Affordable Care Act: One Young Cancer Patient in Maryland

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Presents sat unopened in her family’s Davidsonville house in April, while at Johns Hopkins Hospital her parents told her she had Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous tumor growing in her stomach. The disease is so rare that only about 225 children in the United States are diagnosed each year.

Ella Edwards, 9, holds the opening page of a story she is writing about her fight with cancer. Ella was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma on her birthday. Capital News Service photo by Aaron Rosa.

The Edwards family entered a new reality of oncologists and treatments.

“It was crazy fast,” Jen Edwards said. “We were taken up to oncology, and I was thinking, what are we doing here? There are kids with cancer here.

“At that point we weren’t even thinking of insurance.”

The Edwards family hadn’t been following the congressional debates over the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” But now they, like millions of other Americans, would have to deal with a pre-existing condition — which before the Affordable Care Act meant companies could refuse insurance.

Though Congress and the Trump Administration have tried — and failed — to repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, these patients remain worried about their future.

“The ACA was something I never paid attention to,” Jen Edwards said. “You just assume your child is never going to get sick and be healthy all their lives.”

Brian Edwards runs Hague Quality Water, a water treatment company, owned by his father, that has been in his family over 20 years. He purchased health insurance for his children, which, he said, cost less than what he would have to pay through work.

A week before Ella’s birthday, a stomach flu hit the family, but Ella did not respond to the usual medications.

Ella Edwards walks into the room where she will receive the third of six proton radiotherapy treatments. Capital News Service photo by Aaron Rosa.

Doctors at Anne Arundel Medical Center found a grapefruit-sized tumor pressing against her bladder and transferred her immediately to Johns Hopkins University for further testing.

There, the doctors diagnosed the cancer. And two days after her parents took her to the hospital for what they thought was a stomach bug, Ella began receiving chemotherapy.

At Hopkins, Jen Edwards recalls, hospital administrators made a crucial discovery: Ella had been admitted through the emergency room. If Ella was discharged, Johns Hopkins would not readmit her because, though the emergency visit was covered, Hopkins did not accept her insurance for continuing treatment, a staff member confirmed.

They stopped the family from leaving. The administrators recommended that Brian Edwards purchase a new plan, under “Obamacare,” that would cover Ella’s future treatment — avoiding a bill of $80,000.

In a stroke of luck, Hague Quality Water was in a two-week period where the business could choose a new insurance provider for their employees. Brian Edwards switched his company’s coverage to Evergreen Health, a plan on the state health exchange that offered in-state health insurance for Ella’s condition.

Ella’s newly diagnosed cancer is included on a list of declinable conditions that would have caused her application for insurance to be automatically denied in all but five states before the health care law, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Evergreen Health’s monthly premium is $1,900, nearly 30 times the $66 premium he previously paid for insurance covering all his children — the policy from a company that Johns Hopkins would not accept.

“Even if you can’t pay the bills in that moment, you’re still going to do the treatment,” Jen Edwards said.

She leafed through a thick, worn binder filled with letters from doctors, scraps of paper with hastily jotted notes, and bills — dozens of bills.

Ella’s initial seven-day hospitalization topped $41,000, including $17,000 for room and board, and $20,000 for her first round of chemotherapy.

Four months of cancer treatments, visits with specialists, and hospitalizations racked up over $200,000. All but their $1,500 deductible was paid by their insurance company.

Before the Obama health care law, those costs led many families to bankruptcy.

A study conducted by Harvard University and published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2007 found that from 2001 to 2007, bankruptcies attributable to medical problems increased by 50 percent and comprised 67 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States.

Cost of life, a metric used to quantify one year of life with cancer treatment, rose from $54,100 in 1995, to $207,000 in 2013. This statistic does not include expenses like surgery or home care, nor does it account for the loss of income resulting from a chronic illness.

Brian and Jen Edwards held a different view of the health care law before Ella’s diagnosis. Back then, they viewed “Obamacare” as socialization of health care.

“For me, Ella’s cancer changed my perspective about the Affordable Care Act,” Jen Edwards said.

“Knowing some of these children that are also at Hopkins, I know their families can’t afford it,” she trails off. “Every child should get care.”

Jen Edwards has quit her job at a local church to care for Ella.

Brian Edwards supplements his work-provided policy with an additional policy to cover the more expensive drugs not covered by Evergreen.

The additional policy is income-based. With five children and a single income, the Edwards family qualifies for its insurance. But if Jen Edwards were to resume working and the family income increased, they would be ineligible.

But even with government subsidies, the Edwards family’s health insurance policies cost him over $2,500 a month.

“It’s overwhelming,” Brian Edwards said. “I don’t know how people do it without insurance.”

Ewing’s sarcoma has a good prognosis if it has not spread. Ella’s has spread to her lungs.

Ella has completed nine of 14 rounds of chemotherapy and is undergoing an eight-week proton radiotherapy treatment plan in lieu of a surgery that would have removed two of her vertebrae.

The family’s life is now shaped by cancer.

Ella and her siblings manned a lemonade stand on the side of a nearby road this summer to raise money for Ewing’s sarcoma research. The family visited Hershey Park. And Ella attended a special week-long camp sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Hospital and staffed by medical personnel.

What they did not do this summer was watch the healthcare debate on television.

Brian Edwards canceled their cable TV subscription. The Edwards children watch cartoons on Netflix.

“Nothing good comes from watching the news,” Brian Edwards said.
But the next wave of bad news didn’t come through the television. It came in the mail.

As a non-profit, Evergreen could no longer cover the costs of its clients, and in a final desperate measure, converted to a for-profit model and sought an outside investor.

Investors dropped out of the Evergreen acquisition deal this summer. In August, the Edwards family received a letter from Evergreen Health announcing that it would be going out of business, honoring existing contracts but closing its doors for good in 2018.

“We’ve been lucky to have coverage so far,” Brian Edwards said softly. “But with Evergreen going out of business, next year is going to be very different.”

Brian Edwards again switched his company’s insurance from Evergreen to Maryland Blue Cross Blue Shield.

His monthly premium increased by $400.

By Aaron Rosa

Ryan, Harris Tout Tax Reforms in Dixon Valve Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House Sp[eaker Paul Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protesters hold signs outside Dion Valve

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

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Recycling — Make It Better

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Ford Schumann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Marylanders Collect Donations to Help Puerto Rico

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Organizing aid collections is one way that many Puerto Ricans on the mainland have begun to shake off the “impotencia,” or powerlessness, they feel since Hurricane Maria slammed into their home island almost two weeks ago.

While Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday that he was sending a 26-member team of the Maryland National Guard to assist on the ground in Puerto Rico, many people from the territory believe that more work needs to be done. As a result, donation sites, many set up by former residents of Puerto Rico, have sprouted across the state.

A sign on the front door of the Tabernacle Church lists items it is collecting in its lobby for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. (Photo by Helen Parshall / Capital News Service)

“The fact is that our families being alive is not enough,” said Carolyn Faría, of Gaithersburg, Maryland. “It is a blessing and we are happy that they are alive, but it is not enough. We need them being okay day-to-day.”

Faría, originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, was one of several people in neon vests directing cars through the drop-off lines at Dynamite Gymnastics Center on Saturday. The Rockville site served as a centralized hub for some of Maryland’s suburbs to send donations to be shipped to the island through the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA).

“Everyone here today has been touched by a family member who is suffering in one way or another,” Faría said, speaking both for herself and other volunteers, many of whom have family on the island. “We are voters, we are citizens and we are part of the United States. We are here and we need help.”

There were more than sixty volunteers on site Saturday, Faría told Capital News Service. On Sunday, the number had almost doubled with more than 100 people lending support.

Over the course of the two days, Faría said that volunteers filled a dozen 26-foot trucks with the donations bound for Puerto Rico.

“We’re a big community of Puerto Ricans in this area,” Faría said. “When bad things like this happen, although I pray they never do again, it doesn’t matter what town you’re from. We’re all working together because our families need us.”

Hyattsville was another of several sites in Maryland that sent shipments to the Dynamite Gymnastics Center. Candace Hollingsworth, Hyattsville’s mayor, was outside the municipal building with several volunteers to “stuff the van” for Puerto Rico on Saturday morning.

Hollingsworth has been critical of the federal government’s actions since the storm, saying in a tweet that President Donald Trump should “work harder” at relief efforts in the Caribbean. She drove the van to Rockville herself on Saturday afternoon.

“I’m here because I have friends from Puerto Rico, and I think it’s important that we help since the federal government isn’t doing anything in a timely fashion,” said Justine Christianson, one of the Hyattsville volunteers.

In the days after the storm, friends Waleska Cruz, Tanya Malpica and Eileen Romero channeled their heartbreak into working across almost two dozen local collection sites to gather supplies to send through PRFAA to communities on the devastated island.

“Being in the United States, you never think you’re going to get the call from your family that they need food and water,” Romero said. “The tedious work of these donations is almost therapeutic when you’re stripped of the ability to be there and help them.”

All three women are from Carolina, a northeastern town in Puerto Rico. While Malpica and Cruz were friends growing up, they did not meet Romero until they were living in and around Laurel, Maryland.

“Most of my family is on the island,” Malpica said. “I’m blessed that even though I can’t be there yet, I have amazing friends checking in, and I know people are taking care of my family.”

“I want to be there and help,” added Cruz. “From food, water, gas – there are so many concerns, and we want take a flight down there to do anything we can.”

Tabernacle Church and Loving Arms Christian Center are two of the main collection sites the women are working with in Laurel, Maryland. The churches’ involvement means a lot because it is the “home churches” opening their doors, Romero said.

Vernice and Roberto Gonzalez, the pastors of Loving Arms Christian Center, canceled the usual Thursday Bible study to be able to organize donations and fill trucks with supplies.

“We are joining forces with everyone willing to sow a seed to Puerto Rico,” Roberto Gonzalez said as he led the community in a closing prayer. “In this difficult and trying moment, this is where the Bible becomes reality.”

“This is us putting our love for one another into action,” said Vernice Gonzalez. “We’re praying for God to help them, and we will be continuing to do this as long as there is need.”

For Cruz, Malpica and Romero, it also important to plan for the future.

“In the longer term, things will stabilize and get better, but right now we don’t want to deplete resources from people who need them on the island,” Romero said.

The three are brainstorming ideas – from 5K races to dance parties – to keep communities on the mainland engaged once the immediacy of the storm damage begins to fade from public consciousness. They hope to be able to fly down by the end of October to be able to help rebuild and clean up their homes.

“The hardest part is the waiting game,” Romero said. “It feels like it’s been a month since Maria but it’s not even been two weeks.”

“We have to understand that this is not a three-, six-, or even one-year situation,” Malpica added. “This will take years to recover from. When the hype dies down, people on the island will still be suffering. That’s when our support matters even more.”

by Helen Parshall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photography by Jane Jewell and Peter Heck

Hogan Sues EPA over Power Plant Pollution from Neighboring States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By J.F. Meils and Julie Depenbrock

US House Moves to Keep EPA from Enforcing Bay Pollution Diet

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

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

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R–VA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sultana Downrigging Weekend – Tall Ships Return Oct 27-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

New events at Downrigging 2017 include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Downrigging Fleet at Dawn, photo by Chris Cerino

Coming Attraction — Movie Theater to Reopen!

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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.