Nice: Closed St. Michaels Acme to Become Town Center

According to the Star-Democrat this morning, the old Acme food store in downtown St. Michaels will be transformed into a new town center. Plans call for second floor apartments with balconies looking down on Talbot Street.

Read the full story here. Charges may apply.

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Population Remains Stable

Blue crab abundance has decreased from 2017 but remains near its long-term average level, according to results from a closely watched survey released on April 9.

The annual winter dredge survey showed that the total number of crabs and the number of spawning-age females are down from last year, while the number of juveniles has ticked upward.

Results would have been better, scientists said, had it not been for the lethal toll extracted by a cold winter. They estimated that cold conditions killed 16 percent of the adult crabs in Maryland and 8 percent in Virginia — where most of the crustaceans overwinter.

Managers in both states said that continued cool temperatures through the spring would likely result in a slow start to the harvest season, but catches would likely pick up later in the year.
Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said the population “remains healthy, resilient and sustainable.”

Virginia Natural Resources Secretary Matthew Strickler credited management improvements over the last decade with “allowing sustainable harvests even in years with challenging environmental conditions.”

The 2018 dredge survey estimated that the Bay has:

• 371 million crabs of all sizes, down from 455 million last year, but still ranking sixteenth highest in the 29-year history of the survey.

• 254 million juvenile crabs, up from 168 million last year, ranking twentieth in the survey’s history.

• 147 million adult female crabs, a decrease from 254 million last year, but the ninth highest in the survey’s history.

The number of females remained below the 215 million target set by fishery managers, but was still more than double the 70 million minimum deemed necessary by scientists to maintain a healthy stock.

Overall, the survey results were “well within the normal variation” for the stock, according to Robert O’Reilly, chief of fisheries management with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

Blue crab populations can vary widely from year to year because the species is heavily influenced by climate conditions — juveniles spend the first several weeks of their lives drifting in the ocean after they are spawned during the summer and fall, and weather conditions at that time of year greatly affect the number that return to the Bay.

To boost the number of crabs after a decade of low survey numbers, management agencies since 2008 have imposed regulations offering greater protection to female crabs, in the hope that more would survive and reproduce. Although numbers have fluctuated, the overall abundance has trended generally upward since then.

Chris Moore, a fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said those fishery management efforts are paying off. “Despite this winter’s cold temperatures, the Bay’s blue crab population remains healthy,” he said.

The winter dredge survey has been conducted annually since 1990 by scientists in Maryland and Virginia, who tally crabs dredged from the bottom at 1,500 sites across the Bay from December through March — when they are buried in mud and stationary.

Historically, the survey has provided an accurate snapshot of crab abundance and is the primary tool for assessing the health of the crab stock.

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.

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum Unveils New Master Plan

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md., has announced the completion of a new Master Plan, which will create increased space for CBMM’s core museum offerings—including exhibitions, education, and Shipyard. CBMM’s Master Plan process began in mid-2017, under the leadership of President Kristen Greenaway.

“CBMM’s Master Plan is a vision for CBMM’s campus for the next 20 years, and is designed to greatly enhance the guest experience,” said Greenaway. “The Master Plan will support CBMM’s mission and world-class maritime museum status by enabling CBMM to offer new and expanded programming.”

Through a competitive RFP, museum and education building specialist Ann Beha Architects of Boston, Mass., was chosen to develop CBMM’s Master Plan in July 2017. The process began with a series of visioning sessions, with input gathered from members of the community, CBMM’s Board of Governors and Friends Board, staff, and volunteers.

The scope of the plan is broad, addressing all facets of the physical campus, including new and re-oriented buildings, wayfinding, guest accessibility and comforts, and prioritizing CBMM’s natural, waterfront environment.

Phase I of the Master Plan consists of the construction of a new building for changing exhibitions, a long-term waterfowling exhibition, CBMM’s library and archives, and landscaping upgrades to Navy Point. The new facility will replace CBMM’s current Bay History and Waterfowling exhibition buildings, with the buildings’ artifacts to be relocated; demolition of the buildings is anticipated to begin in spring 2019. The new library and exhibition building is anticipated to open in 2020.

“This new facility offers a higher standard of climate control than we have anywhere, other than in our collections facility,” continued Greenaway. “It will also move our exhibitions and archival collections above the flood plain. Currently, both our Waterfowling and Bay History buildings are extremely vulnerable to flooding from storm surge events.”

CBMM’s Master Plan includes raising the grade of new buildings and walkways above regulated limits in anticipation of long-term needs. Other proposed changes include enhancements to the Navy Point lawn, and relocation of the Tolchester Beach Bandstand and Point Lookout Bell Tower to other locations within CBMM’s campus.

“After the investigation of numerous options and alternatives, a very thoughtful and exciting campus vision has emerged—one that ticks all of the Master Plan objectives boxes,” commented CBMM Board of Governors Chair Diane Staley. “Still, there’s much work to be done before shovels touch earth.”

Three phases make up the Master Plan, with the scope and timeline expected to be six to eight years, contingent upon funding. Funding sources are planned to come from individual donations and naming opportunities, grants, and operations. Phases II and Phase III will focus on further expanding CBMM’s education and Shipyard capabilities.

The public is invited to a Community Forum on Tuesday, June 19, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. in CBMM’s Van Lennep Auditorium, where CBMM will host a community conversation and share more information about the Master Plan.

Established in 1965, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is a world-class maritime museum dedicated to preserving and exploring the history, environment, and culture of the entire Chesapeake Bay, with the values of relevancy, authenticity, and stewardship guiding its mission. To learn more about the Master Plan, visit cbmm.org/masterplan.

Lake Bonnie’s Once-owner Wins Legal Point, Not Damages in Court

It took eight years, but Gail Litz finally got her day in court — three weeks, actually.

Gail Litz

Gail Litz said she’s not sorry for bringing the case. “I think people need to know what went on and how our state handles these things,” she said.

Along the way, she won a potentially important legal ruling for enforcing water quality in Maryland. But she fell short in her quest for damages from the state and an Eastern Shore town for their failure to fix pollution that she contended caused the loss of her family’s campground business and property.

“I got my day in court,” acknowledged Litz , who now lives in Orlando, FL. “But I don’t feel we were allowed to admit a lot of things [into evidence] that I thought explained better the process.”

Litz filed suit in 2010, claiming that Lake Bonnie, the prime attraction of her family’s campground in Caroline County, had been rendered unfit for swimming by sewage seeping into the water from failing septic systems in the nearby town of Goldsboro. She said she’d been forced to close the campground because of declining business and was on the verge of losing the property to foreclosure.

Septic systems in Goldsboro had been leaking for decades when the state Department of the Environment issued a consent order in 1996 requiring the town to fix the problem or face fines. Fourteen years later, when Litz filed suit, there was no remedy in sight, and no fines had been collected. Litz wanted an injunction to force a cleanup, and she wanted damages from Goldsboro and the state for costing her the campground business — and property — through inaction.

Litz’s lawyers went to the Maryland Court of Appeals twice to ask for her case to be heard. In 2016, the state’s highest court paved the way by ruling that a citizen could sue the state for damages when it fails to fulfill its legal duty to act — which her lawyers say should prompt officials to take environmental enforcement more seriously.

Litz then won a pretrial ruling that confirmed the state had a duty to enforce the 1996 consent order. And at the end of the three-week trial in March, a Caroline County Circuit Court jury found the state had breached that duty.

But Litz came away empty-handed; the jury also concluded that she and her lawyers had failed to prove the unaddressed septic pollution caused her to lose the campground.

Philip Hoon, one of Litz’s lawyers, called the outcome “bittersweet.”

“We won on the legal point, a very significant legal point, but it’s pyrrhic in that this lady lost her property,” Hoon said.

Litz’s lawyers argued that she lost the property through an “inverse condemnation” by the state and town for their failure to remedy the pollution.

Government agencies normally take private land for public purposes by filing a lawsuit to condemn it and offering the owners compensation. An inverse condemnation occurs when government takes land without filing a lawsuit for it — say, by adopting legislation or regulations that render the property worthless.

What made Litz’s case unusual, explained G. Macy Nelson, another of her lawyers, is that they argued government inaction, rather than a decision or action, could lead to a taking.

Long after Gail Litz is gone, Nelson said, “people are going to be suing the state of Maryland and using this case as a roadmap.”

At the time Litz filed suit, an MDE spokesperson said the agency had nearly 200 active consent orders, decrees or agreements, 55 of which called for cleaning up water pollution. Another MDE spokesperson had said that, because of limited staff and funding, the department prioritized its efforts to cases threatening public health. MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said there are 83 water-related consent agreements now; he declined to comment on the Lake Bonnie case.

Lawyers for MDE contended that it had no legal duty to act and that state regulators have the discretion to enforce consent orders or not. After courts rebuffed those arguments, the MDE lawyers challenged the evidence that Litz lost her property because of the septic pollution, arguing that the lake might be polluted instead by animal waste from nearby farms.

They and the town’s lawyers succeeded in getting the judge to exclude statements by a county health official and from a health department report stating that the town’s leaking septics were a source of the fecal bacteria in the lake. The defendants also persuaded the judge to prevent a Johns Hopkins University environmental engineering professor from testifying to the linkage.

The state lawyers further suggested Litz lost the property because of poor business decisions. She took out a loan against the campground, for instance, to make improvements to her home, but Litz contends the improvements were made to accommodate health challenges that made it hard for her to climb stairs.

Litz said it irked her that the state’s lawyers questioned why she hadn’t tested the water herself to verify it was polluted by septic waste.

“They tried to throw the blame on me,” she said. “I felt as though it was their responsibility, as the state environmental agency, to figure out what was going on.”

MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles had said last year that he’d like to settle the case, and Nelson said Litz’s lawyers tried in vain to reach an agreement.

Nelson expressed bitterness that the state had then gone to such lengths to oppose her claim for damage after letting the problem fester for so many years.

“You challenge their inaction, and the moment you challenge their inaction, they bring unlimited resources to beat back the challenge,” Nelson said. “[If] they would have spent 1 percent of the defense energy on addressing the environmental problem, there never would have been a problem.”

But Attorney General Brian Frosh said settling Litz’s case would have done nothing more than “put money in Mrs. Litz’s pocket,” something he called “a very ugly principle.”

Frosh disagreed with Nelson that the court ruling would make state regulators more accountable. Instead, he argued that the court’s ruling could actually be a disincentive for the MDE to use consent orders to enforce cleanups.

“If [MDE] is liable for the failure to enforce, maybe a less courageous secretary will be less likely to try to reach a consent order,” he said.

Nichole Nesbitt, one of Goldsboro’s lawyers, issued a statement saying town officials never disputed that residents were having trouble maintaining their septic systems because of poor soil conditions.

But the town’s lawyers argued that residents, not the town, were responsible for solutions. Efforts to fund a new wastewater treatment plant failed — until after the lawsuit was filed.

“The town and the state made extraordinary efforts to secure funding that would bring a public water and sewer system to the town,” Nesbitt said.

Three years ago, construction began on a new wastewater treatment plant in the neighboring town of Greensboro that will also process Goldsboro sewage. Homes began hooking up to the sewer line earlier this year.

Litz said she’s not sorry for bringing the case, and praised her lawyers, who represented her for free.

“I think people need to know what went on and how our state handles these things,” she said. “If a consent order is issued from the state, I think it has to be enforced. It shouldn’t be at MDE’s discretion.”

Despite the verdict, Litz may still get another day in court. On April 19, her lawyers filed a motion for a new trial, contending that Circuit Court Judge Sidney S. Campen, Jr., erred in rulings that limited their ability to gather and present evidence to support her claim. A ruling on that motion is pending.

By Tim Wheeler

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

Spy Report: St. Michaels Forum for Town Commissioner Race

Thanks to the League of Women of the Mid-Shore, St. Michaels voters had a real chance to compare and contrast the six candidates running to fill two seats on the Town Commission last night.

With a standing room crowd assembled at the Christ Church Parish Hall,T. Coleman DuPont, Michael A. Gorman, William C. Harvey II, Jennifer C. Stevens, Christopher B. Thomas, and Jaime M. Windon shared with the audience their priorities and opinions on a sundry of different community issues.

The Spy was only able to attend the first hour of the two-hour session but was able to video opening remarks and four of the questions asked of each candidate.

This video is approximately 40 minutes in length. For more information about the League of Women Voters of the Mid-Shore please go here.

Spy Minute: Women & Girls Fund Honor Sue Stockman and Robbin Hill

While it is pretty typical of a philanthropic foundation to have an event to celebrate their grantees every year, it is tough to beat the overwhelming sense of goodwill and fun generated with the annual Women & Girls Fund luncheon.

For sixteen years, the WGF has not only donated but worked to pull resources to help some of the Mid-Shore’s most needy organizations who focus on women and girls issues. From mentoring programs to bilingual computer literacy, environmental education, and summer programs, the Fund has invested a half million dollars in these and similar programs since its founding.

It also didn’t hurt that this year two of the Mid-Shore’s heroes, artist and educator Sue Stockman and Robbin Hill of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, who have dedicated their careers to empowering women and girls in all five Mid-Shore counties. 

The Spy was there for some of the fun and wanted to share with our readers a few special moments.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the Women & Girls Fund please go here 

The Best Kind of News: The Bay’s Underwater Grasses Surge Beyond 100,000 Acres for First Time in Ages

The Chesapeake’s underwater grasses — critical havens for everything from blue crabs to waterfowl — surged to a new record high last year, surpassing 100,000 acres for the first time in recent history.

“I never thought we would ever see that,” said Bob Orth, a researcher with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who has overseen the annual Baywide underwater grass survey since it began in 1984. “But things are changing.”

It was the third straight year that acreage of these underwater meadows has set a new Baywide record. The 2017 survey results, released in late April, came on the heels of a scientific study published in March that credited nutrient reductions in the Bay for a sustained long-term comeback of the grasses over the last three decades — even as those habitats are in decline globally.

“Seeing record growth in underwater grasses for the past three years just reinforces that our efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its local tributaries is working,” said Jim Edward, acting director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, a state-federal partnership.

The need to restore underwater grasses is one reason that the Bay cleanup effort aims to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution; water clouded by sediment or nutrient-fueled algae blooms can be lethal to the nearly two dozen species of underwater grasses found in the Bay. Like all green plants, submerged grasses need sunlight to survive, and they receive more sunlight through clear water. Because of the link to water clarity, the status of submerged aquatic vegetation — or SAV — is considered a key indicator of the Bay’s health.

Grass beds are also a critical component of the Bay ecosystem in their own right. In addition to providing food for waterfowl and shelter for fish and crabs, they also pump oxygen into the water, trap sediment and buffer shorelines from the erosive impact of waves.

Overall, results from the 2017 survey showed that the Bay had 104,843 acres of underwater grasses, a 5 percent increase from the previous year. That exceeds an interim 2017 goal of 90,000 acres, and it was 57 percent of the ultimate 185,000-acre Baywide goal for 2025.

When the survey began in 1984, fewer than 40,000 acres of SAV were observed in the Bay. Since then, the total amount has generally increased, though the amount in a given year may fluctuate widely depending on the weather: Big storms drive huge amounts of nutrients and sediment into the Bay that tend to cause significant losses, while very hot summers cause die-offs of eelgrass, a dominant species in high-salinity areas of the Lower Bay.

Most recently, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in late summer 2011 knocked grasses back to 48,195 acres in the 2012 survey, the lowest in recent years.

But after that, the beds continued their long-term recovery, with Baywide coverage increasing for five consecutive years — the longest period of uninterrupted expansion in the history of the survey — and setting records in the last three. “There have up and downs in places, but the overall picture since 2012 has been up, up, up,” Orth said. “It’s not going down.”

The recent paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, written by a team of 14 scientists, credited the overall recovery to improved water quality, largely brought about by a 23 percent decline in nitrogen concentrations in the Bay and an 8 percent decline in phosphorus since the mid-1980s.

“We don’t need miracles,” said Brooke Landry, a biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and chair of the Bay Program SAV Workgroup and, along with Orth, one of the co-authors of the paper. “We just need a sustained effort.”

Environmental advocates said the underwater grass record was evidence that cleanup efforts are working — and need to be maintained. “Pollution is going down, the dead zone is getting smaller, and oysters are making a recovery. This progress is extraordinary,” said Beth McGee, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “But the recovery is fragile and proposed rollbacks to federal environmental protection regulations threaten future progress.”

Good news last year was heralded at the top of the Bay, where underwater grass beds in the Susquehanna Flats, historically a critical waterfowl habitat, continued their comeback after being halved in the wake of Irene and Lee. They reached 9,084 acres last year, about three-quarters of their level before those storms.

It is no longer the area of the Bay with the most grass, though. That honor goes to a huge 21,507 acre expanse of underwater grasses that extend from near Tangier Island to the Honga River, along the Eastern Shore.

Closer to the mouth of the Bay, beds have stabilized after a heat-wave caused a dieback of temperature-sensitive eelgrass beds — important habitats for juvenile blue crabs — in 2012. “It looks like eelgrass is basically stabilizing, with some increases,” Orth said. Eelgrass is of particular concern as it is one of the two primary species found in high-salinity areas; the other is widgeon grass.

Grasses are also turning up in places where they haven’t been seen in decades — if ever. In the York River, Orth said he hasn’t seen underwater grasses above Gloucester Point, near the mouth of the river, since 1972. But last year they found substantial bed of widgeon grass there, he said. “It’s the first time ever in the survey that we saw any grass above Gloucester Point.”

A large widgeon grass bed also popped up in the Patuxent River outside the Chesapeake Biological Lab in Solomons, MD, where it had not been previously mapped.

Although the overall trend is upward, the magnitude of the changes from 2016 to 2017 varied by salinity zone, each of which hosts a slightly different mix of grass species:

• In the tidal fresh zone, at the head of the Bay and in the uppermost tidal reaches of most tributaries, underwater grass beds increased by 2,462 acres to 19,880 acres, a 14.1 percent increase.

• The slightly salty oligohaline zone that occupies a relatively small portion of the Upper Bay and tidal tributaries, lost 190 acres, dropping to 8,398 acres, a 2.2 percent decrease.

• The moderately salty mesohaline zone — the largest area of underwater grass habitat, stretching from near Baltimore south to the Rappahannock River and Tangier Island and including large sections of most tidal rivers — had the greatest increase by acreage, gaining 4,140 acres to 61,331 acres, an increase of 7.2 percent.

• The very salty polyhaline zone — from the mouth of the Rappahannock and Tangier Island south, including the lower York and James rivers — increased 763 acres, to 15,234 acres, an increase of 5.3 percent.

While grass beds are expanding or holding their own in much of the Bay, much of the recovery hinges on the mesohaline zone in the midsection of the Bay. Widgeon grass is by far the dominant species there, and its acreage has nearly tripled in just the last five years, from less than 20,000 acres in 2010 to more than 57,000 acres last year. But widgeon grass is notorious for its boom and bust cycles, as it can disappear quickly if conditions turn bad. In 2003, that area lost half of its underwater grass coverage after severe storms muddied the waters.

But, Orth said, widgeon grass likes warm water and might be benefitting from gradually warming Bay temperatures. In the event of another setback, he said, those beds may be better poised for a comeback than in the past because they have become so large and dense, and are producing prodigious amounts of seeds.

Also, Landry said, inspections of some beds last year showed that, in some places, other species are starting to appear along with widgeon grass, giving beds diversity that could help them better withstand severe events.

“I think these plants can withstand bad weather and storm events and things like that if the system itself is healthy,” she said. “So if we keep up with our nutrient reduction plans and our sediment reduction plans, and we set the stage for a thriving environment, these beds will be more likely to withstand stressful events. They can’t withstand long-term chronic stress.”

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.

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