Standing for Peace

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Women in Black, a local chapter of an international women’s peace group who keep a weekly silent peace vigil in Chestertown

Noon, Friday at Chestertown’s Memorial Park — a group of women stand silent, holding signs: “Peace,” “No War,” “Give Peace a Chance.”

The group represents an international network for peace and justice, the Women in Black. They began holding their vigils at the intersection of High and Cross Streets on Feb. 2. On Feb. 9, the group numbered ten. While the vigil is predominantly silent, the members speak to and answer questions from anyone who engages them A number of cars honked their horns as they drove by the group. Also, the women in the group distributed cards bearing the word for “peace” in a number of languages, English, German, Japanese. The back of the cards reads, “Join us for a silent Vigil for peace. WIB an International Network for Peace and Justice. Help put an end to war and violence in our world. Womeninblack.org”

The website contains the following explanation of the group’s purpose: “Women in Black is a world-wide network of women committed to peace with justice and actively opposed to injustice, war, militarism and other forms of violence. As women experiencing these things in different ways in different regions of the world, we support each other’s movements. An important focus is challenging the militarist policies of our own governments. We are not an organisation, but a means of communicating and a formula for action.”

The movement originated in Jerusalem in 1988, when a group of women held a Friday vigil in response to violations of human rights they believed were being committed in Palestinian areas occupied by Israeli troops. Vigils were eventually held throughout Israel, and groups in other countries held vigils in sympathy. Each group was autonomous, without a common political agenda beyond a concern for human rights and opposition to war. Because the members wore black clothing during the vigils, the name “Women in Black” naturally became attached to the movement.

Women in Black – Silent Peace Vigil – each Friday at noon

The movement’s concerns spread beyond the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to other countries where peace and justice were perceived to be at risk. Women in Black became especially visible during the civil wars that tore apart former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Protesting violent nationalism and sectarian bloodshed, the women themselves often became the targets of attacks by fanatical nationalists. In a number of countries, the focus of the vigils has been violence against women.

In 2001, the international Women in Black movement was awarded the Millennium Peace Prize for Women given by the United Nations Development Fund for Women, and the groups in Serbia and Israel were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The local group will be in Monument Plaza across from Fountain Park and Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Chestertown again this Friday at noon.  They plan to be there each Friday for the foreseeable future.

Come and join the Women in Black and Stand for Peace.

Women in Black – Silent Peace Vigil

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Trump’s Proposed Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Cuts faces Hill Battle

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President Donald Trump’s plan to slash 90 percent of Chesapeake Bay cleanup funding, which could dismantle several decades of environmental restoration, met resistance from Maryland’s Democratic congressional delegation.

The cuts, which would drop the budget for Chesapeake Bay programs from $73 million to $7.3 million, are nestled in a proposed 33.7 percent decrease in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.

That would be a paltry sum “to support the nation’s largest estuary,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said in a statement.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told Capital News Service the state would fight hard against massive cuts to the bay cleanup program.

“This is yet another assault on clean water, from a president who campaigned saying he valued it,” William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said in a statement.

Trump tweeted in April 2017 that he was “committed to keeping our air and water clean but always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection.”

Maryland’s bay-wide commercial harvest for all crabs rebounded from under 20 million pounds in 2013-2014, the lowest marks since 1990, to about 30 million pounds in 2016, according to statistics from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.

Critics said the proposed cuts to the EPA have the potential to derail the progress that Maryland has seen, putting both the economic growth and environmental protection Trump referenced in jeopardy.

“Protecting the bay is important not only to protect a great national treasure, but to protect our economy,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, told Capital News Service. “If you look at Maryland’s economy, tourism, the watermen, the boating industry, all of these people rely on a healthy bay for their economic livelihood.”

The Chesapeake Bay’s importance to Maryland is underscored by the efforts that federal, state and local officials over the years have coordinated to preserve it. It was the first estuary in the nation to see restoration efforts of this magnitude, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“We look forward to working with our Chesapeake delegation in Congress to move the decimal point over to its rightful place and restore bay funding to $73 million,” said Chante Coleman, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, a group of more than 200 organizations in the bay region.

Under the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Chesapeake Bay Program Office is tasked with implementing “pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry.”
The office also sets limits on contaminants.

Van Hollen introduced legislation to increase funding to $300 million in his Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act in November 2017, which would further assist in efforts to clean up the bay.

Trump tried to eliminate all funding to the Chesapeake Bay Program Office in his proposed fiscal 2017 budget.

“The Chesapeake Bay (Program) Office is the coordinating entity for all the partners in the Chesapeake… all of that depends on the federal government to coordinate the stakeholders’ responsibilities,” Cardin said. “If that program were to receive the type of coverage that is in president Trump’s budget, it couldn’t do its work.”

“The budget from the president, we hope, is dead on arrival because it would be bad news for our region,” Van Hollen said.

By Julia Karron, Jarod Golub and Timmy Chong

Chesapeake College Announces Four Finalists for President

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The Chesapeake College Board of Trustees announced the selection of four finalists in its search for the school’s sixth president. Each candidate will be on campus to meet with faculty, staff, students and Mid-Shore community leaders in a series of forums over the next two weeks.

Following a four-month process that included public input on the qualifications, characteristics and values sought for the school’s new leader, the 14-member Presidential Search Advisory Committee chaired by the Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees, Nash McMahan, submitted four finalists to the Board of Trustees:

Clifford Coppersmith

Dr. Clifford Coppersmith, Dean at City College, an embedded community college within Montana State

Keith Cotroneo

University, Billings Montana. He held prior administrative and academic affairs positions at: Pennsylvania College of Technology, a special mission affiliate of The Pennsylvania State University, Williamsport, PA; and College of Eastern Utah, Price, Utah.

Dr. Keith Cotroneo, President at Mountwest Community and Technical College, Huntington, West Virginia. He held prior administrative and academic affairs positions at: Quincy College, Quincy, Massachusetts; Broome Community College, Binghamton, New York; Treasure Valley Community College, Ontario, Oregon; and Hagerstown Community College, Hagerstown, Maryland.

 

Dr. Ted Lewis, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer at Pellissippi State Community College, Knoxville, Tennessee. He held prior administrative and academic affairs positions at: Lone Star College-CyFair, Cypress, Texas; and Collin County Community College, McKinney, Texas.

Dr. Lisa Rhine, Provost and Chief Operating Officer at Tidewater Community College Chesapeake

Lisa Rhine

Campus, Chesapeake, Virginia. She held prior administrative and academic affairs positions at: Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky; Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio; University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio; and Sinclair Community College, also in Dayton.

“Under Nash McMahan’s leadership, the Search Committee evaluated 72 candidates and delivered its final choices a month ahead of schedule in response to the community’s desire for an expedited process,” said Blenda Armistead, Board of Trustees Chair. “From our faculty, staff and student representatives to volunteers from business and academia, it was a dedicated team that committed countless hours studying the community focus group and online survey results and reviewing applications from across the country.”

Armistead said the Search Committee interviewed seven candidates last week before making its final selections.
“It’s an exceptional group of finalists with considerable experience serving in administrative and academic affairs leadership positions at community colleges, technical schools and four-year institutions,” Armistead said.

The Board expects to make its final choice by mid-March and hopes to have a new president on campus by July 1.

Council Members Weigh In on Bay Bridge

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Chestertown Councilmen Marty Stetson and Ellsworth Tolliver

At the Chestertown Council, meeting Feb. 5, several council members commented on the possibility of a new Bay Bridge coming through Kent County.  Councilman Marty Stetson said he had attended a meeting at the Chestertown Firehouse at which members of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance presented information on the project and encouraged residents to oppose it.

Observing that the meeting was “packed,” Stetson noted that nobody in the audience had expressed support for a Kent County bridge. He said the meeting organizers had suggested three ways for residents to express their opposition to the project – writing to the Maryland Transit Authority, putting up a yard sign, and telling friends and neighbors about it – and that he had done all three. He said that during his time as a Maryland State Police trooper, he had seen an increase in crime on Kent Island, which he attributed to the bridge.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said he had attended a Super Bowl party at Bethel AME Church, where several attendees had asked him about the possibility of a bridge. “People see growth and economic development as a plus,” Tolliver said. “A lot of people seem to support it in Ward 3,” he said. “Some see it as the future of Kent County.” Tolliver, who was also present at the firehouse meeting, said he hadn’t made up his mind about the bridge.

Councilman David Foster said that residents curious about the bridge project who were unable to attend the firehouse meeting would have a chance to see Elizabeth Watson, who was one of the presenters at that meeting, at an upcoming meeting of the Community Breakfast Group, which meets Thursday mornings at the Holiday Inn in Chestertown. Foster said he had moved to Chestertown to escape urban congestion. “But I think people need to weigh the pros and cons and not just dismiss it,” he said. He said opponents of a bridge need to find ways of providing other economic opportunities for the community.

Also at the meeting, the council approved a letter of support for the LaMotte Company’s application for Enterprise Zone benefits in connection with a new building the chemical company is undertaking. The 9,000 square foot building would be for the production of a new water testing product. Kay MacIntosh, the town’s economic development coordinator, said the company expected to hire at least 15 new employees to work on the new product. She explained the Enterprise Zone benefits, which include a 10-year tax credit for new construction and a $1,000 hiring credit for each new employee, a figure that rises to $6,000 if the employee is from an economically disadvantaged group.

Kay MacIntosh (left) and Jamie Williams explain benefits of the Enterprise Zone at the Chestertown Council meeting, Feb. 5

Jamie Wiliams, economic development coordinator for Kent County, said that LaMotte has already added 35 new employees as a result of the new product.

The council unanimously approved the letter of support, which Mayor Chris Cerino read into the record.

At the end of the meeting, Jeffrey Carroll of the Fish Whistle restaurant told the council about a fishing tournament he is planning for this summer, with substantial cash prizes to the winners. He said he hoped to have 100 boats taking part. He asked what permits he would need to get from the town to put on the tournament, which would have its headquarters at the restaurant and adjacent town-owned marina.

“How much money will I win with my 15-pound rockfish?” asked Mayor Chris Cerino. Carroll said he hoped the top prize would be $10,000, assuming there were enough entries. He said he was talking to an underwriter about the possibility of an even larger prize if any of the participants catches a state record fish. The contest would be open only to rockfish and catfish, and prizes would be awarded on the basis of weight.

Cerino said Carroll should meet with Town Manager Bill Ingersoll to work out details. Ingersoll and Town Clerk Jen Mulligan were absent from the meeting on account of illness. Discussion of several items of business, including the possible sale of a town-owned property on Calvert Street, was postponed until the next meeting to allow Ingersoll to provide detailed information.

The next Mayor and Council meeting will be held Tuesday, Feb. 20, because the Presidents Day holiday falls on Monday.

Opioids–What to Do?

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Tim Dove, Rachel Goss, and Rani Gutting on the panel at the Community Opioid Crisis Forum at Washington College on 25 January 2018 from 1:00-4:00 pm.

A panel discussion Thursday, Jan. 25 at Washington College’s Hynson Lounge brought together some of the key players in the effort to combat the opioid crisis.

Organized by WCTR radio, the panel included Tim Dove, the Local Addictions Authority for Kent County Behavioral Health, Peer Recovery Specialists Rachel Goss and Rani Gutting, Jen Moore of the Local Management Board, Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino, Police Chief Adrian Baker, and Ginger Gregg of the Kent County Office of Emergency Services. Leslie Sea, general manager of WCTR was the moderator.

Sea opened proceedings by introducing Chrissy Chisholm, executive director of Foundations of Recovery and a recovering addict. Chisholm told how she had become an addict in her early teens on Long Island, ending up in treatment for the first time at age 15. “I had no intention of staying sober,” she said, recounting how she was jailed, expelled from school, and kept relapsing despite all efforts. At age 23, she was still living in her parents’ basement, trying to get through college. She was “barely functioning,” she said. One night, driving in pouring rain to try to get drugs, she ran off the road and crashed. She woke up in the wreck, with airbags deployed, going through DTs. The police put her in the hospital, charged with driving under the influence.  This was the turning point for Chrissy.

Chrissy Chisholm, founder and executive director of Foundations of Recovery and a recovering addict

Finally, Chisholm said, she turned her life over to God and began getting better. She stayed away from her old friends and stayed sober. Moving to Kent County, she began to put her life back together and decided to do what she could to help others do the same. Realizing that recovery is a lifelong process, she opened Foundations of Recovery and Mission House – so others in recovery can support and encourage each other. “I’m tired of watching people die,” she said; “I want to be part of the solution.”

Sea said the opioid crisis has two prongs, street drugs like heroin and prescription pain-killers. She called attention to the sign near the corner of Washington Avenue and Morgnec Road listing the number of overdoses and deaths; “We want it always to be at zero,” she said. She then turned the microphone over to Dove.

Dove said the word that resonated in describing the opioid crisis is “insidious,” especially in terms of its effect on families. “You can’t erase the trauma” of overdoses or multiple trips to the emergency room. He cited the Maryland overdose statistics for 2016, the last year for which there are complete records for the state; 2089 overdose deaths were recorded, he said. That’s the equivalent of all the passengers and crew of five Boeing 747 airliners dying in crashes in one year – and that story would dominate headlines if it occurred in the state. But it is swept under the carpet because of the stigma of overdoses, he said. “We need to work to create sympathy” for the victims of the opioid epidemic – to treat it as a public health issue.

Heroin has been a problem for decades, but it was “a dirty word until it hit the middle class,” often as a result of built-up tolerance to prescription painkillers. When prescriptions for the legal painkillers run out, or the cost gets out of reach, many patients begin to turn to street drugs like heroin to manage the pain. Some of them have a genetic susceptibility to becoming addicts, he said. And that’s when they find themselves dealing with the risk of overdoses. The big killer, he said, is fentanyl, which drug cartels intentionally add to heroin to increase its potency – but which is 100 times more potent than morphine. Carfentanil, another opioid, is10,000 times more potent than morphine.  So it does not take much to overdose.  The amount that would normally just get you high now will kill you.

Tim Dove, Local Addictions Authority for Kent County Behavioral Health 

Dove told about the benefits of Narcan, an easily administered nasal spray that can reverse the effects of overdoses. It’s like a miracle, everyone agreed–almost instantly restoring the person to sobriety.  Those who were unconscious, barely breathing, are suddenly conscious and breathing normally again.

Narcan works on all the opioids, including fentanyl. However, if fentanyl has been used, the recovery may last only a minute or two before the person relapses.  In these cases, Dove said, several doses of Narcan may be necessary, sometimes as many as four or five doses of Narcan.  This is one of the reasons why everyone should call 911 right away when trying to help a comatose person who has overdosed. If the first dose is not sufficient, emergency personnel should already be on the way and they will have more Narcan and other first aid equipment and treatments that may be needed.

Narcan is being distributed to local law enforcement and emergency response personnel and has already saved many overdose victims locally. Dove said anyone wanting training in how to use Narcan can contact him at the Whitsitt Center. It is now available at many local pharmacies.

Recovery is an attainable goal, he said, with a number of treatment facilities in the local area. Many people in respected roles and occupations are in recovery, he said.  All someone needs to do is ask for help. If they’re in the emergency room, they’ll be referred to the Whitsitt Center. He noted the availability of Vivitrol, an opioid antagonist drug that works for a month at a time, attaching to the opioid receptors in the body and preventing the person from getting high; at the end of the month, the patient needs to get another shot. This allows the patient to work on the psychological aspects of recovery. It is being used in the Kent County Detention Center and is available from three private treatment centers in the county.

Chief Adrian Baker of the Chestertown police and Ginger Gregg, emergency planner for Kent County

Ginger Gregg said that 911 teams responding to overdoses first administer Narcan, then deliver the patient to the emergency room, and then, if the patient is willing, take them to Whitsitt Center. But the patient must be willing to go to the hospital, she said. The paramedics will provide information about recovery, but they cannot take the patient in for treatment against their will.

Trish McGee, speaking from the audience, asked how accurate the numbers reported on the sign at the Morgnec Road intersection are. She said the community needs accurate numbers to respond effectively to the crisis. “Getting real numbers is part of removing the stigma,” she said

Dove said it’s difficult to get accurate numbers because different agencies are responding to overdoses. He said the number of patients transported to the hospital is the statistic he places most weight on. But the hospital doesn’t test for which substance is responsible for an overdose, so it’s not always clear whether a patient has been using heroin, fentanyl, or something else. Also, if a local person experiences an overdose somewhere out of the jurisdiction, that isn’t reported.

Gutting said Narcan is saving lives; many of the overdoses would result in deaths without it, she said. She said there were six overdoses the previous week, and she suspected all were caused by fentanyl.

Chief Baker said his department had looked into liability issues before issuing Narcan to officers. Once he was satisfied there would be no problem, he had his officers trained — it took about half an hour. “They were saving lives within a week,” he said.

Mayor Cerino said prescription opioids are a key ingredient of the epidemic. He said he was given an opioid after knee surgery and knows the relief it provided. He said he understands how legal drugs can lead to addiction. As mayor, he said, he is concerned about how addiction leads to crime sprees as addicts need to finance their habits. A few individuals can have a big effect in a small town like Chestertown, he said.

Baker said Chestertown’s reputation as a safe place ironically makes crime easier because people are negligent about locking doors or taking other safety measures. He said a spree of burglaries and break-ins last year was the result of a small number of addicts trying to find cash or things they could sell to get drugs.

Jen Moore of the Local Management Board

Jen Moore said that most clients in recovery programs have been in active addiction for 20 years, while a normal course of treatment lasts only 28 days. Some of those arrested for narcotics-related crimes “relapse before they even get out of jail,” she said. There’s a better chance if they go through long-term treatment. “they need two or three years of recovery programs and treatment to have a chance to get out of it. We need to close the gap between jail and the treatment center,” she said.

Dove said the different local agencies are meeting monthly on the first Wednesday of the month to deal with the epidemic. The meeting, which is open to all, is at the Kent County Commissioners hearing room at 400 High St., at 7:30 a.m.

Rachel Goss noted that there is a focus on reducing the stigma of addiction and offering support.  “We need to talk about it, get the message out to teachers and coaches” and other role models to stop it before it starts. “I met a lot of great people in recovery,” she said.

Moore said it’s far too easy for young people to get drugs. “Doctors will automatically prescribe if you tell them the right symptoms,” she said. “A lot of kids have figured it out before ninth grade.”  They know exactly what “symptoms” to tell the doctor in order to get the drug they want.  And then they tell other kids what to say in order for them to get drugs, too.

Goss said young people are exposed to drugs before they’ve developed coping skills to deal with the problems they face. She said she started using drugs and alcohol when she was 12. “The scare stories didn’t work, I tried it and it felt good, so I kept it up.”

Cerino agreed that it’s far too easy to obtain drugs. “You can order them on a cell phone.” He said it should be more difficult, at least requiring the buyer to talk to somebody.

Dr. Ben Kohl of Eastern Shore Psychological Services said from the audience that the availability of Vivitrol allows recovery on an outpatient basis. The good news is that insurance programs usually cover the drug, allowing patients to do rehab with less chance of relapses. “The whole community needs to support recovery,” he said. Jobs and housing need to be available for those in recovery. “We understand the brain a lot better, and how addiction and recovery work,” he said. “We need to emphasize the disease model” and remove the stigma from recovery, he said.

Maryland’s Good Samaritan law protects those helping an overdose victim or calling to report an overdose.

An audience member asked whether the recovery programs emphasize the spiritual dimensions of the process.

Dove said most rehab programs are built around the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step model, which is spiritually based. “There are many ways to find a spiritual path to recovery. There’s no wrong way — just get there,” he said.

Goss said that many churches support those in recovery.  The various recovery programs and personnel also refer users and their families to resources in churches and many spiritually-inspired or based programs.  “We know what’s out there and we offer it,” Goss said.

Gregg said Gov. Larry Hogan’s declaration that an opioid crisis existed in the state “opened up resources.” She said it “let us treat not just addicts but their families.” She gave as an example the van the county has acquired.  The van contains a mockup of a young person’s bedroom showing places an addict could hide drugs and other clues a parent could use to start a conversation about drug use. The van will be on exhibit at numerous community events in 2018.  Only those over 18 are allowed in, so it doesn’t give ideas to teens. She said anyone interested in having the trailer come to an event should call the sheriff’s office.

Moore said several projects are in progress to help raise public awareness of the crisis. Among them, she mentioned a state website,  BeforeItsTooLateMD.org, with resources for patients, families, medical professionals, and others. There is also a 24-hour crisis hotline, 1-800-422-0009, that anyone can call anonymously for help for themselves or another.

Leslie Sea and Brian Moore, owners and operators of WCTR radio in Chestertown, organized the Opioid Crisis Forum

Maryland’s Good Samaritan law protects those helping an overdose victim or calling 911 about an overdose.

Drug Education Kit at the opioid forum had a display of drugs and various drug paraphernalia.

 

 

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Movie Theater Reopening Hits Snag

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The widely anticipated reopening of the Chester 5 Theater is not going to happen, at least in the near future.

The theater, which closed June 4, was originally anticipated to open in November, in time for the Christmas season, when many of the year’s top movies are released.

One of the partners in the Chesapeake Theaters group, which was behind the plans to reopen, spoke to the Chestertown Spy in September. He said that plans were to renovate the entire interior with new, more comfortable seats, an expanded concession area offering more substantial fare. The partners also planned to work with local youth groups to hold fundraisers to benefit children. However, those plans were delayed and rumors began to circulate that the deal was falling through. Those rumors were confirmed when the Spy spoke with one of the principals last week.

Mike Klein, a partner in Chesapeake Theaters, told the Chestertown Spy that his group “was not able to negotiate a favorable lease” with the management of the Washington Square mall. “We went in in good faith,” Klein said in a Jan. 18 phone interview. He said the partners had begun work on the interior, including removal of the old seats, on the assumption that they had an agreement with the landlord. “We wouldn’t have started renovations if it wasn’t good,” he said. They have invested quite a bit of money already in the project. He and his partners have been involved in theaters in the Baltimore area, though this would have been a separate venture, he said.

Klein said the landlord, Silicato Development of Millsboro, Delaware, made modifications in the terms of the final lease that they had not discussed in their initial negotiations.  The added terms would have made it too difficult to make a go of the theater. He said all negotiations with the landlord have stopped as of January. and he does not expect the theater project to go forward.  However, he said, if Silicato Development reached out to them, they would be willing to re-examine the situation.  

The partners also would be open to the possibility of an alternate location, Klein said, but the property needs to be suitable for the purpose. He said they would need at least 20,000 square feet, with ceilings high enough for a movie screen, and a rent that fell within their budget.

Klein said he met with Kay MacIntosh and Jamie Williams, the economic development coordinators for Chestertown and Kent County, respectively, to discuss ways to make the project possible, including the possibility of other sites, but he was unable to find anything that solved the problems.

MacIntosh said on Tuesday that she had discussed incentives related to the Enterprise Zone, a state-designated area where tax benefits are available for new or revived businesses. The benefits include possible abatement of state property taxes for renovated properties and income tax benefits for businesses hiring a certain number of new employees, she said. A possible waiver of a state tax on movie theater tickets was also discussed, although that would require the approval of the town council. Discussions of those incentives never got past the talking stage, she said.  But, McIntosh said, she and Williams were very disappointed about the stalemate and would be willing to work again with Chesapeake Theaters or any other parties interested in re-opening the movie theater. 

Klein said he was disappointed at the failure of the project to get past the starting line. He and his partner had come in good faith and they have already invested a good deal of money on the project.  He said he spent some time in town, talked to people, and ate at the Fish Whistle. He found people in Chestertown were friendly and welcoming and enthusiastic about the possible reopening of the movies.  This was the kind of town, he said, that they were attracted to and had hoped to open a movie theater in.

The representative of Silicato Development familiar with negotiations on the theater was on vacation and unavailable for comment until early next week.  We hope to speak with the Silicato representative in the near future.

Election 2018: Meehan files for Kent County State’s Attorney; Opioid Crisis is Priority One

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Andrew Meehan, local attorney and Still Pond resident, has filed to run for State’s Attorney for Kent County in the Democratic primary, renewing his promise to make tackling the Opioid Crisis as Priority No. 1. Meehan was the 2014 Democratic nominee.

Andrew Meehan, candidate for State’s Attorney, with campaign treasurer Beverly Birkmire.

“While Kent County has low crime rates, heroin and other opioid abuse continue to gnaw at our community’s core,” Meehan remarked. “In the past decade, we have seen a dramatic increase in opioid abuse, often resulting in overdoses requiring heroic lifesaving efforts by law enforcement and other first responders and sometimes tragic, avoidable deaths,” Andy reflected.

“I renew my pledge to support law enforcement with strong prosecutions to send drug dealers to jail, to help addicts seek treatment, and to work with community organizations on the front lines of educating adults and youth about the risks of opioid abuse.”

“I have practiced law for 30 years representing foster children, vulnerable adults, and families affected by domestic violence,” Meehan said. “The destructive havoc of opioid addiction is a common thread in many cases.”

Meehan is a native of Alexandria, Virginia. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1984 and earned his law degree from Washington & Lee University in 1987. He practiced in Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia before moving to Kent County in 2001. He is a trial lawyer practicing with Charles D. “Chip” MacLeod at the MacLeod Law Group in Chestertown.

His wife Mattie is a former Maryland Parole Commissioner and is currently a social worker with the Kent County Department of Social Services. They raised their three sons, Crenshaw, William, and Henry, in Still Pond. Meehan is president of the Chestertown Rotary Club, treasurer of the Kent County Bar Association, a member of St. Paul’s Parish, Kent, and has worked with other community organizations.

Beverly Birkmire will serve as Meehan’s campaign treasurer. A retired local banker and lifelong Democrat, Beverly is a board member of the Chestertown Rotary Club (past president), Foundation for the Kent County Public Library (treasurer), Kent County Department of Social Services Advisory Board, and 2018 Seminar co-chair of the American Quilt Study Group.

“I have known Andy for many years and respect him as a highly qualified and conscientious attorney, family man, and community leader,” Birkmire said. “Maryland and Kent County are caught in an Opioid Crisis and Andy is the right choice as State’s Attorney at this critical time.”

 

Is Organic Farming Good for the Chesapeake? By Whitney Pipkin

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Organic agriculture is the fastest growing sector of the food industry in the United States, and its footprint in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is growing in kind.

The brand of agriculture that eschews the use of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and genetically engineered ingredients now makes up 20 percent of Perdue Farms’ poultry production on the Delmarva Peninsula, where the company is headquartered.

Smaller poultry producers in the region also are growing their organic operations at a steady clip: Bell & Evans, which is based in Fredericksburg, PA, and sells its chicken meat to high-end retailers such as Whole Foods Market, launched its line of organic products in 2009 and opened a certified organic hatchery this year.

Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley Organic opened its first poultry facility in Harrisonburg in 2014, providing contract feed growers interested in making the switch with an alternative buyer in that region.

As organic poultry production increases, so does the demand for organically grown grains to feed the birds, such as corn and soybeans, much of which comes from outside the country. But that’s beginning to change — and could represent a significant shift in land use for the Bay watershed. Perdue alone is buying organic grains grown on more than 13,000 acres of cropland across the region, and seeks much more.

The practices that earn poultry and grain producers the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic label may keep certain pesticides, antibiotics and hormones out of foods, but are they necessarily better for water quality and the Bay than conventional agriculture?

“The basic answer is, it depends on if you’re a good organic grower or not,” said Michel Cavigelli, lead scientist on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farming Systems Project in Beltsville, MD. “Not all organic is equal, and not all conventional is equal.”

Comparing organic and conventional practices on mid-Atlantic soils is just what Cavigelli’s team has been doing for more than 20 years. The project has measured the performance of conventional and organic cropping systems by applying the different management systems to fields planted with the same crops.

Nutrient runoff is one of several factors monitored that has implications for local water quality. When asked whether the growth of organic practices in the watershed could be good for the Bay, Cavigelli began with the caveats.

For starters, he said, each type of farming comes with tradeoffs: Conventional growers use genetically engineered seeds and herbicides to combat weeds; organic growers till their fields to suppress weeds, which can lead to erosion and nutrient runoff when compared with farms that practice no-till cultivation.

The project’s findings so far indicate that organic fields typically have less phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment runoff than conventional plots — unless those conventional plots are no-till. That, in part, is because organic farms tend to build organic matter in the soils over time, which helps fields retain water and nutrients. But some of that work is undone when an organic farmer, rather than using herbicides, tills the soil to prevent weeds.

About a quarter of cropland acres in the country are farmed using no-till practices, according to the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture in 2012. Another 20 percent of those acres were farmed with other “conservation-tillage” practices aimed at minimizing soil disturbances. Maryland farmers had the highest percentage of no-till acres at 55 percent in 2012.

“Based on our studies, no-till has less runoff of silt and nutrients than any other method we use, including organic,” Cavigelli said.

Since time immemorial, farmers have fertilized and plowed croplands in the spring to turn over the soil and prepare it for planting. But heavy spring rains can wash fertilizer and soil from bare fields. The nutrients from fertilizers and sediment from freshly plowed fields run off into nearby ditches and streams, eventually winding up in the Bay.

No-till farming, which began taking root after the 1930s Dust Bowl, leaves the soil undisturbed from the fall harvest through winter. In the spring, seeds are planted in narrow slots that are “drilled” into the ground.

Cavigelli’s research project has compared the different cultivation regimens using virtually the same crop rotations, patterned after most commodity-growing fields in the Bay region, over a three-year period: corn the first year, soybeans the second year and wheat the third. In the third year, the conventional fields, including tilled and no-till, follow the wheat with a quick crop of soybeans, which are harvested too late in the fall to allow a cover crop to be planted. The organic fields, in contrast, are planted in a perennial alfalfa after the third-year crop, so they have less nutrient runoff that year than all of the conventional fields.

In the short-term, the runoff-control benefits of no-till farming edge out organic. But if the organic crop rotation pattern is repeated for decades, using cover crops for longer periods, Cavigelli said, the organic fields could end up performing better on overall nutrient absorption.

“We’ve been improving conventional for 100 years now,” he said, referring to technological improvements that have reduced conventional farming’s impacts on water quality over time, “and organic for just 20 years or so. There are trade-offs between all these systems, but it seems there’s a lot of room for improvement with organic.”

Cavigelli acknowledges that his work focuses on just a few aspects of the many comparisons that can be drawn between the farming practices. There’s another factor to consider — fertilizer use.

Organic crops typically use less nitrogen to begin with, or rely on slow-release forms of nutrients, such as manure, which reduce the risk of nutrient runoff and leaching.

While organic advocates bring that up as a water-quality advantage, other research indicates organic farming practices can leach just as much nitrate as conventional farming systems if the goal is to maintain the same crop yields.

With manure application, “it’s more difficult to be prescriptive,” said Ken Staver, research scientist at the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “When you use chemical fertilizers, there are methods to apply it very precisely and to apply it closer to where the crop uptake is” to reduce nutrient loss.

But that comparison only holds true if the fields are planting the same crops. If organic agriculture does, in fact, plant more perennials such as alfalfa, Staver added, “that will always lower the nutrient loss.”

As a riverkeeper who grows organic grains for Perdue chickens on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Jeff Horstman views the intersection of agribusiness and water quality from a unique perspective. Horstman is the executive director of ShoreRivers, a new consolidation of watershed advocacy groups on the peninsula — the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, the Chester River Association and the Sassafras River Association.

Those organizations’ priorities have at times diverged from those of local poultry producers, to put it mildly. The Waterkeeper Alliance, the umbrella organization for riverkeeper groups like his, filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit seven years ago accusing Perdue and one of its contract growers of polluting a Bay tributary. The case, dismissed by a judge after a lengthy trial, left a trail of lingering bitterness and suspicion between farmers and environmentalists.

But Horstman and others see in organic agriculture a growing opportunity to find common ground. “I moved back to the family farm and one of the things I wanted to do was become an organic farmer,” said Horstman — whose grandfather, J. I. Rodale, founded the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit devoted to organic farming research in Kutztown, PA. “I appreciate what Perdue does for the Shore and how they’re trying to cultivate organic.” he said. “I think agricultural diversity is good, and organic is a step toward that.”

This fall, the farmland Horstman inherited on the Wye River in Queenstown produced its first crop of organic corn — 170 acres of it — to be sold to Perdue for chicken feed.

Perdue got into organic poultry with its purchase of Coleman Natural Foods in 2011. In response to growing consumer demand, Perdue has since converted a poultry plant in Milford, DE, and a feed mill in Hurlock, MD, to process only certified organic products. The company has also banned the use of antibiotics by all its producers, not just organic operations.

The company has been spreading the word among local growers that it needs organic grains — and that the price is right. This season, farmers could get close to $10 per bushel for organic corn, which can come with lower yields, compared with $3 a bushel for conventional. But a farmer who decides to grow organically on a piece of land in 2017 typically would have to wait until 2020 to sell its first organic crop because of a three-year transition period required by the organic label.

Even with the lag, Perdue expects to have purchased 7,000 acres of organic corn, 3,600 acres of organic soybeans and 2,700 acres of organic wheat from Bay watershed states this year, company spokesman Joe Forsthoffer said. Most of Perdue’s organic grains are currently imported from growers in South America.

“The nice thing about the larger outfits like Perdue is, because they need it and have the capacity, they’re willing to do a contract that reduces your risk and locks in a price early,” said Matt Nielsen, the farmer who’s growing organic grains on Horstman’s land.

Nielsen, 33, also has 75 acres of his own land in organic production and is looking for more organic acreage to farm. He thinks 250 acres or so would be enough to achieve some economies of scale and would also allow him to diversify. He’d like to pasture animals on some acres that aren’t fit for crops and leave several fields at a time in perennial grasses to combat weeds.

But is all that better than the alternative when it comes to local water quality?

“The soil will truly benefit from a lot of different types of agriculture,” Nielsen said. “I’m not sure if you can conclusively rule organic as better or worse, but I do know that there are things we do in organic that have benefits.”

For Horstman, growing organic grains is a good place to start — both for his family farm and for the local water quality he’s concerned with protecting. Like the consumers who are fueling the organic industry’s growth, Horstman is concerned about the environmental and health impacts of conventional agriculture: its reliance on pesticides and herbicides and the way it bolsters an intensified approach to both grain and meat production.

“It’s definitely going to be better for human health, and I think less herbicides and pesticides in the water is definitely an improvement,” he said. “I do think it will be better for the Bay.”

Steve Levitsky, Perdue’s vice president of sustainability, said the company’s ultimate goal is to make organic poultry more affordable for consumers — and sourcing more organic grains from the Bay watershed, rather than overseas, will help.

“Part of the equation is getting more organic [feed] grown on the Eastern Shore,” he said. “That would also help the local grain farmers get higher premiums for their crops, and maybe they won’t need as large of a land mass to be viable.”

Perdue growers produced almost 40 million organic chickens in the Bay region in 2016, or 20 percent of the company’s regional production, with 80 percent of those houses in the Lancaster region of Pennsylvania and the rest on the Eastern Shore.

There are several reasons that organic chicken costs more at the grocery store, and some of them have stronger links to environmental benefits than others. Most of that extra cost is attributable to organic chicken feed, which can cost two to four times as much as conventional. Organic poultry houses also include comparatively expensive amenities, such as windows, “enrichment” equipment and access to the outdoors.

Alicia LaPorte, campaign manager for Fair Farms Maryland, a coalition of environmental and public health groups that advocate for better farming systems, said Perdue’s operation-wide antibiotics ban changed the industry, with other retailers and producers following suit. That gives her hope that other incremental changes, including the continued growth of organic production.

Fair Farms founder Betsy Nicholas, who’s also the executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, said more organic options in the watershed might be a step in the right direction for local farmers and water quality — but one that still doesn’t go far enough.

Nicholas points to a growing number of small farms, organic and conventional, that are raising animals on pastures, rather than growing feed for them on the Eastern Shore and selling them to local markets.

“It’s absolutely better to have more organic than non-organic farming, [considering] pesticides alone,” she said. “But, ultimately, what we’d want to see is a more diverse agricultural system with more diverse crops. If you have a system that’s based on animal agriculture and the grain crops to feed that animal agriculture, that’s not a diverse system.”

Whitney Pipkin writes at the intersection of food, agriculture and the environment from her home base in Northern Virginia. She is a fellow of the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources.

MLK Birthday: Maryland’s Juvenile Services Abed on Policy Bias and Black Youth Incarceration

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For many years now, the Spy has made it a point to track down keynote speakers for the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast in Rock Hall for a one-on-one conversation with these remarkable people. While the Spy continues to cover this popular event live, we wanted our readers, most of whom are unable to attend, to understand from these distinguished civil rights leaders, scholars, educators, and government officials the importance of Dr. King’s life but also their thoughts on his legacy in the context of race relations today.

This year, it is Maryland’s Secretary of Juvenile Services, Sam Abed’s turn.

The Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) has the job of managing, supervising, and treating youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system at every stage of the juvenile justice process. From the moment a young person is brought into a juvenile intake center to the time he/she returns to the community after treatment, the DJS has been in a unique position to understand first-hand how Martin Luther King’s vision of justice compares to the reality found in Maryland’s policies and procedures today.

And Secretary Abed is the first to admit, the gaps between Dr. King’s dream and current public policy remains grievously large and extremely difficult to fulfill in some cases.

An example that Abed immediately brings up his own department’s efforts to eliminate systemic bias with the use of a unique decision-making process. Encouraged by early results of using “objective decision tools,” DJS implemented an agency-wide review to weed out racial prejudice from its day-to-day operations. And while he believed his department made a good faith effort to do so, the data results of those efforts were disappointing enough to him and his colleagues to start the review process again.

This gap also remains significant in the percentage of black youth increateated for non-violent offenses. While national trends suggest a markedly reduced level of young people held in state facilities, the racial disparity between incarcerated black youths compared with white adolescents rose by 22%.

In his Spy interview, Secretary Abed remains confident that these systemic issues will eventually be resolved but reminds us that equal justice under the law remains a goal rather than a current reality.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about Maryland’s Secretary of Juvenile Services please go here. The MLK Jr. Breakfast is sponsored by the Chester Valley Ministers’ Association, and will be held on January 15 starting  7am and the program will begin at 8 am in Rock Hall.