New Federal Budget Does Not Contain Funds to Build Oyster Reefs in Maryland

The federal budget recently passed by Congress failed to provide any dedicated money to continue reef construction in either Maryland or Virginia, putting in doubt the future of oyster restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been building oyster reefs in the Bay for more than 20 years, and in recent years it has been a major partner in the state-federal initiative to restore oyster habitat and populations in 10 of the Bay’s tributaries by 2025.

But the omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2018 — approved March 23 and signed the same day by President Trump — marks the second year in a row with no specific appropriation for the Corps to continue reef restoration in the Bay.

The omission threatens to stall work already under way in Maryland’s Tred Avon River. It also jeopardizes future projects in both Maryland and Virginia where the federal government had been expected to take the lead.

Supporters of the oyster restoration effort say they hope the Army Corps can still put some money toward it this year from a $1 billion pot of discretionary funds Congress approved for the Corps’ construction program.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, explained to a group of Bay advocates Thursday that he and others were unable to designate money for oyster restoration in the appropriations bill because congressional rules forbid earmarking funds for anything not proposed in President Trump’s budget.

But he noted that Congress approved more construction funding for the Corps than the Trump administration proposed. Eugene Pawlik, a Corps spokesman, said the total was about double the requested amount.

Cardin expressed optimism that the extra money will prompt Corps leaders to allocate some of those funds toward the effort this year.

The omnibus spending bill did urge the Corps to request funds for Bay restoration in future budgets.

After meeting Thursday with senior Corps leaders for a tour of Poplar Island, a restoration project using dredged material from the Bay, Cardin said that he is “pretty confident” some of the extra money put in the Corps budget will go for oyster restoration.

It won’t be known until perhaps May 22 if that gambit paid off. That’s the deadline for the Corps to submit its work plan to Congress. The plan, due 60 days after the omnibus bill’s passage, will lay out planned expenditures on projects specifically listed in the legislation. The Corps can add some of its extra funds to those projects, as well as spread some money among projects not designated for funding.

Cardin acknowledged that it’s still possible, given the nationwide competition for federal public works funding, that the Corps won’t designate any money for oyster restoration. Before being submitted to Congress, he noted, its work plan must be reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which also may have a say in the matter.

Bay advocates said that the uncertainty surrounding oyster restoration funding has roots in a controversy two years ago, when Maryland officials put a hold on the Tred Avon project after watermen objected to the Corps’ use of granite to build the reefs there.

“Now, we’re sort of reaping the consequences of those delays and those challenges to the Corps’ efforts, in the fact that there’s no appropriation,” said Allison Colden, a fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

From the mid-1990s through fiscal year 2016, the Corps had received annual funding for oyster reef construction in the Bay, with the Baltimore District getting a cumulative total of $28.8 million and the Norfolk District $22.1 million, according to figures supplied by Cardin’s office.

In 2014, in recognition of the ecological value of oysters and their reefs to the overall health of the Chesapeake, the Bay watershed states and federal government jointly pledged to restore native oyster habitat and populations by 2025 in five tributaries each in Maryland and Virginia.

The annual funding stream ended two years ago, when then-President Barack Obama requested no money in the Corps’ fiscal year 2017 budget for Bay oyster restoration. That came shortly after the Hogan administration had called on the Corps’ Baltimore District to halt work in the Tred Avon — a request prompted by small group of watermen, who complained to Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford about the cost and efficacy of the restoration effort, particularly the methods and materials used.

Watermen objected to the use of granite to build reefs in the Tred Avon and in an earlier restoration project in Harris Creek, another Choptank River tributary. They contended that the stone reefs snagged fishing gear and damaged boats, and that oyster shells are the best surface on which spat, or baby oysters, grow best. Scientists countered that oyster spat will do well on any hard surface in the water, and monitoring on Harris Creek reefs later that year found a much higher density of new oysters growing on granite than on shells.

At the time, Cardin warned that the stoppage could threaten future federal funding for oyster restoration in Maryland. It had immediate impact, as the Baltimore District shifted $1 million it had for that purpose to the Norfolk District. With that extra money, and no major reef construction planned this year in Virginia, the Norfolk District is not yet as strapped.

A spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources called the Tred Avon stoppage then a “pause” until the DNR could complete an internal review of the state’s oyster management.

The Hogan administration lifted its hold on the federally funded project, and work resumed in the Tred Avon in April 2017, more than a year after it had been interrupted. Even then, the state insisted that the Corps not use any more granite in constructing reefs. The Corps opted to build the reefs with clam shells from a processing plant in New Jersey, but the contractor couldn’t get enough shells. Only six of the 10 acres of reefs planned to be built that year were completed.

In November 2017, Col. Edward Chamberlayne, the Baltimore District’s commander, made a personal appeal to the DNR’s Oyster Advisory Commission, warning that the Tred Avon project and future federal funding for oyster restoration were in jeopardy if the state did not relent in its opposition to use of stone in building reefs. Oyster shell is too scarce and expensive to be used for such large-scale construction projects, Chamberlayne explained, and there aren’t enough clam shells, either.

Delays and construction interruptions already had added $133,000 to the $11.4 million estimated cost of the Tred Avon project, Chamberlayne said. If forced to continue using only clam shells, he said, it could take another four to five years to finish the job — at that rate, he warned, Congress and Corps leadership may be unwilling to keep funding oyster restoration.

The DNR Oyster Advisory Commission responded by recommending that the Corps be allowed to use stone to finish the Tred Avon reefs. The four acres left from last year were finished in March, but 45 more acres of reefs are planned, and funding is now in question.

“We are still requesting funding through the Army Corps work plan,” said Sarah Gross, spokeswoman for the Corps’ Baltimore District. Officials there have estimated it will cost $3 million to $5 million to finish building reefs in the Tred Avon, after which they are to be seeded with hatchery-spawned baby oysters.

Stephen Schatz, communications director for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the department “is very confident that there is currently adequate funding to continue advancing the state’s oyster restoration efforts and projects.”

“With roughly $7.25 million in state capital funding [for oyster restoration] available and federal funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Schatz continued, “the partners should have enough to complete the work in Tred Avon.”

Schatz furnished documents showing that the DNR had asked Congress to maintain NOAA’s current level of funding for habitat conservation and restoration, including $1 million for oyster habitat restoration. That money goes to seeding and monitoring reefs, not building them.

The Bay Foundation’s Colden said that while she’s hopeful the Corps will allot some money for reef construction this year, federal funding is no longer guaranteed.

“Now, the priority we place on oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay has to compete with Mississippi River flood control and dam operations in the Pacific Northwest,” Colden said. “Before, we had a dedicated pot of funding because it’s been recognized as such a significant project and significant priority.”

While Cardin expects Corps officials to put some of this year’s discretionary funds toward oyster restoration, given the extra money in their budget and a clear statement of congressional intent, he expressed dissatisfaction with having to go through such maneuvers.

“It’s not a very transparent way of doing things,” he said. And he noted that supporters in Congress will have to fight the same battle again later this year, because Trump’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 did not contain any money for Corps reef-building.

by Timothy B. Wheeler

Timothy B. Wheeler is associate editor and senior writer for the Bay Journal

Pink Safety Hunting Gear Now Available in MD thanks to Easton’s Simonsen Sisters

Thanks to the work of two novice hunters — young sisters from the Eastern Shore — Maryland hunters will soon be allowed to wear bright pink safety gear.

Before taking a hunter safety class in October 2016, sisters Paige and Brooke Simonsen, from Easton, stocked up on pink hunting clothes. Then, they found out that Maryland law did not allow hunters to wear any color besides blaze orange.

Brooke Simonsen, 9, looks at her father, Michael Simonsen, during a hearing in Annapolis, Maryland, on Feb. 23.

“Our instructor mentioned that other states have pink and we only have orange, and we wanted to change that so we went to Senator (Addie) Eckardt,” Paige, 12, said.

The legislation, which passed in both chambers Monday night, adds “daylight fluorescent pink” as an alternative color for hunters. The legislation is based in part on the Simonsen family’s research.

Part of that research, which made its way into testimony, included a blog post referencing a European Union study that found forestry workers were safer wearing pink than orange. But the post — and its references to a “major study” that included “cognition tests and adrenaline measurements” — turned out to be an April Fool’s joke by the Stihl chainsaw company.

The Stihl company confirmed in a tweet that the April 1, 2016, blog entry was a joke.

Eckardt, R–Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico, said she didn’t read the blog post until a Capital News Service reporter showed it to her.

“Yep, it’s all bogus,” Eckardt said March 27, while looking at the post. “To me it’s immaterial. It wasn’t a part of what we were all about.”

The joke study did not appear in the bill’s legislative analysis and the senator did not use the study in her own testimony, although she accompanied the girls to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, where it was heard.

Vice Chair Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, said he was unaware the testimony was in part based on an April Fool’s Day joke, but said the information doesn’t change the premise of the bill.

“The idea that using pink to stand out against green still makes sense,” he said. “Reading each piece of testimony…is beyond our ability to do.”

Michael Simonsen called the mistake “a learning experience for the entire family” but said he is proud of his daughters for participating in the legislative process.

“It is so important to share, that Paige and Brooke used multiple sources in their research and it is unfortunate that this one used, was not legitimate,” he wrote in an email to Capital News Service. “They will want to continue researching everything, even more thoroughly, particularly on the other six states … who have already approved daylight fluorescent pink as an additional safety color choice.”

It’s no joke, however, that Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, Virginia, New York and Wisconsin allow hunters to wear pink.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources wrote in a letter to lawmakers that “there has been no nationally recognized study completed … on the effectiveness of this daylight fluorescent pink as a safety color.”

The department also noted that while there is a standard for hunter orange, none exists for pink, even in other states. Maryland’s bill leaves the definition of “daylight fluorescent pink” to the department.

When the Simonsens began looking into the topic during the fall of 2016, they had no idea that Eckardt, who represents the Simonsens’ region, has had an interest in pink since long before the sisters were born.

“Since I campaigned in 1994, I chose pink. I was outside the box. Everybody said don’t use that color,” the senator said. “I said … ‘I will do it the way I want to do it because I want to have fun.’”

Eckardt, a former psychiatric nurse, decided to use a bit of operant conditioning, she said, by associating herself with the color for more than two decades. She’s known for wearing pink on the Senate floor almost every day.

Paige and Brooke, 9, noticed the pink decorations in her office right away, but Eckardt contemplated the potential backlash of sponsoring the bill.

“My initial response was ‘Oh my goodness, I can just see it now – she doesn’t have anything better to do than to promote pink in an election year,” Eckardt said. “I was a little nervous about that.”

Brooke, whose favorite color is green, and Paige, who likes light pink, said their bill has little to do with being chic.

“We don’t like to think of it as a fashion statement,” Brooke said. “We just want it to be a safer choice and maybe another choice, but we’re not trying to eliminate fluorescent orange.”

The sisters pointed out that it is safer than orange for people like Matthew Hurst, a family friend who hunts and is colorblind.

“I have a really hard time picking up the fluorescent orange in the fall when the trees change, especially with the small amount you’re required to wear,” said Hurst, who also testified before lawmakers. “The blaze pink stands out more in the natural environment.”

When Talbot County, Maryland, hunter Leslie Milby first heard about the bill, she thought it might be another attempt to “pink it and shrink it” — manufacturers’ strategy of targeting women through less durable, brightly colored clothing.

“At first when I heard (of the bill) I kind of rolled my eyes because I was picturing bright pink camouflage,” she said. “As long as the gear is as tough as a man’s there’s no reason I wouldn’t support it.”

Now that the bill has passed, it won’t just be girls in the Simonsen family wearing the new color.

“I’m definitely going to wear fluorescent pink,” Michael Simonsen said. “I’m their dad but more important I’m going to be their hunting partner so the thing is I want to be seen.”

The girls occasionally shoot clay pigeons and said they plan to go hunting soon. In Maryland, children younger than 16 can hunt with an adult.

The girls said last month that they planned to share the joy of passing a bill with friends and classmates.

“We would be really happy if blaze pink became a color because we would be known for that,” Brooke said in March. “Sometimes it’s just nice to be known for making a law in Maryland.”

The law, Senate bill 341 and House bill 1118, will go into effect July 1.

by Anna Muckerman

Maryland Bill Would Put an Armed Officer in Every School

Determined to pass meaningful legislation in the wake of the Parkland and Great Mills high school shootings, Maryland lawmakers are considering a measure to put an armed school resource officer in every public school. The bill comes as part of a four-bill package being rushed through the General Assembly as session nears end.

Advocates label this the “deterrence” stage of the package, which also includes prevention, anticipation and protection stages. Pushed by lead-sponsor Sen. Steve Waugh, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, proponents see this as the stopgap step while other proposals are considered and potentially implemented.

“(This bill is) the one that’s going to have the most immediate effect to reduce risks – today,” Waugh told Capital News Service.

There are just over 1,400 public schools in the state. Of those, the Maryland Center for School Safety estimates that between 360 and 400 already have a School Resource Officer, or SRO. But some local jurisdictions can’t afford to place an SRO in their schools. In those cases, the Department of State Police would then assign a state police officer.

The bill, which would go into effect July 1, calls for 1,000 new officers, roughly the amount it would take to fill the remaining schools. This is where it gets expensive.

The cost of stationing each state police officer would be roughly $224,300, according to a fiscal analysis – $101,617 for salary; $61,675 to complete State Police Academy training; $59,000 for a fully equipped police car; and $2,054 for uniforms and other equipment.

In total, the law would cost around $224 million in just the first year.

“Not everything is a quick fix, so you have to come up with a stopgap measure. This is it,” said co-sponsor Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore County and Harford. “It might be expensive, but you know what, these are our children. They need to be protected.”

While the bill has significant bipartisan support – Democratic Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s, is the third sponsor – it still faces some pushback.

Skeptics of the proposal make clear that they don’t question the motive, but the priority and funding.

Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery, questioned whether funding an SRO program is the best use of money to combat school shooters. Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, raised concerns that some children in over-policed areas are intimidated by officers and would struggle to concentrate in class.

It’s in everyone’s interest to keep children safe, Kelley said, but “not everything we’re talking about would make it so.”

Carroll County Sheriff Jeff Gahler said, to the contrary, an SRO presence improves the student-police dynamic. He’s been involved with the SRO program for nearly 20 years, and said he’s seen a positive impact.

“We’re working from those early ages to try to repair those relationships, where people are trying to put fear in the police,” Gahler told lawmakers. “The students trust the school resource officers and feed us information on all kinds of different crime issues facing our area. I think those relationships have to be fostered.”

Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, echoed the sheriff’s position. But he told the Capital News Service that funding is complicated and perhaps unfair. Counties have to prioritize how they spend local money, he said, so it wouldn’t be right if taxpayers had to front the bill for a county that didn’t prioritize SROs.

The other three school safety measures in the package have bipartisan support, each bill also with at least one Democratic and one Republican sponsor. But there’s a sense among some lawmakers that they’ve already been covered – at least in some part – in other pending legislation.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the other three proposals in the School Safety Act:

Senate bill 1262, sponsored by Miller, Waugh and Sen. John Astle, D-Anne Arundel, would call for closer investigations during gun-ownership background checks. It would establish a specialized workgroup to make quarterly recommendations on conducting background checks. Lastly, the bill would give local sheriffs a specialized school-crisis welfare officer. In all, it would cost roughly $1.8 million in the first year, an analysis found.

Senate bill 1263, sponsored by Waugh and Miller, would establish a “Threat Assessment Team,” comprised of a mental health counselor, teacher, principal, and possibly the state’s Department of Juvenile Services and the Department of Human Services, by the 2019-2020 school year, to evaluate students. It also expands prohibitions on making a threat of mass violence. General funding for the Maryland State Department of Education could increase by $125 million or more by the 2020 fiscal year, according to a state fiscal analysis. The state’s judicial system could pay more than $220,000 in the first year for programming costs, the analysis said.

Senate bill 1265, sponsored by Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, Miller and Waugh, would require all public schools to have lockable classroom doors, an area of safe refuge (safe zone) in each classroom, and security technology by the 2020-2021 school year. It also calls for an active training drill for students in the first quarter of the fall semester. A pay-as-you-go bill, it would cost just over $10 million a year, from 2019 to 2023, according to a fiscal analysis.

Right now, the first three bills are pending in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, while Senate bill 1265 remains with the Senate Budget and Tax Committee. All four had hearings in late March and are awaiting committee votes to hit the full Senate floor.

With the 2018 session ending April 9, lawmakers know it will be difficult to prepare all four bills for passage. Waugh, the lead architect of the School Safety Act of 2018, said he doesn’t prioritize any proposal over the other, but maintained that the SRO part would provide more immediate safety.

“You can do it now and it will reduce risks,” he said. “Not completely, but it will reduce some risk right away.”

By Zach Shapiro

Nutrient Reductions Credited for Remarkable Resurgence in Bay’s Underwater Grasses

Nutrient reductions over the last 30 years are the primary factor behind the resurgence of underwater grasses in the Chesapeake — something that scientists cite in a new study as tangible evidence that efforts to improve Bay water quality are paying off.

Seagrass beds are in decline globally, but the Chesapeake Bay is one of the few places — and the largest example — where that trend has been successfully reversed, according to an article published in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That’s good news for the Bay, as underwater grasses provide important habitat for fish, crabs and waterfowl. The scientists who led the study also said that the recovery likely foreshadows a broader comeback in the estuary’s health.

“We are thinking of the resurgence of the grasses as being the harbinger of things to come,” said Bill Dennison, vice president for science applications at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and a co-author of the study. “We are using them now as an early signal for the restoration of the Bay.”

The study, built upon an analysis of a wide variety of data collected over three decades, found that a 23 percent decline in nitrogen concentrations in the Bay and an 8 percent decline in phosphorus were the primary factors behind a nearly threefold increase in underwater grasses since 1984.

Like all plants, underwater grasses require sunlight to survive, and scientists have long known that algae blooms and sediment in the water can block light from reaching plants, causing them to die.

But the study found that nutrients play a “dominant role” in causing the loss of grass beds because they not only spur algae blooms, but also promote algae growth directly on the plants. That “epiphytic” growth, the study found, was three times more harmful to plants than the indirect effects of phytoplankton blooms in the water column.

“We show that nutrients are actually the primary control over these underwater grasses,” said Jonathan Lefcheck, the lead author of the report, who conducted this work while a post-doctoral student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. He now works at the Bigelow Institute of Marine Science in Maine.

The amount of underwater grasses still fluctuates from year to year, in large part because of weather — rainy years drive more water-fouling nutrients into the water than do dry ones. Nonetheless, while the amount of grasses has varied, their overall acreage has increased over time, from a low of 38,229 acres in 1984 to a high of 97,400 acres mapped in 2016.

“Beyond the noise of inter-annual variability, we’ve got the right trajectory, and we can link it to specifically the nutrient reductions,” Dennison said.

While nutrients are the driving force, other factors still play a role. Areas with several underwater grass species do better over time than those with a single species, the study found. The importance of diversity may explain, in part, why grass bed recovery in high-salinity areas, which has always been dominated by a single species — eelgrass — has been less robust than in other parts of the Bay.

It also offers a clue as to how to maintain comebacks in mid-salinity parts of the Bay, where widgeon grass dominates but its abundance often fluctuates greatly from year to year. The researchers said that Bay restoration efforts — which now focus only on water quality — should put more focus on restoring a mix of species in mid-salinity areas.

“When we look at those beds historically, we know diversity was important,” said Bob Orth, also of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who co-authored the study and has overseen the Bay’s annual underwater grass survey since its inception. “When you add one species, it has a significant effect on the stability of the meadow.”

The study has 14 co-authors representing universities and agencies from around the Bay region and the country. This team met five times over the course of two years in Annapolis, digging deep into the data. They compiled extensive datasets about land use, manure and fertilizer applications, wastewater treatment plant discharges and water quality, as well as the abundance, diversity and density of grass beds.

Using sophisticated new analytical techniques unavailable just a few years ago to analyze that data, the scientists were able to draw conclusions that sometimes challenged their assumptions about factors affecting the grasses.

For instance, while wastewater treatment may be locally critical for grass beds, actions on the landscape — such as changes in land use or fertilizer applications on farms — were more important to larger trends in grass bed acreage.

Similarly, while sediment in the water column may be locally important, it was a less important factor than nutrients in Baywide underwater grass abundance.

“With this multi-author, multi-partner synthesis type of science, you can bring in different types of expertise,” said Jennifer Keisman, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and co-author of the study. “It is really important.”

Further analyzing that data, the authors said, could provide new insights for managers and promote an additional comeback of grass beds. “This is not the end, but the end of the beginning for all of this work,” Orth said.

The Chesapeake is still far short of the goal to restore 185,000 acres of underwater grasses, but it is doing better than any other place on the planet, the article said.

Seagrasses have declined globally by 29 percent, largely because of nutrient and sediment runoff. While they have come back in places such as Tampa Bay and the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands, researchers found that the Chesapeake has seen a “greater total and proportional recovery.”

A continued comeback would be good news for the Bay. Grass beds are a critical component of its ecosystem. They pump oxygen into the water, trap sediments, buffer shorelines from wave action, provide food for waterfowl and shelter for fish and blue crabs.

That trajectory is likely to continue, at least for now. Orth said a preliminary review of data from last year suggests that the Bay’s underwater grasses will likely set yet another record.

By Karl Blankenship

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

Supreme Court hears Oral Arguments in Maryland Gerrymander Case

Attorneys presented oral arguments Wednesday before the Supreme Court in a landmark case that challenges the constitutional limits of political redistricting in Maryland.

Benisek v. Lamone, the second gerrymandering case the high court has heard this term, focuses on whether redrawing district lines in favor of one party is a violation of the First Amendment.

Michael B. Kimberly, representing O. John Benisek, a resident of Washington County, argued the partisan gerrymandering that occurred in Maryland’s 6th District under then-Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2011 was a violation of the First Amendment due to the additional challenges created by shifting districts for voters.

“The evidence is unequivocal,” Kimberly told the justices. “It’s deliberately making it more difficult for particular citizens to achieve electoral success because their views are disapproved by those in power.”

In 2011, O’Malley created the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee (GRAC) to redraw the congressional and state legislative districts in Maryland. A new map was created, passed both the Maryland House and Senate, and was signed by O’Malley.

Before the redistricting, Maryland Democrats controlled six of the state’s eight U.S. House districts. After the election following the new map, the Democrats controlled seven. Republicans argue the partisan redistricting caused irreparable damage to voters in the new district.

 

Kimberly went on to argue that “Governor O’Malley and others involved in the redistricting have candidly acknowledged their intent to dilute Republican votes in the 6th District to prevent Republican voters there from reelecting Congressman Roscoe Bartlett.”

“Given their evidence, (the appellants) certainly have enough to go to a jury on that question,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said.

“Government officials may not single out particular individuals for disfavored treatment on the basis of the views that they have expressed at the ballot box in prior elections,” Kimberly argued.

Some justices questioned whether voters had truly been harmed by the redistricting.

Chief Justice John Roberts called the length of time between the redistricting and the oral arguments into question.

“To let go the elections in 2012, 2014, and 2016, suggests that maybe 2018, you’re not going to be irreparably harmed in a broader sense,” he said. “If you’ve been willing to accept that harm in three different cycles, I don’t know if we should get concerned about irreparable harm for one more.”

Many justices questioned the intent of the redistricting, suggesting O’Malley’s reason for redistricting was unconstitutional.

“The effects were exactly what the intent would suggest,” Justice Elena Kagan said. “A long-standing Republican incumbent is unseated by a Democratic newcomer, who withstands a wave election, who prevails three straight times. I mean, it appears that the Maryland legislature got exactly what it intended, which was you took … a safe Republican district, and made it into not the safest of Democratic districts, but a pretty safe one. … I mean, how much more evidence of partisan intent could we need?”

Steven Marshall Sullivan, representing Linda H. Lamone, Maryland’s elections administrator, insisted otherwise: “(The 6th District) is not safe. It was judged competitive.”

Sullivan said that 20 percent of voters in the 6th District are registered as independents. The result is that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats make up a majority there, he said.

“The independent vote is critical because, in the first election, the Democrat won more of the independent vote than the Republican,” Sullivan said. “The redistricting lines couldn’t have caused that to happen. That happened because of the views of those voters and the strength of that candidate.”

“What effect does the fact that this map was subsequently approved by the people themselves have when we’re trying to determine intent?” Justice Neil Gorsuch asked.

Ginsburg compared the current case to an historic racial gerrymandering case from 1995, Miller v. Johnson, in which the court struck down districts solely created based on race, known as “max-black” districts.

“It seems to me that what we have here is ‘max-Democratic’ (per district)” she said. “If ‘max-black’ was no good, why should ‘max-Democratic” be okay?”

Sullivan responded that the historic ‘max-black’ districts were “drawn from a history of exclusion of African Americans from our political process, something that Republicans can hardly claim,” because their party currently controls both the federal and state governments.

Earlier this term, the Supreme Court heard the Gill v. Whitford case from Wisconsin regarding gerrymandering. In January, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked a redistricting order from a lower court in North Carolina.

Justice Stephen Breyer suggested waiting until next term, at which point those two cases and the Maryland case could be heard together.

“It seems like a pretty clear violation of the Constitution in some form to have deliberate, extreme gerrymandering,” Breyer said of the Maryland map. “But is there a practical remedy that won’t get judges involved in dozens and dozens and dozens of very important political decisions?”

Courts have previously treated challenges to political redistricting as a “nonjusticiable ‘political question,’ based on the lack of a determinate, judicially enforceable standard to judge political gerrymanders,” according to the Preview of the United States Supreme Court Cases.

By JULIA LERNER

Rotarian Moments with Jackie Wilson

A few years ago, Patti Willis, the then president of the Rotary Club of Easton, described an experience that she predicted all her other Rotarian members would have, if they hadn’t already, which she labeled a “Rotarian Moment.”

This is when a Rotary member first recognizes the unique gift that comes with giving, or more precisely, when the act of their volunteerism, the primary goal of Rotary’s mission, produces a sense of contribution to one’s community never felt before. The Spy thought it would be beneficial to have members share these moments for the general public to understand more clearly the critical role the Rotary plays in the life of Easton and Talbot County.

We start this series with Jackie Wilson, a Vice President at Provident State Bank in Easton.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the Easton Rotary, please go here.

The March for Our Lives in Chestertown Report

The march started at noon on High St at the corner of Mill St. in front of the old elementary school now the Kent County offices building.      Photo by Peter Heck.

Chestertown’s March for Our Lives was held on Saturday, March 24 to coincide with the big national march in Washington, DC. The local event was one of more than 800 nationwide and around the world in response to gun violence in schools, especially the murder of 17 students in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day earlier this year.

Around 500 marchers assembled at noon in front of the Kent County government office on High Street, then proceeded down High Street and Cross Street to Wilmer Park, where they heard speakers and musical selections. Marchers, carrying signs and banners, remained on sidewalks so as not to interfere with traffic. The line of marchers was at least two blocks long as it made its way through town. Along the route, many of them chanted, “Enough is enough,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, school shooting’s got to go,” referring to the epidemic of shootings that have plagued the country in recent years.

At the park, Paul Tue, one of the organizers of the march, greeted the crowd and invited them to move closer to Hynson Pavilion, where a PA system was set up. Tue, who works with local youth as one of the founders of the Bayside HOYAS, said he was “blown away” by the turnout. He told attendees that if anyone was overcome with the emotions of the event, there were several therapists on hand for them to talk to. He asked the therapists to raise their hands so people would know who and where they were in the audience.

Tue said there had been 209 school shootings since the Columbine massacre in 1999, and gave a list of several of the more notorious, concluding with the Parkland shooting and the murder of a schoolgirl by a classmate just a few days ago in St. Mary’s County here in Maryland. “I believe I live in the greatest country in the world,” Tue said, “but today is a day to put our point across.” He asked how many shootings would have to take place on Capitol Hill itself before lawmakers were willing to change the laws governing weapons. He said there was a booth set up to register voters at the rally and urged attendees to call their representatives in Congress and the Maryland General Assembly.

Barbie Glenn, who acted as master of ceremonies for the event, then took the microphone to introduce the speakers.

First up was Dr. Kathryn Seifert, CEO of Eastern Shore Psychological Services. “We know the way to prevent violence,” she said, It will require identifying young people at risk and providing services to help them. A lot of scientific research has been done, and the causes — though complex – are clear. It’s not just mental illness, but “a perfect storm of multiple problems.” Most school shooters are white males, who find their guns at home – not at gun shows. The majority of shooters were identified as unstable before they picked up a gun, she said. She recommended a mental health program in every school, to allow evaluation and early treatment of the problems that lead to gun violence. The U.S. has the second highest rate of child abuse worldwide, and is in the top five nations for its rate of sexual abuse of children, she said. Both have been shown to cause personality disorders including violent tendencies in later life. The victims need treatment “before something happens,” she said. “Let’s get started.”

A trio consisting of Clark Bjorke on guitar, Phil Dutton on keyboard, and Mary Simmons sang a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” with new lyrics targeting the problem of gun violence. The group later returned for two other numbers, including Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” Many crowd members sang along with the familiar protest songs from the 1960s.

Taking the microphone next was a group of Kent County Middle School students, Alana Fithian Wilson, Riley Glenn, Tilera Wright, and Ty-Juan Billingslea. They are members of Students Talking About Racism, a group formed after a racial incident at the school. Each gave a personal reaction to the issue of gun violence, with an equal helping of emotion and evidence. Wilson said that violence is one of America’s biggest problems, with racism as a leading cause. “We need people like you to get involved,” she told the crowd. “It’s time to take a stand, and it needs to be unified.”

Photo by Jeff Weber

Glenn said that gun violence has a devastating impact on American youth, backing the assertation with statistics. Particularly telling was the observation that more students have been killed in U.S. schools since Columbine in 1999 than American soldiers killed in combat since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Billingslea said guns are the third leading cause of childhood deaths, with 40 percent the result of suicides. Black children are three times as likely to die from a shooting as their white peers. Exposure to gun violence leads to greater likelihood of drug or alcohol use and criminal activity later in life, he said.
Wright said students at KCMS are being asked to perform “active shooter” drills. She said she would like to see more school resource officers and metal detectors at school. Parents need to take their children’s concerns seriously, she said. “Politicians need to pass stricter gun laws,” she concluded.
Tue praised the students’ passionate advocacy. “Activism has no age limit,” he said.
The concluding speaker was Grenville Whitman of Rock Hall, representing Kent County Citizens to Prevent Gun Violence. Gun violence kills Americans every day, Whitman said. “We’re here to petition our government for redress,” he said, noting that the right to do so is guaranteed by the Consitution. “It’s also our right not to be shot and killed,” he added and went on to say that the same right extends to our families, our children and our neighbors. “It’s everyone’s right.” He noted that some think that gun ownership is equally important, and the issue is being fought out in Congress and 50 state legislatures, with the Maryland General Assembly passing some sensible firearms regulations in the current session, making the state one of the safest in the nation. Whitman noted that the local assembly delegation voted for a ban on “bump stocks,” which transform semi-automatic firearms into fully-automatic weapons.  He said the delegates should be congratulated for their votes, noting that they will undoubtedly be criticized for it by pro-gun constituents.

Photo by Jeff Weber

Relaxing after the march outside of Sam’s coffee shop are Leah Schell, Brook Schumann, Ilex Hoy (on lap) and Japhy Hoy (holding sign).      Photo by Jane Jewell

“Make America Safe Again” made and carried by Penny Block.      Photo by Jane Jewell

Whitman noted that 2018 is an election year and urged participants in the march to register and vote. The crowd responded by chanting, “Vote, vote!” Many local offices are up for election, Whitman said, noting the presence of several elected officials and candidates in the crowd, including County Commissioner Ron Fithian and commission candidate Tom Timberman, as well as Andy Meehan, a candidate for State’s Attorney. Whitman said voters should ask all candidates about gun safety, and cast their votes accordingly. “(Rep.) Andy Harris…” he began — to be interrupted by a loud chorus of “Boos”– “Andy Harris is the only Maryland congressman to accept NRA donations. “Vote him out! Vote him out,” the crowd responded.

A last-moment addition to the list of speakers was Casey McQueen of Dover, Delaware, who said he had come to the march because students in his school had been shot. “Blow guns away,” he said, to applause.

Bishop Charles Tilghman, head of the Kent County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, closed the rally with a prayer. He urged the audience to continue rallying and marching to attain the goals of a country free of gun violence.

There was a multitude of signs in the crowd – both printed and hand-made – with clever and often very pointed slogans.  Some were slogans that are being used nationally while others represented the heartfelt responses of the individual marcher.  Slogans included “Protect Our Kids, Not Guns”, “Bullets Are Not School Supplies”, “Make America Safe Again”, “We Deserve to Live”, “Students Demand Action”, “Moms Demand Action”, “Civilians Don’t Need Assault Weapons”, “Love Not Guns”, and “Fear Has No Place in Schools”.

The Chestertown march was reportedly the only one on the Eastern Shore, though there were a couple in Delaware.The  Chestertown event drew over 500 people, which amounts to approximately 10% of Chestertown’s population.  However, not all participants were from Chestertown or Kent County.  Several marchers, including some from the Unitarian Universalist church, came from Easton to take part.  Marchers were there from other Maryland counties and from Delaware. The event in D.C. was estimated as high as 800,000 strong, making it the largest single-day march in the city’s history. Across the country, in addition to the originating Washington, D.C. march, there were marches and other events in most of the major US cities including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Boston, Baltimore, Seattle,  Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis. Every state had at least one “March for Our Lives” event. Around the world, there were many more with most but not all in Europe.   Events in these cities were attended by both local citizens and Americans living or visiting in the various foreign countries.  In Canada, over a dozen cities, including Toronto and Montreal, held rallies. There were rallies in London, Copenhagen, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, and Paris plus other European cities. In Japan, a large march was held in Tokyo, while in Australia, events were held in Sydney and Brisbane  There were two in Africa, one each in Ghana and Mozambique as well as some in various Asian and South American locales.

On average, more than 90 people are killed by guns in the US every day.

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

Photo by Jeff Weber

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

“March for Our Lives” participants at Wilmer Park — from left, standing, former US Congressional Rep. for the Eastern Shore Wayne Gilchrest, Sherrie Tilghman, Wanda Boyer, Barbie Glenn, (all three of Eastern Shore Psychological Services in Chestertown), Corrine Harvey and Brooke Schultz of the Washington College student newspaper, the Elm; in front, Greg Glenn. Barbi Glenn was the MC for the rally in the park.      Photo by Jane Jewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spy Minute: The Mid-Shore March for Gun Control

While the Spy will have a much detailed account of the extraordinary March For Our Lives demonstration that took place on Saturday in Chestertown, we thought it would be helpful for those who couldn’t attend to capture some of the more remarkable moments as hundreds joined the hundreds of thousands nationwide in support of stricter gun controls.

This video is approximately two minutes in length

Taking Stock: The Cambridge Hyatt Economic Development Project at 16 Years Old

It seems like ancient history now, but in the early months of 2002, there was a dramatic addition to the city of Cambridge when the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay officially opened. A few visionary leaders in Dorchester County, DC developers, and most importantly, the Maryland Economic Development Corporation made good on their plans to construct a 400 room, 650 acres, hotel and resort on the shores of the Choptank with the goal of providing a long-term benefit for the then economically struggling center of the Eastern Shore.

At the time, this multimillion-dollar project was seen by some at the time as a remarkable risk. Cambridge was not known as a tourist or conference destination, even though it was located near some of the most remarkable natural resources on the East Coast. It also did not have the advantages of being in a major city, near a major amusement park, or benefiting from a tropical climate. Why stop in Cambridge, the story went, when you could drive another hour and arrive at the beachfront communities in Delaware and Ocean City.

But now that the Hyatt has been in place for sixteen years, The Spy thought it would be a good idea to check in with its general manager, Joel Bunde, who has a unique perspective on this economic development project. That is because Joel arrived in 2005 to be part of the executive management team to run the property for four years, and has now recently returned from another tour of duty to become its general manager. It is that arc of experience that made the Spy interested to hear Joel’s general observations about the Hyatt, the remarkable renaissance of downtown Cambridge, and the collateral soft and hard benefits that have come with the then $155 million investment in the Eastern Shore’s future.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Additional aerial video content by Micah Berkley.  For more information about the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay please go here.

 

Clifford Coppersmith to Become 6th President of Chesapeake College

The Chesapeake College Board of Trustees has selected Dr. Clifford P. Coppersmith to be the school’s sixth president. Dr. Coppersmith was chosen by a unanimous vote of the Trustees from a pool of 72 applicants in a nationwide search that was narrowed down to four finalists who visited the campus in late February.

Coppersmith, 55, is currently Dean of City College, an embedded community college within Montana State University Billings with 1,400 full and part-time students. He’s been the school’s chief executive officer in charge of academics, student affairs, finance and facilities since July 2015.

Dr. Clifford P. Coppersmith

Prior to City College, Coppersmith held several administrative and academic positions including over 19 years at two institutions: Pennsylvania College of Technology, a special mission affiliate of The Pennsylvania State University; and Utah State University – Eastern, formerly the College of Eastern Utah.

“Dr. Coppersmith’s background and experience were a great match for the qualifications and expectations established at the outset of our national search for a new president,” Chesapeake College Board of Trustees Chair Blenda Armistead said. “We were looking for someone with a proven track record in developing programs to address workforce needs in the community, and he brings that experience to the Mid-Shore. Dr. Coppersmith also understands and has extensive experience with the transfer mission of community colleges. As an individual who began his higher education in a community college in upstate New York, he is committed to ensuring that Chesapeake College will serve as a gateway to further education for all of our residents.”

Armistead noted Coppersmith’s ability to collaborate with public school leaders, local government, and business and industry partners to develop both credit and non-credit programs focused specifically on workforce needs. These have included programs in emergency management, nursing and allied health, computer science, metal and construction trades, diesel technology and automotive repair.

“Cliff has worked effectively with state and local government, and this was one of our priorities in our search for a new president,” she said.

“He understands the economic and social challenges in rural areas similar to the Shore. Moreover, the trustees are confident in his ability to strengthen the sense of community among all constituencies within the College, which was another expectation established for our new president.”

Community engagement will be among Coppersmith’s first priorities.

“Right off the bat, I want to establish those relationships and connections that are so critical to the success of the College,” he said. “I anticipate working closely with the members of the Board of Trustees, civic and public education leaders and the local business network to strengthen Chesapeake and its vital role in serving the five-county region as a center for higher education, cultural activities and economic development.”

Coppersmith met with the Board and participated in on-campus forums with students, faculty, staff and Mid-Shore community leaders last month.

“I had a great exchange with all those groups when I interviewed,” he said. “I was extremely impressed with the quality of the campus and its facilities and the engagement of the faculty and staff, and I considered my meeting with the students the highlight of the visit.”
Coppersmith and his wife Kathleen have strong personal connections to the region.

“Kathy and I are excited to return to a part of the world we love in which we’ve had many great experiences,” he said. “We were married in Kensington outside D.C.; spent the first night of our honeymoon in Chestertown; and for 11 years, the Chincoteague and Assateague Island seashores were our family’s favorite vacation spot. The Eastern Shore has been a special place for us for that reason and others.”

Born in the West Indies, Coppersmith said saltwater is in his blood. He looks forward to sailing, kayaking and canoeing on local waters and visiting the beach.

The Coppersmiths have three adult children – including two living in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – three grandchildren and close family members in Frederick and Northern Virginia.

A former commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard and an intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, Coppersmith believes strongly in executing the mission of the College which is critical to his vision for Chesapeake.

“It comes from my military background,” he explained. “Almost everything I do on a daily basis is premised on serving the mission of the school and its students. I’ve been successful in figuring out what the strengths of an institution are, what its mission is, and then connecting that to the community I serve.”

His service background also includes 45 years in scouting with the Boy Scouts of America.

Coppersmith holds four academic degrees: A doctorate in history and anthropology from Oklahoma State University; a master’s in history from St. Bonaventure University in New York State; a bachelor’s in political science and Latin American studies from Brigham Young University in Utah; and an associate in social science from Jamestown Community College in New York State.