Sultana Downrigging Weekend – Tall Ships Return Oct 27-29

Share

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

Coming Attraction — Movie Theater to Reopen!

Share

 

The old Chester 5 Theatres will become the new Chesapeake 5 Theatres – opening late November 2017

The movies are returning to Chestertown!

Chesapeake Theaters, Inc., a new company, has formed to re-open, refurbish, and operate the old Chester 5 Theatre in Washington Square in Chestertown. Their license application was submitted to the town yesterday and immediately thereafter work began in the theater building.  The company expects to have the theater open in time for Thanksgiving when theaters traditionally do a large share of their annual business.  At the latest, it should be open for the Christmas season.  It all depends on the progress of the construction.  The new complex will be named Chesapeake 5 Theatres.

The old chairs ready to be carted out.

The renovation began yesterday,  a representative of the company told the Spy on Wednesday, Sept.20.  The seats are already unbolted from the floors in 4 of the 5 theaters in the complex.  In the next week or so, he said, the entire theater will be essentially gutted – drapes pulled down, carpeting ripped up.  Then the remodeling and refurbishing can begin. When finished, the theater will have new floors, carpeting, seats, wall coverings, marquees, projection screens — “new everything,” the representative said. The restrooms and concession stand will also be brand new. ‘It’s not going to look like anything you’ve ever seen.” he said.

The new rocker chairs – 44 inches from floor to top of headrest – with padded arm-rests and headrests.

The five new theaters will be in the same spaces as previously – no walls will be removed. Each theater will have brand-new, 44-inch high rocker-chairs with padded arm-rests that can be raised or lowered.  Each arm-rest has a cup holder.  Initially, all the seating will be rocker-chairs.  However, the company has special luxury recliners on order.  When those arrive, in approximately 2-3 months, the rockers will be removed from the back half of each of the five theaters and the recliners installed.

The concession stand will offer a much more varied menu than the previous theater. Along with the usual popcorn and candy, the new expanded menu will include pizza, hamburgers, fries, mozzarella sticks, and chicken tenders. There will be special trays that fit into the cup holders on the theater seats so patrons can eat while watching. Alternatively, they will be able to sit at a table in the dining area of the lobby while waiting for their show to begin. The company representative said the theater might apply for a liquor license at some point but has not made that decision yet. One of the reasons cited for the closure of the Chester 5 complex was the availability of beer and wine at the competing Middletown theaters.

The new theater has already re-hired the former manager for the Chester 5 Theatres.  According to their representative, they will be looking to hire about a dozen more employees.

The principals of Chesapeake Theaters, Inc, a small independent company formed to operate the new theater complex, have had substantial theater experience, including operating other theaters in Maryland. The company representative said that they are very impressed with Chestertown and want to be a community-oriented company.   They are also open to holding fund-raisers for community organizations, especially anything that benefits children, such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.

The old Chester 5 Theatres closed Sunday, June 4, 2017, without any advance notice. At the time, theater manager Charlene Fowler said business had been slowly declining for about five years. She attributed the change in part to competition from the newer movie theater in Middletown, Del., which had a more up-to-date facility and a liquor license.

Let the show begin!

Photography by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell.  Special thanks to Chestertown Spies Alexander and Emma for their hot tips and timely info!

Old Chester 5 theatre room

Old seats partially dismantled.

Maryland’s Undocumented Immigrants: In Their Own Words

Share

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

People’s Bank to Provide Interim Financing for Chestertown Marina

Share

The Town of Chestertown and The Peoples Bank are pleased to announce that The Peoples Bank will be providing interim financing for the Chestertown Marina Stormwater Improvement Project, which is part of Phase II of the revitalization of the town-owned facility. Primary funding for the infrastructure improvements is being provided by the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Program.  While Phase I work is currently taking place in the Marina basin – dredging, new bulkhead and boat ramp, Phase II will start in November 2017 following the Sultana Downrigging Weekend. Phase II includes completion of the new bulkheading, raising the grade of the Marina property, stormwater improvements, and underground utilities. Other marina improvements taking place during Phase II include installation of new floating docks, which are funded by the DNR Waterway Improvement Fund and a Maryland Capital Project Grant, and construction of the Chestertown Marina Interpretive Center, which is funded by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s Strategic Demolition Fund and Maryland Heritage Areas Authority. Peoples Bank’s President and CEO Ralph Dowling stated, “The Peoples Bank is proud to be a part of this partnership to restore this iconic waterfront gateway into Kent County.” Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino added that “Special thanks must go to all of the individuals and groups who have supported the Town’s five-year effort to revitalize this public facility, which is so important to the town’s – and Kent County’s – long-term economic health.”

Chesapeake College Announces Timeline for New Presidential Search

Share

Chesapeake College’s Board of Trustees has announced the formation of a search committee to select the college’s sixth president and a process to involve members of the campus and Mid-Shore communities in identifying the qualifications, characteristics and values sought for the school’s new leader.

The 14-member Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC) will be chaired by L. Nash McMahan, Vice Chair of Chesapeake’s Board of Trustees and President of Tri-Gas and Oil Co., and include four additional trustees from the Mid-Shore: Christopher Garvey, President & CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors Chesapeake Shores Chapter; Robert Grace, President & COO of Dixon Valve & Coupling Company; Mike Mulligan, retired Colonel U.S. Marine Corps and Senior Account Manager for Battelle; and Brenda Shorter, retired Kent County Schools educator.

“Nash McMahan’s experience as a CEO, civic leader and collaborator will be catalytic in helping the search committee identify qualifications and characteristics for the president that are based on widespread community input,” Chesapeake College Board of Trustees Chair Blenda Armistead said. “In particular, we felt it was important to get broad participation from the business community since the college plays such a critical role in educating and training our region’s current and future workforce.”

Additional members of the search committee include representatives from the Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board, the college’s Foundation Board and Business Council; and Chesapeake’s administration, faculty and staff.

Residents and employers in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties are invited to participate in the search process by completing a brief online survey on the campus website through Sept. 20 at noon. Results will be used to help develop a job description to recruit the new president.

“We have already completed individual interviews and focus groups on campus and in the community with elected officials and business leaders,” McMahan said. “The online survey gives others throughout the region the opportunity to share their ideas and priorities and the characteristics they would like to see in the new president.”

Based on this input, recruitment advertisements will be posted in October with applications accepted through the end of the year, according to McMahan.

The search committee will evaluate applicants in January and February and a list of three to four candidates will be submitted to the Board of Trustees in March. Campus and community engagement will be sought during the final interview process.

“We hope to announce our choice in the spring with the new president on campus by the start of the fiscal year on July 1,” Armistead said.

Chesapeake College Interim President Dr. Stuart Bounds is assisting the Board of Trustees in the search.

“Chesapeake College has had a deep commitment to the values and aspirations of the Mid-Shore community throughout our 50 year history,” he said. “The Board and the Presidential Search Advisory Committee will be seeking a candidate for the sixth president of the college who will build on that commitment and expand educational opportunity for all the citizens of our five-county community.”

To participate in the survey please go here

Parents Berate School Board for Bus Problems

Share

An angry crowd confronted the Kent County Board of Education at a special meeting at the school board office in Rock Hall, Monday, Sept. 11, where parents and other residents aired grievances about school buses. For more than four hours, the board heard calls for its members to resign, for the bus service contract to be terminated, and threats of lawsuits – along with detailed accounts of children waiting hours for buses to appear, and parents missing work because of the mix-ups.

The crowd, which overflowed the meeting room into the hallway outside, was there to complain that the Baltimore-based contractor for bus service, Reliable Transportation, was not delivering the service it was brought in to provide. Speaker after speaker told of drivers running late – often more than an hour  – missing pickups, dropping students off at the wrong place, and sometimes failing to appear altogether. Some complained of inadequate safety equipment, dangerous driving and rude behavior by the drivers. And almost all were angry because neither the school system nor the bus contractor provided adequate communication about the problems and the effect on individual students. Shouts of “Do your job,” “It’s not working,” and “Fix it now” were combined with charges of arrogance and putting a price tag on children’s safety.

School Board members at the Sept. 11 meeting.

Karen Couch, Kent County Superintendent of Education, began the meeting by summarizing the background of the dispute. The school board, facing a budget deficit of $2 million at the beginning of the year, took several steps, including closing the Worton and Millington elementary schools, to try to eliminate the deficit. One of the board’s choices was putting the county’s transportation contract out for bids. It received two responses, one from Reliable and the other from the local coalition of bus contractors that previously served the county. Reliable was the low bidder after the local coalition raised its previous contract price to $1.2 million.

Reliable attempted to hire local drivers, with mixed success, Couch said. Several of the local drivers who initially showed interest dropped out or failed to appear for work, she said. As a result, many bus drivers were unfamiliar with local roads; additionally, they had long commutes from the western shore that made it difficult for them to arrive in time for their runs. Couch said the schools expected students to be transported safely, efficiently, and in a timely manner – “And they’re not.” She said the board

had spent most of a 90-minute closed session consulting with legal counsel considering its options for resolving the problem.

After Couch’s comments, school board President Trish McGee opened the floor to residents who had signed up to speak. All told, more than 30 came to the microphone, and several more shouted out questions from the audience, interrupting the speakers and those attempting to answer their questions. McGee frequently asked the audience to let the speakers or board members be heard. A request that speakers limit their remarks to three minutes was ignored almost from the start.  As the evening went on, there was more and more shouting of questions and comments from the audience.

Many of the speakers offered variations of the same story – children waiting long times for the bus, not knowing what bus was serving their route, drivers missing stops or refusing to stop at designated locations, calls to the school or school board not being answered, mothers missing work hours to get their children to school. Worry about their children’s safety and the effect of missing classes were also common themes.

One major concern was the lack of radio communication with the bus drivers.  In previous years, the transportation manager was in constant radio contact with the drivers.   One parent said that last week one bus ran out of gas and the bus – with driver and all the students – just sat on the roadside until someone at Molly’s restaurant noticed that they needed help.  The driver could not, by law, leave the students alone in the bus.  But the driver could not radio in the problem.  Thus neither the school nor the parents knew where the children were.  It is not known why a cell phone was not used to contact the bus supervisor about the gas problem. Dixon said that he was not aware of any buses were without working radios, but that he would check on it.

The room was crowded with many people standing along the walls in the back.

Several parents said they were risking their jobs by taking time to wait with their children or to drive them to school. At least one child was apparently taken all the way to Middletown, Delaware – it was not clear how or when the student finally got home. Another parent said her child requires a seat belt for health reasons, but the bus he rode does not have any. Several said the school district has exposed itself to numerous liability issues because of Reliable’s failure to provide safety equipment.

Timothy Dixon, CEO of Reliable Bus Transportation out of Baltimore

Rebecca Herz-Smith and Francoise Sullivan, members of the Support Our Schools parents’ group (SOS), presented a list of 18 questions members of their group had for the board. Several were directed to Timothy Dixon, CEO of Reliable, who was present at the meeting. Asked what steps were being taken to prevent delays caused by long commutes for out-of-county drivers, Dixon said all efforts were being made to hire local drivers. He said that many who initially signed up failed to appear for work. He said Baltimore drivers were being used because of a shortage of locals. He said Reliable offered “the highest pay in the area” plus significant benefits, and made every effort to get drivers trained for the works and familiar with the routes.

SOS asked about missing safety equipment including lights and safety bars. Couch said the equipment is not required by Maryland law but is a county option. She said that in response to complaints, the county is using grant funds to install the equipment, which has been received by the maintenance department and will be installed soon.

Asked how the board will respond if Reliable can’t fulfill the contract, Couch said the county is exploring its options, but cannot discuss details at present.

SOS asked if there is a master list of what buses are on what routes, and which children are assigned to each bus, and whether it can be made available to parents. Dixon said he would provide the list to the board. “I don’t know how to get it to parents,” he said.

Sullivan suggested giving each student an ID number that would be available to parents to protect student’s privacy.

The meeting was live-streamed from SOS’s FaceBook page, bringing in an audience of several hundred more. The SOS webpage states that its purpose is “Prioritizing funding and support for public education in the 2016 Comprehensive Plan for Kent County.”

Jerry Bramble, who said he had 34 years’ experience as a school bus driver, said he believed the problems could have been avoided if Couch had negotiated with the local drivers’ coalition before signing up with Reliable. He said Reliable has a poor track record.

Couch said Bramble’ summary was accurate, but the law doesn’t allow negotiations after a bidding process is complete.

Bramble said the first step to solving the problem would be for the county to reinstate its former supervisor of transportation, whose loss deprived the county of a significant body of experience. He said the next step would be to terminate Reliable, which he said was in clear breach of contract; loud applause greeted this suggestion. The final step, he said was for the board to resign. He accused the board and Couch of playing “liberal politics” and “sugar-coating” the situation. He advised the audience to “buckle your seat belts – we’re in for a long, long ride.”

Several parents expressed anger over Couch’s salary and the fact that she received a raise when her contract was renewed last year. McGee said Couch got a one-time 2 percent raise – the same as every other staff member in the school system. Couch’s total salary is $155,448, McGee said. The actual numbers did little to appease other speakers, some of whom mentioned their own salaries – one woman said she makes $38,000 and is in danger of losing her job because the bus crisis has made her miss work.

Lack of communication was another repeated complaint. Parents said their calls to the schools or the administration’s office were not answered and messages were not answered.  Couch said that the staff was working overtime to answer calls, but the volume of calls made it impossible to respond to everyone in real time.

Jodi Bortz, another member of SOS, said money can fix the problems. She said residents need to tell the Kent County Commissioners that education is a priority. She said the commissioners had cut their contribution to the school budget by more than $1 million over the last two years, and would probably make more cuts, leading to further reductions in service at the school district. “It’s your tax dollars they’re spending on other things instead of our schools,” she said. You need to tell the people who control the tax money where to put it.”

School board member Wendy Costa suggested that parents and others with time available could volunteer to help get through the bus crisis until a long-term solution is found. She said she was willing to go to a school and watch over students until parents can pick them up. She also suggested that parents who drive to work can drop students off at school on the way. Neither suggestion was popular with the crowd.

The last speaker of the evening was Misty Mett, a freshman at Kent County High School, who offered a student’s perspective on the bus problem. She said it was causing stress because of worry about her younger siblings and about missing class time, to the detriment of their education. “It feels like we’re losing respect for the county and the students,” she said.

By the end of the evening, more than 30 residents had spoken, and a number more had left before their name was called. McGee summed up the situation by saying she was appalled at the delivery of bus service this year. “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do, Mr. Dixon,” she said. She said she voted for the contract with Reliable, but never imagined it would cause the trouble it did. “We’ve got to figure out how to balance our budget,” she said.

Other school board members essentially echoed McGee’s sentiments. Jeff Reed said he was appalled and embarrassed by the situation and had lost sleep over the delays and mistakes. Joe Goetz said the problems “come down to communication and safety,” and promised they would be corrected.

Couch said she was “deeply sorry” for the problems and that solving them was very important to the administration. She said she was coming into the office at 4 a.m. and working late hours because of it. She said the problems would be solved as quickly as possible, but that she could not state a firm deadline. Pressed, she said it would be a couple of weeks at the outside.

###

 

 

Is Maryland and the Eastern Shore Ready for the Next Big Storm?

Share

In Maryland, which historically has ducked many of the worst storms of the last 50 years, the question is increasingly not if, but when the next big one will strike. And while some believe the state has often been spared from big hits by dint of location and the buffer of the Chesapeake, what the bay giveth it can also wash away.

Maryland has done extensive planning, including infrastructure improvements that focus on bolstering natural storm defenses to better absorb tidal surges and rainfall runoff, but there is widespread consensus among state officials and meteorologists that a massive hurricane like Harvey or Irma could overwhelm emergency services.

“None of us are exempt,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, during comments to reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday before he voted in support of the $7.85 billion Harvey relief bill in the House on Wednesday. “Every part of the country floods…we’re all subject to the vagaries of natural disasters.”

Among the storms that have not missed Maryland is Agnes in 1972, a tropical deluge widely considered among the worst to hit the state, causing 19 deaths and $110 million in damages, according to the National Weather Service. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 2 storm, creating a tidal surge in the Chesapeake of more than 6 feet and flooding Maryland communities including Annapolis, Fells Point in Baltimore and Cambridge, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records.

“It’s certainly not impossible that something like (superstorm) Sandy would happen here,” said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and one of the state’s leading climate experts.

Boesch noted that a scientific concept called stationarity, the idea that many patterns operate within a fixed range, is no longer true when applied to climate-related events like big storms.

“Terms like ‘once in 100 years’ don’t have much meaning anymore,” he explained, while cautioning that the cooler ocean waters off the nation’s mid-Atlantic coast make a Harvey-scale storm unlikely.

For coastal states like Maryland, there are two types of storms that have the most potential to create damage: those that bring tidal surges (sea water pushed inland by a tropical storm or hurricane) and those that feature much more rain than wind, which create problems with water run-off.

Both storm varieties cause flooding, but for most of Maryland it’s the latter that can wreak havoc, particularly in low-lying areas like Annapolis and parts of Baltimore around the Inner Harbor, which flood regularly under heavy rain.

“Generally, we have increasing precipitation because the atmosphere is getting warmer and this will continue,” said Konstantin Vinnikov, a research scientist at University of Maryland and the state climatologist for Maryland. “Sea level rise in the next couple of decades will make everything much more catastrophic. In Maryland, our islands are suffering with sea level rise even now.”

So it’s fair to wonder what will happen if Maryland gets pounded with a Harvey- or Katrina-level storm that dumped water on the state for days.

“Clearly, the Eastern Shore could get hit as hard as the Gulf Coast could get hit,” said Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, which is charged with coordinating the state-level response to natural or man-made disasters. “The difference is most of the people who are in harm’s way are there in summer vacationing.”

MEMA’s basic action plan in the event of a direct storm hit or deluge of rain on the Eastern Shore is to order an evacuation of residents to areas north or west. It’s something the agency did on a small scale in 2011, moving about 3,000 seasonal workers from Ocean City when Hurricane Irene swept through the mid-Atlantic region.

MEMA recently updated one of its key emergency operation plans, although its main strategic emergency blueprint, the Emergency Preparedness Program Strategic Plan, has not been updated since 2013. “Plans are kind of living documents,” said McDonough, referring to the latter. “As things happen, you modify them.”

Loss of life and property are not the only concerns in a major storm. Given the economic importance of the Chesapeake Bay, environmental damage is also a worry.

“Big storms in general are bad for the bay because they bring a lot of pollution,” said Beth McGee, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The best defense against pollution from water runoff is what are called “living shorelines,” or those that remain in their natural state, something that is on the decline in Maryland, according to McGee.

“Flooding is made worse when you have a lot of paved surfaces and rooftops,” said McGee, who also said that Maryland was “making progress” at mitigating development in sensitive shore areas, but “not fast enough.”

“There’s a fair amount of land that’s converting from agriculture and forest to developed land,” she added.

Maryland’s Coast Smart Council, a group of state and local environmental and planning groups formed in 2014, is charged with making regulations for construction and land use with this in mind. In 2016, Coast Smart’s efforts included grant assistance to help restore floodplains, reinforce beaches and protect marsh lands that can serve as a flood buffer during storms.

But will it be enough? “Until you have a storm, it’s hard to gauge,” said Matt Fleming, director of Maryland’s Chesapeake and Coastal Service, an agency that coordinates among regional, state and local governments and private organizations to protect the state’s shoreline. “I hope we’re more prepared than we were five years ago. We’ve taken steps to put us in that direction.”

Timing also matters in Maryland. Spring or early summer storms are particularly lethal to the bay’s underwater sea grasses, which are still immature at the time but serve as spawning grounds and protection for young fish and crab populations.

Although Maryland has only a short ocean-facing shoreline, its needs differ from those areas directly on the Chesapeake.

“We’ve been lucky in a lot of ways, but you know we can be on the national news with the satellite trucks here at any given time,” said Ocean City Councilman Dennis Dare, a former member of the Coast Smart Council. “That’s why we’ve spent 30 years preparing.”

For Ocean City, it is storm surge, not wind or rain, that holds the greatest potential for mayhem—or, ironically, a storm that misses that city and hits the Chesapeake directly.

“If it (a storm) goes up the Chesapeake Bay, that means the metro areas—Annapolis, Prince George’s, Howard County, Baltimore—will have severe damage,” added Dare. “The resources of the state are gonna go in those areas and the Eastern Shore…we may be left to fend for ourselves.”

If Maryland absorbs a massive drubbing like Harvey or Irma, more than the Eastern Shore will likely go begging.

“No one is going to have everything they need for a catastrophic event like Harvey,” said McDonough.

On this, there is widespread agreement.

“If we get a ginormous (sic) storm like they had in Houston,” McGee said, “that’s going to overwhelm the entire system.”

By J.F. Meils

Mid-Shore Foundation Sets Up Fund for Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Share

In response to the catastrophic damage caused by the Hurricanes, the Mid-Shore Community Foundation has expanded its disaster relief efforts.

The Directors of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation have established a Hurricane Relief Fund to provide disaster relief to the victims of the recent Hurricanes.  The first $5,000 in contributions will be matched by the Founder’s Fund of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation.

All donations to the Fund will support relief and recovery efforts in the devastated areas.  The funds will be directed to Community Foundations, serving the areas of devastation, to provide immediate and long-term assistance.

The Mid-Shore Community Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity and all donations are tax deductible.  To donate, make checks payable/mail to the Mid-Shore Community Foundation (MEMO: Hurricane Relief Fund), 102 East Dover Street, Easton, Maryland 21601 or donate online at www.mscf.org/hurricane-relief-fund.  For instructions on how to transfer assets (cash or stock), please contact the Foundation at (410)820-8175.

The Mid-Shore Community Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity and all donations are tax deductible. Donations may be made online at https://www.mscf.org/hurricane-harvey-relief-fund/. Checks should be made payable/mailed to the Mid-Shore Community Foundation (MEMO: Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund), 102 East Dover Street, Easton, Maryland 21601. You may also transfer assets or make a grant from a Donor Advised Fund.

 

 

Maryland Immigrant Rights Supporters Attack Trump Move as Cruel

Share

Maryland’s congressional Democrats and various immigrant rights groups condemned the Trump administration’s decision Tuesday to rescind an order protecting immigrant children who were brought to the United States illegally.

Lawmakers said removing protections for such immigrants would disrupt families and be cruel to those who were not to blame for their illegal status.

As Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the decision only blocks away, a crowd of a couple hundred protesters backing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program assembled at LaFayette Park and yelled “Shame!” in the direction of the White House while beating drums.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said the announcement signaled a “dark day in our nation’s history” and implored Congress to pass legislation to make DACA permanent sometime this month.

“I know DACA kids, I’ve actually volunteered to do applications for them,” said Priscilla Labovitz, a Takoma Park, Maryland, resident. “I was an immigration lawyer, but I retired, so I know them as human beings, as nice kids, not in some lumped up way of ‘illegals’ because nobody is illegal.”

Rev. Jennifer Butler, the CEO of Faith and Public Life, a network of 40,000 religious leaders across the country, said the decision to revoke DACA goes against the major principles she believes in as a Christian.

“It’s morally despicable. I stood out there today with young people who are mourning, who are weeping,” Butler said.

“We’re going to keep fighting,” she added. “Clergy are planning even now to take these folks into their houses and into their sanctuaries. We don’t believe in this, and we are going to oppose it every step of the way.”

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, was the lone congressional voice from Maryland who came out in favor of the DACA wind-down. “I strongly support President (Donald) Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy,” he said in a statement. “The Obama-era policy is a gross overreach of executive power and undermined the authority of the legislative branch. President Trump is returning that power to Congress.”

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, had the opposite reaction. “Clearly written with little thought of the human consequences, this latest action by the Trump Administration will harm our economic and national security,” Cardin said. “It will break families and drive many underground, out of work and into poverty.”

Maryland’s other Democratic senator, Chris Van Hollen, warned of the economic impact of repealing DACA.

“Over its five-year history, DACA has helped nearly 800,000 young people pursue higher education and grow our economy,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “Ending this program will cost our economy over $460.3 billion over ten years and displace over 685,000 workers vital to businesses in Maryland and across the nation.”

Roughly 9,000 Marylanders are beneficiaries of DACA, and according to Sessions’ announcement, they will remain so for the next six months, as the administration plans to use an interim period to usher out the order’s recipients.

However, any DACA requests filed after Tuesday will be rejected, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Filings for renewal for current recipients will be accepted until Oct. 5.

Sessions announced the administration’s decision to a roomful of reporters but took no questions. Trump issued a statement following the announcement.

Ending the DACA program would leave roughly 800,000 illegal immigrants subject to deportation.

A 2012 executive order by President Obama allowed people who came to the United States as children to apply for deferred action for two years at a time. Once the deferred action expired, recipients could apply for renewal.

Recipients had to have been at least 15 and under 31 as of June 15, 2012. An applicant convicted of a felony or at least three misdemeanors was ineligible.

Trump has advocated for DACA’s end since his presidential campaign and, after the seeming inevitability of its termination came to a head this weekend, urged Congress via Twitter to “get ready to do (its) job.”

“Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers and prevents human suffering,” said Sessions, who three times referred to DACA recipients as “illegal aliens.”

“Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and terrorism,” the attorney general said.

But a wide array organizations and individuals across the political spectrum, from Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and the United States Chamber of Commerce to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and California Gov. Jerry Brown, decried the administration’s move. Some pledged court challenges.

In Lafayette Park across from the White House, protesters said they were dismayed at what felt like a betrayal.

“I served in the United States military, and this is not the type of freedom I served for,” said Jaime Contreras, a vice president at 32BJ SEIU, the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, told Capital News Service.

“It doesn’t make any sense economically or socially in any form.”

Additional protesters marched along Pennsylvania Avenue, sitting down and blocking traffic just outside the Trump International Hotel.

Sheridan Aguirre, a DACA beneficiary, called the decision to strike down the executive order “cruel.”

“We have had five years now being able to live authentically as ourselves, and it’s been a cornerstone of safety for our immediate families,” he said in an interview with CNS. “We need to heal, we need to come together to talk about what’s happening, and in the long term be able to fight for a permanent solution.”

Aguirre is a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant from Austin, Texas, who said his life’s direction was uncertain before DACA. He graduated high school in Texas in June of 2012, days before DACA was announced.

After DACA was implemented, Aguirre, then 19, became the first person in his family to get a driver’s license.

Bobbie Monahan came into the city from Baltimore with other members of her Catholic parish, St. Gabriel, Woodlawn, to support the work of CASA.

“It is a great injustice, and my faith tells me to be here,” said Monahan. “If the heads of my church aren’t moving fast enough, then we’ll get out there and show them.”

Hoyer said he would like to see DACA passed and take effect permanently.

“We will see whether or not the statements of both sympathy and support for Dreamers (by Republicans) are in fact carried out legislatively or whether or not the most strident voices within the Republican Party fomenting anger and ire directing (sic) at these young people are followed,” he said. “Hopefully they will not be.”

Hoyer would not commit to the idea of using would-be Democratic votes for upcoming bills on Hurricane Harvey relief, the debt ceiling, or a continuing budget resolution as leverage to force passage of DACA legislation.

In the meantime, Hoyer believes that DACA would pass right now if it was introduced in the House.

“I frankly think the votes are there,” he said. ‘Will there be controversy? There will because there are some people who don’t want to see anybody admitted to the U.S. and particularly anybody who came here unauthorized.”

In 2015, Hoyer signed an amicus brief along with 180 other House members including Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Reps. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, John Delaney, D-Potomac, and Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, supporting Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and DACA.

“President Trump is breaking his promise to hundreds of thousands of DREAMers who were brought here as children – through no fault of their own – and today know only America as their home,” Cummings said in a statement. “Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see and eliminating DACA sends a terrible message.”

By Conner Hoyt, Angela Jacob, J.F. Meils, Johnny Moseman, Helen Parshall, Ashley Clarke And Changez Ali