Ryan, Harris Tout Tax Reforms in Dixon Valve Visit

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Dixon Valve CEO Dick Goodall, at right, introduces House Speaker Paul Ryan (L) and Rep. Andy Harris to employees

Chestertown received a rare visit of a national political figure Thursday, Oct. 5 when Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, came to town to promote the Republican Party’s tax reform proposals.

Accompanying Ryan on his visit to Dixon Valve and Coupling was Rep. Andy Harris, whose district includes the Eastern Shore. In the two-hour visit, Ryan and Harris toured the factory floor, had a question-and-answer session with workers, and met with management. At the conclusion of the visit, Ryan briefly took questions from members of the press.

Ryan and Harris talk to Dixon Valve workers during a plant tour

Dick Goodall, CEO of Dixon Valve, introduced the visitors, said he was really pleased to have Ryan and Harris. He said the visit was “a good opportunity, because we’re all invested in this country,” including all the things that happen in Washington. He told the assembled employees to ask questions freely – “I know you won’t hold back,” he said before turning the microphone over to Harris.

Harris, who introduced Paul, said he noticed several new pieces of equipment in the factory since his last visit, about four years ago. He said that was a good sign, because business needs to grow and progress to keep up with foreign competition. He said the two things most businesses worry about are regulations and the tax rate. He said he and Paul had just cast votes on the budget for next year, which would include a tax plan to improve the prospects for business.

Paul thanked Harris for being a leader on both taxes and health care. He said the two congressmen were here because they want the country to prosper in the face of global competition. “We need to be ahead of the global competition if we want good jobs, good futures that pay us well,” he said. He said Dixon is in competition with Chinese companies that make the same products, but while China taxes its businesses “at no higher than 25 percent,” Dixon faces taxes of 35 percent – not counting state taxes that raise the rate even higher. “That’s the story of America,” he said, Overseas, taxes can be as low as 12.5 percent, as in Ireland. He said the U.S. tax code was last reformed in 1986, while other countries have adjusted their rates many times since then. “This is messed up and we’ve got to fix it,” he said.

House Sp[eaker Paul Ryan

Paul also said the Republicans want to make it possible for companies to write off equipment purchases the year they make them, rather than waiting to recoup the expenses. With these incentives, he said, American companies will be encouraged to keep their operations in this country instead of moving them overseas.

Finally, he said, the tax code is so complicated that nobody without an accountant to help them navigate it can benefit from its various provisions. He said the GOP plan would allow most workers to fill out their tax forms “on a postcard,” while retaining “good middle-class incentives” like credits for home owners or saving for kids’ college education.  By doing so, “w know we can be a more prosperous country,” he said.

During the question-and-answer session, a young Dixon Valve employee asked how long it would take for the benefits of the GOP tax plan to take effect. “I’m 20 years old, and I’d like to move out of my parents’ house,” he said.

“Don’t worry – there is a future,” Ryan said. Congress will lower individual tax rates as well as business rates, he said. He said the plan will remove the marriage penalty and make it easier to save money to raise a family. He said American businesses have to pay higher wages and provide more benefits than Chinese companies. “The very least we can do is lower their tax costs” so they can hire more workers and pay them more, he said.

Ryan also talked about educational reforms to give young people the skills they need to operate the kind of advanced machinery in plants like Dixon Valve. He said House Republicans have passed bills to give workers the skills they need in the modern workforce. He also said the nation needs to reduce the cost of higher education.

After the employee Q&A session, Paul met with Dixon management and with the head of the American Association of Manufacturers to discuss how tax reform would help them.

During the press session, Ryan was asked about a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy that said 30.5 percent of Maryland taxpayers would face an immediate tax increase under the GOP proposal, the highest percentage in the nation. The report said the increase would arise from the proposal’s elimination of a deduction for state and local taxes. Ryan said he hadn’t seen the report, but he said its analysis is likely to be slanted due to the Institute’s liberal bias. He said increasing the standard deduction and eliminating loopholes would benefit most middle-class taxpayers.

Ryan was also asked if Congress is contemplating a ban on the “bump stock,” an attachment that allows the AK-47 rifle to fire on full automatic, as in the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. He said he had never heard of the attachment before news of the shooting broke, but he said fully automatic weapons have been outlawed for many years. The bump stock appears to be a way to dodge that prohibition, he said. He said regulations should catch up with that development, and that more research would be needed “to find out how this happened in the first place.”

Protesters hold signs outside Dion Valve

Across High Street, outside the Dixon Valve plant, a group of protesters – about 60 at its peak – held signs and chanted slogans. The total number of protesters was somewhat higher  as people came and went over a three-hour period.  The first protester arrived before 1:00 pm while the last ones went after the press conference ended and Ryan’s caravan with police escort left at about 4:15 pm.  At the height of the demonstration, around 2-3 pm, there were several groups representing various organizations such as Indivisible.  Many cars honked and their occupants waved energetically in support of the demonstration. Four or five students from the Washington College Republican Club were also present, though it is unknown if they were there in protest, in support, or just out of curiosity.  There were no disturbances. Two police officers were present and directed traffic.

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Maryland Oyster Season Opens with Bad News – Harvest Last Season down 42 Percent

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The public oyster harvest season began Monday, with Chesapeake Bay watermen no doubt hoping for a better haul this fall and winter than last. For Maryland watermen, though, there isn’t a lot of room for optimism.

Despite mild weather last winter, Maryland’s 2016-2017 harvest from public oyster bars was off nearly 42 percent from the year before, a steep drop from the modest decline seen the previous two years. Last season, 1,086 licensed watermen harvested 224,609 bushels of bivalves, down from a 384,000-bushel catch in 2015-2016, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Chris Judy, DNR’s shellfish division manager, attributed the harvest decline last season to lower “spat sets” of juvenile oysters since 2012, the last year in which there was good recruitment or reproduction. Spat sets since then have been poor to middling.

Disease made a dent as well last season, at least in some areas. Intensity of Dermo, one of two parasitic diseases afflicting oysters, rose last year above the long-term average for the first time in 9 years and was the highest since the last major outbreak during a drought in 2002. The survey found elevated intensities from Pocomoke Sound north to the Wye and Miles rivers. Dermo-related mortalities also increased in some areas.

MSX, the other parasitic oyster disease, increased in prevalence on bars where it had been found previously, reaching a level 20-fold higher than what it was three years ago.

The DNR team that conducts annual surveys thought that the state’s oyster population last year had reached a crossroads, either pausing briefly before continuing to recover or on the cusp of another major decline. “Only time — and weather — will determine which direction Maryland’s oyster population will take,” the 2016 fall oyster survey concluded.

In Virginia, by comparison, harvest from public bars slipped 5 percent last season over the previous season’s take. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission tallied the harvest from public oyster bars at 246,000 bushels in 2016-2017, down from 259,000 bushels in 2015-16, according to Laurie Naismith, spokeswoman for the commission. The higher salinity of Bay water in Virginia tends to yield better oyster reproduction.

Maryland’s public oyster harvest season runs through March 31, 2018, while Virginia’s extends into April. The busiest portion of the oyster season will kick off Nov. 1, when harvest methods in Maryland expand from hand and patent tonging and diving to include power and sail dredging in designated areas of Calvert, Dorchester, Somerset, St. Mary’s, Talbot and Wicomico counties. Virginia’s public harvest is limited in early fall to the use of hand tongs and “hand scrapes,” a rake-like device; the fishery expands in November to include patent tonging and in December to power dredging.

Of course, for many consumers, the concept of an oyster “season” has blurred, if not faded altogether, as aquaculture has gained strength in the Bay. The output of Virginia’s private oyster farmers, who harvest bivalves year-round, has matched or exceeded the public oyster harvest most years. In Maryland, the growing but still fledgling industry produced 64,609 bushels last year, up from around 50,000 bushels in 2015.

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.

Recycling — Make It Better

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Ford Schumann

“We’re doing our small part to save the Earth.”

So said Ford Schumann of Infinity Recycling, appearing at the Chestertown Council meeting Oct. 2. After giving an update on the program, he offered suggestions for improving the town’s curbside recycling program.

At present, Schumann said, 1367 — about 58 percent — of the households in town take part in curbside recycling, which he said is very good for a voluntary program. He said he has been distributing door hangers promoting the program to houses not yet enrolled.

Infinity conducts a dual-stream operation, in which residents are asked to sort their recycling into two categories: paper and containers – glass, plastic or metal. He said the advantage of dual-stream is that it produces a much higher level of usable material for the company. In single-stream programs, Schumann said, there is a 25 percent contamination rate, and almost none of the glass can be reclaimed. Because of the dual-stream operation, Infinity is able to reclaim almost all the glass it collects for recycling.

Also, the dual-stream system allows hand-sorting of the containers into marketable components on an assembly line. The assembly line crews are from the Benedictine School and Kent Center, Schumann said. For hiring Kent Center workers, Infinity received a Governor’s citation last week. He said he hopes to expand his payroll as business allows.

Schumann said Infinity has run out of the green recycling bins that were distributed by Kent County when it had a curbside recycling program, but has some in different colors for anyone who signs up for recycling.

As far as ways to improve recycling, Schumann noted that the town’s recycling bins are too similar in appearance to its trash cans, which means the two are often confused. “If you look at the contents of the two, they’re pretty much the same,” he said. He said it would make sense to paint the recycling cans blue, which is the color widely used for recycling containers. He said he could get volunteers to repaint the cans.

Also, if the recycling cans were placed next to the trash cans, it would make it easier for users to use them properly, instead of having to walk several yards to find the right container. He said New York City places recycling and trash containers next to each other and it seems to work well. “It would be great if we could do it,” he said. Also, he said, the town could require events to offer recycling. Many already do, but it could be made universal, he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked how Schumann is working to increase participation in the program. Schumann said he has begun distributing door hangers. He said he would also be willing to go door-to-door in evening hours to publicize the program. He said he signs up one or two households a week, on average.

Stetson asked if a once-a-week trash pickup would improve recycling participation. Schumann said that might work if the town began a program to pick up and compost organics. That could reduce the need for trash pickup to once every two weeks, Schumann said.

Stetson said it might encourage people to recycle if they knew it would reduce the amount going to landfills, which in the long run would result in a reduction of taxes that support operating a landfill in Kent County.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper noted that the town pays a flat amount for each household in the recycling program, whether they put out recycling every week or not. She asked if the charge to the town would increase if more households recycled. Schumann said there would be an increase, but the town would also benefit from wider recycling and less trash going to the landfill. He said he would be willing to work out a town-wide rate, but that would mean the responsibility for increasing recycling would fall on the town, which might not be as aggressive in recruiting new households into the program.

Schumann was appearing on behalf of the town’s Environmental Committee, which makes monthly reports on its activities.

 

 

 

National Trust for Historic Preservation Grant Goes to Janes United Methodist Church

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Chestertown, MD  – The National Trust for Historic Preservation approved a matching grant in the amount of $25,000 under the Bartus Trew Providence Preservation Fund for the Eastern Shore of Maryland, for Janes United Methodist Church in Chestertown, Maryland in 2016, which has been extended through 2017.

“Organizations like Janes United Methodist Church help to ensure that communities and towns all across America retain their unique sense of place,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We were honored to provide this grant, and an extension, to Janes United Methodist Church, which will use the funds to help preserve an important piece of our shared national heritage.”

The overall project, funded in part under this grant, involves replacement of the roof and related work for this vital historic building that was constructed on a main street in downtown Chestertown by community members in 1914.

As a direct result of provision of this grant funding, and other sources, architectural services are in progress, with bid specifications and drawings continuing in development by the Project Architect, Peter Newlin, FAIA, of Chesapeake Architects, and in coordination with Jay Yerkes, President, Yerkes Construction Company.

The Church is seeking additional funding to avoid the increased cost of phasing the work.  This Bartus Trew grant will help the Church preserve this important historic structure by providing a watertight roof that is anticipated to last at least fifty years.  Additional funds will be needed for restoration of windows, and for masonry repairs to the Church’s rare sand-lime bricks.

For the past three years, the Church, and the Friends of Janes, a community–church partnership, have been raising funds through a community-based effort, and through other grant applications.  In 2014, the Maryland Historical Trust set aside $95,000 in African American Heritage funds, but the new roof, if genuine slate, is expected to cost $280,000.  The Church has applied for a second Heritage grant, which is under consideration for award.

The project’s architect, Peter Newlin, also a member of Friends of Janes, says, “The Church’s wood windows have deteriorated considerably since the original scope of work was put together in 2013.”  The Construction Manager, Jay Yerkes, and a member of Friends, estimated that “It will take at least $ 1,500 each to restore these historic windows properly, if the Heritage grant is approved.” Larry Samuels, also a Friend of Janes, who tracks the funds for the project, says, “If our community responds as it has previously, the Church will receive many small contributions, and enough large ones, to at least replace the roof.”

Janes United Methodist Church – Close-up of Slate Tile Roof

Ralph Deaton, Chair of the Church’s Finance and Building Committees, says, “Church leaders and their Friends will now have to raise at least $15,000 in matching funds for the project.” Anyone interested in helping can contact Ralph Deaton by telephone, 410-778-4154.  

Janes United Methodist Church – Close-up of Windows and Masonry

Matching grants from the National Trust Preservation Fund are awarded to non-profit organizations and public agencies across the country to support wide-ranging activities, including consultant services for rehabilitating buildings, technical assistance for tourism in conjunction with promoting historic resources, and the development of materials for education and outreach.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately-funded non-profit organization that works to save America’s historic places, to enrich our future. The National Trust is committed to protecting America’s rich cultural legacy, and to help build vibrant, sustainable communities that reflect our nation’s diversity. Follow us on Twitter@savingplaces.

For more information on National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Fund grants, visit their website. 

Photography by Jane Jewell and Peter Heck

Hogan Sues EPA over Power Plant Pollution from Neighboring States

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a lawsuit Wednesday against the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce limits on air-pollution control at 19 mostly coal-fired power plants in five states upwind of Maryland.

“We want the EPA to step in and make sure provisions of the Clean Air Act are followed,” said Ben Grumbles, Maryland’s secretary of the environment. “This is necessary to protect air quality and the Chesapeake Bay.”

The 19 plants have installed “smog controls,” according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. “But they’re not always running them when they should be,” Grumbles said.

About one-third of the nitrogen that ends up in bay waters comes from “air sources,” according to the EPA, which did not respond to multiple requests for comments by press time.

The original petition to the EPA requesting that the agency regulate the plants — in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia — was filed by the MDE in November. The EPA granted itself a six-month extension on the original 60-day deadline. By July, the agency still had not responded to the petition.

The Hogan administration and MDE contend the power plants in question have not “effectively” operated their pollution control systems during the summer months, also known as “ozone season,” and some have not used their pollution control systems at all.

Although most parent companies of the power plants cited in the Maryland petition did not respond to requests for comment by deadline, the Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates Paradise, a coal-fired plant in Kentucky, challenged Maryland officials’ claims.

“We do have emissions controls. They run when the plant is operating,” said Jim Hopson,TVA’s manager of public relations, who said he was not aware of the Maryland lawsuit. “They reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrous dioxide levels in excess of 90 percent and they eliminate particulate matter…All of our plants have those.”

The EPA defines the ozone season for Maryland and all the states named in the EPA petition as April through October, with the exception of Indiana, whose ozone season is April through September. Ozone levels are believed to be at their worst during the summer on sunny, hot days, particularly in urban environments, according to the EPA.

“Pollution from out-of-state power plants also harms our in-state streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Jon Mueller, vice president of litigation at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which plans to file a similar lawsuit with partners in the coming weeks. “Studies show nitrogen oxides from coal plant emissions degrade our water, and harm our fish and other aquatic life.”

In its original petition to the EPA, MDE expressed concern that nitrogen oxide emissions from the offending plants could prevent the state from achieving the required air-quality standards mandated by the Clean Air Act.

According to estimates in the Maryland petition, about 39,000 tons of nitrous oxide emissions could have been prevented in 2015 had the 19 power plants in question “run their control technologies efficiently.” In 2014, MDE said those same power plants had profited to the tune of $24 million by either not using their pollution controls or not using them effectively.

A request for comment from the American Coal Council as to why or why not a coal-fired power plant would employ pollution controls was not returned by press time.

“Maryland has made significant progress in improving our air quality in recent years, and that progress is in jeopardy due to a lack of action by the EPA that dates back to the previous administration,” said Hogan, a Republican, in a statement. “We strongly urge the EPA to approve the petition and enforce the air pollution controls…”

By J.F. Meils and Julie Depenbrock

US House Moves to Keep EPA from Enforcing Bay Pollution Diet

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In a move that environmentalists charged would undermine the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort, the U.S. House of Representatives voted earlier this month to bar the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from taking action against any state in the Bay watershed that fails to meet pollution reduction goals set by the EPA six years ago.

The measure, an amendment to an EPA and Interior Department spending bill put forward by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, passed Sept. 7 by a largely party line vote of 214 to 197. On Sept. 14 the House passed the omnibus spending bill by a similar margin.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R–VA)

Three GOP House members from Pennsylvania — G.T. Thompson, Bill Shuster and Scott Perry — joined Goodlatte in introducing the amendments. Goodlatte, whose district includes most of the Shenandoah Valley, has pushed unsuccessfully before to block the EPA from enforcing its Bay “pollution diet.”

The 40 House members whose districts include a portion of the Bay watershed split nearly evenly on the controversial issue – 19 voted for it, 18 against, the latter including six Republicans. The Bay watershed delegations in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia overwhelmingly supported curbing the EPA’s authority, while those from Maryland, Virginia and Delaware did not. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-MD, who would have opposed the amendment, was on medical leave and missed the vote. Rep. Tom Garrett, R-VA, also missed the vote. And Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District, does not have a vote.

In a statement issued after the House vote, Goodlatte said his amendment was needed to prevent a “federal power grab” over the Bay cleanup effort. “My amendment stops the EPA from hijacking states’ water quality strategies,” he said. “It removes the ability of the EPA to take retaliatory or ‘backstop’ actions against the six states . . . if they do not meet EPA-mandated goals.”

Goodlatte said that Congress had intended for states and the EPA to work collaboratively to carry out the federal Clean Water Act. But in the Obama administration, he added, “every state in the watershed has basically been given an ultimatum — either the state does exactly what the EPA says, or it faces the threat of an EPA takeover of its water quality programs.”

But Kim Coble, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said Goodlatte’s amendment would strip the federal-state restoration effort of needed accountability just as water quality is improving. She pointed out that the states had all agreed, after failing to meet earlier voluntary cleanup goals, to work toward the pollution reduction targets the agency set in 2010.

“However, only EPA has the ability to enforce the agreement in the event that a state fails to meet its commitments,” Coble said. “By suspending this backup enforcement authority, the Goodlatte Amendment threatens the viability of the [cleanup plan].”

The EPA annually reviews each of the six Bay watershed states’ efforts to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution as called for in the 2010 plan. If any state fails to meet its milestones and hasn’t done enough to get on track, agency officials have warned they’ll take “backstop” actions. Those can range from withholding federal funds to imposing regulations on smaller livestock operations or tightening discharge limits for wastewater treatment plants.

The EPA briefly withheld nearly $3 million in grant money from Pennsylvania in 2015 after finding the state lagging badly in curbing farm runoff and stormwater pollution. The money was restored, but the agency has since warned the state it may take additional actions if it doesn’t do more to meet its pollution reduction goals.

The EPA’s authority to enforce its “total maximum daily load,” or pollution diet, for the Bay, was challenged in federal court by farming and building groups. They were joined by attorneys general for 22 states — including Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt, now the EPA administrator — who feared that the Bay pollution diet might inspire similar federal pressure on states to deal with nagging water quality problems elsewhere, particularly in the massive Mississippi River watershed. District and appellate courts upheld the agency’s authority in the Chesapeake case, though, and the U.S. Supreme Court last year refused to review those decisions.

The House has yet to take a final vote on the spending bill, which would provide $31.4 billion in fiscal 2018 to fund the Interior Department, EPA and several other agencies — restoring many, but not all, of the sharp cuts proposed by the Trump White House. The Senate also is still mulling its version of the bill, which could differ markedly from the House’s.

Environmental groups have said they will urge senators not to go along with the Bay amendment. It’s far from clear if the two chambers will be able to agree on the overall budget, a standoff that would effectively kill this restriction on EPA.

Sultana Downrigging Weekend – Tall Ships Return Oct 27-29

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Tall Ships arrive for Downrigging Weekend in Chestertown, MD – Sultana Education Foundation

Chestertown, Maryland – If the Sultana Education Foundation’s fabled Downrigging Weekend Festival held in Chestertown gets any bigger, they’re going to need a month to fit all in. As it is, though, they’ll have to squeeze it into three days, Oct. 27-29.

Since its beginnings 16 years ago, when Chestertown’s own schooner Sultana rendezvoused with the Pride of Baltimore, II, Downrigging Weekend has blossomed into an event that transcends tastes and interests of all kinds. And practically all of it is still free.

Silent Maid sailing with Pride of Baltimore II, photo by Michael Wootton

Besides becoming the largest annual gathering of Tall Ships in the Mid-Atlantic, Downrigging offers a smorgasbord of events and activities ranging from book talks, lectures and art exhibits to a parade of Ferrari automobiles and a half marathon (more on those Ferraris later).

Not counting four opportunities to sail (tickets start at $25) on one of eight participating Tall Ships, festival goers can choose from among more than 50 things to do or look at, including 11 live music performances, two days of Dock Dog competitions and an exhibition of model boats and ships.

New events at Downrigging 2017 include:

Friday night’s parade of lighted boats. A first for this area of the USA, this parade features illuminated boats on trailers, parading down High Street, Chestertown’s main drag. Three winners divide $1,000 in cash prizes. Be there at 6:45 pm.

Friday night’s headliner is Capt. Jonathan Boulware, executive director of the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City. Speaking at 8:00 pm at the Garfield Center, Boulware will provide an entertaining, historical tour through the history of the port of New York, the Museum that aims to interpret that history, and an overview of the recent, multiple-award-winning restoration of the mighty 1885 iron sailing ship Wavertree.

Saturday morning’s Ferrari parade. By coincidence, the Ferrari Club of America is meeting nearby over the weekend and agreed to add a splash of Italian auto pizzazz to this year’s gathering of wooden vessels. The cars appear on High Street immediately following the town’s Halloween parade, which starts at 11:00 am. There will also be a new Keels and Wheels exhibit.

A 1955 Morgan +4 Drophead Coupe will be featured as part of Downrigging Weekend’s new Keels & Wheels exhibit

Saturday evening features a recounting of the building of the schooner Sultana by acclaimed watercolorist Marc Castelli, who followed the project for three years, pen in hand and sketchbook at the ready. The program concludes with the first public release of Castelli’s book Building Sultana, which includes more than 200 pen and ink drawings along with his notes and stories. Starts at 6:00 pm in Sultana’s Holt Education Center, at 200 South Cross Street.

“Downrigging Weekend is bigger this year, that’s true,” said Drew McMullen, President of the Sultana Education Foundation, “and while we have nifty things like the dock dogs and Ferraris, the focus is still on our core missions – education and stewardship. It’s critical that all of us – and particularly the next generation – build a relationship with the Chesapeake Bay and learn what we can do to preserve and restore it. Downrigging Weekend will get more than 1,000 people out on the Chesapeake, an important first step in creating new stewards for the Bay.”

For more information and a complete festival schedule, visit Sultana’s website  or call 410-778-5954.

The Downrigging Fleet at Dawn, photo by Chris Cerino

Kent County Schools Will Cancel Bus Contract

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Reliable Transportation of Baltimore school buses parked at the former bowling alley on Route 213 in Queen Anne’s County 

A resolution to the school bus crisis is on the way.

At the Kent County Board of Education meeting on Sept. 18, Superintendent Karen Couch announced that the school system and Reliable Transportation of Baltimore have reached an agreement in principle to cancel their current contract. While details are still being worked out by lawyers for both sides, the school system has already begun transitioning to the new school bus system. At Superintendent Couch’s request, the board passed a motion to authorize the on-going final negotiations with Reliable.

By Monday morning, Sept 18, Couch said, there were already six buses on the road hired directly by Kent County Public Schools through contractors or individual owner/drivers.   All the buses meet both state and county safety standards with all required equipment installed. With more direct hires in the works, Couch stated that there is still a need for at least 14 more buses which Kent County Public Schools (KCPS) will purchase.

Until the new buses arrive, Reliable will continue to pick up children on the routes not covered by the drivers hired directly by the school district. The school board did not have a time line for the new buses to be in service as of the Monday meeting. They are still considering possible short-term options including borrowing buses – especially special needs buses – from other school systems.

Many of the bus drivers from Reliable will be offered driver positions as the new buses come in. This model of school transportation, in which a school system owns some buses and hires drivers directly, while other buses are supplied by independent contractors who own one or more buses, is known as a hybrid. Caroline, Talbot, and Queen Anne’s counties all have hybrid systems, while Wicomico owns all its own buses.

Reliable knows of the school board’s plans and has agreed to have its buses and drivers used until the school district can transition to their new buses. Couch said that cancellation of the contract with Reliable was despite the company’s best’ efforts and due to circumstances beyond their control. Reliable is committed to a smooth transition, she said.

The county will still need to hire more drivers, some of whom will probably be unfamiliar with the routes, so some of the problems such as late pick-ups and drop-offs may continue during the transition. Three buses will be available for field trips and athletics — an improvement over last year, when only two buses were available, which often made for scheduling difficulties.

Superintendent of Schools Karen Couch

The school plans to buy the additional 14 buses, two of which are special needs buses, for a total of no more than $1.5 million. KCPS will piggy-back the contract with one from another local school district. City National Capital will provide the loan at 2.15 percent interest for 10 years. The deal is a lease-purchase, so the county will own the buses at the end of the 10 years. The lease/purchase agreement is expected to cost $168,000 per year, which is within the school’s current transportation budget. There is no penalty for early repayment. Interest over the 10 years will amount to an estimated $183,000. As the average life of a school bus is 15 years, this may give the district five more years with only maintenance costs. The school district is hoping to join the county’s bulk fuel purchase program to minimize fuel costs.

 

Maryland’s Undocumented Immigrants: In Their Own Words

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While reports circulate that the Trump administration is closer to resolving questions left after last week’s immigration announcement, Maryland’s undocumented residents are uncertain of what comes next.

Cindy Kolade, 24, originally from Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, West Africa, came to Baltimore with her mother when she was 12 years old.

In conversations following the White House announcement, three of Maryland’s “dreamers,” as they are often called, told Capital News Service they are worried about their future without the legal protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

“When you’re undocumented, the only thing you can rely on is your community,” said Nathaly Uribe Robledo, 22, of Glen Burnie, Maryland. “For a lot of us, this will be the first time that we will be living undocumented as adults with adult responsibilities.”

Robledo arrived with her mother from Chile 20 years ago on tourist visas, she told Capital News Service.

“I’ve been here since I was 2 years old, and I have very little memory – if any – of Chile,” she said. “All of my life and my memories, all of my special life events, have occurred here in the U.S.”

“The main reason my parents decided to come to the U.S. was the lack of opportunity in Chile,” Robledo continued. “There was so much economic instability in Chile, and coming to the U.S. meant a better opportunity for a better life.”

DACA was created in 2012 under an executive order issued by President Barack Obama shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation and granting them two-year renewable work permits.

Jose Aguiluz, 28, was one of several hundred people gathered outside the White House awaiting the administration’s decision on Tuesday, Sept. 5th

Since the program began, almost 800,000 people have been approved. To be eligible, immigrants had to be between the ages of 16 and 31 as of June 25, 2012. They also had to have lived in the United States since 2007, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Robledo applied for her first permit in 2012 and again when the program was briefly expanded to three-year stays in 2014. She applied most recently in July.

President Donald Trump on Sept. 5 gave Congress six months to find a legislative solution to address the program. New DACA applications will no longer be accepted but undocumented immigrants who are already covered can still apply for renewal, as long it is by Oct. 5.

“I can personally say that (with DACA) I finally felt like an average, normal American teenager,” Robledo said.

She attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, until financial struggles forced her to withdraw in 2014. Robledo was pursuing a double major in biology and political science with dreams of becoming a representative in Congress. She now works at an insurance agency in Baltimore.

“I’m very lucky, in a way, and privileged – which is kind of an oxymoron – to be in a situation where my friends are very supportive of me and my employer is very supportive,” Robledo said.

The decision, while anticipated, felt “devastating” for Robledo.

“I know my parents have made it 20 years undocumented, and I know that I can make it if I try, but it will be hard,” she said.

“I’m just so scared of the unknown because my whole life being undocumented so far has been while I was in school,” she added. “It’s already scary enough knowing that these are the years where you’re supposed to set everything in motion for the rest of your life.”

A coalition of leaders across the country has signed a pledge supporting the DACA recipients. Among those are many Maryland politicians, including 12 state senators and four mayors.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a joint statement Wednesday that Trump “agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”

Trump disputed the account on Twitter, saying that “no deal was made last night on DACA.”

“We cannot let the Trump Administration get away with tearing apart innocent families and wreaking havoc on our economy in Maryland,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said in a Sept. 5 statement.

As of March, there were roughly 9,700 Marylanders enrolled in the DACA program, according to data from USCIS.

In Maryland, DACA-eligible dreamers are mainly found in three counties, based on 2016 data released by the Migration Policy Institute: Montgomery (roughly 8,000), Prince George’s (6,000) and Baltimore (3,000).

The DACA-eligible population in Maryland accounts for about 9.5 percent of the state’s total unauthorized population, said Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

The majority of DACA applicants in Maryland come from four countries: El Salvador (about 7,000 recipients), Mexico (5,000), Guatemala (4,000) and South Korea (2,000), per data from the institute.

‘More than just Latinos’

Cindy Kolade, 24, arrived in Baltimore shortly after her twelfth birthday with her mother from the Ivory Coast. Kolade said she will remain covered by DACA through February 2019.

“DACA gave me a little bit of the American dream because I was able to provide for myself and provide for my family,” Kolade said. “With DACA, I’m able to help my mom with the bills.”

She and her mother came straight to Maryland because “it’s the only place I have family.”

“Baltimore shaped me into the person I am today,” she said. “I’m able to survive on my own and take care of myself.”

Kolade works as a clinical lab assistant at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. In 2014, she transferred to Towson University from Baltimore Community College. She is still in school, majoring in molecular biology.

Kolade is registered under Maryland’s DREAM Act and also under DACA, and received her first DACA work permit in October 2012.

In 2012, Maryland passed its own DREAM Act to make in-state tuition accessible for its undocumented residents, provided they attended previous schooling in Maryland.

“With DACA, I really thought I had it all for a minute,” Kolade said. “But even though DACA doesn’t give us the whole American dream…, at least it gave us a chance to go to school, work, and be part of the American society.”

Trump’s announcement has changed Kolade’s thinking.

“You’ve given us something and you’ve taken it away from us,” she said. “You still have to worry about what happens next. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to stop in March or two or three years from now. It’s really devastating because you don’t know how you’re going to survive for yourself.”

Kolade believes the administration’s decision to rescind DACA is a sign that Trump doesn’t understand that communities other than Latinos depend on the legal protections.

“Although (African populations) are a small minority, we still depend on DACA and still feel protected by it,” Kolade said.

Brian Frosh, Maryland’s attorney general, announced Monday that Maryland will join Minnesota, California and Maine in a lawsuit against the decision to end DACA.

“The callous and cavalier action taken by the Trump Administration will destroy the lives of many immigrants who were brought here as infants and toddlers, who love the United States of America, who pay taxes and abide by the law,” Frosh said in a statement. “Ending the program would constitute a $509.4 million loss to the state’s annual GDP.”

Strength in Community

“When I graduated from community college in Maryland in 2011, there was no DACA,” said Jose Aguiluz, 28, a registered nurse from Silver Spring, Maryland, who arrived from Honduras when he was 15.

“I had an associate’s degree in nursing, but I was working as an electrician to pay my bills because it was the only job I could get,” Aguiluz said. “Then DACA came along and changed my life completely within the span of four months.”

Upon receiving his Social Security number and work permit, Aguiluz told Capital News Service, he found work in his field almost immediately.

“I went from being an electrician to having a job as an RN,” he said. “After being able to work legally, I went back to school and got my bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Maryland University College.”

Aguiluz had plans to continue his education, but is now at a loss because “pretty much everything has been placed on hold.”

“I was looking at my work permit this morning, and I have a stay here until November of next year when my permit expires,” he said.

In 2012, Aguiluz worked with advocates to pass Maryland’s DREAM Act.

“It’s really heartbreaking,” he said. “I brought dreamers to the table to register, and now all that information is in the hands of the government. The Department of Homeland Security knows the phone numbers and addresses of all of us.”

Since Trump’s Sept. 5 decision, CASA, a local immigrants rights organization, is focused on helping dreamers get legal assistance before the final deadline.

“We are holding several DACA renewal clinics,” said Fernanda Durand, CASA communications manager. The clinics “help the DACA recipients renew their DACA applications.”

CASA will be holding three Maryland clinics before Oct. 5, said Durand: Sept. 16 and 30 in Langley Park and Sept. 23 in Baltimore.

Aguiluz is afraid of what so much rumor and confusion means for himself and other undocumented immigrants.

“We are in a particularly unsafe position,” Aguiluz said. “They can just go through my door and get me. It’s very stressful.”

However, Aguiluz was smiling while talking to Capital News Service.

“I don’t want to say that this is a sad occasion,” he said. “From all the indications, we knew that this was going to happen. I’m here because of my community, the community that I built when we started fighting for the DREAM Act in 2012.”

“Community is what keeps us in this fight together.”

By Helene Parshall and Chris Miller