Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

June 30, 2007

Coast Guard cases protect the public

The Sun's article "Justice capsized?" (June 24) and the editorial "A listing court" (June 26) emphasize statistics that may leave readers with an erroneous impression.

In an industry with more than 200,000 mariners, few violations are serious enough to reach administrative law judges. The Coast Guard initiates action only when failing to do so might endanger the public or the environment.

More than half of the more than 6,300 charges against mariners cited in The Sun's article resulted from a positive drug test or from drug- or alcohol-related convictions.

Most of the remaining charges involved refusal to submit to mandatory drug tests, or false or incomplete statements in applications for credentials, mostly involving failure to reveal criminal convictions and other misconduct, usually involving drug or alcohol use, including operating a vessel while intoxicated.

All of these cases directly affect safety or security.

While all mariners are entitled to due process, federal law appropriately allows little discretion for activities in any mode of transportation that may endanger public safety.

Nevertheless, the process is remedial, not criminal.

The vast majority of mariners charged with drug and alcohol offenses take advantage of rehabilitation programs we have established.

As a result, few cases are contested and fully adjudicated by administrative law judges.

More than 2,400 of the 6,300 charges were administratively withdrawn, were uncontested or have not yet been assigned to an administrative law judge.

Approximately 2,800 charges were settled voluntarily prior with little input from an administrative law judge.

The Sun's reporting incorrectly suggested that almost all of these 6,300 charges - many of which involved little or no involvement by a Coast Guard judge - were victories for the Coast Guard.

Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry

Washington

The writer is director of governmental and public affairs for the U.S. Coast Guard.

New Germany Lake remains a refuge

I am concerned about the perception that the title may convey to readers of Abigail Tucker's otherwise excellent feature about sediment infill at New Germany Lake ("Sick lakes," June 24).

The lake's problem is the result of a natural process, as the article well explains. It is not the result of a "sickness." I would not want people to look at the title and decide not to come to the lake to fish, swim or camp because they think it is sick.

The lake is spring-fed and clean and deep enough for swimming. In recent years, the park's staff has begun assiduously raking out the vegetation that begins to grow in the lake in late July.

More than 30,000 people a year use the lake.

The lake spurs the economy of the local region and provides a respite to local people and visitors who seek the serenity of its surroundings.

The basic question here is this: Do we Marylanders, who are not blessed with natural lakes, wish to experience the joys of freshwater lakes?

If we do, we must intervene to devise a plan and allocate our resources to take care of our man-made ones.

Kathy Tunney

Grantsville

The writer is president of Friends of New Germany State Park Inc., a volunteer group that works to improve New Germany Lake.

Budget poses threat to intercity rail

The editorial "Fuel-sipping trains" (June 11) was on target, notwithstanding Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman's letter "Amtrak must boost service, efficiency" (June 22).

Indeed, there is less than meets the eye to his claim that "nearly 550 million people board trains each year in this country, yet fewer than one in 20 of them chooses Amtrak."

Most of the train riders not "choosing" Amtrak's intercity trains are daily commuters.

Even if intercity and commuter trains were as excellent in this country as the train service is in other countries, or if Amtrak were perfect, commuters still would vastly outnumber intercity travelers.

And, indeed, many U.S. commuters, including those using MARC's Penn Line, ride trains Amtrak runs under contract to transit agencies or which use Amtrak-owned tracks.

Mr. Boardman also ignores the main obstacle to ridership growth on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and on its overnight trains - two categories of service important to Baltimore and widely regarded as federal responsibilities because of the many state lines these trains cross: The failure of the Amtrak board appointed by President Bush to press vigorously for the additional cars and locomotives such growth requires.

I support Mr. Boardman's call for federal matching funds for state intercity passenger rail investment.

But the approach of the Bush administration's 2008 budget would kill intercity passenger rail and much of our commuter service.

This budget includes $100 million for that federal match but cuts Amtrak funding by $500 million - from $1.3 billion this year to $800 million.

However, Congress is likely to reject this destructive approach, if concerned citizens speak up.

Ross B. Capon

Washington

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