This Week's Top Stories
- Taxes Are Certain, But Fees May Not Be
- Alien Oysters Won’t Get Their Passport Stamped This Year
- The Westlawn Inn
- Perfection Must Wait for Another Day
- The Bay Gardener
- Way Downstream
Taxes Are Certain, But Fees May Not Be
Will Navy poke a federal loophole in Maryland’s flush tax?
by Debra George Siedt
Certainty? In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.
Apparently Benjamin Franklin was never introduced to a fee — another word for payment that is causing problems for the Maryland Department of the Environment, the U.S. Navy and the Bay.
The notorious Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund bill, dubbed the flush tax, passed last session with bipartisan support in the Legislature amid dissent from septic users and businesses. Analysts estimated the fee would generate approximately $78 million to upgrade 66 wastewater treatment plants and cover crops. But that was before the Navy began questioning the definition of the word fee.
“We asked the state to clarify how the fund is a fee and not a tax,” said Lt. Robert S. Mehal, public affairs officer for the Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, based in Norfolk, Virginia.
Under federal law, the Navy is exempt from paying taxes, which is what it claims Maryland is trying to charge. Dictionary.com defines a tax as “a contribution for the support of a government required of persons, groups or businesses within the domain of that government.” A fee, however, is “a fixed sum charged, as by institution or by law, for a privilege.”
The flush tax isn’t supporting government; it is a fixed amount; and it is being charged for a privilege: the Bay. So it would seem that the tax really is a fee, at least to those of us who aren’t lawyers.
At the Navy’s request, Department of the Environment sent a document that clarifies why the flush tax is a fee and not a tax. The Navy is in the process of reviewing the reasoning before determining whether it will pay the fee or fight the law in court.
“We, as the Navy are the lead agency with the Air Force and the Army,” said Mehal. “We’re getting together and consulting with them to determine our next move.”
If a court determines the Navy does not have to pay the flush tax, then other federal agencies may also not have to pay. Such exemptions would translate into a loss of millions of dollars from the approximately 700 federal facilities in Maryland.
The Navy has three facilities in Maryland that do not have their own treatment plants: the Naval Surface Warfare Center, the Naval Recreation Center and the National Navy Medical Center. Under the law, each location would be classified as a business and would be required to pay the fee. The flush fee for businesses varies, depending on the size of the business and its sewage flow measured in gallons per day.
Department of the Environment would not provide exact percentages for how much the military’s contribution to the fund would be, saying only that it’s “a small portion of the fund … some single digit number.” Even a single-digit percentage, however, would place Navy’s contribution in the $780,000 to $7 million range — which doesn’t seem so small.
The department posts an electronic calculator on its Web site for businesses to estimate their surcharge. By that estimate, a hospital would pay $685 per month, a 240,000-square-foot department store $120 and a poultry processing plant $8,250.
Residential users are billed $2.50 per month on their water bills, while septic users, beginning October 1, will pay $30 annually. The amount of money collected since January won’t be known until April 30, when the figures first will be reported by local governments. Updates are made on a quarterly basis.
How much septic-system users will pay and how is a decision that will be made at the county level. “County governments will determine the method and frequency of fees,” said Richard McIntire, chief of media and outreach for Department of the Environment.
Anne Arundel County has eight wastewater treatment plants that need upgrading, more than any other county in Maryland. All 66 plants in the state are expected to be upgraded by 2011, but the timetable for each plant varies because local jurisdictions are contributing to the upgrade as well. The state has prioritized the upgrades from those contributing the highest amount of pollution to those contributing lower amounts, but county contributions will determine the final upgrade schedule.
In addition to country contributions, the upgrades depend on collecting the flush tax from all Maryland residents and businesses. Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican whose district spans the Eastern Shore and crosses above the Bay down into Arnold, said, “should the federal government not participate in the program, it would result in a significant and highly detrimental blow to … the user fee initiative.” Gilchrest also met with top Bush administration officials last week, according to a news release, to push the government’s cooperation on the flush fee.
“The clearest path forward to rescuing the Chesapeake Bay,” he wrote, “is an approach that brings together private citizens, businesses and government — where each makes a sacrifice.”
Alien Oysters Won’t Get Their Passport Stamped This Year
|Virginia Resources Marine Commission
Asian Ariakensis oysters, top, may outgrow native Chesapeake oysters, at bottom, in studies, but the non-native bivalve’s effects on the Bay are uncertain.
Legislation a vote for ‘sound science’
by M.L. Faunce
Here’s something Maryland’s General Assembly and its governor can agree on: emergency legislation postponing the commercial introduction of alien oysters into the Bay watershed.
The Senate has unanimously passed its bill, voting 46–0 to delay. A similar bill appears poised for passage in the House of Delegates.
Even Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who last year put the aliens on a fast track for introduction, has promised to sign the bill, overcoming earlier objections.
Under the amended bill, before nonnative oysters can be introduced into the Bay for studies, approval would have to come from a panel of experts and take into consideration earlier scientific reports, including the cautionary report by the National Academy of Sciences.
On the decision to postpone introduction of the Asian oyster until the necessary scientific studies are completed, Kim Coble, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland said, “this was a vote for sound science.”
“Introducing the Asian oyster,” she said, “is far too significant a question for the future of the Chesapeake Bay to shortcut the research before we have answers we need.”
The Westlawn Inn
|photo by M.L. Faunce
Westlawn Inn owner and first-time restaurateur Lee Travers and 27-year-old executive chef John Kozik.
Upscaling North Beach on Maryland’s Culinary Map
by M.L. Faunce
A fledgling restaurant in the small town of North Beach is not only filling its tables but also making itself a name beyond this unpretentious Bayside community.
Only eight months after opening the doors of his Westlawn Inn, owner Lee Travers says his venture into a new field has surpassed his hopes. “I thought we’d be busy,” says the first-time restaurateur. “But I didn’t realize how many people were looking for fine dining. It’s an area no one else has tapped”— at least in North Beach.
Travers credits a young face in the kitchen — 27-year-old executive chef John Kozik, a former line chef for KinKeads in Washington, D.C — with keeping diners feasting happily on seasonally changing menus and specialties like wild boar and duck, “a big favorite.”
“John has a flair,” says Travers, for setting a menu described as “traditional food with a retro flair.” Think roasted Atlantic salmon with blue crab fritter, coffee-crusted duck breast with seared sea scallop, flash-fried calamari, lobster risotto.
“We already have a large following, but we’re constantly seeing new faces. People are coming locally and from Washington and Baltimore,” says Travers of his early success.
Now, the Westlawn Inn has been tapped by the Restaurant Association of Maryland as one of the eight finalists for a new award recognizing hot new restaurants opened in Maryland between January 2003 and January 2005.
Other nominees, all chosen by the hospitality industry, include Blue Sea Grill, Pazo and Saffron, in Baltimore; Emma in Frederick and Nebula in Ocean City. The winner will be chosen by popular acclaim from email ballots. You can vote until month’s end.
“We’ve already won as one of eight against larger, better known restaurants in Baltimore, Ocean City, Frederick and Silver Spring and other Maryland towns,” says Travers, 56, a builder by trade and sometime musician.
By comparison with the competition, North Beach is a small town, and that, Travers says, gives his restaurant part of its appeal. The Westlawn Inn sits two blocks from the Bay in the main part of what Travers calls “a nice, walkable town, with antique shops and a boardwalk.”
In the last century, North Beach drew vacationers to its Bay beach and summer guest cottages. Now it’s redefining itself as a good place to live or spend a day for its million-dollar view, accessible history and fine dining.
“North Beach isn’t a secret any more,” says Travers, who credits North Beach Mayor Mark Frazer for a job he says “is going to be a gem.” Joining gentrified and now costly old beach cottages are high-end condos, services for citizens of all ages and a hotel on the horizon. To that mix, Travers plans to add another restaurant in town within a year or so, an “upscale casual” destination to suit both boaters and fine diners in a community he predicts will grow into a “bohemian, eclectic place.”
For his new venture, Travers — whose father owned a tavern in Prince George’s County — kept the name of the former guest house built in 1906. Drawing on his own skill, he renovated the handsome structure. Among the distinct touches is wainscoting crafted from doors salvaged from the old inn’s guest rooms. Dining is on two levels; a wrap-around porch adds seating in warmer weather; and the intimate Victorian bar, with no television, is made for conversation, Travers says.
At the Inn, Travers is reviving another family tradition. A guitarist who’s worked in bands since 1962, he’s adding unplugged acoustic music to his menu. From 10 to 11:30pm on Saturday nights, Travers and friends play not quite the rock and roll of his youth but a brand of smooth music that satisfies Westlawn Inn patrons.
Cast your vote by March 31 for Favorite New Restaurant on www.marylandrestaurants.com/vote/index.asp.
The Westlawn Inn: 9200 Chesapeake Ave., North Beach; 410 257-0001. Open Tu-Th 5-9:30pm; F-Sa 11am-1:30pm & 5-10:30pm; Su 9:30am-2pm & 5-9pm. Bar: Tu-Su 4pm
Perfection Must Wait for Another Day
|photo by Ted Kluga
Crowds gathered from around the county, filling council chambers to have their say on subdivision and zoning regulations.
Anne Arundel County Council leaves rough edges on the shape of the future
by Ted Kluga
Sometimes perfection has to wait for another day. That’s the lesson of the Anne Arundel County Council’s 7–0 vote on March 21, passing several hundred pages of subdivision and zoning regulations.
The bill’s unanimous passage was read as a mixed blessing by groups on opposite sides of zoning and development. Community and environmental groups wished the council had tightened environmental safeguards. Landowners and developers begrudged more restrictions on building.
But after slogging through nearly 400 amendments over several months, the Council was in no mood to consider any more. Instead, the two powers of county government — the seven-member council and County Exeuctive Owens’ administration — agreed to address some of the more contentious issues at a later date.
One of these was whether the proposed revision of what the county calls a steep slope from 15 percent to 25 percent would allow more development in sensitive areas.
That issue “has attracted a lot of attention and concern,” said James Cannelli, a county planning and zoning officer. “It was certainly never our intent to try to weaken any of the environmental protections that are currently in place.”
Cannelli urged the council to step onto the slippery issue of steep slopes another day. “The administration has committed to the Severn River Commission, the community at large and to this Council to work out these issues, but to deal with it by introducing a separate bill,” he pledged.
Delaying passage of the omnibus bills, scheduled to expire on April 8, would jeopardize the environmental safeguards already in place, Cannelli warned. These include the family conveyance provision limiting development in rural areas, mandatory 30 percent open-space requirements, greater protection for forested acreage and tightening the development-density formula.
|photo by Ted Kluga
Severn Riverkeeper Fred Kelly, left, with Scott Hymes of the Severn River Association. Kelly urged the council to enact tougher development regulations along sloped properties to protect waterways from sedimentation and stormwater runoff.
Citizens from all over Anne Arundel followed Cannelli. Some countered his arguments that the picture get no bigger; others concurred. Whatever side they stood on, they were united by passion over the future of their county and communities.
Severn Riverkeeper Fred Kelly cited the decline of fish in the Severn River as his reason for limiting development on steep slopes.
Twenty-eight years ago, Kelly recalled, “Saltworks Creek was loaded with yellow perch. Since then the headwaters have been filled in with sedimentation and poorly controlled stormwater runoff. Yellow perch has been designated a species in need of protection by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and fishing for yellow perch on the Severn River has been banned. This is a very good reason why we need to protect steep slopes.”
Joan Turek of the County Communities Coalition asked council consideration of 12 more issues, formed as amendments. Earl Bradley of the Sierra Club echoed Turek’s request for what would amount to a larger citizen role in public decisions.
On the other hand, Steve Bookschester of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation resigned himself to the “lots of good things” in the legislation. He also pledged his Federation’s commitment to “perfecting these bills” defining how steep is steep and opening doors to citizens.
Mike Lofton of the Harwood Civic Association regretted that commercial landfills were left out of the big bill, chastising the council for that “failure of leadership.”
Developers, too, got less than they hoped for. Speaking on land density, John Pantelides of Anne Arundel County Alliance For Fair Land Use argued that the proposed formula change to net rather than gross land density restricts housing and drives up its cost. “Now we have a further restriction on the land that reduces density and raises the cost of land, further pushing housing prices out of reach for our working and middle class families,” Pantelides lamented.
After the council meeting, Al Johnston of the Greater Severna Park Council was somewhat optimistic, saying that he looked forward to another day: “a review committee of citizens, County Planning and Zoning and the county council that will be set up to fine-tune the outstanding issues with the bills.”
Perhaps that new day will please everybody; more likely, it will still fall short of perfection.
The Bay Gardener
|by Dr. Frank Gouin
The Butterfly Bush
The butterfly bush is one of the simplest plants to prune, yet it is often the one plant everybody is afraid to prune properly. If you want your butterfly bush to attract hundreds of butterflies, you need to prune it before the first of April. Buddleia plants start growing in early April and are not affected by late frosts. The more top growth this plant can produce by mid June, the more flowers it will produce and the longer it will flower in the fall. Delaying the pruning of buddleia until May or June will seriously reduce the number of flowers it will produce and the length of flowering.
If the plant has been in the ground for only a few years, cut each stem to within four to six inches from the ground. As the plant grows older, you cut all the branches to within 10 inches to 12 inches from the ground.
However, plants that have been in the ground 10 or more years generally develop an enlarged center stump. Unless this stump is cut flush to the ground with a pruning saw or chainsaw every five or more years, the center of the plant will begin to die out. By cutting the stump close to the ground, you will be forcing new shoots to develop from the roots. The year following the severe pruning, you resume pruning as if it were a young plant again because the new stems will have emerged from the old roots.
For maximum bloom, buddleia should never be sheared. The best and the most flowers are produced on the most succulent shoots.
If you like butterflies, you should have a buddleia plant in your landscape. When this plant is in flower, there is seldom a minute during the day that it is without butterflies. At least five cultivars of buddleia are on the market; they vary in color from white to purple.
Professor Emeritus Francis Gouin retired from the University of Maryland, where he was the state’s extension specialist in ornamental horticulture. Follow his column of practical gardening and plant advice every week, only in Bay Weekly. Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Virginia, the debate is red hot over the continued harvest of millions of pounds of menhaden by Omega Protein Inc., of Houston. Soon, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is likely to approve radar-like monitoring called Light Detection and Ranging Technology that could more accurately predict how many of the Chesapeake’s precious baitfish are being lost, the Times-Dispatch reports …
On the Eastern Shore, Navy’s declaration of plans to resume exercises on Bloodworth Island has folks riled up, judging by an editorial in the Salisbury Daily Times. Noting the Navy’s confusing explanations of whether or not bombs will be dropping in the Bay, the Times wrote this week: “People are upset, and rightly so. It is completely unfair to spread conflicting information to people whose lifestyles, communities, peace and livelihoods are at stake …
In New Jersey, a company called TerraCyle in Trenton has an odd recipe for the plant food it will be selling to Wal-Mart stores in Canada and the United States: waste from millions of worms fed coffee grounds, beer hops and other organic remains, according to Business Week …
In Detroit, a new poll found that most Americans believe it is patriotic to buy a fuel-efficient vehicle in order to wean the country off Middle Eastern oil. Two-thirds of those responding — including 57 percent of self-described conservatives — said it is good for the country to choose vehicles that burn less gas, according to the survey of 1,013 Americans sponsored by the nonpartisan Civil Society Institute …
Our Creature Feature comes from Georgia where, thanks to National Geographic, the Mystery of Hogzilla has been solved. It began with a Web photo and claims of a hunting guide in the swamps of Georgia who felled a hog-like animal 12 feet long and 1,000 pounds.
National Geographic, apparently needing something to do, assembled a team of experts and dug up the creature’s buried remains. Was it real? Yes, and it was a beast indeed, even though its estimated weight was closer to 800 pounds. One more thing: DNA tests showed that the hog had wild boar in its ancestry. The episode left Georgians wondering if there were any more Hogzillas loose in the swamps.