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?

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!

Addressing Illegal Dumping

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Perhaps you’ve seen an old sofa or a used mattress along some of the rail lines or alley ways in and around Baltimore County.  Maybe a thoughtless individual dumped large trash items along our public parks or highways.  Regardless of the circumstance, they are unsightly, unseemly and negatively impact the quality of life for a community.

Bulk trash can be a troublesome issue and is addressed in different ways in the Baltimore region.  One approach deals with the imposition of penalties for illegally dumping trash on roads and alleys.  In April of 2015, Baltimore County increased its minimum fine to $500 and allowed for the imposition of a jail sentence of up to six months for those found guilty of dumping.

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Baltimore City likewise has fines in place for illegal dumping, $500 for amounts under 25 pounds and $1,000 for amounts in excess of 25 pounds.  The City, however, has another fairly aggressive program in place to address bulk trash. While there are exclusions for automobile parts, building materials and hazardous waste, city residents are still able to coordinate a pick-up of up to three large items, or four if they are all tires.  Baltimore conducts approximately 600 pickups a day and generally only requires 4 business days of notice in order to schedule.  Bulk trash is one of many services coordinated through Baltimore’s 311 program.

The best part? For residents of the city, it is an absolutely free service.

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The options when it comes to bulk trash items for Baltimore County residents are considerably more limited.  These include either personally taking bulk items to one of the county’s three drop-off facilities­­ or hiring a private, bulk item collector.  While the drop-off facilities do not charge a fee for Baltimore County residents to bring their items, for many residents the process can be daunting: many do not have the appropriate transportation options to haul bulk items, while others (such as our senior citizens) may not have the physical ability to move heavy and cumbersome objects around. The alternative of paying for pick-up is hardly a more appealing option and can end up costing several hundreds of dollars.

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While it might not solve all of the challenges associated with illegal dumping throughout Baltimore County, it might be worthwhile to consider finding a way to implement a low or no cost bulk pickup option similar to what is provided currently to our City counterparts.  In addition to being a useful service for county residents, it certainly makes it even easier to justify penalties for dumping. It could prove another useful tool in curbing some of the dumping challenges currently out there.

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Festivals, Fairs, and Fun!

Look for our tent!

Look for our tent!

The snow is finally a memory and the trees are beginning to green.  Winter has finally given way to spring. It’s also now fair and festival season around Baltimore County.

Better Baltimore County will be bringing our work of promoting and connecting the good work of civic leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators first to the Towsontown Spring Festival. Celebrating its 49th anniversary, this festival will be held on April 30th and May 1st.  It has blossomed over time into one of the largest outdoor festival in Maryland and on the east coast. For more information on the event and for a more complete description of all the vendors that will be in attendance, you can check out the Towsontown Festival website.  If you’d like to join us at this festival, you can join up to volunteer by visiting this link on the BBC website.

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The Towson Townfest is an impressive gathering, drawing nearly 250,000 visitors annually.  However, it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all that our county has to offer.  There are town fairs and festivals in just about every one of our great communities.  These include but are most certainly not limited to Catonsville (Arts and Craft Festival), Parkville (Town Fair), Dundalk (Heritage Fair), Randallstown (Liberty Live!), Arbutus (Arts Festival), Reisterstown (Festival) Hunt Valley (Spring Festival) and Essex (Essex Day).  There is no shortage of 4th of July and other parades around our great county, as well. Many communities also host Farmer’s Markets, National Night Out activities and various concert and programming activities.

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These fairs, festivals and other events are built on the strength of community leadership.  They are examples of what is possible when neighbors come together and proves that a spirit of volunteerism remains strong in our jurisdiction.  These events also provide enriching opportunities for community residents as well as visitors from all over region.  Finally, the events represent a well-deserved spotlighting of the great things happening in our communities across Baltimore County. Each event contributes to a better Baltimore County.

Do you have an especially fond memory of a fair, festival, parade or other community activity in Baltimore County?  Are there particular fairs, festivals, parades or other events that you are especially excited to attend this year?  We welcome you to comment below or email us at betterbaltimorecounty@gmail.com to share your experiences and thoughts, and we look forward to connecting with you during this year’s festival season in Baltimore County!

Look for our tent!

Look for our tent!

Partnerships Developing the Future

If you haven’t had the opportunity to pick up the latest edition of Baltimore Magazine, you may want to consider doing so. The March 2016 edition includes an excellent article on the public-private partnerships that Baltimore City has developed and how the city plans to leverage those partnerships to bolster Baltimore in the next 20 years.

While Baltimore County ins’t Baltimore City, we too can benefit from public-private partnerships.  One such partnership worthy of further examination and investment is with TradePoint Atlantic, formerly Sparrows Point Terminal.  This site in Baltimore County has access to some of the deepest water on the East Coast — a key asset we need to utilize to create meaningful economic development. 

One part of that development will be tackling the issue of dredge placement.  Currently, parts of the site sit within a legislatively-mandated 5 mile exclusion area for dredge placement.  To ensure that we continue facilitating job growth, those dredging restrictions may deserve re-examination.  If properly engineered, dredge placement at the site formerly known as Coke Point, for example, could provide significant economic benefits.  Placement of dredge material in an engineered containment facility could both support necessary pollution containment while also allowing expansion at TradePoint Atlantic.  Such an expansion could ultimately include a new port terminal on the TradePoint Atlantic site, leading to at least hundreds, if not thousands, of well-paid jobs.  Moreover, such an effort could improve the water quality of both Bear Creek and the Patapsco River.  This type of approach has already successfully been done at Masonville in Baltimore City, where the project has included a placement for dredge material and several direct benefits to the surrounding community.  A public-private partnership formed between Maryland Port Administration, Baltimore County and TradePoint Atlantic could have many positive far-reaching affects for the local community and environment.  It could also be a key component of the job growth strategy along the Sparrows Point peninsula.  As our county continues to evolve and move into a changing economy, it is worthwhile to consider the ways in which more public-private partnerships can improve the quality of life for Baltimore County residents, create jobs, and allow for continued innovation and adaption.  

Parks and Programs

In 2012, CNN/Money Magazine ranked Ellicott City and Columbia in Howard County as one of the top ten places to live in the entire country.  Since that award, our neighbor to the west has continued to win a number of other awards and accolades that relate to being a “Best Place to Live.” In making their determinations, the awarding entities often cite Howard County’s numerous parks (45 in all, with a total of more than 7,000 acres) and access to high quality, diverse recreational opportunities as major factors for their selection. 

For Baltimore County’s part, we have plenty to boast about too.  While Baltimore County’s total acreage is less than that of Howard’s (6,600 acres of total parkland), with 190 parks, there is a park (or more) in just about every neighborhood in Baltimore County. 

As with Howard County, Baltimore County affords its residents diverse and numerous recreational opportunities.  Indeed, recreational opportunities in Baltimore County are as varied as the landscape; just as our landscape ranges from urban to forested and farm to waterfront, Baltimore County’s recreational offerings include everything from sailing to indoor soccer, gardening to therapeutic horseback riding. 

How do you find programs that are of interest and available to you?  Having quality programming in Baltimore County can be made even better when access is easy and streamlined for our residents – an important lesson gleaned from the accolades given to Howard County in the recreation space and a real opportunity for our County. 

What might these improvements to Baltimore County’s recreational opportunities look like?  Two suggestions to ensure our programs are as good as they can be – and more accessible to all of our residents – are below: 

  • Provide a central listing of program opportunities. Currently, recreation programs are found by searching through individual recreation councils. Baltimore County’s recreation councils are broken into four regions plus special program areas.  Each region contains multiple recreation councils each with its own program offerings. While this contributes greatly to our diversity of program offerings, it can make finding a program that’s a fit for you a challenge. 
  • Make use of a web-based database for program registration and shared participant information.  This year, the Catonsville Recreation Council began making use of an online registration platform for its programs and participants.  The system has streamlined the collection of information and registration fees for the program leaders and the participants alike.  In a time when the most complex of transactions can be made entirely over the internet, the utilization of an online registration system could be a true benefit to our recreational programming.  An added benefit of a shared system would be that participants could have registrations for multiple recreation programs streamlined into one place.  Coupled with a clearing house of recreational opportunities, we would be opening up and encouraging participation in all that Baltimore County has to offer to its citizens in a way that continues to support and encourage local recreation councils to lead in what and how programs are offered.

Have you participated in a recreation council?  Did you play a sport or take part in a non-competitive recreational offering?  Was it a council near you, or did you find opportunities that fit your interests in other regions of the county?  What have you enjoyed about recreational opportunities in Baltimore County?  What suggestions do you have to make a good recreation system in Baltimore County even better?