The Fighting 27th District, That Is
photo by Maggie Thomas
Del. George Owings, rear, vows to look over the shoulders of P.G. County delegates James Proctor, left, and Joseph Vallario, who will now represent parts of Anne Arundel and Calvert counties with the gerrymandering of District 27.
Ron Wolfe knows about change and resistance. The former head of the tempestuous Deale-Shady Side Small Area Planning Committee, Wolfe was elected president of the South County Democratic Club after a hard-fought race against former president Bea Poulin last December. He has big plans for the club, which include taking a more activist role in county politics. The goal is to attract new members interested in making Southern Anne Arundel County a model for adhering to critical area regulations.
The club had been bumping along, not attracting new members, Wolfe said. We now have a renewed interest in environmental issues, especially sprawl and uncontrolled growth. We are dead serious about our commitment to our environmental heritage.
The first test of Wolfes plan came in the form of a controversial new legislative redistricting plan, approved by Maryland State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Millers redistricting committee, and recently proposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. The Maryland General Assembly has until February 23 to make changes to the plan. But Miller said he does not expect any more revisions to be approved.
The new plan will remove four Southern Anne Arundel precincts from Del. George Owings district (27B) and include them in Del. James Proctor and Del. Joseph Vallarios Prince Georges County district (27A). It will also move 6,800 residents of Owings, in Calvert County, from District 27B to District 27A, together as two precincts from Charles County.
Miller said the unprecedented growth in Southern Maryland made the changes necessary. If there was any way possible to keep from making the [redistricting] changes, we would have done it, Miller said. Theres no way around the numbers.
To the Democratic Clubs February meeting, Wolfe invited Owings to introduce Vallario and Proctor. Club members, new and old, packed the dining room at Pirates Cove Restaurant to meet their future delegates to the Maryland General Assembly or throw rotten vegetables.
For the proposed changes have caused controversy throughout the state. Some in the Republican Party have complained that the process of drawing lines across rivers and jumping across counties, was politically motivated to give an advantage to the Democratic Party in future elections.
As leader of the Democratic Party, Millers goal is to get more Democrats elected, said Bobby Sturgell, an Owings resident who ran against Miller in the last election. The way they drew 27B, there are very few options for me or David Hale, a Republican commissioner in Calvert County.
Some members of local citizens associations including the Deale Merchants Association, the Owings Area Citizens Association and the Southern Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce echo complaints of political motivation. Others claim the differences in values and issues in such a diverse constituency will leave citizens outside of Prince Georges County disenfranchised.
We have issues and needs they dont have, said Deale Merchants Association president Claire Mallicote.
Were trying to promote a quiet little village, maritime living. I dont see any fish coming out of P.G.
County. The only thing fishy about this whole mess is the politicians.
Miller countered that outsiders have benefits. They may work harder, and show up at more events, because they know they have to be there.
Wolfe agreed. Ive met with Vallario and Proctor and I think they will take care of our district, Wolfe said. Its utter nonsense that people are being disenfranchised. We do have a vote. In fact, now we have three votes.
To Vallario and Proctor as they faced the crowd, Wolfe said, I welcome you into our district. Or rather, I welcome ourselves into your district!
You got it right the first time, someone yelled from the audience to a loud round of applause.
From the outset, the two delegates promised unity, support, shared values and commitment.
Were called the fighting 27th, Proctor said. We do the fighting for the people we represent. I know of no reason why it shouldnt be the same for you.
You have gained two sons in Annapolis, Vallario said.
Owings, who is popular with his constituents, insisted that his commitment to Southern Maryland, and the people who live there, was unchanged.
Im the first line of defense, Owings said. Ill take care of the citizens, that aint going to change.
Owings reassured Mohan Grover, owner of Rennos Market in Shady Side and a member of the Southern Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce. When George said we will get three delegates, not lose him, he put everyone at ease, Grover said, promising to take that message back to the Chamber.
No tomatoes were thrown, and from Wolfe to Miller, the Democratic leadership assuaged anxiety and held sway.
The meeting went so well, Vallario said, that the District 27 delegates intended to take our act on the road. Their next scheduled visit was Rose Haven Citizens Associations February 13 meeting. He also said if he was invited to meet with the Owings Area Citizens Association, or any other citizens group, he would gladly attend.
The best defense is a good offense, Vallario said. Weve got to get out and see the people.
Update: A Bay Trust to Count On
Wouldnt you like to know your paycheck was safe for five full years? The Chesapeake Bay Trust does.
Sailing early through both House and Senate, Annapolis Del. Dick DAmatos bill has assured the Trust which serves as a venture capital fund for citizens bright environmental ideas will be around through 2008.
In its 16-year life, the Trust has invested $10.5 million in some 2,500 schools, community associations, environmental groups and public agencies. Its 4,000 grants have ranged from $48 to stencil Dont Dump Chesapeake Bay Drainage on street-level drains to a high of about $50,000.
Last year in Anne Arundel County, for example, the Severn River Association asked for and received $24,000 to plant Atlantic white cedar trees in a wetland at Brewers Creek. In Calvert County, the American Chestnut Land Trust got $14,225 to restore shorelines and to plant buffers on their property along Parkers Creek.
Our favorites, said director David Minges, are those we see written by students, and we get them from as young as third grade, They come in pencil, very direct, and they go to the heart of the matter.
Nowadays, the spread is about a million dollars a year through some 400 projects. The bulk of that money comes from us, but not a penny of it do we pay in taxes.
Hundreds of thousands of Marylanders have donated some $10 million to the Trust over 10 years for the privilege of tagging their cars with Treasure the Bay commemorative license plates with the signature blue heron.
Six million more dollars have come from the Bay check-off on our income tax forms. The Trusts fund balance of about $10 million is banked for future grants while earning income. Its interest more than covers administrative costs.
Until DAmatos bill, what was lacking was assurance that the Trust would be reauthorized by the legislature every two years. With its longer prospects, the Trust can now do some mid-range planning.
In a year when you cant foresee much in way of new programs because of our budget, said DAmato, these kind of victories keep the environmental movement moving.
Ask for grants under $1,000 any time. Larger grants are reviewed quarterly. Information: www.chesapeakebaytrust.org.
Whats Our General Assembly Going to Do for the Bay This Year?
If the Chesapeake Bay had ears, theyd be tuned into the Maryland General Assembly, meeting from now to April. This years 90-day legislative session will decide which environmentally friendly programs survive and which fall through the cracks.
Many programs are in jeopardy because of this years budget crisis.
Were going to have to work very hard to protect the environmental programs from their share of cuts, but everyone is going to have to take a hit, said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland. Its not a time for large new programs. Its a time to really enforce whats on the ground already.
Helping the cause is the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a statewide coalition of more than a dozen environmental organizations, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Sierra Club. This month, the coalition is hosting 15 forums throughout Maryland to help citizens be the Bays eyes and ears on environmental legislation.
At the top of the list of items for citizen campaigners to advocate with their lawmakers is the Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Law. The 18-year-old law restricts development closest to the Bays tidal shorelines. Protecting those buffers is key to controlling erosion, runoff and other injuries to the Bay and its many tributaries.
So what, you ask, are all those new houses doing on our shorelines?
Environmentalists say theyve slipped through loopholes in the law made big enough for bulldozers the phrase is Gov. Parris Glendenings by recent court cases.
The existing Critical Areas Law restricts development within 1,000 feet of the Bays edge. The law places even tighter restrictions on the buffer, which is land that lies within 100 feet of the water. Property owners cannot develop on any buffers unless and heres the loophole their local Board of Appeals grants them an exemption, which is called a variance.
But recent Court of Appeals decisions make variances much easier to obtain.
Last year, a bill to restore the original intent of the Critical Areas Law thereby overruling recent court decisions failed in the House of Delegates. This year, the governor is trying to ensure the legislations success.
In his swan-song environmental package, Glendening who hopes to secure a lasting environmental legacy in the final year of his term also has asked for laws to grant Marylands coastal bays the same protection as the critical areas. The coastal bays, which provide water and salt marsh habitat for wildlife, are the shallow bodies of water inland from Assateague Island.
Coastal bays are even more fragile than the Chesapeake in many ways, and they need the same levels of protection, said Erin Fitzsimmons, who is on the board of directors of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. Because the bays are so shallow, they are more dramatically affected by changes in the land.
"Were seeing rampant coastal development in the most sensitive areas of the shoreline, and theres a real sense of urgency to get those measures in place, she said.
Scarce money could also dry up Program Open Space, the state-federal bank to fund Marylands parks and conservation areas. Its looking pretty bad right now, and were trying to restore funding where it looks like they cut too much, said Schmidt-Perkins.
By funding Bay friendly initiatives, legislators help keep the economy healthy, Schmidt-Perkins explained.
If environmental programs are taking more than their fair share of the hit, its going to end up being a huge cost to the state in the end, not a savings. Pfiesteria, an out-of-control bacterial infestation in the water, for instance, cost the state millions of dollars.
So the Citizens Campaign is also asking for help on a bill to ensure funding for land conservation programs like Open Space, as well as for agencies, community revitalization projects and transportation alternatives.
We encourage the people in the forums to take what they learned here and become involved in the legislative sessions, said Susan Brown, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
Some two dozen citizens walked away from the February 7 Annapolis forum with sample letters to editors, leaflets advertising upcoming events and a conservation pledge. The pledge asks citizens to take at least five actions to become more involved in the Maryland General Assembly before April 8, when the legislative session ends.
I was very impressed with the forum, said Walter Jacobs of Annapolis, a self-described environmental activist. Jacobs first action was to talk to his delegates on February 18 during the first of several environmental lobby nights sponsored by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
Brown hopes the forums will encourage more participation in the legislative session so environmental programs get the support they need.
Its Glendenings last year and theres budget trouble, she said. We need to make sure they hear from us.
Way Downstream ...
In Virginia, theyre talking seriously about building another bridge across Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile, Virginias General Assembly is considering legislation that would grant Northumberland County an exclusive franchise for a ferry that would operate from Reedville to Crisfield, Md., where commercial interests are cheering the idea
On the Eastern Shore, nutria at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge had better lay low. Thats because next month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will lead a capture-and-kill charge under a $3.1 million pilot project aimed at eliminating the grass-munching varmints, the Baltimore Sun reported
Sister Bay Update: Authorities suspect that San Francisco Bay is being polluted by oil from a ship that sunk nearly 50 years ago. This winter, the death of 1,000 birds is being blamed on the fifth release of oil from the Jacob Luckenbach, a freighter that collided with another ship in fog in 1953, according to the Los Angeles Times
Our Creature Feature comes from Singapore where a remarkable display of 500 seahorses in an aquarium helped to welcome the Chinese New Year this week.
To refresh you, the Chinese zodiac has 12 animals and five elements; Tuesday marked day one of Year of the Water Horse, bidding adieu to the Year of the Metal Snake.
The world of seahorses is a strange one indeed. It includes seahorses that mate for life and, somehow, males that give birth to live offspring. Our favorite of the species would appeal to beer drinkers across Chesapeake Country: its the Australian Big Belly Seahorse, which, before mating, swells its stomach to the popping point and dances in the water.