Judging by C. Bernard Fowler's wet sneaker test, the Patuxent River is not getting any cleaner.

Fowler, a former state senator who is a lifelong advocate for the river, stepped into the waters at Broomes Island on Sunday for his 18th annual "wade-in" to measure the health of the river.

It was a short stroll. When he reached a depth of just 211/2 inches, he couldn't make out his white shoes in the murky water. That's less clarity than last year, when his sneaker-clad feet disappeared at a depth of 311/2 inches.

"Our river is dying," said Fowler, 81. "It's no better than it was 35 years ago, regardless of what all these fancy people tell you about what they've done for the bay."

When he was a young boy growing up in Calvert County, Fowler said, the river was clear up to 12 feet deep. He said the gradual decline of the Patuxent over the past decades is "unconscionable."

Flanked by U.S. Rep Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and a crowd of onlookers, Fowler said at the wade-in that he would wait only one more year for Maryland lawmakers to take steps that could make discernible improvements in the river's health.

"At the end of the 12 months, if there isn't some positive movement, we're going to raise some funds and we're going to seek some relief in the courts," he said in a telephone interview.

He added: "I'm not getting any younger."

Workers' Pay Increase

The Calvert County commissioners adopted a $174.3 million operating budget for fiscal 2006.

At last week's commissioners meeting, the board also approved a capital projects budget of $23.7 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

One of the last issues resolved was the size of a salary increase for county employees. The board approved a 3 percent pay increase, which fell short of the 3.6 percent increase requested by the Calvert Employee Representative Committee.

The commissioners directed the county staff to meet with the committee, which represents about 700 county employees, to come up with a standard for calculating the annual salary increases.

Hoyer on Social Security

Hoyer will host an online town hall meeting tomorrow afternoon to discuss President Bush's proposed revisions to the Social Security system.

Constituents will be able to log in from 3 to 4 p.m. to learn how proposals for private investment accounts and other changes would affect their benefits and retirement. There will be a link to the online meeting on Hoyer's Web site, www.hoyer.house.gov.

Anyone unable to join the online chat at that time can submit questions before the event at Hoyer's Web site. There also will be a complete transcript posted on the Web site.

Arson Sentencing Put Off

On Tuesday, a federal judge deferred the sentencing of one of the five men charged in an arson spree at the Hunters Brooke community in Charles County until a hearing Oct. 18. The judge said he wanted to know more about the man's involvement in the crime.

Under a plea agreement, Jeremy D. Parady, 21, would have received nine years and 10 months in prison for pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit arson.

But U.S. District Judge Roger Titus said he did not want to risk ordering a sentence that would not be "appropriately proportionate" to Parady's involvement in the largest residential arson case known in Maryland history.

Six men were originally accused of setting the fires at the Hunters Brooke development in Indian Head, which caused $10 million in damage. Five were later indicted on multiple counts of arson, conspiracy to commit arson, and aiding and abetting charges. A criminal complaint against the sixth, Michael E. Gilbert, was dropped this month.

Titus said the leaders in the Dec. 6 arson should be more heavily punished than suspects who just followed along.

"At this point I'm not sure if I have a leader or a follower in front of me," Titus said.

Bel Alton Area Meeting

Charles County Commissioner Candice Quinn Kelly (R-La Plata) will meet with Bel Alton area residents of Commissioner District 1 from 7 to 9 p.m. next Thursday at the Bel Alton Volunteer Fire Department on Bel Alton-Newtown Road.

A similar meeting is being planned for Commissioner District 1 residents who live in the La Plata/Port Tobacco area. The date, time and place for that meeting will be announced later.

Residents are encouraged to attend and voice their concerns at the meeting. After a brief welcome, Kelly will accept questions or comments from the audience. There will be no agenda or recording of testimony.

Residents with special needs and who wish to attend may call Public Information Officer Nina Voehl at 301-645-0580, 301-870-3000, the Maryland Relay Service TTY/TDD at 711 or 800-735-2258; or they can send e-mail to voehln@charlescounty.org.

EPA, Bay Group in Accord

The president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said this week that his organization is satisfied, for now, with the response of the Environmental Protection Agency to its petition seeking tougher restrictions on nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the bay from sewage treatment plants.

"There is a certain amount of celebration in that EPA is now saying that they will, in fact, put limits in their permits for nitrogen and phosphorus," William C. Baker said.

The foundation president was reacting to a statement on Monday by Benjamin Grumbles, EPA's assistant administrator for water, who told reporters that the EPA expects to begin issuing permits this fall that will reduce nitrogen and phosphorus.

In response, Baker cautioned: "We are going to take them at their word. We will watch very carefully and reserve the right to go back to court if they don't begin writing these limits into permits."

Concealed Weapons Law

Current and retired police officers in Maryland will now be allowed to carry concealed weapons.

The authority was granted in a federal bill that was signed into law last year by President Bush, but it was left up to the states to determine how officers would participate. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announced this week that Maryland's system is ready.

Retired officers who meet certain training and testing requirements can return to their former agency or go to the Maryland State Police to apply for a permit.

Ehrlich said communities will be safer because off-duty and retired officers will be better able to protect them.

Bike Show to Aid Red Cross

Big Daddy's restaurant in Prince Frederick and the Red Knights and Road Dogs motorcycle clubs will be working together from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Summertime Jam and Bike Show to raise funds for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Mike Zabko, director of the local Red Cross chapter, said the event will help replenish funds used in Southern Maryland to provide food, clothing and shelter to local people who are the victims of incidents such as house fires.

The event will include plenty of food and drink, live music, live auctions, a motorcycle show and vendors. Southern Maryland Red Cross Chapter representatives will display some of the disaster services equipment. Admission is a $5 donation at the gate. Big Daddy's Restaurant & Pub is at 705 N. Prince Frederick Blvd.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.