The state Board of Public Works approved a $1.26 million grant last week for Charles County to upgrade the biological nutrient removal facility at its Mattawoman Wastewater Treatment Plant, the county's main sewage plant.

The improvement will remove more nitrogen from the water treated at the plant before it is discharged to the Potomac River.

Construction for the facility is set to begin next spring, after several years of planning, said County Administrator Eugene T. Lauer.

The Mattawoman plant will be one of the last treatment plants on the Potomac to incorporate biological nutrient removal, which allows the county to include the latest technology into its design, Lauer said.

The estimated cost for the project is $22 million, Lauer said, with the state and county splitting most of the bill. Before the recent grant, the Maryland Department of the Environment already had released $1.8 million for the upgrade, said a department spokesman.

"This is just a portion of the funding that they will ultimately provide us," Lauer said.

The upgrades to the Charles County plant and another recently announced for the Kent Island sewage treatment plant are part of a recent effort announced by Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) to reduce nitrogen flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

Calvert Amends Zoning Rules

The Calvert County commissioners have amended local zoning regulations in the wake of an ongoing controversy over a garden nursery operating in a Dunkirk-area neighborhood.

At the board's meeting last week, the commissioners authorized a change affecting rules governing site plan review, clarifying the types of proposals that the Planning and Zoning Department could approve.

Before the revisions, county regulations had allowed administrative approval of site plans without Planning Commission review for structures such as the nursery that were judged to contain 5,000 square feet or less. Now, the rules change stipulates that the "aggregate square footage of any proposed development" be considered, according to Greg Bowen, a county deputy planning director.

"If the aggregate is over 5,000 square feet it's reviewed by the Planning Commission," Bowen said.

The rules change stems directly from a court challenge from the Dunkirk nursery's neighbors who argued that the county also should have considered the square footage of two other structures that are part of the business -- which when added to the nursery cover more than 5,000 square feet.

Because neighbors won that fight, nursery owner Kelly McConkey, who this month lost his bid to have his case heard by the Maryland Court of Appeals, has been cited by the county for operating his business without an approved site plan. McConkey would need Planning Commission approval to remain open, according to officials.

The county first moved to close the nursery last year after a written ruling by Calvert County Circuit Judge Marjorie L. Clagett, who upheld a challenge by nearby residents who opposed the nursery in their Brickhouse Estates neighborhood.

The business continued operating when the state Court of Special Appeals granted McConkey a stay of Clagett's ruling, which found that county staff had acted improperly in approving the establishment's site plan administratively instead of referring the matter to the Planning Commission.

On Sept. 13, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed Clagett's ruling, according to a county attorney. On Oct. 28, the nursery was cited again by the county, which gave McConkey seven days to comply with rules. When McConkey failed to shut down, the county filed a motion in District Court asking that he be found in contempt.

While the McConkey case has been in litigation, the commissioners also approved a zoning ordinance amendment restricting the operation of tree and garden nurseries in residential neighborhoods, voting 3 to 2 to forbid the establishments within "residential subdivisions containing more than five . . . lots" if the owner of the nursery does not live on the site; McConkey doesn't.

Chapman's Forest Plan

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced Monday that it will release a draft management plan for Chapman's Forest next week.

Public comments on the plan will be taken at a public meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at the College of Southern Maryland, Center for Business and Industry in La Plata, as well as in writing and on the Internet.

Chapman's Forest, a 2,225-acre property along the Potomac River in western Charles County, was purchased by the state in 1998. The land had been slated to become the site of the Chapman's Landing housing development.

The plan outlines a vision and contains recommendations for managing, protecting and conserving the property's significant cultural and natural resources, according to the DNR statement. It also identifies opportunities for appropriate public use, access and development.

The public meeting will provide an overview of the proposed plan and time will be allotted for public comment. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

The draft plan was developed after consultation with the nine-member Chapman's Forest Citizens Advisory Committee, appointed in 1999.

Copies of the plan will be available at Charles County libraries, the county Department of Planning and Growth Management office, the Charlotte Hall Regional Library, DNR's Nick Carter Library, and on the DNR Web site at: www.dnr.state.md.us/forest/chapmansforest; however, this site will not be active until Dec. 4.

Garden in Lights Coming

Garden in Lights, the annual drive-through holiday light display, opens Dec. 13 at Annmarie Garden on Dowell Road in Solomons.

This year's lights will include several new pieces, according to an announcement from officials at Annmarie, Calvert County's botanical and sculpture garden. Weather permitting, the display will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 13 through Jan. 1. Admission is $8 per car Friday through Sunday, and $5 per car on all other evenings.

Hoyer Leaving Two Panels

Before the 108th Congress convenes in January, U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) will step down as the ranking Democrat on the House Administration Committee and the Helsinki Commission, a legislative aide said Friday.

The change will allow him to devote more energy to his new duties as minority whip and will give other members the opportunity to serve in leadership capacities, his aide said. Hoyer has not yet decided whether he'll remain on the House Administration Committee, the housekeeping and internal management arm of the House.

His aide said Hoyer has traveled to Europe often during the past two decades as a member of the Helsinki Commission, which works to ensure that the basic human rights and freedoms dictated in the Helsinki Accords of 1975 are enforced around the world.

Hoyer will remain on the House Appropriations Committee, his aide said. "From the [5th] District's perspective, this is his most important committee assignment," the aide said, "and the District is still his priority."

CSM Enrollment Sets Record

Fall 2002 credit enrollment at the College of Southern Maryland is at its highest level ever, with 7,140 students enrolled at the tri-county campuses, according to figures released this week by college officials.

This semester's 4.7 percent increase in credit enrollment from last fall continues the trend of growing enrollment at CSM, said Bill Comey, the college's dean of Student and Instructional Support Services.

Comey said that CSM officials attribute the increases to a number of factors, including increased college recruitment efforts as well as course offerings in expanded times and formats that are convenient for students' schedules. The demand for Web-based courses and telecourses increased by 27 percent from one year ago, and the college has added 11 online programs.

"CSM's online, telecourse and Weekend College courses and programs are tailored to fit adult students' busy schedules. More and more students are getting their degrees by combining traditional classes and Web-based classes," Comey said.

Other enrollment data this semester reflect a steady increase in the number of African American students. In 1996, 11.1 percent of the student population was African American, while this semester that number has risen to 17.5 percent.

Part-time students outnumber full-time students (4,941 to 2,199), and female students (4,747) outnumber male students (2,393). The average age of CSM students is 27, with the largest portion of students between the ages of 18 and 29.