

Zane Carter addressed demographics and transportation issues in Kent County. He said Kent, like a lot of rural counties, has a disproportionate number of residents below age 20 and above age 50, both groups that are more dependent on the availability of transportation than others.  He said that 39 percent of students in the county’s public schools are from single-parent families. If something happens to a parent where they have to be in a hospital for several days, it becomes much harder for their children to get to school or to visit them.

Frances Miller of Chestertown said the proximity of a hospital is a life-and-death issue. She gave two examples from her own family where a relative encountered a medical emergency that would have cost their life if they had been more than a few minutes from a hospital. “Distance can be a killer,” she said. “We can’t have one major hospital down in Easton and hope we can get there in time.”

Bob Coleman spoke from the perspective of volunteer emergency medical personnel. He said the county’s small population limits the number of EMS personnel available. It takes at least two hours of volunteer time from the point when a 911 call comes in until the volunteer is available to take another call. Transports to Easton or Annapolis add another hour, with still more for patients from Rock Hall. “We struggle for volunteers,” he said, and the low population density of Kent County makes the struggle harder. He asked any audience members to volunteer. “We have three paramedics during the day, two at night,” Coleman said. He said the county commissioners had been asked to fund a third paramedic during night hours, and he hoped they would be able to do so, but he said it could easily add $1 million to the budget.

Coleman concluded by saying, “This is our hospital. Maybe the University of Maryland has some papers that say they own it, but my parents helped build it. Many citizens from this community contributed – built wings, built this hospital – it’s our hospital.” He said he was concerned that the University of Maryland was “checking boxes” on a list of criteria that would allow them to close the hospital after 2022. “There should be an opportunity to look for other mechanisms that would keep it here,” he said.

Kay MacIntosh, economic development coordinator for the town of Chestertown, said she had been following the work group’s activities since it was formed. She said the town and county had been laying a lot of groundwork for economic development, noting the KRM project and the installation of a fiber-optic network by the county, plus other signs of long-term progress. “The message that we need to get to the Maryland Health Care Commission and Shore Regional Health is that the decisions they make can greatly deter progress, or they can work with us.”  She also noted that the word “hospital” carries a lot of weight with businesses or individuals thinking about moving to the community.

“I’ve got three hats on tonight,” said Glen Wilson, who was present as a resident of Chestertown, as president of Chesapeake Bank and Trust, and as chair of United Way of Kent County. He said quality health care was a key part of his decision to move here, and he was confident that the $10 million investment Shore Regional Health made in upgrading the emergency room meant a long-term commitment. “But if it’s really a triage

facility, you’re going to go somewhere else,” he said – and University of Maryland shouldn’t assume it will be its Easton hospital. He talked about the need for family members to be present for patients – which the distance to Easton makes problematic.

From the point of view of the bank, Wilson said, the health of the community is vital to the health of the bank and its business. “If inpatient beds close, I think this town will wither,” he said. He said the retirement community would not be attracted to a town without health care. And from the point of view of United Way, health care is a crucial element of its fundraising mission. He said the needs the charity addresses won’t diminish, but its ability to raise fund would be curtailed if the community begins to lose residents. “I believe the state, as the major funder of the University of Maryland Medical System, also has an obligation to the vitality of this town, and certainly the health care.”

Kevin Brien, a Washington College professor, said he was two days out of the hospital, and he characterized the care he received as “absolutely wonderful.” He said he would have to leave the community if the hospital leaves. He said he had interviewed many prospective faculty members for the college, and they invariably asked about the quality of medical care. He also said the black community needs a hospital close by.

Al Hammond, who said he had run a health care system in India, said the continuation of an inpatient facility in Chestertown should not be the only goal of the community. He said preventive care and maintenance of chronic disease are also important, and they happen in the home and the community rather than in hospitals. He said a focus on wellness, diet, behaviors, prevention and early diagnosis was necessary to the health of the whole community. Those services can be delivered at the patient’s home by paramedical personnel equipped with tablets, providing health care at much lower cost, as he saw in India, he said.  “That kind of preventative care ought to be in our sights,” he said.

Bob Parks, executive director of Horizons, addressed the health care needs of the most vulnerable segment of the community. He said all the issues being considered are much more severe for the “underprivileged, underserved” portion of the county, and he urged the commission to consider their situation.

A woman from Rock Hall said she sees a lot of people who need help. She said the lack of nearby specialists is a particularly pressing problem, giving the example of a diabetic woman who had to be put in the hospital because there was no other way to get her seen by a qualified doctor. “That’s a waste of healthcare dollars,” she said.

Another resident said the loss of a maternity ward was a concern. She told of a young woman she knew who had to deliver her baby on the way to Easton. “That was horrendous; the baby could have died,” she said.

At the end of the session, Steffen asked the audience about the availability of services including medical specialists, nursing home services, assisted living, and access to home health services. Among the needs mentioned were endocrinologists, urologists, pulmonary specialists, and mental health specialists including psychiatrists and psychologists. Steffen said the latter specialties were a problem all across the shore, a problem compounded by the reluctance of insurance to cover mental health services.

Audience members also addressed the need for nurse practitioners to supplement the number of doctors in the community, and the inability of people without internet service to access telemedicine. Also, Steffen said, people need to trust the ability of EMS volunteers to diagnose them – “it’s better to call an ambulance than to try to guess what treatment you need if you’re having a heart attack.”

Steffen said the next public hearing would be in Dorchester County June 1, and asked audience members to let friends in that area know of the opportunity to have their concerns heard.