Howard Week

August 11, 2002

Effectiveness of focus of Columbia planning sessions questioned

Politicians are sometimes accused of being so consumed with winning the next election that they ignore the long term. But some think the Columbia Council might be going too far the other way.

Months of often tedious, detail-filled strategic-planning meetings about the town's future might have bogged down the process, some believe, while more important issues - decreasing the assessment and maintaining facilities - are falling by the wayside.

"I think sometimes we get too mired in details and we can't see the forest for the trees," said Councilwoman Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills. "And I'm afraid we might be missing some really important stuff."

But council Chairman Miles Coffman said it will take time for the panel to do a good job. He contends that the group is on track to finalize a plan by April and get citizens' reactions on issues ranging from programs for older adults to improving swimming pools.

Well-appointed high school compared to college

When Howard County taxpayers consider the escalating costs of building schools for the system's rapidly growing student population, the price tag on the latest, Reservoir High, gets their attention. $34 million? How much could bricks and books and bland tiling cost?

But this is not the typical low-slung, fluorescent-lighted high school that many attended years ago. If Fulton's Reservoir High School is any indication, and educators say it is, $34 million buys a lot more than the little neighborhood school that many remember.

From art suites with galleries to spacious school stores to asbestos-free tiling, fiber-optic wiring, televisions in hallways, thousands of information/data jacks, skylights, elevators and disabled-designated lockers, Reservoir High - scheduled to open this month - is more like a small college than a big secondary school.

`I've lost my house, and they leave me this?'

When Xaver Gramkow met insurance adjusters Monday morning outside the remains of his fire-ravaged house, he thought nothing else could possibly go wrong.

But tacked to the dog pen in the back yard, he found a notice from the Howard County Police Department suggesting that he needs to take better care of his dogs. "It's frustrating," Gramkow said. "I've lost my house, and they leave me this?"

The Clarksville home, which Gramkow and his family spent the past decade building and improving, caught fire about 3:30 p.m. Aug. 3 after being struck by lightning as storms tore through Maryland. Within half an hour - the time it took to reach 911, which was flooded with lightning-strike calls - most of the house was in flames, according to Gramkow and fire officials.

Black clergy group backs Rakes, Atkinson-Stewart

A group of 11 African-American ministers Tuesday endorsed two candidates in Howard County's primary election - and created an instant controversy in the process.

The group, Howard County Black Clergy, gathered at Columbia's First Baptist Church of Guilford to urge community members to vote for east Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes in the 2nd District County Council race and only for Democrat Pearl Atkinson-Stewart's nomination to the state House of Delegates in the 13th District instead of for the permitted three choices - a practice known as "single-shooting."

The ministers, led by the Rev. Robert A. Turner and the Rev. John L. Wright of First Baptist of Guilford, said they will urge thousands of parishioners to work, volunteer and vote for Atkinson-Stewart and Rakes. They did not urge voters to support the 13th District's two incumbent delegates - Frank S. Turner and Shane E. Pendergrass - among the five Democrats vying for the three nominations available.

State board approves Patapsco bike trail

In a key decision on a project that has split the environmental community, the state Board of Public Works voted Wednesday, 2-0, to fund a hotly contested $1.5 million bicycle trail and bridge for Patapsco Valley State Park.

The paved trail would span 1 1/4 miles along the border of Howard and Baltimore counties near Ellicott City, running beside the Patapsco River and crossing it in one place. It would be an extension of the Grist Mill Trail, and would nearly double the length of the 14,000-acre park's only paved hiking and bicycling path.

Supporters - including several people who bicycled to the meeting - were elated by the win after years of fights. Opponents vowed not to give up.

Tree pruning by BGE at Lake Elkhorn criticized

Trees trimmed and toppled in the past month at Columbia's Lake Elkhorn have led some residents to complain about what they believe is wanton destruction. Parts of the verdant canopy of tulip poplars, willows and other trees covering the lake's pathways are too close to power lines, according to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

BGE is trimming or cutting down trees in a 250-foot-wide right-of-way near a 230,000-volt transmission line that serves all of Columbia and Howard County. Every five years, BGE trims trees to prevent them from interfering with the wires and causing power outages. Some trees have to be chopped down because they likely would grow into the wires within five years, said Sharon Sasada, a BGE spokeswoman.

But Sue Neri, who takes daily walks along the lake in her Owen Brown neighborhood, said the contract workers hired by BGE are "butchering" trees and whacking down "little trees" that she said would not have come close to the power lines as they matured.

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