College Asks for Safety Measures at Campus Ave. Intersection

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Washington College is concerned about pedestrian safety at a major intersection used by students.

Jerry Roderick, the college’s Director of Public Safety, came to the Chestertown Mayor and Council Monday, Nov. 20, to outline problems at the intersection of Washington Ave. and Campus Ave. Displaying images of the busy intersection from all four directions, Roderick outlined the problems at the crosswalks and suggested ways it could be made safer.

While there is a traffic signal at the intersection, Roderick said, there is no left turn signal in any direction, requiring cars to wait for a gap in the often-heavy traffic to make a turn; this could cause them to overlook pedestrians in the crosswalk, who would be crossing with the light. Also, southbound traffic approaching the intersection for a right turn has poor visibility because of a large electrical box on the corner, partially shielded by bushes. This means pedestrians crossing from campus to the alumni house may not be visible before the car is making the turn. Also, given the flow of traffic, pedestrians sometimes “wait for a break, then dart across.”

There are approximately 225 students, faculty, and staff who use the intersection on a daily basis, Roderick said, many of them to attend classes in Cromwell Hall on the east side of Washington Ave, A fair number of Kent County Middle School students also cross at that point in the morning and mid-afternoon, going to and from school. And as one of the main routes through town, the road is heavily traveled, with a considerable number of trucks going through town.

Roderick suggested three measures to improve pedestrian safety at the crossing.  A separate left turn signal for traffic would unclog the intersection and reduce the number of vehicles trying to beat the light. Also, signs prohibiting right turns on red would reduce the number of times pedestrians crossing with the light have to deal with turning traffic. Finally, he suggested, a four-way stop signal allowing pedestrians to cross in all directions would improve safety, especially when large numbers of students need to cross for classes in Cromwell.

Several council members agreed that the intersection presents problems. Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said the lack of a left turn signal often makes her wait several changes of the light before she can turn.

Councilwoman Liz Gross agreed there are problems, but she pointed out that Washington Ave. is a state road, so any changes will require the State Highway Administration to act. She said any study by the SHA should be conducted while there are students on campus so the agency can see the nature of the problem.

Councilman Marty Stetson said the majority of accidents involving cars and pedestrians are the pedestrian’s fault, but he added that the college students he had observed seem particularly aware of safety and use appropriate caution crossing the street. He said there was a study by SHA several years ago, but nothing came of it.

Mayor Chris Cerino said the best approach would be for the college to send the council a letter outlining its concerns and proposed remedies for the council to endorse and forward to SHA. Roderick said he would follow up with a letter and appreciated the town’s cooperation in trying to solve the problems.

The 1st District: Introducing Candidate Jesse Colvin

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It’s too bad that one of Jesse Colvin’s most compelling examples of his character is pretty much reserved for those who know something about college basketball.

A candidate in the Democratic primary for the Congressional 1st District seat now, and with four active tours of duty in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Ranger behind him, Jesse still has a hint of horror in his voice when he recalled before our formal Spy interview of being a freshman reporter on Duke University’s student newspaper and asking the famed Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) why he had ‘screwed up’ after a critical match against the University of Maryland.

The crowded press room fell silent as Jesse’s basketball heroes started to awkwardly shuffle their feet as Duke’s only living god, who is referred to on the Duke campus as “GOAT,” as in “Greatest of All Time,” came down on the cub reporter in a rage of fury that would crush a typical nineteen years old. But that might be the point; Jesse Colvin is not your ordinary anything.

A gifted student with a bright future in the field of international relations, Colvin instead signed up to not only serve in the military but sought out and earned a position in the 75th Ranger Regiment, perhaps the most elite fighting force in the world.

With all that in mind, it doesn’t seem so shocking then to see someone of Jesse’s age, with no significant political background, decide that he has what it takes to win what is turning out to be a hotly contested Democratic primary contest in June of next year and then defeat Representative Andy Harris in November.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. We have included Jesse Colvin’s “Coach K” story after the credits. For more information the Jesse Colvin for Congress campaign please go here

College Donates $10,000 to Chestertown Firefighters

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Washington College has donated $10,000 the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company (CVFC) to underscore its appreciation for the fire company’s devotion to the safety and well-being of the college’s campus community and neighbors.

“As the president of Washington College, my first obligation is to the students, faculty, and staff here, and we are glad to have a reliable, committed, and well-equipped fire department as a neighbor,” President Kurt Landgraf told CVFC’s president, David Eason Sr. “We are grateful for the service that is rendered by the members of the fire company to Washington College and to the greater Chestertown community.”

Located only a few blocks from the Washington College campus, the CVFC is one of seven emergency organizations in Kent County. It can deploy three engines, one tower ladder, one heavy rescue, one tanker, one brush unit, one chief’s unit and a spill support trailer, according to the company’s website. The all-volunteer company responds to over 700 emergencies annually.

In recent years, the College has donated $2,000 a year to the fire department. Landgraf, who became Washington College’s president in July, says that in addition to this year’s monetary contribution, he will work closely with the town on more growth opportunities, as well as supporting a vibrant partnership with United Way to help all Kent County residents.

 

 

Council Hears Updates on Hospital

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Ken Kozel of Shore Regional Health reports to the Chestertown Coucil.

Ken Kozel, CEO of University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, gave an update on projects involving the Chestertown Hospital at the Chestertown Council meeting, Nov. 6. Included in the report was a summary of the Maryland Rural Health Workgroup report concerning the long-term future of the hospital.

Kozel said the workgroup held its last meeting Sept. 28, and concluded its study at that time. All the recommendations were approved unanimously, he said, and added that Shore Regional Health concurs in the approval. The recommendations must now make their way to approval by various bodies, including the General Assembly, the Maryland Healthcare Commission and the Health Services Cost Review Commission.

Kozel said Shore Regional Health will work closely with the Assembly to see that the recommendations are enacted. However, the two state commissions are also important to the approval process, he said. In particular, the designation of Chestertown as a rural community access hospital, which would allow it to remain fully open past 2022, is under the purview of the Healthcare Commission. Also, funding for the hospital’s programs must be vetted by the Cost Review Commission.

“I think we did a really good job of defining why we’re unique and what some of the additional expenses are associated with running rural healthcare in Maryland,” Kozel said. But getting the recommendations approved is the key next step, and that is “where the heavy lifting comes in,” he said. He asked the community at large to support the recommendations to ensure that they are approved.

Preserving inpatient beds at the hospital was one of the recommendations, Kozel said, along with a 24/7 emergency room and surgical services. He said Shore Regional Health had asked for 10 inpatient beds. However, he said, the state would make the final determination on the number of beds, depending on census figures and other data. Shore Regional Health had set the number of beds at 10 based on current conditions and the mandate to reduce the number of inpatient admissions, he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked how many beds the hospital now has. Kozel said the facility is licensed for 30 beds. “Based on the time of year, we could run anywhere from six inpatient beds to 30,” he said – during flu season, it could be even higher, he said.

Mayor Chris Cerino asked what the time frame would be for full implementation of the workforce’s recommendations. Kozel said some would be in place early next year, while others would have to wait to the next fiscal year, beginning in July. “But the wheels of the state government sometimes move a little slowly,” he said.

Councilman Sam Shoge asked what factors determine the number of beds the state will set for a given area. Kozel said population density is a key issue, but also the age of the population and whether the long-term trend is toward growth or shrinking. Length of stay is also a factor, along with the severity of the conditions being treated.

In addition to the workgroup report, Kozel reported on the hospital’s relations with Compass Regional Hospice and with the Shore Manor nursing and rehabilitation facility. He said a recent assessment of the hospital’s assets showed that Shore Manor is the only rehab and nursing home in the University of Maryland Medical System. Because of changes in the nursing home industry, he said, “we are really not the right party to be managing that facility for the benefit of the patients and the community.” Consequently, UMMS is looking for a buyer for Shore Manor.

Kozel, said UMMS recognizes the value of Shore Manor to the community, and as a result has “very specific conditions” any prospective buyer must meet. In particular, he said, UMMS doesn’t want to sell to someone who plans to “flip” it for a short-term profit.  “We see it as definitely part of the continuum of care” that the community needs. The manor should be able to see more acute care patients, to reduce pressure on inpatient beds. He said the facility currently has 92 licensed beds. Also, any prospective buyer must be willing to commit to upgrading and modernizing the facility. He said more than 19 potential buyers had taken the preliminary step of filling out a nondisclosure agreement. “I’m encouraged,” he said. If all goes smoothly, an agreement could be reached by spring.

Shoge asked if UMMS was open to the idea of combining the nursing home with a day care facility, as has been done in some other communities. Kozel said UMMS is open to any ideas that increase the viability of the facility, as long as the new operator complies with the conditions of sale.

Kozel also detailed the agreement with Compass Regional Hospice to install a four-bed hospice center in the hospital, as detailed in a recent Spy article. He described it as a win-win for the two facilities, with the hospital providing support services while Compass provides the medical care. The facility should be running shortly after the first of the year.

Also at the meeting, the council voted, after a brief public hearing, to annex the property housing the town’s wastewater plant. The property, along John Hanson Road just past Radcliffe Creek, comprises some 149 acres. It will be zoned Institutional, and is not subject to development.

In addition, the council approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to approve loans to cover infrastructure improvements at the town-owned marina. Cerino said the state granting agencies expect the town to spend grant funds it has already received before applying for more, so the town will push forward with raising the grade of the parking lot and beginning work on the shell of the interpretation center using funds currently on hand.

The council also approved permits for “A Dickens of a Christmas” and for the Downtown Chestertown Association’s Christmas parade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foster, Tolliver Win Council Seats; Cerino Re-elected (Updated)

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David Foster 

David Foster has been elected as Chestertown’s new First Ward councilman.

In the election Tuesday, Nov. 7, Foster received 135 votes to 104 for Owen Bailey and 38 for Bob Miller. While there are 25 absentee ballots outstanding, and one provisional ballot, the total is not enough to change the result.

Mayor Chris Cerino, running unopposed, received 344 votes. The Rev. Ellsworth Tolliver, running unopposed for the Third Ward Council seat, received 27 votes. A total of 379 voters turned out for the election, despite heavy rain for much of the afternoon and evening. Just before noon, 180 voters had come to the polls.

Foster, who has lived in Chestertown for 20 years, campaigned on his experience as an urban planner with extensive international experience. He has worked as an environmental advisor in Asia, and also served as Chester Riverkeeper after his move to Chestertown. He has called for more consistent long-range planning for the town, including a possible conference on the future of small towns at Washington College. Look for a more detailed report, including quotes from the candidates, in tomorrow’s Spy.

Foster replaces incumbent Councilwoman Liz Gross, who announced her retirement because of family medical issues. The new councilmen will take office at the first council meeting in January 2018.

Cerino, in a phone interview Wednesday, said he was pleased with the turnout for the election, especially considering that there were no state or national issues on the ballot and the inclement weather. He said he was glad there were “really good people running” in all the races. He expressed his thanks and respect for everyone who put themselves forward for office. “It’s really uplifting to know that people are willing to support me for another four years,” he said. “I congratulate the winners and look forward to working with everybody and finding out what their priorities are for their wards, so we can work together as a team for Chestertown.”

He said the town faces several major projects over the next few years, including the marina upgrades, which he said should show significant progress over the winter. “We still have a couple of years of work and fundraising left to do,” he added. Also, Cerino said he would like to work closer with Kent County to see the fiber-optic network extended into Chestertown. “It has a lot of potential to help in economic development in the community as a whole,” he said. Upgrading cell phone reception in the downtown area is also an issue that concerns both business owners and visitors, he said. Finally, he said, “I’d like to keep an eye on our finances, make sure we’re being responsible fiscally — really make sure we’re stretching every dollar as far as it will go and be responsible to our taxpayers.”

Bailey wrote in an email Thursday, “Though this is not the result I was seeking, congratulations to David Foster. It was a good campaign in which I learned a lot about myself, the town, and the issues we all face. I still plan to be involved in the Friends of the Kent County Public Library and the Chestertown Environmental Group as I remain invested in this community.”

Miller, in a phone interview Wednesday, said “David worked very hard — he deserves it. He’s been in town a long time and knows a lot of people and a lot about what’s going on. I’m really very excited for him.” Miller noted that he’s been in town less than two years, so running for office allowed him to meet a lot of new people. He described the campaign as “a gentleman’s race,” with no negative feeling among the candidates. “It should be an example to all political races,” he said, describing it as “about proposition, not opposition.” He said he felt his candidacy had “added value to the race,” allowing discussion of a wider range of ideas and issues.

Foster and the other candidates could not be reached for comments before press time Wednesday. We will add any comments we do receive after deadline.

Cheemoandia Blake, Kent County Election Director (L), and Jen Mulligan, Chestertown Town Clerk, check totals at the close of polls Tuesday as Robert Ortiz of the Chestertown Board of Election Supervisors observes.

Election Day in Chestertown — Have You Voted?

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Town Council candidates Bob Miller, David Foster, Owen Bailey and Congressional candidate Michael Pullen stand outside the Chestertown firehouse, greeting voters on Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 7. Photo credit: Ryan Ewing

Tuesday, Nov. 7 is Election Day in Chestertown, with the Mayor and two Town Council seats on the ballot.

Incumbent Mayor Chris Cerino is unopposed, as is the Rev. Ellsworth Tolliver, running for the Third Ward seat currently occupied by Councilman Sam Shoge, who is not seeking re-election.

But three candidates are in the running for the First Ward seat being  vacated by Councilwoman Liz Gross, who is retiring after a single Council term due to family health issues.

Owen Bailey, David Foster and Bob Miller are seeking to replace her. All three were present outside the Chestertown firehouse, the polling place for the town election, earlier this morning, greeting voters and making a final pitch for support.

The Chestertown Spy interviewed all three candidates, as well as covering the League of Women Voters candidates forum Nov. 1 at Heron Point — see a Spy video here.

Turnout has been strong so far, according to Town Clerk Jen Mulligan, who said 180 votes had been cast as of just before noon. We urge voters, especially First Ward residents, to get out and vote — the polls are open til 8 p.m. The future of your town is in your hands today!

 

Chestertown Town Council: Candidates for Ward 1 Answer Voters’ Questions

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The above video from the candidate forum is just under 22 minutes, edited down from the full hour and a half meeting. 

Three candidates for Chestertown’s Ward 1 Council seat took the stage at Heron Point Wednesday night in a League of Women Voters forum. Owen Bailey, Bob Miller and David Foster are running to fill the seat vacated by Councilwoman Liz Gross, who announced earlier this year that she would not seek re-election. A substantial crowd, almost 200, was present to hear the candidates’ views, with very few vacant seats in the Wesley Hall meeting room.  The election is next Tuesday, Nov 7, 2017, with voting from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m

David Foster, candidate for Ward 1

After a brief introduction by League representatives, outlining the format for the discussion, the candidates made introductory statements. Foster said he loves Chestertown, but like other small town across the nation, it faces perilous times, with shrinking tax bases, growing costs and the loss of young residents who have trouble finding jobs. He said he has the expertise and experience to tackle those problems, bringing in jobs and young families to sustain the amenities residents have come to love.

Bob Miller, candidate for Ward 1

Miller said he and his wife moved here two years ago and want to make a contribution to the community. He said he has 35 years of experience as a Certified Public Accountant for nonprofit organizations. He said Chestertown is essentially a $5 million nonprofit, with the council serving as its board of directors. His background, he said,  would be useful in helping the town find the best way to allocate its resources to best serve its residents.

Bailey said he was born in Chestertown and has spent most of his life here, with most of his career working for nonprofits including the Washington College Literary House and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. He said many young people leave the community in search of work and affordable housing. His focus, if elected, he said, would be on issues such as alternative transportation and the creation of job opportunities.

Owen Bailey, candidate for Ward 1

The candidates were then asked to answer three questions from the League, which they were given in advance. First, they were asked how, given limited resources, they would ensure that road maintenance would be funded.

Foster said infrastructure maintenance is one of the town’s largest budget items. He said the current approach, as developed by engineering schools, is a system to manage roads on a regular basis, similar to getting regular medical checkups instead of waiting for a medical crisis. He said regular maintenance would reduce costs by some 40 percent over waiting until complete repaving is needed.

Miller said the town has an adequate budget for road maintenance. He said he is generally mpressed with the condition of the town streets, having seen far worse in travels to other parts of the world. He said the state Department of Transportation may have grants available to support road work within the town.

Bailey said the town needs to plan ahead to keep its streets in repair. He said heavy truck traffic does most of the damage to the town streets. He said an investment in bicycle and pedestrian paths would help remove cars from the roads, decreasing wear.

The second League question concerned ways to encourage the upkeep of properties in town, either by enforcing current regulations or proposing new ones.

Miller said he favored a “see something, say something” approach to derelict properties. He said he had called attention to two properties at an October council meeting, He said a system of stiff fines would make a difference. He said he would work to see that rules are followed.

Bailey agreed that residents should call attention to problems they see. He said it might also be good to encourage volunteers to help residents, especially elderly ones, to maintain their property and perform such tasks as shoveling snow.

Foster said poor maintenance is a chronic issue, noting that he and his wife had renovated a High Street building that had been a problem. He said clear building codes and fair enforcement were key, but the real issues are public awareness and prompt enforcement.

The third League question asked the candidates what they would do to help downtown merchants increase their profitability, including ways to increase the number of visitors to town.

Bailey said people come to town “for the experience,” something they can’t get at malls or online shopping sites. He said the town needs to enhance its character, improve access to businesses and support events that bring in visitors. He said the town should also encourage minority investments in downtown business.

Foster said he agreed about selling “the experience”. He said not all events draw the same number of visitors, and not all benefit downtown merchants the same way. He said the Harry Potter festival, by including a scavenger hunt sending participants to businesses all over town, was among the most successful. He said the festival organizers had worked together with business owners, and that was the reason for the success. He said another factor would be to promote nearby attractions, thereby encouraging people to prolong their stays in the area.

Miller said the council has been supportive of businesses, especially with its development of the Arts and Entertainment District. He said the real key is an emphasis on careers instead of jobs, to give the young the ability to stay here and raise families, He suggested a conference center as a way to attract more business, along with night-time entertainment. Keeping the hospital here is a central issue, he said.

Hope Clark asks a question while Nancy Smith holds the microphone transmitter.

The moderator, Lyn Dolinger, then accepted questions from the audience. Hope Clark, a member of the Diversity Dialogue Group, said there has been considerable discussion of race and racism in the community recently. She asked how the candidates would address racial issues if elected. She also asked how they would encourage members of minorities to open businesses in town.

“We need more cultural sensitivity and inclusion.” Miller said, citing Washington DC as a city where different races and cultures mingle more freely. “We need to make it easy” for members of minority groups to open businesses downtown, he said. He cited Legacy Day as an example of how different groups can work together to reach valuable goals.

Foster said he has been involved with Sumner Hall and the Diversity Group. He said that the issue is the existence of barriers, some of which are self-imposed.  It’s necessary to reach out personally to reach many members of the black community, he said, citing the Reconciliation event held at the Garfield Center a number of years ago as an example of how that can work.

“Kent County always seems to be starting from farther behind,” Bailey said. He said the focus at Eastern Shore Land Conservancy is “going to the people you need to attract and dealing with them in person.” He said you need experts to make it work, mentioning Rosemary Ramsey-Granillo of the Local Management Board as someone with the experience to reach members of minorities.

Another audience member said he was worried that too much emphasis on tourism could turn Chestertown into a “t-shirt and ice cream center.” He asked how development could be kept in control.

Foster said the town is trying to attract people. He said there are sufficient regulations to prevent unchecked development. “I don’t see it as a problem,” he said. He suggested working with Washington College to study ways to encourage development without letting it run away.

“Washington College is a great resource,” Bailey said, citing departments like the Center for Environment  and Society. He said many college towns have a town-and-gown committee to facilitate communication between the two. He said both institutions need to understand each other and work together.

Miller said he saw the results of 30 years of development in Kensington before moving here. Growth equals prosperity, but it needs to be kept within limits, he said.

Former Ward 1 Councilman Jim Gatto asked about town finances and the lack of a CPA in the town government.

Miller said he had looked at the town budget. He said the budget needs to be more transparent, with clear statements of where the town’s expenditures are in relation to the budget on a regular basis. He said the town isn’t in danger of failing an audit, but it does need a CPA in the office.

Foster agreed there should be a CPA in the town government. He said it isn’t clear whether the town’s debt is increasing, or what to do if it does. Chestertown already has some of the highest taxes in the state, he said.

Bailey said he would need to work with the town staff to see how things work. “I agree there should be long-term planning,” he said.

Another audience member asked how to increase affordable housing in town.

Foster said the town does have some affordable housing, but not enough. He said there are no easy solutions – “Rent freezes don’t work,” he said. He said restoring some of the dilapidated houses in town might be the best solution.

Bailey said infill development is part of the solution. He said Easton has had some success in lowering rents, and Chestertown might learn from its approach.

Miller said rents are too high, possibly because many college students’ parents can afford them. He said rent controls in some sections of town might be an answer.

Candidates for Chestertown Ward 1 Council Member (L-R) David Foster, Bob Miller, Owen Bailey

Margie Ellsburg asked whether the candidates support the marina project.

“It’s vital to preserve access to a natural resource, the river”, said Bailey. He said it would bring people into town. It’s important to raise the parking lot at the marina to counter the effects of flooding, but it needs to pay for itself.

Miller said he has looked at the budget, and the marina seems to be paying its way. He said a better marina will be self-supporting and a draw for the town.

“We need to do what we can to make it a success,” said Foster. He said the town should work with Washington College to see about the possibility of making the Armory, owned by the college, into a conference center to bring people into town. “It’ll be a major challenge,” he said.

After several more questions, the candidates summarized their appeals in closing statements.

Bailey said the town has much to offer, thanks to those who love it and have worked for it, but not everyone has benefitted equally. “I want it to work for everyone,” he said. “It’s my home – I want to see it thrive.”

Miller recapitulated his qualifications and said he is running because he wants to give back to the community. He said the town needs to save the hospital and improve relations with the college. He said that while he is “a come here,” he is now a “be here” who is committed to the community and willing to work to make it better.

“We’re all here because we value the lifestyle, but we have to be aware of the challenges,” said Foster. “Win or lose, I commit to continuing the conversation and searching for solutions.” He said he was willing to work with anyone to solve the town’s problems. “We can all be problem-solvers – get out and vote!” he said.

Ladies of the League  – Sandy Bjork, Lynn Dolinger, Nancy Smith, Lillian Zelinkski, members of  the League of Women Voters of Kent County

The evening’s  candidate forum was organized by the League of Women Voters of Kent County, a nonpartisan political organization whose mission is to inform voters and to encourage citizen’s active participation in government and to encourage all citizens to vote.  For more information, call 410-810-1882 or visit the League’s web site.

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GigaBit County: An Update on the Kent County Fiber Network

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The optical fiber network spanning Kent County—which will enable gigabit (1000 megabit) internet access to every County facility and to any home or business that wants it—is nearly complete. Despite rumors to the contrary, the fiber buildout is on schedule and on budget, according to FTS President Adam Noll. In fact, virtually the only part of the backbone network that remains to be built are the fibers serving the towns of Chestertown and Rock Hall. Noll says that construction of Rock Hall will begin in the next 2 weeks, now that plans of the existing underground utilities have been found.

Meanwhile, the company hooking up individual homes and businesses to the fiber and providing high speed internet access, Think Big Networks, reports that it is already providing service to more than 100 customers, including Dixon Valve and La Motte—the County’s largest businesses—and has many more ready to install. Mark Wagner, CEO of Think Big, says that progress has been slower than he hoped, but that it is steady. He sees no reason that they can’t connect any Kent County residence.

The fiber installation in Chestertown has been delayed because Delmarva Power, which owns the above-ground power poles, has demanded a price that FTS considers way above market rate and refuses to pay. Delmarva Power can demand such fees because FTS is not a regulated carrier in the state of Maryland (it is in other states), but Noll says one solution is for FTS to apply for regulated status, which would guarantee access to the poles. Another possible solution is to use micro-trenching techniques to put the fiber underground. In any event, Noll says that Chestertown will soon get fiber too, one way or another.

One cause of the rumors—and a recent pause in the fiber buildout—was a management reorganization at FTS, which resulted in Noll becoming president and taking charge of day-to-day operations. But the buildout is not at risk; in fact, FTS’s prospects are much larger than Kent County and are best understood in terms of that larger context.

The Kent County fiber network is just the first of what FTS hopes will become a major business connecting rural counties—in Maryland and Virgina to start with. Central to that plan is the company’s planned fiber ring connecting a new undersea cable that comes ashore in Virginia Beach to the major internet hub in Ashburn, Virginia. The ring—one arm through Virginia and the other through Maryland’s Eastern Shore—would contain hundreds of fibers, enabling County governments, large internet data centers and other companies, and residential internet providers to access or provide high speed internet.

The new undersea cable connects Bilbao, Spain to Virginia Beach and provides an alternative to cables that go through New York City (and whose vulnerability was demonstrated by superstorm Sandy).  The cable is being built by Microsoft, Facebook, and the Spanish company Telefonica and will have the highest capacity of any undersea cable yet, capable of transmitting 16o terabits per second (roughly the same as 71 million high definition movies every second).  It is expected to begin operation in 2018, and its presence will transform the entire region, as well as underlie the business case for the FTS ring. The ring, in turn, will be the main revenue source for FTS, but it is what enables the County networks, where the financial return is slower.

For Kent County, says Noll, access via the FTS ring both to the internet hub at Ashburn and to Europe creates a huge opportunity to attract internet-based businesses and young, internet-savvy families.  And at least for now, Kent County is unique on the Eastern Shore in having that opportunity. FTS was negotiating a similar contract with Queen Anne’s County, but would face higher costs per foot of fiber installed (it’s a much larger county). Queen Anne was not willing to pay a higher price, and they additionally demanded that FTS provide a bond to guarantee completion. Noll says that it simply did not make business sense, and so FTS walked away; it will instead focus on building its larger ring and exploring opportunities in some Virginia counties.

In summary, FTS is a major internet infrastructure company that is currently building a high-speed fiber ring through Virginia and Maryland, that conveniently passes through Kent County.  Think Big is the local company that connects local businesses and residences to this high-speed fiber network.  This provides a wonderful opportunity for Kent County. The completed network may open the doors to economic development unlike any the county has experienced in living memory.

 

Centreville’s Russian Compound Gathers Dust While Awaiting Fate

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The soccer field is still trimmed to perfection, but no Russians will be gracing the pitch anytime soon. Nor will they be staying in either of the two Georgian-style mansions or in any of the ten bungalows clustered on the 45-acre waterfront property.

Russia’s luxurious “dacha” on Maryland’s Eastern Shore sits eerily empty and waiting, a casualty of the diplomatic row with the United States that flared after it became clear the Russians meddled extensively with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Shuttered by the Obama administration last December, the spread is perched at the intersection of the Corsica and Chester Rivers in Centreville, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, a town with a population of less than 5,000. In addition to the two large estate houses, it contains ten guest bungalows, a small apartment building, four tennis courts, two pools, a boathouse and a private beach.

Known locally as “Pioneer Point,” the Russian diplomatic compound was originally part of a 1,600-acre property owned by John Jakob Raskob, a wealthy industrialist best known for building the Empire State Building in New York.

Raskob, who once worked as a personal secretary for businessman and philanthropist Pierre S. du Pont, made his fortune in the auto industry, helping to manage General Motors from its infancy to one of the world’s most powerful car makers. It was Raskob’s idea to launch a financing arm for the company, a venture that became General Motors Acceptance Corp., or GMAC.

Raskob’s house at Pioneer Point, the 19-room mansion once called “Hartefeld Hall,” is the centerpiece of the current Russian compound, built at some point after the land was acquired in 1925. Raskob constructed a second estate house shortly thereafter for his 13 children, who named it “Mostley Hall,” because it was mostly a long hall of a building.

Raskob passed away in 1950 and the property changed hands a few times until 1972, when what was then the Soviet Union acquired it.

Shortly after the Russians arrived in Centreville, the FBI did too.

“In the early days, they were the subject of enormous curiosity by the FBI,” Stephen Wilson, president of Queen Anne County’s Board of Commissioners, told Capital News Service. He lives across the river from Pioneer Point.

“The FBI used to send people down here with binoculars, who would stare across the river, as if there was something to be learned about Russians sitting on a beach,” Wilson recalled.

According to Wilson, one idea floated by the feds was to watch the Russians via submarine, a plan Wilson described as “comic” because the Corsica River is only about 10 feet deep.

However, the U.S. government eventually found a way to keep a closer eye on the compound. A property that borders it is still registered to the State Department, according to tax records, which put the value of the Russian spread at close to $9 million.

Judging from how little the Russians interacted with the locals over the years, they likely had a sense they were being watched.

“I would say for the most part they stayed to themselves,” said Joseph Connor, whose family has owned the property a few doors down from the compound for longer than the Russians have occupied it. “You didn’t see them unless they walked out.”

However, locals were occasionally invited over for parties. Connor said he went a few times and that the food was good, the company was likewise, and the vodka flowed freely.

Now that the Russians are gone, local feelings are mixed.

“You had two different reactions from the community when it was closed down,” said Queen Anne’s County Sheriff Gary Hofmann, who visited the compound once as part of an official invite to a group of elected officials. “You had a lot of people saying ‘Wow, I never knew that (compound) was there.’ And then you had people who were sorry to see some of the folks who they met in the past leave the compound.”

As for the property itself, Hofmann said: “It wasn’t what I thought it would be. There were no secret operatives walking around. It wasn’t like (there were) these covert tunnels we could find.”

Whether the Russians were using the property for work, play or both, it doesn’t appear Pioneer Point will welcome back its owners anytime soon.

In August, under threat of a veto override from Congress, President Donald Trump signed a new foreign sanctions bill that was partially authored by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland. In it, the president’s ability to return diplomatic property in Maryland and elsewhere was made subject to congressional review.

After signing the bill, which included measures against North Korea and Iran as well as Russia, Trump called the legislation “significantly flawed.”

“We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries (U.S. and Russia) on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary,” Trump added.

Earlier this month, Cardin accused the Trump administration of not enforcing the sanctions outlined in the bill, which he tied to the fate of the Centreville property.

“At this time, the senator (Cardin) believes there is no scenario in which the compounds should be returned to the Russians,” Sean Bartlett, the Democratic spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Capital News Service. “He does not believe they have been held accountable for their attack on our election. Despite Congress’ strong sanctions bill, the president has yet to begin enforcing it.”

Maintaining the 45-acre spread now falls to the State Department, which seized the compound under authority of the Foreign Missions Act. The legislation gives the secretary of state wide latitude over diplomatic facilities in order “to protect the interests of the United States.”

“We seek better relations with Russia, as the president and Secretary (Rex Tillerson) have said time and again,” said a State Department official authorized only to speak on background. “But we will also be clear-eyed in our engagement with Russia.”

In response to the closing of the Maryland compound and one in Long Island, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the United States in July to reduce its diplomatic footprint in Russia by 755 people.

When asked on state-run Russian TV why he did it, Putin said: “Because the American side undertook the unprovoked, which is a very important, step in the deterioration of Russian-American relations…”

The U.S. intelligence community had a decidedly different assessment.

A report from the director of national intelligence in January stated: “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.”

The Obama executive order that directed the State Department to shutter the Maryland and Long Island compounds in December 2016 said they were “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes…”

Since then, three more Russian diplomatic facilities have been ordered shut by the State Department, including a consulate in San Francisco and annexes in New York and Washington.

How long Pioneer Point remains closed is anyone’s guess, but there’s a chance it won’t remain abandoned for long. The Foreign Missions Act allows for a diplomatic property to be sold by the State Department after it has been vacated for a year.

The catch is the Russians would get the money.

By J.F. MEILS