Arts Council Has Big Plans

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John Schratweiser, co-director of the Kent County Arts Council, came before the Chestertown council meeting Monday to give an update on what’s in the works for the organizagtion. He said Leslie Raimond, the long-time executive director of the council, will be retiring in December, at which point there will be a party to recognize her contributions.

Chestertown council members Linda Kuiper and Liz Gross listen as John Schratweiser outlines plans for the Kent County Arts Council at the July 17 council meeting

Meanwhile, the Arts Council has acquired the Town Arts building on Spring Street across from the Post Office, and is in the process of renovating the building to make it “a home for the arts.” The first step is replacing the roof, which has already been approved by the Historic District Commission, Schratweiser said. He hopes to have the work completed by the end of August. Other necessary work will follow, including eventually fitting out the second floor as a place for visiting artists to stay. The building will be completely handicapped-accessible, he said.

The Town Arts building

A downstairs room, formerly a gallery and performance space, will be returned to those functions, he said. There will be exhibits by local and visiting artists and “small” performances such as poetry readings or acoustic concerts. “We’re not competing with The Mainstay,” Schratweiser said,

The Arts Council receives grants from the state, which it redistributes to local arts organizations all across the county, Schratweiser said. He said he would also like to set up a series of workshops and retreats to show those organizations the ins and outs of fundraising and grant writing.

Schratweiser is also planning a vigorous Artist in Residence program for the county, bringing in artists in all fields to interact with their local counterparts and give performances in the local community.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said she hoped the Arts Council will sponsor projects like the large mural painted on the rear wall of Tractor Supply along Morgnec Road.

Schratweiser said he had funding to cover such public arts projects and would like to do more. He invited council members to come visit his office in the Town Arts building to discuss any issues or ideas for the arts in the community.

Washington College President Kurt Landgraf

Also at the Monday council meeting, new Washington College President Kurt Landgraf introduced himself to the council. He announced September groundbreaking dates for two projects on the college’s waterfront campus. He also announced that the college will return the date of commencement to Sunday, a request several local merchants and restaurateurs had put before the council. “That’s a no-brainer,” he said.

Landgraf said a recent Spy editorial on the town and the college was a good foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship.

“All we can ask for is a president who understands the connectivity between the town and the college,” Mayor Chris Cerino said after Landgraf’s comments.

Drew McMullen, president of Sultana Education Foundation, requested approval for two changes in the Downrigging Weekend program. They would be two parades down High Street. One would be lighted boats on trailers, Friday night. He said the idea was inspired by a similar parade in Vermont. The other, Saturday morning after the town’s Halloween parade, would involve members of the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the Ferrari Club of America, who are already planning to meet nearby. McMullen said the cars would be on display along the waterfront, and the members would be patronizing local businesses. The council approved the changes.

The council also gave permission for an antique car gathering around Fountain Park on Wednesday, August 16, from 6 to 8 p.m. John Slocum, who would organize the event, described it as an informal get-together for car enthusiasts, whether for antique cars, sports cars or other vehicles they would like to show off. He has been working with Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown and Police Chief Adrian Baker to iron out the details. He said it could be a boost for downtown restaurants and businesses on what is currently a “dead night” downtown.

“It’s a neat idea,” Cerino said; “I hope it takes off.”

 

Shoge Will Not Run for Re-election

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Sam Shoge, Chestertown’s Third Ward councilman, announced in a Spy interview that he will not seek re-election.

First Ward Councilwoman Liz Gross announced at Monday’s council meeting that she is  not seeking re-election in the upcoming election, due to her husband’s health. That leaves two seats open in the town council elections, set for Tuesday, Nov. 2. Mayor Chris Cerino, who also faces re-election this fall, has not announced his intentions. The deadline for candidate filing is Friday, Oct. 6.

Shoge told the Spy, “After three and a half years of serving on the town council, it’s very difficult for me to say, but I will not be seeking re-election for the Third Ward on the Chestertown town council.” Shoge went on to explain: “I was fortunate enough to get a fantastic job with Talbot County, serving as their economic development coordinator, and I’m very grateful to the county council in Talbot for allowing me to finish out my four-year term. But for very obvious reasons, serving as an economic development coordinator for one jurisdiction while being on the town council for another one – it certainly opens me up to potential conflict, and it really wouldn’t serve anybody well. So I will be finishing out my four-year term and I won’t be seeking re-election.”

“Being on the town council has been an extremely enlightening experience,” Shoge said. “It’s kind of hard to believe, but I was 24 when I was first elected, and it seems like at the time I was so young, and so unprepared for something like this – constituent service, and really having to manage the fine details of a budget. I’m not afraid to admit, it was pretty overwhelming to begin with. But I really settled into the position, and what really kept me going was walking down the street and so many people expressing just how proud they were and how they were rooting for me and how I had their full support. That was really motivating and uplifting, and that allowed me to settle into the position comfortably to start taking on and pursuing different types of initiatives.”

Asked about his achievements during his council term, Shoge said, “What I am most proud of was working on the digital infrastructure of the town. One of the things that I campaigned on was the fact that we really needed a new website for the town. The old website at one time served the town just fine, but as I was coming onto the scene and campaigning, its overall limitations became very apparent very quickly. So that was one of the things I was focused and committed on revamping once I got elected. I really wanted the town to have a platform that all the residents could come to to find the information that they needed very easily and very quickly.

Shoge added, “The events calendar is one thing I think was a huge step up because it empowered our local community to populate that calendar with all the variety of events that take place in the town. So you had a one-stop destination to go to to find out all your resources – the trash pickup and recycling pickup schedules, and to figure out what is happening in the town on the weekend, and to figure out the contact information for your locally elected officials. And that really led to ways to market the town in ways that we really couldn’t have done prior to that.”

Asked about unfinished business he would like to complete during the remainder of his term, Shoge cited the project to build a community park in the Washington Park neighborhood in his ward. “But this is going to be a multi-phase project,” he said. “I’m really happy that I was able to lay that foundation and get things started, but it’s going to be tough not being able to finish that task.” He said he hoped to ensure that the next person to represent the Third Ward understands the community’s needs and desires. He said he had spoken to one possible candidate to succeed him in the council seat, exploring ways to make the transition smooth and to make sure they could commit to working with the community.

Shoge said he originally became intrigued with local politics when, as a young boy, he found the computer game “Sim City.” “There was just something about that game – getting to be a mayor, getting to build a town – that just lit a fire in me. And that has stuck with me since middle school.” He said it was surprising to some people that a video game could inspire that kind of passion. While in high school, he interned with the Kent County Planning and Zoning department. Going on to college, he minored in political science and public administration and interned with the Alamance County local government. “All of these things kind of stuck with me,” he said. Once he was out of college and working at Washington College, he said, “I couldn’t shake the overall feeling that there was a better and higher way I could serve my town.” So when several residents approached him about running for the council, he described it as “kind of the perfect collision of my overall desire to serve Chestertown and their desire to find somebody young and energetic” to run for council.

Looking back on his council term, Shoge said he hoped his term would serve as an inspiration for other young community members to consider running for office. “This is in fact something that you can do,” he said. “You’re never too young to serve your community and to make a difference and to make an impact.”

Shoge, whose family moved to Chestertown in 1990, is a graduate of Kent County High School and of Elon University in North Carolina, After college, he accepted a job in the Admissions department of Washington College, where his mother Ruth Shoge is Dean of library and academic technology. He accepted the position with Talbot County in November 2016.

 

Gross Will Not Seek Re-election to Chestertown Council

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At the Chestertown Council meeting July 10, First Ward Councilwoman Liz Gross announced that she will not seek re-election.

Councilwoman Liz Gross

Gross, who is completing her first council term, said her husband’s health has recently deteriorated, leaving him “virtually blind.” and forcing the couple to adapt to their new circumstances. “So, as a result, I will not be a candidate for election this fall,” she said. “I say that with a great deal of regret. I love serving on town council; I find it challenging. I did not expect the huge diversity of issues that we deal with all the time and the diversity of people to work with in reaching compromise. I have found that really enriching and enjoyable. And I just encourage candidates to come forward to represent the First Ward and I hope that whoever is successful will enjoy it as much as I have.”

Gross’s announcement came at the same meeting as the release of the preliminary schedule for the municipal election, in which the First and Third Ward seats as well as the office of mayor are up for election. Town Clerk Jen Mulligan said the town will accept candidates’ petitions beginning August 31. All candidates must turn in their petitions by Oct. 6, which is also the date on which voter registration for the town election closes. Mulligan said she has candidate packets prepared for anyone interested in running for any of the three seats to be decided. For more information, and for the full schedule, visit the  Chestertown website or call Mulligan at 410-778-0500.

Write-in candidacies are not allowed in Chestertown municipal elections.

The other two council seats, currently held by Second Ward Councilwoman Linda Kuiper and Fourth Ward Councilman Marty Stetson, will be up for election in 2019.

Also at the council meeting, Mayor Chris Cerino gave an update on work at the Chestertown Marina. He said the most recent change is a decision not to move the boat ramp, due in part to the expense of digging in a whole new area. He said users of the ramp had also asked for it to be kept in the current location. Also, he said, the travel lift, which the town originally planned to get rid of, will be retained due to residents’ requests.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he had inspected floating docks in Rock Hall that are similar to the ones planned for the marina. He said they would make the marina much easier for elderly or handicapped boaters to get on and off their boats.

Ingersoll said the town had removed two trees from Wilmer Park, one of which was diseased. The other was removed to make way for the Broad Reach sculpture, scheduled to be installed in the park Sept. 8, in conjunction with the Chestertown Jazz Festival. Ingersoll said the sidewalk in the area for the sculpture will also be moved to make room for it.

Ingersoll said the town will see only “a trickle” of tax revenues come in before September, when most residents pay their property tax bills. He said the town is awaiting grant funds designated for work at the marina, including one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and another for waterway improvements.

Town Utilities Manager Bob Sipes reported that he had prepared a final draft of requests for proposals for a project to map the town’s water and sewer lines. He said he would send them to council members for any last-minute adjustments before they go out to potential bidders.

Also, Sipes said, the town will be sending sampling kits to older homes with lead and copper pipes to comply with a state program to ensure the safety of their drinking water. He said the sampling has been done every three years “since before I got here” in some 20 homes. Most of the town has galvanized water pipes which don’t present a problem, he said.

Talking Movies at Town Hall

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Is there another movie theater in Chestertown’s future?

That was the question on the table at a meeting Wednesday night in Chestertown’s town hall. Kay MacIntosh and Jamie Williams, the economic development coordinators for Chestertown and Kent County respectively, met with a group of about 20 residents to explore ideas for replacing the Chester 5 Theatre, which closed after the June 4 shows.

Among those present was Matt Hogans, the local rental agent for Silicato Development, owner of the Washington Square Mall where the theater building is located. Hogans said the owner is not opposed to putting another theater in the vacant space. However, he said, renovating the space and replacing the projection equipment would cost as much as $750,000, if not more. He said Silicato would be open to working with a prospective tenant to ease the cost of getting the business up and running.

MacIntosh said she has spoken to the owners of the Chester 5, who said the new movie theater in Middletown, Del. had drawn away theater-goers with a larger, more modern facility, She said he also cited the presence of big-box shopping and restaurants in Middletown as a factor, along with the availability of alcoholic beverages in the theater there. With the closure of Chester 5, Middletown is now the closest theater to Kent County.

Others at the meeting cited online streaming services such as Netflix as a factor in the decline in theater business. Bob Kramer of Kinnaird’s Point said that rather than going to a theater for date night, millennials will often order in a pizza and beer and watch Netflix at someone’s home. Theaters have to offer something more than the traditional movie experience to compete, he said. “There aren’t many people under 35 here (at the meeting)<” he added.

Eliott Furhman of Kennedyville suggested streaming live concerts as a way to attract audiences to a theater. He said there are services that stream concerts by popular acts, opera companies and symphonies that are unavailable on home TV. Those could provide a solid income stream in addition to movies, he said.

Williams and MacIntosh said they had been in touch with operators of other movie theaters on the Eastern Shore, including those in Easton and Cambridge. They said the operators showed interest in taking over the Chester 5 facility if the economics made sense. Williams said that the theater is in the county’s newly designated enterprise zone, so there would be incentives for the capital investment needed to renovate the property. She said she had provided that information to the interested parties.

MacIntosh said she had talked to theater owners who had rented part of their facilities to restaurants where theater goers could eat before or after the movies. Beer and wine sales were critical factors in attracting customers, they told her.

One audience member asked if selling alcohol in a facility open to children would create problems.

Loretta Lodge of the Kent County Chamber of Commerce said alcohol sales don’t appear to have caused problems at Middletown. “They must have a way to police it,” she said.

MacIntosh said she knows of other communities where an older theater, often of the size and vintage of the Garfield Center, has been converted to a pizzeria with movie showings, often of classic or art films. She suggested that as a possible model for a public-private partnership theater. Several other attendees offered examples of communities that have adopted a similar model.

John Schratweiser of the Kent County Arts Council said there is a theater in Baltimore that Johns Hopkins University helps operate as part of a community partnership.

MacIntosh said Washington College should have a vested interest in a local theater. “They might want to cooperate,” she said.

Kramer said theaters could also make a fair amount of money from birthday parties and other private affairs.

One audience member asked whether the owner of P&G Theaters, which operated the Chester 5 complex, had tried any of the strategies being suggested. “If the previous operator didn’t think they were worthwhile, why would someone else take the risk?” he asked.

MacIntosh said the former operator, who had been in business many years, probably didn’t want to reinvent his business at this point. Middletown was a last straw for him, she said.

Furhman said the community might be better able to support three screens than five, as the theater previously offered.

MacIntosh said theater operators prefer more screens because they don’t know which of the films will break out with their audience..

Phillip Rosenberg said in his experience the audiences at the theater were better for more artistic films than for the “blockbusters.” He said the blockbusters often stayed too long, drawing very little audience after the first week.

MacIntosh said local theater operators have little choice about how long a given feature will run. She said it might work to have one screen in a multiplex supported by a local film society. “It would need to guarantee a certain income,” she said.

Richard Rosenberg said the Garfield, which was built as a movie theater, might be an attractive alternative to reopening the Chester 5. If it had an art film program, it could attract audiences from a wide area – it would be the only art theater on the Eastern Shore, he said. It would also appeal to the Washington College community, he said.

Vic Pfeiffer, a member of the Garfield board of directors, said the theater is often in use for rehearsals or otherwise unavailable for public events. He said the board had not yet discussed the possibility of a regular film program. At present, the Garfield doesn’t have a professional-quality screen or projector, he said.

The meeting broke up after about an hour. Summing up, MacIntosh said the community needs to plan for the kind of population and economy it wants. She said the proposed Chestertown Business Park being planned by Dixon Valve at the north end of town could be the first step in an economic revival. A viable entertainment scene would be a logical part of that revival, she said, and an added attraction for prospective employees considering a move to the area.

Hogans said he would pass along the ideas put forward in the meeting to the mall owner, who he said wants to work with the community.

 

Maryland and Virginia Move to Trim Bay Crab Harvest

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Crabbers in Maryland and Virginia face new harvest restrictions, a move that managers in both states have said is necessary because of the Chesapeake Bay’s low population of juvenile crustaceans.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced Tuesday that the commercial crab season will close Nov. 20, ten days earlier than it did last year. The state’s crabbers also face a cutback in the number of adult female crabs they can harvest. Those who fish 300 pots will be able to keep five bushels of females, as opposed to nine last year; those with a 600-pot license can keep 10, as opposed to 13 last year; and those with a 900-pot license can keep 15, as opposed to 30 last year.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) voted Tuesday to close its crabbing season Nov. 30 — twenty days earlier than last year. Virginia also instituted reduced bushel limits for its license holders for all of November. It will open its 2018 spring season March 17, instead of March 1 this year.

VMRC board chairman John M.R. Bull called the commission’s decision “prudent management of this species” and said the crabbers recognized they were taking a necessary step. “Crab management issues are always difficult, but we’ve seen tremendous improvements in the species over the past seven or eight years,” he said. “We have the largest number of adult female crabs. We have to protect the juveniles, though. This year’s babies are next year’s mamas.”

The harvest cuts come after the latest winter dredge survey results, released in April, showed that the highest number of female crabs in the 28-year history of the annual count. The tally for females was 254 million, a 31 percent increase over last year.

But the Baywide survey, which counts the crabs in more than 1,000 locations as they burrow in the mud, showed a marked decrease in young crabs. It estimated that there were 125 million juveniles in the Chesapeake — a 54 percent decrease from the 271 million found in 2016. That is the lowest tally since 2013 (a year when crabbers also had their catch curtailed) and one of the five lowest estimates since 1990, managers said.

Catches of the Chesapeake’s most valuable seafood are being curtailed later in the year in an effort to protect the smaller population of juvenile crabs as they reach market size, so that they will be around to reproduce next year.

Maryland DNR’s Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee and Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission approved the cuts in votes this week, DNR officials said. The DNR’s announcement came a day after the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, made up of federal and state fisheries officials, warned both states to take a “cautious, risk-averse approach” to managing blue crabs.

Billy Rice, chairman of the DNR Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission and a Southern Maryland crabber, said the department was doing just that with this decision.

“We’re taking a conservative approach. We’re not going whole hog. We tried to make the changes as liberal as possible, but we felt there had had to be a response,” he said. Other options included a shorter season and less of a bushel cut; Rice said it’s better for the population and the markets to have a longer season with a higher bushel limit.

By law, the Virginia commission must annually consider reopening that state’s winter dredge fishery for crabs, which would allow crabbers to take pregnant females that spend the cold months burrowed in the mud. The dredge fishery in Virginia closed a decade ago, a move researchers have credited with helping the Bay’s crab population recover from a crisis in 2008. This year, Bull said, no one asked for the fishery to be reopened.

Not every crab scientist approves of how management has reacted to the year-over-year changes in the notoriously boom-and-bust blue crab species. Tom Miller, a crab specialist who directs the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said it’s hard to evaluate the population’s long-term stability and the harvest it can withstand if management reacts seasonally. Crabs live between one and three years and can reproduce furiously, or not much at all. After being spawned near the mouth of the Bay, their offspring hitch a ride on ocean currents back into the Chesapeake. Some years, many return; some years, many don’t.

“I am not convinced that we need to change management,” Miller told the Bay Journal in May. “One of my concerns has been that managers have been too responsive to individual winter dredge survey results. The reference points are meant to be long-term responses of the crab population under constant conditions — and as a result, frequent changes to the management regime makes evaluation of this problematical.”

No Maryland DNR fisheries managers were available to answer questions about the state’s new harvest limits, a department spokesman said.

In the past, the DNR’s longtime blue crab manager, Brenda Davis, would have explained changes in management to both the public and crabbers But Davis, a 28-year employee, lost her job in February after several Dorchester County watermen held a private meeting with Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. and his deputy chief of staff, Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, an Eastern Shore native who is close to many watermen.

They accused Davis of not being flexible enough about rules on the legal size of crabs. Those rules have not been changed, though a small group of crabbers continue to push for it.

“When you fire your expert,” Billy Rice said, “it’s pretty tough [to provide information].”

By Rona Kobell

Bay Journal staff writer Rona Kobell is a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

Celebrating History in Chestertown

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Chestertown’s Civil War monument

Chestertown is known for its history, and at the June 19 meeting of the town council, residents outlined plans for three observances of that rich history.

Coming up this weekend is an observance of the 100th anniversary of the installation of the Civil War monument in the town’s Monument Park. Ceremonies featuring re-enactors and two bands will include a wreath-laying at the monument at 10:15 Saturday, Thomas Hayman told the council.

Monument Park — the Civil War monument is at the far end.

The Fort Delaware Cornet Band will play music of the Civil War era at around 2 p.m., and re-enactors will perform drills and show how Union and Confederate soldiers lived in camp and on campaign. Hayman said there will be no firing of weapons, and the demonstrations will be confined to the park area. Except for a brief period for the participants to march in, from lower on High Street, there will be no interruption of traffic, he said.

The monument itself bears the names of Kent County troops from the Union army on its north side and those of Confederate troops on its south side. It was donated in 1917 by Judge James Alfred Pearce, who both designed and paid for the granite monument.

Nearby is a more recent monument commemorating the more than 400 Kent County residents who served with the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War.

Airlee Johnson of the Historical Society

At the same meeting, Airlee Johnson of the Kent County Historical Society requested permits for street closures for Legacy Day, August 19. The event, which includes a parade, a concert in Fountain Park, and a genealogy workshop at Kent County Public Library, recognizes the history of the whole community, Johnson said. In its fourth year, the festival has drawn a large and diverse crowd to town.

This year’s festival honors the teachers in Kent County’s black schools during the segregation era. The teachers will be recognized at a reception at Sumner Hall Friday, August 18, and will ride in the parade. The Legacy Day has contacted as many teachers as its researchers could locate, and many of them will be returning from out of town to take part in the ceremonies.

The concert, Saturday night, featuring danceable music of the Motown era, is in cooperation with Chestertown’s Music in the Park program. For the concert, High Street between Cross and Spring streets will be closed off, and parking will be closed on all four sides of the park. There will be food vendors and several nonprofits will also have booths open to distribute information.

Tess Hogans shows photos from the Stories in Service program. Her daughter Marian watches

Also at the council meeting, Tess Hogans of the Garfield Center asked the council for a letter of support for an event at the theater Friday, Nov. 10, a continuation of the “Stories in Service” program the theater launched along with its production of “Mister Roberts.” The program consisted of interviews and photos of local service men and women displayed in the theater lobby and on the Chestertown Spy. The program got a much greater response than expected, Hogans said, so to accommodate those who couldn’t be included the first time, the theater will post all the pictures in the lobby in November in time for Veterans Day.

Hogans said she was working to get a Marine Corps color guard and a military band – possibly from the U.S. Navy to add to the recognition of the local veterans. She said one of the questions she needed to answer in the application for a military band was whether the program had the support of the local government. The council voted to send a letter of support.

Park to Be Dedicated to Louisa Carpenter

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The recreational area of Chestertown’s Washington Park is to be renamed to honor the late Louisa D’Andelot Carpenter in ceremonies Saturday, June 25.

The Chestertown Council approved the renaming at its meeting Monday, June 19, upon a request from members of the Washington Park Committee and Brant Troup, chairman of the Chestertown Recreation Commission.

Brandt Troup (L) , chairman of the Chestertown Recreation Commission, and representatives of the Washington Park Committee at the town council meeting Monday

Louisa Carpenter (1907-1976)

Carpenter, who died in a private plane crash in 1976, was a DuPont heiress and philanthropist whose projects included donating the land for Camp Fairlee, building the former bowling alley on Church Hill Road, and the creation of Washington Park, for which she donated the property and arranged funding for low-income families.

Councilman Sam Shoge, in whose ward Washington Park is located, put the request before the council, He said the dedication ceremony would be at 9 a.m. Saturday, and open to all. He said the community would install signage to recognize the new name at a future date. The park is at the intersection of Lincoln and Kennedy Drives, off Flatland Road.

Councilman Marty Stetson said he had known Carpenter, who he said “did a lot of good in the community.” He suggested that the committee see if there are any Carpenter relatives still living and extend an invitation to them. He said former mayor Elmer Horsey had worked for Carpenter and suggested contacting him to see if he knew of any relatives.

Shoge said the committee had gone through Horsey to contact the Carpenter estate about the use of her name, for which they received permission, He said they would follow up with him to see if there were any relatives who wished to attend the ceremony.

Troup also reported that the Recreation Commission and the Washington Park Committee are working with Zoning Administrator Kees de Mooy on an application for a Community Parks and Playgrounds grant from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He said a similar application a few years ago was unsuccessful, but he hoped that the community’s involvement in working to upgrade the park facilities would work in favor of receiving the grant this time. Among the upgrades are the addition of benches, a swing set, and horseshoe pits. Future projects would include a walking trail, a pavilion and some landscaping, and renovation of the small basketball court, He said the application would go out in the early fall.

In the event the grant application is unsuccessful, Troup asked if the Recreation Commission budget would remain stable over the next  couple of years, so as to provide a contingency fund for more gradual upgrades on the park.

Mayor Chris Cerino said that in his experience the Community Parks and Playgrounds grants are very competitive. He said that if the application is turned down, the commission should plan on more gradual upgrades, as were done with the Ajax playground near the rail trail.

Troup also said that the Recreation Commission is planning to team with the Kent Athletic Center to sponsor a kickball league, which he said might draw as much interest as the very successful bocce league.

Finally, Troup said his term as chairman of the commission expires at the end of the month, and the bylaws prohibit his return in that capacity. He said he has a prospective candidate to replace him, and would give the name to the council to consider. He said he would be glad to continue on the commission as a regular member.

 

Pennsylvania Starts to Draft Plan to Address Bay Shortfall

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Pennsylvania’s effort to write a more robust Bay cleanup strategy was launched last week in a packed hotel auditorium where more than 200 people gathered to offer their initial thoughts about what a new — and more implementable — plan would look like.

The state is so far behind its Bay cleanup obligations that it is jeopardizing Chesapeake restoration efforts as a whole. All states in the Bay drainage have to write new Watershed Implementation Plans in the next year and a half to guide cleanup their efforts through the 2025 cleanup deadline, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has singled out Pennsylvania’s plan-writing process for increased scrutiny because of its shortfall.

“The challenge is great, but we can do it together,” Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell told the gathering, noting that efforts to clean the Bay will also benefit state waterways.

It will indeed be a challenge. According to the EPA’s most recent review, Pennsylvania needs to control 34 million pounds of nitrogen runoff from 2016 through 2025 — about 70 percent of the total remaining nitrogen reduction for the entire Bay watershed.

Nutrient pollution spurs algae blooms in the Bay that clouds the water, blocking sunlight from critical underwater grass beds. When the algae die, they deplete water of the oxygen needed by fish, crabs and other species.

Because of its gaping shortfall, the EPA recently warned state officials in a letter that the agency was ramping up oversight of Pennsylvania’s cleanup efforts and could take further actions if the state doesn’t come up with a viable cleanup plan —one that specifies beefed-up regulations and new funding — in the next 18 months.

“I think everyone in the room is aware of the consequences of us not meeting our obligations,” McDonnell said. Those consequences could include more EPA inspections of farms and municipal stormwater systems, specific nutrient-reduction goals for large-scale animal feeding operations and stormwater dischargers, and mandatory upgrades of wastewater treatment plants, among other actions.

State officials anticipate — at least for now — that 80 percent of the needed nitrogen reduction will come from the more than 33,000 farms in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake basin, which they acknowledge will be a challenge.

“I worry every day about the 80 percent and the pressure on agriculture to get this done,” Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said in an interview.

He said more of the nutrient reduction responsibility may ultimately have to be shifted to other sources. But that won’t happen unless the agricultural sector can show that farmers are stepping up.

As part of that, many county conservation districts, along with state agencies, have ramped up farm inspections since last fall to check that farmers have required conservation plans — and, ultimately, are implementing them. That effort is critical, Redding said, to showing others that the agricultural sector is addressing its challenge.

“You can’t have an intelligent conversation about changing [the 80 percent number] until you really get folks who have a current obligation to do the plan,” Redding said. But it’s a massive job, he said, noting that Lancaster County alone has 5,500 farms. Still, he added, farmers are beginning to accept the oversight, noting that complaints about the increased farm inspections have been fewer than expected.

“There hasn’t been hostility to that,” Redding said. “I’ve had one phone call out of the 1,194 visits that the farmer was really pushing back on why this is happening.”

For any program or new initiative, the key issue will be funding. The EPA, in its letter, said the state needs to show how it will come up with the funds needed to implement the updated Bay cleanup plan. Gov. Tom Wolf has called for $45 million in increased funding over the next three years to help support Bay efforts, but that’s well short of what is needed. EPA officials have estimated the state needs a $50 million to $80 million increase just its agricultural cost-share program.

McDonnell said the governor’s proposal was only a “down payment.” The legislature is considering several proposals that could generate more money for clean water projects, but the viability of those efforts is uncertain, and they are unlikely to be part of the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Funding for state environmental programs has declined over the last decade, and budget deadlocks between the legislature and the governor in recent years have made the situation even worse.

Ensuring that the General Assembly comes up with additional funding, said Cindy Dunn, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, will be a critical to making any new plan a reality. “Even as we sit here, across the river important decisions are going to be made that will affect our ability to carry out the aspirations of today,” Dunn said, referring to the ongoing General Assembly session in Harrisburg.

Leaders emphasized that while the need to meet Bay cleanup goals is driving action, state water quality will benefit from the work. “This is a clean local water plan for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” McDonnell said.

Indeed, Dunn said the state has enough woes of its own so that water quality conversations “don’t have to include the words Chesapeake Bay to be effective.”

Pennsylvania doesn’t touch the Bay itself, but half of the state, including all or parts of 43 of the state’s 67 counties, drains into the Chesapeake, primarily down the Susquehanna River.

“Tragically, on some of the hottest days of the summer, after a rainstorm, we have to close beaches at parks because the E. coli levels are too high,” Dunn said.

At the June 5 event, about 240 people gathered to share ideas, more than had attended any meetings during the development of earlier Bay cleanup plans developed in 2010 and 2011 — which many considered a top-down exercise that resulted in unrealistic plans.

Repeatedly, officials emphasized that the new plans had to be, in McDonnell’s words, “realistic and achievable and gets us where we ultimately need to go, which is cleaning up local water quality.”

The meeting drew representatives for agriculture, local government officials, conservation districts, watershed groups and others to present ideas — the type of inclusion state officials had hoped to see. So many people wanted to be part of the process that organizers had to turn away several requests to register, said Veronica Kasi, coordinator of the DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Office.

They met in small groups to discuss topics as varied as funding, roadside drainage management, local goal-setting, citizen science, messaging and new approaches to riparian forest buffers.

McDonnell said that participation by “everyone who’s partnered with us” on the plan will been necessary to make it a reality.

“Sometimes I walk into a room and conversation shuts down,” he said. “So engaging with conservation districts and engaging with some of the ag associations is essential in getting this done. The encouraging thing to me is that they’ve wanted to be actively engaged as a partner.”

By Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and executive director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991.

Chesapeake Bay’s ‘Dead Zone’ Expected to be Larger than Average this Summer

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A year after experiencing its best water quality in decades, the Chesapeake Bay is expected to have a larger than average “dead zone” this summer, where fish, crabs and shellfish will struggle to breathe.

Researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the University of Michigan are forecasting that the volume of oxygen-starved water in the Bay will grow to 1.9 cubic miles, enough to fill nearly 3.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“Dead zone” is the popular term for water that’s low in oxygen, or “hypoxic.” Fish often avoid or leave such areas, but if they’re trapped — or are immobile, like shellfish — they can suffocate.

“The forecast is a reminder that the improvements such as we saw last year are subject to reversal depending on weather conditions—two steps forward, one step back,” said UMCES President Donald F. Boesch.

Last year, dissolved oxygen concentrations in the Bay mainstem and the tidal portions of its rivers were the best they’ve been in three decades. Many areas maintained levels high enough to sustain fish and other aquatic life, and no place experienced “anoxic” conditions, in which there is virtually no oxygen in the water. The diminished dead zone came on the heels of a robust rebound of Bay grasses and improved water clarity in much of the Chesapeake.

But last year’s good conditions stemmed in part from below-average rainfall. This spring, scientists say, heavy rains fell in Pennsylvania and New York, flushing an above-average amount of nitrogen down the Susquehanna River.

Scientists expect an above-average volume of hypoxic water, while the smaller anoxic zone is expected to be average in size early in summer – 0.35 cubic miles — before it grows to slightly larger than average by late summer, at 0.49 cubic miles.

“Although the higher forecasts for this summer seem to buck a recent trend toward lower anoxic volumes in Chesapeake Bay, they are consistent with known links between high river flows and oxygen depletion,” said Jeremy Testa, assistant professor at the UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.

The Bay’s chief water-quality problem stems from nutrient pollution. Excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus from farm, urban and suburban runoff, and from sewage treatment plants, among other sources, feed massive algae blooms in the Bay and its tributaries. The algae then die and sink to the bottom, where their decomposition consumes oxygen in the water. Typically, a large area of hypoxic water forms each summer, stressing fish and shellfish, while a smaller area experiences anoxic conditions.

This spring’s heavy rains in Pennsylvania and New York delivered 81.4 million pounds of nitrogen to the Bay via the Susquehanna, a little more than the long-term average. The dead zone forecast is based on mathematical models developed with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and it relies on nutrient estimates provided by the U.S. Geological Survey. Scientists say that notwithstanding the return this summer of a worse-than-average dead zone, the Bay’s water quality does appear to be trending better overall.

“Despite this year’s forecast, we’ve made great strides in reducing nutrient pollution from various sources entering the Chesapeake Bay, and we are starting to see positive long-term signs,” said Rob Magnien, director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. “However, more work needs to be done to address non-point nutrient pollution, from farms and other developed lands, to make the Bay cleaner for its communities and economic interests.”

The Trump administration has proposed eliminating federal funding next year for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, in addition to deep cuts in other federal programs that contribute to the restoration effort.

Boesch said the forecast shows why the federal government can’t let up on the Bay restoration effort, which began in the early 1980s. After slow progress and repeatedly missed cleanup deadlines, the EPA imposed a “pollution diet” in 2010. The six states in the Chesapeake watershed and the District of Columbia have until 2025 to take all the steps needed to reduce nutrients and maintain good oxygen levels year-round — which in turn benefits the plants and animals that depend on that oxygen.

“This underscores the critical importance,” Boesch said, “of continued investments by federal agencies in science and monitoring as the states continue to implement the Bay’s pollution diet.”

by Tim Wheeler

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for the Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.