Early Voting

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Earlier this week, Marisa and I cast our ballots at Sollers Point, one of the 9 early voting sites located in Baltimore County. As many of you know, early voting went into effect during the last presidential election cycle, in 2012. Fast forward four years later and our State is on pace to cast 800,000 ballots before November 8 – smashing the 2012 record significantly.

While this has been a difficult election season, mired in negativity, I firmly believe that one of our most important duties as citizens is to participate in the democratic process. I am proud that Maryland has created more opportunities for folks to be involved through early voting and on-site registration. I applaud the groups that organize voter registration drives and GOTV efforts, and appreciate the countless hours volunteers have spent on the phones and knocking doors to support their respective candidates and causes.

With one day left of early voting and Election Day around the corner, I hope you make a plan to get out and vote. I also hope you encourage a friend, spouse or family member to do so as well. And if you’re looking for information on early voting, or need to look up your polling location, please visit the Baltimore County Board of Elections HERE.

Thanks again for doing your part!

Real Development at Sparrows Point Site

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May 20, 1940 – The Sparrows Point Shipbuilding division of the Bethlehem Steel Company with the steel mill in the background. (Robert F. Kniesche/Baltimore Sun)

Most of us who have lived in Baltimore County for more than a few years (or for a life time) easily remember the days when many good paying manufacturing jobs for middle class workers existed on the east side of Baltimore County. We can still recall those glory days when thousands of our citizens worked at Bethlehem Steel, General Motors (no one will forgot the GM Astro van manufactured in Baltimore), Eastern Stainless Steel, and in airplane manufacturing near Martin’s State Airport.

Whether we like it or not, things constantly change and, if we are honest, not always for the better! Such change occurred when Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt, resulting in several companies then buying the plant over a short period of time and each failing to produce many promised great things.

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Finally, we have experienced GOOD NEWS! The redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows Point is not only finally happening but appears to be based on a sound and truly transformational plan for the entire site. One only needs to look at a map showing the location of this former steel plant to understand the true potential that this strategic site has for all of Baltimore County and the rest of Maryland.

While the long-time presence of Bethlehem Steel, Sparrows Point is gone, the Point’s traditions and community significance is captured in the new entity doing this massive redevelopment project, TRADEPOINT ATLANTIC. TRADEPOINT purchased the entire 3,100 acre tired, old, polluted site in 2014 for $ 110 M.

TRADEPOINT has developed a detailed plan to create a vibrant 21st Century state of the art transportation and logistics facilities that is poised to become THE east coast destination for trade and related industries. Strategically developing and utilizing this site will allow businesses locating there to reach markets not only along the eastern seaboard of the United States and to also enhance our Port’s critical function as a vital gateway to many commercial markets in the midwest United States.

TRADEPOINT’s founders include several local investors (Redwood Capital Investments) with strong Maryland ties. The owners have assembled a first class core team to design and implement this redevelopment in a careful and thoughtful manner focused on achieving success.

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This team has already achieved much success in the remediation of acres of polluted soil, the demolition of many obsolete structures and the strengthening of existing infrastructure to properly position this site for effective marketing to a wide variety of potential business partners. These efforts have already resulted in success in reaching agreements with several new businesses that will be locating at TRADEPOINT, including:

a Fed Ex Distribution Hub with more than 300,000 square feet
a Harley Davidson Training Center
Pasha Automotive Services (shipment of vehicles)

Other activities that have already progressed beyond the planning stage, include:

– a retail center designed to provide products and services to the employees at the redeveloped site as well as clients and visitors
a massive Distribution Center that will be as large as 900,000 square feet

These initial activities and future plans are expected to result in the creation of 10,000 good jobs during the next 10 years at TRADEPOINT.

Our County’s citizens suffered a significant loss with the closing of Bethlehem Steel. However, with support from Baltimore County and Maryland, TRADEPOINT is well positioned to create a superb site that will continue to attract a great array of businesses that will create good jobs that will be an economic engine supporting the growth of our local economy. This will help ensure that the quality of life that we enjoy in Baltimore County will be further enhanced.
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Body Cameras coming to Baltimore County

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A recent barricade situation that led to the fatal shooting of a Randallstown woman by police officers who were attempting to serve arrest warrants has yet again ignited a discussion that involves law enforcement issues.

In many facets of life, technology is changing the way businesses operate.  Governments are slowly learning to adopt similar practices.  One such new technology that might have helped shed additional information on this and similar situations: police body cameras.

Baltimore County has just begun phasing in their body camera program as of July 2016, equipping one officer in each of the 10 precincts across the county. 10 more officers will be trained each week until there are 150 officers with body cameras in the field.   Eventually, there will be 1,435 cameras in use – and these are expected to be in place by December of 2018. There are 1,900 officers in the Baltimore County Police Department.

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The program has an estimated annual operating costs of $1.6 million, most of which will be funded through revenue generated by the county’s speed and red-light cameras.  It will be governed by policies created by the county.

The County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger called this action a “positive first step for law enforcement and for the prosecution of criminal cases,” suggesting that “cases can only get better because of this footage[1].”  The footage of body camera video will be considered a matter of public record, subject to release as prescribed by the Maryland Public Information Act and similar requirements – enabling citizens to request and receive the footage under most circumstances.

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A report from the ACLU of Maryland detailed that five individuals died last year during encounters with police officers in Baltimore County – a number higher than anywhere in the state.  To that end, many believe that an effective body camera program will reduce negative interactions between the public and police, increase transparency and help with investigations.  Others have expressed concerns about privacy and how released footage might be used.

What do you think of the new police body camera plans in Baltimore County? Do you support outfitting the police force with them?

[1] http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-county/towson/bs-md-co-body-cameras-20160629-story.html

Baltimore County’s Shoreline

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Baltimore County is a jurisdiction of diverse environments.  One important part of that diversity is the 109 miles of coastal shoreline in the county.  These miles are the front lines between land and water, where Baltimore County has a direct connection to the Chesapeake Bay.  This time of year, many people come to Baltimore County’s shorelines to access the water, whether spending time boating, enjoying the view from a waterfront restaurant, or swimming at a park like Rocky Point Park or North Point State Park.

The shoreline in Baltimore County affords plenty of opportunity to connect with the tidal waters that stretch up into these land and water interfaces.  Shorelines also represent vital habitats. Indeed, edge habitats are some of the most productive. Head out into these waters and you will expect to see birds – osprey, terns, and heron, to name just a few. You may also see fish jumping or a blue crab swimming up to the top of the water.  After generations of armoring these shorelines with bulkhead or stone riprap, however, much of the vital habitat a shoreline provides has been lost.  Natural shorelines, with vegetation and plenty of oxygen from water that mixes at the edge, provide nursery habitat to small crabs and young fish.  Healthy, vegetated shoreline can also provide unmatched protection against storm surges.

In places where removing hardscape and reestablishing vegetation is unreasonable, for example, most of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, there is a movement to at least create floating wetlands that offer some of the habitat and filtering shoreline plants would otherwise provide – for example, check out the floating wetland the National Aquarium maintains in the harbor.  Additionally, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has been testing shoreline engineering projects that reduce the use of hardscaping and work with waves to deposit sand at the shore, rather than carry it away.

Do you know of shoreline restoration projects happening in Baltimore County? If you are a lucky waterfront resident, have you or your neighbors considered constructing living shoreline instead of hard revetment? Have you considered installing floating wetlands where you already have established shoreline revetment? What other ideas do you have about improving the shorelines of Baltimore County?

Staycation Ideas

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With the school year ending and summer in full swing, families across Maryland and here in Baltimore County are filling up their calendars with trips to the beach, weekend getaways, camps, and so much more.  While we tend to live in an age where over programming and packed schedules are the norm, for many hard working parents, the barriers to taking a vacation and enrolling the kids in programs – whether financial or other – is a difficult reality.

As community groups, non-profits and local governments across the country continue to work to provide more convenient and affordable opportunities for families, there is a tremendous resource available right at our fingertips:  The Maryland State Park System.

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The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is the agency responsible for maintaining the 95,000+ acres that cover State parks, as well as other environmental areas, rail trails and State battlefields.

In Baltimore County alone, we boast 7 terrific and accessible parks, including:

Sometimes the best kept secret is where you least expect it. Consider taking advantage of the beautiful open spaces Baltimore County has to offer this summer.  Clear your mind, recharge the batteries, enjoy quality time with your partner, friends or with your kids and family.  And if you decide to take a hike, camp out or sail on the Chesapeake, be sure to share your pictures and stories with us on social media!

 

Staying cool is a hot topic

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There has been much recent news coverage regarding the recurring issue of air conditioning in the Baltimore County School System.  With the school year ending this month, this is a good time to discuss current activities regarding this issue. 

Unfortunately there have been some recent political distractions involving the issue of adding air conditioning to remaining schools without it.  However, effective education of our children is too important to allow any distractions that may impair this critical function.

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Funding for school construction projects in Maryland are paid for from a combination of state and local government taxpayer-provided funding.  However, the amount of such funding approved for projects must compete with funding requirements for other government functions and priorities (e.g., public safety, road projects, etc.).  In addition, approved funding must not only pay for central air conditioning projects in public schools but also pays to build new schools (needed because of student enrollment increases) replacement schools as well as projects involving major building renovations.

The level of school construction funding is a more significant issue for Baltimore County than many other school systems because of:

– the large number of schools that we have (more than 170),

– continued increases in student enrollment, and

– the fact that we have many very old school buildings in our County (the 2nd oldest school building inventory in Maryland).

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Recent good news announced by the County will allow for significant progress in getting central air conditioning installed in most of our remaining school still in need.  The County has announced that it will provide, in advance, the State’s share (about $ 45 M) of the $ 83 M needed to install air conditioning in all remaining elementary and middle schools lacking air conditioning by the end of Fiscal Year 2017 (July 2016 – June 30, 2017).  The small number of remaining schools still in need will receive air conditioning during the next 3 fiscal years.

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This enhanced initiative is great news, speeding up relief for many students and teachers/staff who have suffered with hot and humid classrooms for too long.  The creation and maintenance of a viable classroom environment is a critical part of our mission to ensure that our students have access to a quality education.  We know that an educated workforce is essential to our County’s economic stability and future growth.

Lastly, while air conditioning it is clearly important to facilitating learning, we need to remember there are also other facilities-related and student support needs that require significant funding.  We must maintain focus on ensuring that all of our schools have access to state of the art technology that includes adequate wireless internet access in all spaces in all of our school buildings as well as procuring and supporting of hardware and software needed to enhance student learning.  Such efforts will clearly support teachers in their work to prepare our students and graduates for future 21st century educational and work opportunities.

Thank you for you interest in our schools; we know that we cannot have a Better Baltimore County now or in the future without investing in a high quality educational system in Baltimore County.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed

A recent article published by the Baltimore Sun, announced the Chesapeake Bay had received a “C” for water quality.  That is the Bay’s highest score in over 20 years.  Unfortunately, the part of the watershed in Baltimore County did not score as well, Patapsco and Back River both scored a D-minus.

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There are many groups in Baltimore County working towards improving water quality not only for waterways in Baltimore County, but for the Chesapeake Bay as well.  One of those groups the Back River Restoration Committee has undertaken massive efforts to clean up parts of Back River, a quick visit to their FB page will show the many project they have undertaken to improve their part of the watershed.

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Many have heard the stories of when Captain John Smith first sailed the Bay the water was so full of sea life, his crew could not disembark to swim.  While we are far from seeing that abundance of sea life the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore has made it a goal to make the Inner Harbor swimmable by 2020.  While the Waterfront Partnership is based in Baltimore City, the waterways of Baltimore County feed into the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay.

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Improving the quality of the watershed cannot be left to community action groups and environmentalist, alone.  If everyone were to change a few daily habits, we would make positive improvements to the health of the Chesapeake, one of our national treasures.

Here are a few ways to improve the water quality in Baltimore County and the Chesapeake Bay.

  1. When washing your car, buy an environmentally friendly soap. Remember everything that goes down the storm drain goes directly into a local waterway without being processed or filtered.
  2. Take your trash with you. When you are out and about and have just finished that delicious breakfast sandwich or sweet piece of candy put the wrapper in your pocket and discard it when you find a trash can, not on the ground.
  3. Keep your butts. It should be no surprised that smoking is bad for your health and it is bad for the health of the watershed as well, keep your cigarette butts and throw them away when you get home, not on the ground.
  4. Paper, plastic, neither? Do you have a drawer full of plastic bags from grocery shopping?  Those take “forever” to decompose in a landfill (around 10-20 years).  Reusable bags have become pretty inexpensive and you can use them anywhere for any purpose, consider buying a few and skipping the “one-time” bag at the grocery store.
  5. May I have my shells to go? A great way to support oyster populations in the Bay (a very important filter-feeder), is to recycle your oyster shells. Take empty oyster shells to an Oyster Recovery Partnership recycling station. Find one near you.

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These are just a few ways we can work together to improve the Chesapeake Bay Watershed for everyone to enjoy for years to come.

Tell us know some of your favorite environmentally friendly tips!