The Calvert County commissioners have made a deal with a local developer that could help the county find a new home for its public library in Prince Frederick.
The agreement, approved Tuesday, also commits the county to extending water and sewer lines to land being developed by Marrick Properties in Prince Frederick.
In return, Marrick Properties agreed to build a roadway that would be deeded over to the county and incorporated into a proposed loop road to handle local traffic now clogging Route 2/4 in Prince Frederick.
Marrick would also agree to sell a parcel of land near Route 4 and Stoakley Road to the county for $600,000. That site would be used for the new library.
Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large) was the lone board member opposing the agreement. Kelley expressed concerns about whether building a new library rather than renovating the old one would be excessively costly -- the price tag has been pegged at more than $5 million.
Kelley also objected to moving the library out of downtown Prince Frederick near the courthouse.
"I think this is another nail in the coffin of old Prince Frederick," Kelley said.
But the other four commissioners supported the deal and the plan to build a new library.
"I think it is very important that we have a new library in Prince Frederick," Commissioner Wilson H. Parran (D-At Large) said.
The commissioners are pushing ahead with both the loop road and library projects despite fears about state budget cuts.
Last week, county fiscal staff members assembled a $26.2 million Capital Improvement Program budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, with nearly a third of construction spending earmarked for building or improving schools.
That funding proposal includes nearly $4.7 million in fiscal 2004 for costs related to the plan to build a loop road in Prince Frederick.
The commissioners have also asked the Calvert delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to push for $7.26 million in bonding authority for county capital projects in fiscal 2004.
The list of projects to receive bond financing includes work costing $1.25 million related to the Prince Frederick Library.
St. Mary's Hiring Freeze Gets Icier
The 60-day hiring freeze approved by St. Mary's County commissioners in December now will remain in force through June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
In a statement announcing the action, the commissioners said hiring will remain on hold until the end of the current budget cycle to allow time to evaluate current staffing levels in conjunction with consideration of the budget for fiscal 2004, which begins July 1.
Public safety positions, such as law enforcement and corrections officers, 911 operators and emergency communications specialists, are exempt from the hiring freeze. In addition, other jobs may be filled if it is determined that leaving them vacant would significantly affect services to citizens.
"It is important for us to be able to assess the real staffing needs of county government while considering the budget constraints we are faced with in the coming year," Commissioners President Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large) said.
Bill Addresses Tall Timbers Erosion
An amendment in the U.S. Senate's recently passed omnibus appropriations bill would make the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsible for annual repairs and maintenance along the Tall Timbers waterfront in St. Mary's County.
The provision, introduced by Maryland Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) and Barbara A. Mikulski (D), responds to concerns in the Tall Timbers community about erosion along the Herring Creek inlet of the Potomac River. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed jetties in 1960 to maintain a navigable channel at the inlet, but the jetties blocked the natural drift of sand and resulted in significant erosion downstream.
A stone revetment constructed in 1985 on top of a county-built wooden bulkhead corrected the problem but a section of the bulkhead is failing, causing huge sinkholes on private property.
With this amendment, the engineers would be in charge of upkeep. The House of Representatives does not yet have a similar provision in its bill, but a spokesman for Sarbanes said the senator expects to see one added.
"By enabling the Army Corps of Engineers to do periodic maintenance work on the revetment now, we are providing an ounce of prevention now to prevent a pound of federal expenditures in the future," Sarbanes said in a statement.
New Chief Judge in Orphans' Court
Kevin Wedding has been named chief judge of the Charles County Orphans' Court, marking him the first new chief judge in 12 years. Wedding, who won his second term on the court in November and is among the youngest Orphans' Court judges in the state, will replace Judge Lillian Clark.
Former governor Parris N. Glendening (D) made the appointment before leaving office, Wedding said last week. Chief judge duties include guiding and directing court hearings, issuing subpoenas and signing delinquent notices for estates.
"It's an honor to accept this appointment," Wedding said in a statement. "I will seek to bring to the chief judge's work the same qualities I brought to the Orphans' Court -- a high level of energy, the experience and judgment I developed running a family business, and compassion for families and individuals that appear before the court."
Power Dredging Allowed for Oysters
An emergency regulation allowing watermen to use power dredgers to harvest oysters in some Chesapeake Bay tributaries -- including the St. Mary's River -- went into effect last week as state environmental officials tried to improve what could be the worst harvest on record.
Permitting dredging may allow Maryland watermen to bring in as many as 10,000 more bushels of oysters this season, which currently is estimated to finish at a historically low total of 40,000 to 50,000 bushels, said Eric Schwaab, director of the Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service.
Early word from watermen who started power dredging under the new regulations is that they found an unpleasant surprise in their nets -- dead, rotting crabs.
The hard winter -- January was the coldest since 1994, according to the National Weather Service -- is to blame, the crabbers said.
There is no official corroboration yet of the crab-killing cold. The Department of Natural Resources is conducting its annual winter dredge survey right now and doesn't know yet how much damage was done, Schwaab said.
Meanwhile, the dredging may help rehabilitate oyster beds in the five designated areas, Schwaab said, by digging up shells and leaving some on top of the silty sediment on the bottom of the bay. Baby oysters, known as spat, grow by attaching themselves to hard surfaces, such as other oysters. On mud, they'll die.
The five areas where power dredging will be permitted had flourishing oyster populations in the past that have been damaged by heavy sediment in recent years.
In addition to the St. Mary's River, the areas include: around the Honga River in Dorchester County; Fishing Bay in Dorchester, Somerset and Wicomico counties; Pocomoke Sound within Somerset County; and parts of the Choptank River in Talbot County.
"It was sort of a realization that if we didn't allow some of these areas to be worked, we were going to be just continuing to see less and less area for spat settlement in the future," Schwaab said.
For the most part, Maryland's watermen are not permitted to dredge for oysters because it's too efficient for a population that's already so low. Instead, they mostly use an antiquated contraption: hand-operated tongs, a long scissor-like tool with metal rakes on the ends. Some of the exceptions where dredging is allowed include areas where the water is too deep for tonging.
College Offers Help With Aid Form
The College of Southern Maryland will host College Goal Sunday this weekend at the La Plata campus. The event offers free professional help from financial aid volunteers to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
"Getting the FAFSA form done accurately and on time is the first and one of the most important steps to obtaining any financial assistance for your college education," said Chad Norcross, director of CSM's financial assistance department. The form is required by all colleges nationwide to qualify for scholarships, grants and loans.
"This session will give students line-by-line help with this form," Norcross added.
Students attending College Goal Sunday need to bring proof of 2002 income and benefits information, such as completed federal income tax returns and W-2 forms, or proof of untaxed income, for the student and parents.
Volunteers from CSM, the U.S. Department of Education, the Maryland Higher Education Commission and St. Mary's College will work with students beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Center for Business and Industry (BI), Room 113, on the La Plata Campus, 8730 Mitchell Rd.
The Associated Press and Capital News Service contributed to this report.