St. Mary's County commissioners made several decisions Tuesday that could help county residents struggling to afford rent or mortgage payments.

The commissioners agreed to speed up a $40,000 payment to the Housing Authority to assist tenants relocating from Lexington Manor, the neighborhood of cinder-block homes near the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. The county plans to demolish the structures after purchasing the property and moving residents to new homes.

Recent heavy rains have taken an additional toll on some of the rundown apartments, which are nicknamed the "Flattops" for their level roofs. "One of the families we're attempting to move, there's a hole in the roof and water leaking through the roof," said George Forrest, the county administrator. "We want to get that family out."

Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large), president of the Board of County Commissioners, asked whether county officials could be sure that new residents aren't still moving in and expecting the county to pay to relocate them.

Staff members assured McKay that only residents who had lived there for a certain length of time were eligible for the assistance.

"That's fine," McKay said, "but -- are you going to tell them, or am I going to tell them? . . . At some point in time, the county will take ownership of that property, and they will be our tenants."

The commissioners also approved a federal grant application for emergency shelter programs in the area and a pilot program that would make it less expensive to build housing affordable for poor people.

Nonprofit groups could apply to waive or defer the impact fee that the county usually levies on new construction. That would save builders thousands of dollars.

"Something that's been brought to us as long as I've been at this table is the need to address the rising cost of housing," said Commissioner Thomas A. Mattingly Sr. (D-Leonardtown). "We have an opportunity -- I hope the community will jump at that opportunity and make the program successful. It's a good model program, not only for St. Mary's County but for the state."

Sewer Access Extended

Calvert County commissioners voted Tuesday to extend public sewer access to the Cove Point Park Aquatic Center and the Chesapeake Hills Golf Center.

A public hearing on the move last month failed to attract much public comment.

The motion approved this week rezoned the property so it can be served by the Solomons Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. The change does not include water service.

"We're only considering sewage today," said Dan Williams, bureau chief of utilities. "The park provides its own water."

The parcel that will be developed as the Cove Point Park Aquatic Center covers nine acres of land, and the golf course covers 17 acres.

Yacht Race Party

The biggest party of the summer takes place Saturday as St. Mary's College of Maryland hosts thousands at the Governor's Cup Yacht Race bash.

Dubbed "one of sailing's 10 best parties" by Sailing World magazine, the post-race Cup celebration gets underway at noon on the campus waterfront, with live entertainment and a race video, sponsored by West Marine. Washington Post outdoors writer Angus Phillips will present awards to the race winners during the awards ceremony at 5 p.m.

You don't have to be a sailor to join in the revelry. The party is free and open to the public.

Live music begins at noon with steel band Tropical Ensemble; local favorite 'Round Midnight takes the stage at 7 p.m.

West Marine, the world's largest specialty retailer of boating supplies and apparel, is sponsoring the entertainment, along with a half-hour race video that will be shown throughout the day.

The video is being shot by T2 Productions, which provides same-day coverage of major sailing regattas in the United States and the Caribbean. Highlights of the race will be available for viewing on-site in the awards tent and online at www.t2p.tv.

Food and beverage vendors will be open throughout the day. Those choosing to purchase alcoholic beverages will need to show an ID showing they are 21 or older, and to purchase a wristband for $5.

The Governor's Cup will start tomorrow at the entrance of the Annapolis harbor and will finish Saturday at the St. Mary's College waterfront. The schooner Sultana will serve as the start boat in Annapolis, with the Maryland Dove, a replica of a 17th-century square-rigger from Historic St. Mary's City, being used as the finish boat.

School Forum Set

The St. Mary's County public school system will hold a forum Monday evening to let residents review and comment on the system's master plan update, Deputy Superintendent R. Lorraine Fulton said this week.

The forum is scheduled from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Board of Education meeting room on Moakley Street in Leonardtown.

All local school systems are required to update their five-year comprehensive master plan by the state Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act. The intent of the 2002 law is to improve academic performance for students statewide and eliminate achievement gaps among students in different demographic groups. The law also requires local schools to ensure that all students make adequate yearly progress.

St. Mary's school officials said the system has implemented several changes to embrace the state law's goal of linking school funding directly to decisions about improving student learning. They cited the following steps:

* Drafting a five-year comprehensive master plan to eliminate the gaps that exist in public schools throughout St. Mary's County.

* Implementing a five-year budgeting process and aligning the budget to the Bridge to Excellence Master Plan.

* Moving to a more structured, data-driven planning and decision-making process at the central office and through the school improvement process at individual school sites.

Monday's public forum will also allow participants to address the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

After reviewing comments from the forum, school officials will present an updated draft of the master plan to the Board of Education. The plan will then be submitted to the Maryland State Department of Education for final approval.

Gift for Whale Skull Exhibit

Bowhead Support Services recently donated $12,500 to the Calvert Marine Museum to support the creation of a new exhibit of the museum's recently found 8-million-year-old baleen whale skull. The skull is on temporary exhibit at the museum and has been viewed by a record number of visitors.

In November, the museum, in cooperation with the Patuxent River Naval Air Station's Search and Rescue Division, successfully retrieved the whale skull from the sea cliffs of the St. Mary's River, where the artifact had been left exposed by erosion caused by Hurricane Isabel.

The discovery of the skull received worldwide attention. It was found several weeks after the storm by Jeff DiMeglio, a stonecutter from Alexandria who hunts for fossils in his spare time.

The skull caught the close attention of Pat Dunlap of Bowhead Support Services' Patuxent River Division in Lexington Park.

Among the contracts held by Bowhead is one supporting Navy public affairs offices nationwide. Dunlap manages the program and first learned of the fossil find during a staff meeting for the Tester, the Patuxent River Naval Air Station base newspaper.

The firm, whose shareholders are native Alaskans, is named for the bowhead, a modern-day baleen whale indigenous to Arctic waters. The massive whale is central to the history and culture of native Alaskans. Intrigued by the whale connection, Dunlap sought to create a partnership between the corporation and the museum.

She said she found support at every step as she worked her way up the corporate ladder.

"We are honored to have the support and enthusiasm of Bowhead," Doug Alves, director of the Calvert Marine Museum, said in a statement announcing the donation. "They have become a great friend of our museum efforts, and we are quite overwhelmed by their recent generosity. It is exciting to not only have a partner in our efforts to preserve, interpret and exhibit this rare find, but to learn about the Inupiat culture and share in their respect for the environment."

Volunteers and museum staff members are continuing to remove hardened sediments entombing portions of the fossil. Alves said that when that work is completed, experts will be able to say whether the skull is from a known prehistoric whale species or perhaps a previously unknown species of extinct whale.

Bowhead Support Services and its sister company, Bowhead Information Technology Services, are the federal government contracting divisions of Bowhead Holding Co., a subsidiary of Barrow-based Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp.

The new Bowhead Whale Skull Exhibit is scheduled for completion next spring.

Amateur fossil collector Jeff DiMeglio discusses the 8-million-year-old whale skull he discovered. The Calvert Marine Museum is creating an exhibit.