Volume 13, Issue 3 ~ January 20 - 26, 2005
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Dock of the Bay

photo by Carrrie Steele
Eloise Rubimcam and Janice Opplet are birders who attended the Summit first because of their love of birds and wildlife.
Turning up the Green Heat
Environmentalists huddle for a winning 2005 season

There were no jumping jacks, stretches or lunges at the 11th Annual Environmental Legislative Summit. But environmental groups were warming up all the same for a season of green legislation. Revving up the crowd was a steady stream of speakers, who urged citizens to go on the offensive for the environment.

In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., nearly 200 citizens spent their holiday learning what environmental changes Maryland needs most and how to help. They came from all over Maryland to learn which issues and bills would need their active support in the 90-day General Assembly 2005 session.

In the game plan of the Citizens' Campaign for the Environment was land and air, along with celebration of last year's water victory with the Bay Restoration Fund.

On land, the Summit targeted three policies for defeat:
  • re-allocation of Project Open Space funds;
  • selling of public lands;
  • under-funding of State land conservation programs.

The crowd burst into applause when Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, promised to "make this a better year for open space.

"We don't want to develop every square inch of this state," said McIntosh, who expects to see more than 300 bills pass through her committee this session. "And we've got to stop robbing Project Open Space."

Also urgent, McIntosh said, is finding solutions to the leapfrogging of Maryland's work force as people who live in one area commute because of sky-high housing costs.

"In Howard County, the majority of people drive to another county to work," McIntosh said. "This disconnect between work and housing makes no sense for our environment."

Commuting in our cars also feeds air pollution. Maryland's air is among the worst in the nation, with coal-burning power plants also to blame.

Even with new technology and tougher restrictions on polluting, tons of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury and carbon dioxide flow through Maryland's airways every day. The Four Pollutant Bill would bring even grandfathered coal-burning power plants up to date.

"We get three-fourths of our power from coal burned with 1950s' technology," said Eric Schaeffer, former director of the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement. Most of the archaic plants use high-sulfur coal, without even emission scrubbers from the '70s.

"Maryland's record doesn't stand up to other states," Schaeffer said.

The Summit laid out other plans, such as opposing the Inter-County Connector and supporting the clean cars act, which requires automakers to sell more cars with advanced, cleaner technologies.

"Right now, it's tough to get a hybrid; you have to wait in line," said Maryland Public Interest Research Group's Brad Heavner. "People want cleaner cars."

Learning from the pros were rookies of all ages, backgrounds and occupations.

Sister Joan Serda, of the Baltimore region's Sisters of Mercy, came to learn about environmental justice issues for her sisterhood's action network.

Stephanie Stone, who works with the Patapsco Riverkeeper as well as reporting for Spinsheet Magazine, also owns a farm. So she is concerned about preserving open space. "Once we screw up, we're toast," she said.

Janice Opplet and Eloise Rubimcam, both avid birders, came because of their love of birds and wildlife. But they found themselves caring about other environmental issues as well.

"I like to be educated about what's going on and know the players," said Opplet.

Educating citizens is the best strategy in the game of legislation, environmental groups and eco-minded legislators agreed. The next step is getting those revved citizens to put the pressure on their legislators and spread the word to family and friends.

Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Kendl Philbrick, Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Michael Busch all promised friendship and reassurance.

"Perhaps they're preaching to the choir," said soil conservationist Steve Strano. "But I really appreciate seeing politicians that you can clap for and feel good about."

-Carrie Steele

So Long, Country
Another Calvert byway goes to town

For many years, Calvert County was an Ideal. It was the place you could retreat to and still find country. Annapolitans, Baltimoreans, Washingtonians, Prince Georgeans all thought that way. Even Calvert Countians thought that way. From all those places, all you had to do was take a drive along the Louis Goldstein Highway, Route 2-4.

Now look at how far we've come.

Not so many years ago, Lusby - three-quarters of the way down Calvert County - was an idea in the mind of the U.S. Postal Service. Then, the far-flung homes of 20657 solidified into bedroom communities. Now the bustling southern Calvert County crossroads is trading trees for conveniences as the bulldozers transform woodlands into a modern town center.

In recent months, forests on H.G. Trueman Road and Town Center Road have been leveled to make way for two new shopping areas: Lusby Center and Lusby Town Square. Lusby Center, anchored by a grocery store expected to be a Food Lion, will cover about 17 acres with 84,400 square feet of grocery and retail stores. Lusby Town Square will be a much smaller 30,000-square-foot strip center.

A third tract on the corner of Route 2-4 and Rousby Hall Road is on the way to being bulldozed into Lusby Commons. Whatever its final shape, the Commons looks to be the biggest and densest of the three, packing about 110,000 square feet into 13 acres.

The bulldozers are smoothing the way for the familiar conveniences of town life. In Lusby Center, half of the retail space has been spoken for, including restaurants and Chevy Chase Bank, according to leasing agent Matt Primm of JBG Rosenfeld Retail.

Even before ground is broken on Lusby Commons, letters of intent have been signed on all the retail space on the property, said Art Carson, who is handling the property leasing for O'Brien Realty. Carson confirmed letters from Chili's, Cheeburger Cheeburger, Quizno Subs and Starbucks. Other familiar franchises with letters of intention for Lusby Commons include Hallmark, Dollar Store, Supercuts and E.B Games - all without a set completion date.

June 2005 is the completion date for Lusby Town Square, where storefronts are expected to be leased to a continental restaurant, dry cleaner, carpet company and health club, Carson said. The leases will run up to $24 per square foot - about $2,000 a month for a year's lease on 1,000 square feet - Carson said. Retail shops will also share additional maintenance and insurance fees.

Delays have plagued Lusby Commons since its original plan was approved last spring. RVG Development worked through permits at federal, state and county levels, until an increase in the proposed size of the anchor store - a Giant grocery - from 58,000 square feet, which would have been the biggest in the county, to a giant 70,000 square feet sent it back to Calvert County's six-member planning commission.

Those changes didn't go down easily. Concerns about environmental consequences and traffic flow heated up review of the changes first in December and then in January. Local business owners protested the expansion because of the impact five lanes of traffic would have on existing businesses. Last week, after four hours of testimony, the planning commission denied Lusby Common's developer the right to fill more wetlands for the bigger store.

Now the developers may revert to the original plan or come back with another design that will not disturb the wetlands, according to transportation planner Christopher Jakubiak, who wrote the Lusby Town Center master plan. "The concept is to recognize the preservation of the wetlands," he said.

Despite the delays in Lusby Common's design, the woodlands east of Route 2-4 in Lusby will inevitably succumb to the excavators.

Calvert County, which grew a stunning 45 percent in the 1990s, is still on the edge of a construction boom. Now, commercial property construction replaces residential growth. With lower Calvert County's population growing rapidly - from 14,400 in 2000 to an estimated 20,900 a few years down the road - it's no wonder why so many retail businesses have agreed to sign the dotted line to open shop in these new centers.

Along with woodlands, the countryside's mom-and-pop stores continue to go under. Down the highway in St. Leonard, Buehler's Market closed last month after 56 years in business.

Despite some interest by franchises, Buehler's Market will keep its original name as it was just leased by a local family who intend to reopen soon, owner Pat Buehler said.

The growth in Southern Calvert County was inevitable, as the swelling population demands new service, said Buehler, a former county commissioner. "It's not a plus for small businesses," he added. "They need to find their niche so they will survive."

The shopping center developments will be the biggest transformation Lusby has seen, similar to the growth the rest of the county saw in earlier years, Buehler said. "I don't see it as a negative," he added. "It'll be a nice community once it's completed."

-Carol Swanson

Ask the Plant Professor

Winter Blooms and Spring Dreams

Q What parts of an amaryllis are supposedly poisonous or an irritant?

A Bulbs are the poisonous part. According to the American Medical Association's Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants, large quantities must be eaten to cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Q Could you recommend a good website or book specific to the Maryland area that includes a timeline for preparing soil and planting vegetables from seed or seedlings, what to put in the soil, etc. I need a handholding approach for new gardeners.

A We have several publications that are just what you need to get started, available on our website or by calling us. They include HG 16 Planting Dates for Vegetables; HG 70 Recommended Vegetable Cultivars; FS 551 Growing Vegetable Transplants; plus many others.

Ask the Plant and Pest Professor is compiled from questions sent to the website of the Home and Garden Information Center, part of Maryland Cooperative Extension, an educational outreach of the University of Maryland. Ask a home gardening or pest control question and find other help: 800-342-2507 (Mon.-Fri. 8am-1pm) • www.hgic.umd.edu.

Way Downstream

In Annapolis, the Navy threatens to undermine the new Bay Restoration Fund and Gov. Robert Ehrlich in one defiant act. By arguing that Maryland's new sewage fee is not a surcharge but a tax that federal facilities don't have to pay, the Navy is contradicting Ehrlich and anti-tax Republicans - and giving Democrats election fodder for 2006

Also in Annapolis, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - NOAA to those who like to skip 15 syllables - says it is reviewing a petition to designate the Chesapeake's native oysters as an endangered or threatened species. The petition could trigger federal protection that would drastically curtail oyster harvests. But it is given little chance of winning approval given the clout of watermen and the anti-regulatory political climate these days

In Washington, this week's inauguration is replete with Texas themes for reasons we don't need to explain. But one menu tidbit caught our eye: rattlesnake nachos. The name, we assume, explains what flavors the nachos, not who they're served to

Our Creature Feature comes from Mozambique, where man's best friend is a … rat. That's right, the Gambian Giant Pouched Rat, which grows to about six pounds, has become a favorite weapon in the search for landmines scattered perilously throughout the African countryside during civil wars.

The rats are easily tamed - downright cuddly, some say - and they tread lightly while attached to red harnesses as they sniff the earth for the devices buried just beneath the surface, according to a Reuters report. Then they begin to scratch in the dirt, tipping their handlers to the danger - and in the process saving limbs and even lives.

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