The following editorials appeared in other zoned editions...

Regional roundup

September 08, 1996

The following editorials appeared in other zoned editions of The Sun recently:

Carroll County - Miss Utility, the Maryland organization that informs utility companies of excavation work in their service areas, observes its 25th anniversary this year, but hopefully not with a bang.

Anyone doing digging or excavating (except a homeowner) is required by law to inform the non-profit, Laurel-based organization two business days before beginning work.

Miss Utility then notifies all utilities with facilities in the area, so they can mark their lines and installations to avoid "hits" from construction equipment. The utilities that belong to the organization include gas, electric, water and sewer, telephone and cable TV companies.

Severed utility lines are serious business. A broken natural gas -- line near Westminster two weeks ago forced the evacuation of businesses and homes. Route 140 was shut for two hours. The line was sliced by a contractor laying telephone cable. Fortunately, no one was injured and there was no resultant explosion. But in January 1995, another gas line explosion near Westminster destroyed a home, damaged 65 others and caused more than $1 million in damages.

So the Miss Utility system is not perfect. Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. incurred more than 1,500 hits to its utility lines in Maryland last year. Comcast Cablevision had several thousand such cuts to its underground lines. In BGE's case, about one-quarter of the 1,509 strikes resulted from diggers who did not properly notify Miss Utility. Only one or two were caused by exempt homeowners who struck a buried utility line. Mismarked lines, outdated maps, contractor error or carelessness were other reasons, the utility says.

Despite its longevity, Miss Utility does not have enforcement powers. Firms that cut lines are sent repair bills by the affected utilities. Prosecution for non-notification is unheard of. Some counties require hand-digging of test holes near lines before using heavy equipment, but there's no state law.

Last year, in the wake of the Westminster explosion, Carroll County proposed a state law to require licensing of trench diggers. That idea went nowhere. But the continuing outages, service interruptions and potential public dangers from excavation hits require stiffer enforcement measures. Sept. 3.

Howard County - The college campus expanded into living rooms years ago when schools, including Howard Community College, brought us televised courses. A sure sign that technology is gaining a foothold in another corner of the home becomes evident today, when HCC begins holding eight courses for credit over the Internet.

Instead of interpersonal classroom discussions, students enrolled in such subjects as economics, literature and music appreciation will converse in "real-time chats" while staring into their own computer screens. E-mail will be a main vehicle of communication between instructor and student. The school's site on the World Wide Web also will help students in online classes surf the Internet to find information related to their courses.

This is a logical progression for HCC, considered a leader among Maryland community colleges in the use of technology. Hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide already offer online courses, in part because of the Internet's exponential growth and the fact that this medium is becoming increasingly easy to use.

Given the Internet's enormous resources, online programs appear to have the potential to be more effective than the study-at-home methods that have preceded it. Sept. 3.

Baltimore County - The renewed focus on the Civil War history of northern Baltimore County's Hayfields farm does not really add to, or change, the issues surrounding plans for a golf course on the 475-acre tract. Hayfields was a historically significant property before a Pulitzer Prize-winning Princeton historian recently suggested a study of the site. More important, its fate has always been crucial to the valleys because its development could spawn a domino effect (though the fact that public water and sewer would not be extended to the golf course makes that possibility somewhat less threatening).

Ideally, Hayfields would remain a farm, be purchased by a preservationist or bought by the county for a historical park. Realistically, none of those things is likely to happen. The Ruppersberger administration is not about to spend millions to buy Hayfields -- a valuable property from a local historical perspective but not exactly Little Roundtop. And none of the North County property owners who want Hayfields farmed offered to buy when it went up for sale 10 years ago or is offering to buy it now.

So there are two options. If the Mangione family that owns the property wins permission to build the golf course, Hayfields' seven historic structures will be restored and opened to the public. Some would be converted to modern uses; the mansion, for instance, would become a country club and restaurant. The county's Landmark Preservation Commission has been working with the Mangiones to ensure that the site's historic integrity is respected. While the panel opposes the golf course per se, it has approved the developers' plans for the buildings.

If permission for the golf course is denied, the Mangiones can still build 39 houses. They would be required to maintain the historic structures, but not improve them. Preservation purists insist this is the better of the two options, but that is debatable. It is crucial that the public understand the real choices here. This is a choice between two different kinds of development, not between a golf course and a farm. August 28.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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