State Digest

STATE DIGEST

January 25, 2007

City may best handle new-worker influx

Baltimore may be in the best position to absorb thousands of new workers expected to surge into the region as part of a national military base realignment, the state's planning secretary nominee told legislators yesterday.

Because of existing housing that is vacant, the city would have the easiest time accommodating new federal employees, private-sector workers and their families as Maryland's military bases expand over the next five years, said Richard Eberhart Hall, who has been nominated by Gov. Martin O'Malley to head the state Department of Planning.

"If anything, the city has the potential to be a reservoir for some of the growth pressures in Central Maryland," Hall told members of the House Environmental Matters Committee in Annapolis.

Harford and Cecil counties -- expected to get many new workers headed to jobs at Aberdeen Proving Ground -- are among the counties with the least flexibility, Hall said. But he said those counties are actively working to expand their capacity. Newcomers could spill into Southern Pennsylvania, Delaware or the Eastern Shore if the primary counties can't offer housing, Hall said.

Supply-and-demand charts provided to legislators showed that planners expect Baltimore to get about 10 percent of the household demand resulting from growth at APG and Fort Meade, the two bases expected to get most of the 40,000 to 60,000 jobs.

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, the committee chairwoman, said that not all the military bases have recognized Baltimore's potential. She questioned why the official Web site for Fort Meade advises new workers to settle in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Prince George's, Howard and Queen Anne's counties, but not the city.

Justin Fenton

Baltimore

Pollution violations draw fine

A federal judge in Baltimore ordered a New Orleans-based ship operator to pay a $1 million fine for pollution violations after a local Coast Guard investigation led to the discovery of the improper discharge of hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil-contaminated waste.

Pacific-Gulf Marine Inc. had pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it allowed four of its ships to dump untreated waste. As part of yesterday's sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson in Baltimore, the company will also pay $500,000 for community service, in part to restore and protect Maryland waterways. The company's chief executive officer has said that Pacific-Gulf deeply regretted the actions by its crews that violated environmental laws.

The investigation was conducted in Baltimore, but it was unclear from prosecutors yesterday which waterways were affected.

In a related criminal case, two former chief engineers are scheduled to go on trial March 5 on charges that they committed environmental crimes on a Pacific-Gulf ship.

In its settlement, the company admitted that ship records created the impression that bilge waste had been properly discharged overboard through required equipment, instead using a "magical pipe" to bypass the system, court papers say. The motive was to save money, prosecutors said.

The former engineers scheduled for trial, Stephen Karas and Mark Humphries, have been charged with conspiracy for violating the act to prevent pollution from ships, failing to maintain an oil record book and making false statements.

Also, Karas was charged with a count of obstruction of justice for witness tampering and Humphries was charged with destruction of evidence when the bypass pipe was thrown overboard after the Coast Guard inspection in Baltimore.

Matthew Dolan

Wilson Bridge

Partial closure set for today

Maryland residents who are traveling to Virginia and points south late this morning might want to take a route other than the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Transportation officials say the southbound lanes of the Capital Beltway bridge over the Potomac River will be closed for about 20 minutes, starting about 11 a.m., so that workers on the bridge-replacement project can take precision measurements to ensure the various parts of the bridge fit exactly. Officials said the measurement cannot be done at night.

The closings are expected to create backups of about 3 miles. Officials said today's daytime closing will be the first of several in the coming weeks as part of the $2.44 billion bridge replacement project. Alternate routes include the American Legion Bridge on the west side of the Capital Beltway and U.S. 301 through Southern Maryland.

Michael Dresser

Maryland

O'Malley backs stem cell funding

Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday that if the state's financial picture during his term allows it, he hopes to continue an annual $25 million state commitment to stem cell research.

"If we're able to do 25 [million dollars] every year for the next four years -- that would be, under public school or Catholic school math, $100 million -- that we could do over a four-year period of time," O'Malley told researchers, families and activists gathered for a stem-cell research summit yesterday in Annapolis. "I don't know whether we will be able to do that. I would like to be able to do that."

O'Malley recently added $10 million to the previous administration's $15 million research allocation.

Jennifer Skalka

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