Chesapeake College Announce President Barbara Viniar’s Departure; Former President Stuart Bounds to Become Interim

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The Chesapeake College Board of Trustees has announced that Dr. Barbara Viniar’s term as President of the College will conclude on July 1, 2017. The Trustees appreciate Dr. Viniar’s efforts on behalf of the College over the past nine years and wish her well in her future endeavors.

Dr. Stuart Bounds has been appointed Interim President of the College effective July 1, 2017. Dr. Bounds retired from the College in 2008 after 11 years as president. Since retiring as President, Dr. Bounds has remained active in the community college field, both as a consultant and as an adjunct professor of political science at Chesapeake. The Board is delighted that Dr. Bounds has agreed to return to the College in this interim role and believes that his executive experience at Chesapeake and deep understanding of the Mid-Shore community will be a great asset to the College and to the Board during the transition period.

The search for a new president of the College will commence this summer. The Board will engage and consult with the College community, the College’s five supporting counties and other key stakeholders in the development of a plan for the search, and in the evaluation and selection of the sixth president of Chesapeake College.

Chesapeake College has provided 50 years of outstanding service to the Mid-Shore community and the Board is committed to finding an exceptional community college leader to guide the College into the future. With that leadership and the extraordinary talent and resources within the College and throughout the community, the College’s role as the primary provider of higher education and workforce training in the region will continue to expand and, thereby help to ensure a bright future for the Mid-Shore.

Some Good News: Chesapeake Underwater Grasses up 8%; Acreage Highest in Decades

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Underwater grasses, one of the most closely watched indicators of Chesapeake Bay health, surged to the highest levels seen in decades, according to survey results for 2016. This is the second straight year that grasses have set a record.

Nearly 100,000 acres of the Bay’s and its tidal tributaries were covered by the underwater meadows, which provide habitat for juvenile fish and blue crabs, as well as food for waterfowl.

That was an 8 percent increase over 2015, and more than twice what was in the Bay just four years ago. “It was an impressive year following a previously impressive year and we are at numbers that we’ve not seen — ever,” said Bob Orth, an underwater grass expert with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who oversees the annual aerial survey, which began 33 years ago.

Like all green plants, submerged grasses need sunlight to survive, and the clearer the water, the more sun they get. Because of the link to water clarity, the annual survey of Bay grasses — often referred to by scientists as SAV, for submerged aquatic vegetation — is considered a key indicator of how the Bay is doing.

In their own right, grass beds are also a critical component of the Bay ecosystem. In addition to providing food for waterfowl and shelter for fish and crabs, they also pump oxygen into the water and trap sediments.

Restoring underwater grass beds is one of the goals of the nutrient and sediment reductions aimed at cleaning up the Bay, as water clouded by sediment or nutrient-fueled algae blooms can be lethal to grass beds.

The Bay’s underwater grasses were knocked back to 48,195 acres by the one-two punch of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in late summer 2011, which sent a flood of nutrients and sediment into the Chesapeake.

But relatively dry conditions since then, which reduced the flow of nutrients and sediments into the Bay, have helped the grasses recover. The result has been unusually clear water in many areas. In fact, some grass beds are becoming so large and robust that they may be able to withstand at least some severe weather events, scientists said.

Water has been so clear in places like the Upper Bay’s Susquehanna Flats, that scientists reported dense grass beds extending into deeper areas where they had disappeared in the wake of Tropical Storm Lee.

Brooke Landry, a biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and chair of the Bay Program’s SAV work group, said that when she visited the flats on a field trip to train citizen scientists last summer, the beds were not only expanding but included an “incredible diversity” of species — at least 11.

“It was beautiful,” she said of the bed, which reached 5,993 acres last year. “We definitely saw grasses deeper than I would have expected, and the water was crystal clear.”

Overall, the survey mapped 97,433 acres in 2016. That was an 8 percent increase over the 92,315 acres observed the previous year.

But in 2016, the aerial survey was not able to map some areas due to a mix of weather and security restrictions near the District of Columbia and the Patuxent Naval Air Station. Specifically, parts of the Potomac and St. Mary’s rivers, including Piscataway Creek, were not surveyed in 2016, although they had been mapped the year before.

If those areas had the same amount of grass beds as in 2015, last year’s acreage would have increased by nearly 2,000 acres for a Baywide total of about 99,400, said David Wilcox, a VIMS analyst who works on the survey. But even that number is conservative, Wilcox said, because grass beds near the unmapped areas also appeared to have expanded last year.

Last year’s mapped acreage represented 53 percent of the Baywide goal of 185,000 acres, and it exceeded an interim target of 90,000 acres set for 2017 under the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

One caveat is that much of the recovery is in the moderate-salinity areas of the Mid Bay, a region dominated by widgeon grass, which is a notorious “boom and bust” species that can disappear as rapidly as it pops up. More than half of all underwater grasses in the Bay are found in that area, and it accounted for most of last year’s increase as well.

“In 2003, we lost about half of the widgeon grass,” Wilcox cautioned. “If that were to happen next year, our story would be very different, because there’s so much widgeon grass out there.”

But scientists said they were encouraged that, at least in some places, they were starting to see other underwater species mix with the widgeon grass, which may help make the beds more durable over time.

“We’re starting to observe additional species in beds that were just widgeon grass, like redhead grass and sago pondweed, which is a great sign,” Landry said. “So if widgeon grass does crash, in some areas at least, these other species will continue to provide those ecosystem services Bay grasses are so important for.”

Though grasses improved Baywide, the survey found that trends varied in different salinity zones around the Bay (the following numbers compare acreages only for areas that could be mapped in both 2015 and 2016):

• The tidal freshwaters at the head of the Bay and in the uppermost tidal reaches of most tributaries, saw a 9 percent increase over 2015, to 17,319 acres.

• The slightly salty “oligohaline” waters that occupy a relatively small portion of the Upper Bay and tidal tributaries, experienced a 16 percent decrease, to 8,503 acres.

• The moderately salty “mesohaline” waters — the largest area of underwater grass habitat, stretching from near Baltimore south to the Rappahannock River and Tangier Island and including large sections of most tidal rivers — had an increase of 20 percent, covering 57,380 acres.

• The very salty “polyhaline” waters in the Lower Bay — from the mouth of the Rappahannock and Tangier Island south, including the lower York and James rivers — had 14,226 acres, which was a 15 percent decrease.

Scientists said it was unclear why grasses declined in some parts of the oligohaline zone. But observations suggested that, at least in some places, the decline was in hydrilla, a nonnative species that is often quick to colonize unvegetated areas. But hydrilla is also sensitive to higher salinities, and scientists said drier conditions (and therefore higher salinity) in some rivers might have caused localized diebacks.

Normally, declines in polyhaline waters are from diebacks of eelgrass, the dominant species in that region — which is always a concern because eelgrass can be slow to recover after setbacks. In fact, it’s been generally declining since the early 1990s. But based on limited observations, Orth said the overall declines in that area last year seemed to be caused by a loss of widgeon grass, even though that species had greatly expanded in other parts of the Bay.

“Widgeon grass has always been one of these dynamic species that comes and goes,” he said.

Except for 1988, the survey has been conducted annually in the Bay since 1984, when just 38,229 acres were observed — the lowest ever seen. The Bay’s 185,000-acre goal is based on actual acreages that could be observed in historical photographs of the Bay, taken for other purposes during the early and mid-1990s.

Details about the survey, including aerial photos of grass beds from around the Bay, are at vims.edu/bio/sav.

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.

IMF Director Christine Lagarde to Address WC Grads in May

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College President Sheila Bair today announced that Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), will give the Commencement Address at Washington College’s 234th Commencement on May 20. An international leader and a trailblazer who has repeatedly transcended barriers in male-dominated fields, Lagarde will receive an honorary degree, Doctor of Laws.

“I am thrilled that our seniors will have the opportunity to hear Christine Lagarde speak at their graduation,” says President Bair. “She has long been a role model for young women who aspire to achieve beyond the artificially imposed, but very real, boundaries of gender in many professions. But her accomplishments as a leader in the law, in international monetary policy, and in promoting economic stability as a way to encourage cooperation between nations, clearly eclipse gender and serve as an inspiration to all.”
Appointed to lead the IMF in 2011 and re-elected to a second term in 2016, Lagarde has guided the institution through some of the world’s most challenging economic times in recent history. From 2007-2011, Lagarde served as Finance Minister of France, becoming the first woman to serve as finance minister for any large advanced economy.
In 2016, she was named one of TIME’s “100 Most Influential People.” In the accompanying profile, U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen wrote, “Christine was central to the effort to stabilize Greece’s economy and prevent a wider crisis in Europe. She has spurred economic reform in emerging nations like China that have appropriately gained more of a voice at the IMF. She has also given the IMF a more human face by addressing issues like gender and income inequality and public-health threats like the Ebola virus.”
An accomplished lawyer, Lagarde was the first female chairman of the Chicago-based international law firm Baker and McKenzie. In 2009, the Financial Times named her “Best Finance Minister” in the Eurozone, and Forbes magazine named her the ninth most powerful woman in the world.

Created in 1945 at a United Nations conference, the IMF’s main purpose is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system while working to promote global stability through monetary cooperation, encourage economic growth, and reduce global poverty.

Washington College’s 234th Commencement begins at 10:30 a.m. on May 20 and will be held on the Campus Green, weather permitting.

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

Imagination Library Brings Books to Kent County Kids

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What if every child in Kent County got a free age-appropriate book once a month from birth to five years old?

Rosemary Granillo, Emily Morrone, and Donna Bedell are boarding the Imagination Library Train with Dolly Parton. Emily is a “graduate” of the program.

That’s the dream of the Imagination Library. Created by singer Dolly Parton, the program brings the world of storytelling to young children all over the country – rich or poor, city or country. But it can’t do its work without financial support.

Donna Bedell of the Judy Center in Henry Highland Garnet Elementary School and Rosemary Granillo of the Kent County Local Management Board are working to reinvigorate the Kent County Imagination Library, which lost its funding from the State of Maryland last July.

Speaking to the Spy at the Judy Center on Tuesday, Bedell and Granillo said parents can enroll their children in the program at no cost and with no commitment other than to receive the books.  And they can sign their children up for the program at birth, so they can receive up to 60 books over the period of enrollment.

“For me, the excitement is that every child in Kent County will have the same shared literary experience by five years old,” Bedell said. “How powerful that would be!”

“Nobody has to drive or go to any activities,” Granillo said. She added that all you have to do is sign up,” which families can do online at www.usa.imaginationlibrary.com. And once the books, come, she said, the children will insist that the parents read to them – often over and over again!  And children love that a package arrives in the mail to them with their name on it. All this helps create a positive interaction that improves readiness for school..

“They carry the books around with them,” Bedell said, of children who received the books are now in school.  This is sometimes several years later and the books are very precious to these kids.

Imagination Library is popular well beyond the U.S., with strong programs in Britain and in Canada.

Some of the books on the current list are The Little Engine that Could (the first book every child receives), Llama Llama Red Pajama, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and Owl Moon. The month of a child’s fifth birthday, they receive Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come. Some of the books are available bilingually in English and Spanish.

The program is definitely a hit with the families. In a letter seeking support for the program, Granillo said that 100 percent of the families would recommend the program to a friend. And 94 percent said they felt it helped prepare their child for kindergarten.

Given Kent County’s comparatively small population, the total cost of the program would be a comparatively small slice of the county budget. At $25 a child, it would come to about $24,000 to enroll every child under age five in the entire county.

However, changed priorities at the Governor’s Office for Children led to the discontinuation of the state funding for the program in July last year. Kent County was able to find funding to keep the program open through October.

As of now, the program is back on its feet, but it is running on a month-to-month basis, Bedell said.  At present, 251 children are enrolled – about one-quarter of those eligible, she said. It will take about $6,000 to keep the current 251 children on the program for a year. The program is now on a month-month basis.

“It would be very feasible to enroll everybody,” said Granillo. Parents can enroll their children at Henry Highland Garnet Elementary School on Calvert St. between Kent and College streets or through the Kent County Library or the Kent County Family Center as well as online.  Bedell and Granillo are planning to add several other places to register children as soon as they have funds.

The Local Management Board, the Judy Center and the Kent County Public Library are working to find funding for the program through contributions from the county and town governments, as well as from private donors.

The Town of Rock Hall has already sent a check, Granillo said. However, it is still early in the budget process for most local governments. Chestertown and Millington have not set their budgets, and the county commissioners have not put the issue on their agenda yet. Given a general sense of belt-tightening in local government, the program may need private funding to meet its goals.

The Mid-Shore Community Foundation is helping with the effort. A $25 donation will support one child for an entire year. Donations should be designated for the Imagination Library – Kent County Fund.

To donate by mail, send checks to Mid Shore Community Foundation Imagination Library-Kent County Fund102 East Dover St. Easton, MD 21601

Donations may also be made online at www.mscf.org. Click the “Donate” button, then “donate online.” Fill in the information requested and “Imagination Library – Kent County”as the fund you want to support.

All contributions are tax deductible. And heart-warming.  You will feel good every time you see a young child clutching a book.

Survey Finds Bay Crab Population Strong with Record Number Of Females

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Boosted in part by a record number of female blue crabs, the Bay’s crab population remained strong through the winter — something scientists say bodes well both for the crustaceans and those who catch and love to eat them.

Overall, the annual winter dredge survey conducted by Maryland and Virginia estimated that the Bay held 455 million crabs, a decrease from last year’s tally of 553 million. Most of the drop was attributed to a falloff in juvenile crab numbers, which are both more variable and harder to survey.

But survey results released Wednesday showed that the number of female crabs — which have been the focus of conservation efforts for nearly a decade — reached 254 million, a 31 percent increase over last year, and their highest level in the survey’s 28-year history.

As a result, fishery managers expect solid harvests this spring and into early summer, buoyed by the large number of adult crabs from last year. But they warn that the low number of juveniles “recruiting” into the overall population may require some harvest restrictions when the young crabs start reaching market size later this year.

“I’m pretty confident the stock is solid,” said Rom Lipcius, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who helps oversee the annual survey. “But we need to be careful. We can’t just open up the fishery and stuff, especially with what appears to be lower recruitment.”

The survey, conducted in the winter when crabs are normally dormant on the bottom, is a closely watched indicator of the status of the Bay’s most valuable fishery. State fishery managers typically tweak catch levels, both up and down, based on the results compiled by VIMS and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

For instance, the states imposed catch restrictions to reduce the Baywide harvest 10 percent in 2014, when the survey revealed the number of females had sharply dropped. But managers have also eased restrictions when the crabs are found to be more plentiful, as they did last year.

While there have been ups and downs from year to year, survey data show that blue crab abundance has trended upward overall since 2008, when scientists warned the population was dangerously close to collapse. Maryland and Virginia acted together then to impose harvest limits on female crabs, allowing more to survive and reproduce.

Though the total number of crabs was down in this year’s survey, compared to last year, it was still the third highest since 2008.

Harvests have rebounded as well. An estimated 60 million crabs were caught Baywide last year, up from 50 million in 2015, and the record-low of 35 million a year earlier.

“I feel optimistic in the grand scheme of things,” said John M.R. Bull, commissioner of the Virginian Marine Resources Commission. “The trend line is that the stock has improved, and the harvest has improved at the same time.”

This year was the second time since 2008 when the number of female crabs exceeded the Bay target of 215 million recommended by scientists. It was only the third time in the history of the winter dredge survey that it had exceeded that mark.

“The good news is we’ve got a bunch of momma crabs out there,” said Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association. “Hopefully, they hatch out good.”

Watermen in some areas have been reporting catching a lot of female crabs, Brown said, to the point that some are shifting their gear to try to find more males.

One concern voiced by scientists and fishery managers was the relative dearth of young crabs in the survey. The 125 million baby crabs estimated this winter was the lowest since 2013, and the second lowest since 2007.

Scientists cautioned that the juvenile numbers have the highest level of uncertainty in the survey because the small crabs sometimes move into shallow water where they are hard to find.

Other factors can contribute to wide swings in juvenile numbers, Lipcius said. Juveniles spend the first several weeks of their lives drifting in the ocean after they are spawned, and weather conditions greatly affect the number that return to the Bay. Those that return can suffer heavy predation from fish, and even cannibalism from adult crabs.

“One low year of [juvenile] crabs is not by itself a danger sign,” said Tom Miller, a fisheries scientist and director of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. But, Miller cautioned, two years in a row of low numbers would be cause for concern.

Fishery managers in both states said they may consider action to protect seemingly sparse juveniles, perhaps by curbing catches later this fall and next spring when they reach market size. That would increase the chances that more of them would survive to reproduce and support future harvests.

“We need to be prepared for the challenges ahead of us as it relates to the juveniles,” said Mike Luisi, assistant director of fisheries and boating services with the Maryland DNR. “We want to make sure that we’re not overharvesting on that lower abundance.”

Matt Ogburn, a fisheries scientist who works with blue crabs at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, MD, said the fact that crab numbers have generally risen in recent years, along with harvests, offers “a good example of how fairly conservative management actions can actually lead to increases in the fishery.”

“As short-lived as they are, blue crab populations can decline very quickly if you’re not careful,” Ogburn said. “But they can also come back quickly if you are conservative about the management. And I think the last decade has proven that out.”

Nonetheless, those decisions can be difficult. A longtime crab manager with the Maryland DNR, Brenda Davis, was fired earlier this year after a group of Eastern Shore watermen complained about her unwillingness to ease crab harvest rules. The firing prompted outrage, and a legislative hearing in Annapolis.

“It’s almost more difficult, scientifically, to manage a rebounding fishery,” said Miller, “because it’s a question of how much is enough . . . if we change the regulations, how much is that going to impact the harvest?”

The winter dredge survey has been conducted annually since 1990 by scientists in Maryland and Virginia, who tally crabs dredged from the bottom at 1,500 sites across the Bay from December through March — when they are buried in mud and stationary. Historically, the survey has provided an accurate snapshot of crab abundance, and is the primary tool for assessing the health of the crab stock.

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.

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.

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

 

Peter Heck and Jane Jewell Named Chestertown Spy Co-Managing Editors

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The Community Newspaper Project, the parent nonprofit organization of the Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy, has announced the appointment of Peter Heck and Jane Jewell as co-managing editors of the Chestertown Spy, effective immediately. 

“I am so very delighted that Peter and Jane have agreed to lead the Chestertown Spy,” said Dave Wheelan, publisher and executive editor of the Spy newspapers. “Both bring some extraordinary skills to the Spy in both journalism and photojournalism and more importantly, they share with me a special affection for Chestertown and Kent County that will be a remarkable asset to our community.” 

While Peter has been best known locally for his many years as a reporter for the Kent County News, he has also written over 100 book reviews for such publications as the Kirkus Review and Newsday, as well as spending two years as editor at Berkley Publications. A native of Chestertown, with degrees from Harvard and Johns Hopkins, Heck also has written ten novels, two of which were genre best sellers.  He is also an accomplished musician, playing guitar and banjo.

Jane, Peter’s wife, also comes to the Spy with a distinguished background in writing, editing, and photography. Since moving to Chestertown, Jane worked at Washington College in the computer department, then as the executive director of the Science Fiction Writers of America. She also has contributed photos to the Kent County News. Jane currently serves on the board of the National Music Festival and has been active as a coach with the Character Counts! program in the Kent County Public Schools. 

Peter and Jane can be contacted at editor@chestertownspy.com

 

Chestertown Spy Forum on Town-Gown Future

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Last Tuesday, the Chestertown Spy sponsored a public forum with Washington College President Sheila Bair and Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino. The purpose of the event was to have a meaningful conversation with the community about the future of both the town and the school as they adjust to the rather complicated and challenging times of the 21st century.

With the help of the Washington College digital media services, we are able to present the whole meeting in its entirety for our readers benefit.

This video is approximately one hour in length. Please rewind to the beginning to see the entire program.