Next week, on Feb. 28, the Health, Education and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Maryland Senate will take up legislation dealing with shale gas drilling (fracking). For public safety, economic and environmental reasons, we believe the technology should not be allowed in Maryland.
Nearly three out of four senators have indicated a willingness to extend the current fracking moratorium, set to expire in October. This suggests they recognize that gas drilling will not be the economic bonanza that supporters have claimed since 2011, when the mountains above Marcellus Shale deposits in Western Maryland were first targeted.
Two bills are pending. One bans fracking altogether, while the other extends the moratorium for two years — though it departs from the current moratorium by permitting fracking in counties that approve it by referendum. On the ban bill, 23 of the Senate’s 33 Democrats are co-sponsors; the moratorium bill has 24 co-sponsors, including several Republicans.
In the House of Delegates, leadership declared long ago that a frack-free Maryland was its preference. A ban bill is advancing, and there is no moratorium bill. After committee hearings, legislation may go to the floor of each chamber for further debate. If the House and Senate don’t pass the same bill, some sort of compromise is required before any legislation can be approved and sent to the governor for his consideration.
About three-fourths of Marylanders already live in a place where local elected officials have created anti-fracking laws or resolutions. But fracking is regulated by the state. So, for those who’ve worked for six legislative sessions on the issue, the “heavy lift” is in the Maryland Senate.
Unlike neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Maryland did not rush into fracking. Successive administrations studied the technology, then overhauled outdated regulations. Meanwhile, energy prices continued to fall. The industry allowed nearly all of its original sub-surface mineral leases purchased last decade to lapse.
Furthermore, Maryland lacks the large-scale deposits, pipeline and processing infrastructure, and interest from industry (in the form of leased mineral rights) needed to make large-scale fracking financially feasible today. Yet we can’t rule out a change of circumstances that drives up fossil fuel prices — setting set off a new round of leasing that leads to fracking in years ahead.
Meanwhile, mounting problems elsewhere show the technology cannot be effectively regulated. In Pennsylvania recently, investigators from Public Herald, an investigative journalism nonprofit, dug up previously undisclosed citizen complaints about water contamination from fracking. Their work took years. Far from regulators’ 280-odd citations against industry, Public Herald found some 4,100 complaint filings — all told, one official complaint for nearly every well drilled. There’s more. It appears that the vast majority were never investigated. Then unresolved original complaints were shredded. Hundreds of state law violations were documented, and Flint, Mich.-style government criminality is a possibility.
In recent weeks in Western Maryland, many residents were infuriated by the Senate president’s public remarks that “there are no jobs whatsoever” in that part of the state. In fact, the unemployment rate in Western Maryland in 2016 was almost identical to the state average, and lower than some counties. Long gone are the days that Mountain Maryland depended overly on extractive energy and assembly line work.
Tourism and vacation real estate provide about half of all jobs and two-thirds of Garrett County’s tax base. Some of the highest-value rural real estate in the eastern United States lines the shores of Deep Creek Lake — second only to Ocean City as a vacation destination for Marylanders. Generations have visited and created the magical memories that many families cherish forever.
To state the obvious, nowhere in the world do fracking and world-class tourism mix. That’s why in Florida right now, with Republicans in charge, the legislature is considering a fracking ban. Florida’s economy is Deep Creek’s, writ large.
Additionally, fracking is “anti-business”: While a few short-term jobs may be created, most Western Marylanders — like others in a state where the solar industry grew 40 percent in 2015 — prefer small-business ownership, with sustainable economic investments in tourism, agriculture and green energy.
Mountainside solar installations are burgeoning. Indeed, Western Marylanders want the same future as the rest of the state. Most polls show that a strong majority of Garrett and Allegany county residents want the fracking ban that Marylanders as a whole support.
Is this another “jobs versus environment” debate? Not at all. Nationally, less than 10 percent of jobs on a well-pad are unionized. Along with embalmers and theater projectionists, zero petroleum engineers belong to unions.
The Laborers International Union recently came out in support of fracking and staged a rally in Annapolis. In a union with a proud tradition of training workers in emerging industries, wouldn’t organizing solar-industry installers sustain and grow its membership?
Finally, there’s the matter of fracking’s effect on global climate change. Farmers statewide are already feeling the effects of erratic precipitation, unpredictable freezes and bigger storms. This year, the annual “Winterfest” festival in Oakland, Md. (the state’s “snowiest” town) was postponed due to spring-like weather.
Scientists agree that fossil fuel combustion is driving planetary warming. And new scientific analysis confirms that fracked gas is nearly as bad as coal for the atmosphere. That’s because, before it is burned at distant power plants or on your stovetop, natural gas (mostly methane) is constantly leaking from wellheads, pipelines and compressor stations. Estimates of leakage vary from about 2 percent of production to more than 10 percent. Overall, carbon dioxide is a more potent greenhouse gas, but in the short-term — measured in 20-year periods —methane is orders of magnitude more detrimental. So the life-cycle warming impact of gas rivals coal. To save our climate, we have to steadily move off of gas, not increase its use through reckless fracking.
For Maryland’s economy, health and environment, we need to ban fracking once and for all. This drilling method will never be safe. We have all of the data we need on that. Now we just need the political will of our leaders in Annapolis to finally do the right thing.
Representatives from Garrett Regional Medical Center and local dignitaries joined forces to cut the ribbon for the newest expansion of GCMC, a brand new primary and urgent care facility in Grantsville.
The lobby of Medical Associates of Grantsville was full of colleagues, staff, and community members from Grantsville and surrounding areas who gathered to celebrate the opening of the new and much needed facility.Guests were able to tour the 5,500 square foot, state of the art office while the staff was on hand to answer questions.The new center houses three exam rooms for primary care, four rooms for urgent care, a space for laboratory services, three procedure rooms, and a radiology area. The facility was designed with efficiency and patient comfort and accessibility, in mind.
County Commissioner Paul Edwards said, “I am very excited for Garrett Regional Medical Center to expand into Grantsville. The services that this opens up to residents on the northern end of the county and the health care infrastructure that this helps build is a huge benefit to quality of life, as well as economic development in the area.”
“I have lived in Grantsville my entire life and this is my community.I’m happy for the opportunity to provide healthcare in a time of need and empower my patients and neighbors to be healthy,” said Tammy Crayton, who will be leading the urgent care practice.
GRMC will also be hosting an open house for the public to showcase the new Medical Associates of Grantsville Urgent Care facility on Tuesday, February 14th.Guests are welcome from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
This event offers an opportunity for local residents to come and see what the facility has to offer, meet the staff, and ask any questions they may have.There will be staff on hand to provide services and educational material on important health issues.Services include free screenings for blood pressure, osteoporosis, sugar levels and facial skin analysis.
The urgent care center and radiology services will be open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.The primary care facility will be open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.Laboratory services will be open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
GRANTSVILLE, Md. – Maryland transportation officials listened to the public’s opinions on the U.S. Route 219 Improvement Project at a joint public hearing Monday night at Grantsville Elementary School.
Three possible options were discussed Monday night – all involving the improvement of Route 219 between its interchange with Interstate 68 in Grantsville and Old Salisbury Road, which is approximately 1.4 miles north of the I-68/Route 219 interchange.
That 1.4-mile stretch of two-lane road, which includes an intersection with U.S. Route 40 Alternate, represents approximately half the total length of Route 219 between its interchange with I-68 and the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, according to maps shown at Monday’s hearing.
“It’s an important step in the continuing effort to connect Somerset and Johnstown to I-68, which is part of the continuing process to create an infrastructure to generate greater prosperity in our region,” Henry Cook, president of Somerset Trust Co., said before Monday night’s hearing.
Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk – who was one of several people who provided official testimony Monday night regarding their opinions on the project – agreed.
“We see a great economic development tool here – a great tool to get traffic through our area and through western Maryland,” he said.
Officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration have narrowed the options for the project down to three finalists, nicknamed Alternatives 2, 3 and 4 at Monday’s hearing. (Alternative 1, making no changes at all, was also presented as a baseline for comparison.)
Alternative 2 proposed widening the existing alignment of Route 219 between the I-68 interchange and Old Salisbury Road by adding two 12-foot-wide travel lanes, one in each direction. Route 219, under this alternative, would transition back to a two-lane highway at Old Salisbury Road. Dedicated right-turn lanes would be maintained at the Pilot Travel Center in Grantsville and at the intersection of Route 219 and Route 40 Alternate.
Alternative 3 would involve adding four new 12-foot-wide travel lanes, two in each direction, to the existing alignment of Route 219.
Just north of the Pilot Travel Center, the existing Route 219 would transition into a two-lane roundabout that would provide access to the travel center – and to a new alignment of Route 219 that would bridge over Route 40 Alternate and continue approximately 1 mile north before rejoining the existing Route 219 at Old Salisbury Road, near the entrance to a proposed Casselman Farm industrial park.
Under this alternative, the existing I-68/Route 219 interchange would remain in use.
Alternative 4 would create a new interchange – replacing the existing intersection between I-68’s ramps and Route 219 with a two-lane roundabout – and a new road alignment that would loop around the Pilot Travel Center as a four-lane divided highway, cross over Route 40 Alternate on a bridge and continue approximately 1 mile north before rejoining the existing Route 219 at Old Salisbury Road.
Also under Alternative 4, the current exit ramp from I-68 westbound to Route 219 would be realigned and lengthened to tie into the new roundabout.
The proposed new alignment in Alternatives 3 and 4 would feature two 12-foot-wide travel lanes in each direction, separated by a raised median.
Project manager Barrett Kiedrowski said officials’ priorities for the project are “to support local and regional economic growth, efficient highway operations for development and community access.” All three alternatives, officials said, include inevitable impacts to historical sites, environmental areas and private property.
Hearing officer Tony Crawford said the project is already fully funded. In June 2015, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced $90 million in funding for design, right-of-way acquisition and construction to realign Route 219 between I-68 and the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.
Vatavuk testified that he and Cook – both members of the Greater Cumberland Committee’s North-South Appalachian Highway Coalition, he said – supported Alternative 4.
“We need a limited-access highway between here and Somerset,” Vatavuk said, noting that the 11-mile extension of Route 219 between Somerset and Meyersdale is scheduled to open in 2018.
When that section of highway opens, the only section of Route 219 between I-68 and the Pennsylvania-Maryland border that won’t be a four-lane limited-access highway will be the 5 miles between Meyersdale and Maryland, North-South Appalachian Highway Coalition coordinator David Moe said in August.
“If you get your section done,” he told Maryland officials, “we think it will be more incentive for the state of Pennsylvania to get the last 5 miles (between Meyersdale and the Maryland-Pennsylvania border) done … and we can all live happily ever after.”
Tom Sheehan of Garrett County urged officials during his testimony to consider the project’s economic context.
“If I have a preference, it’s for Alternative 2, but I came tonight to talk about the big picture, which I think has been overlooked,” Sheehan said.
That big picture, he said, was the Continental 1 corridor – a proposed 1,500-mile international freeway route from Toronto to Miami that, according to plans presented on the Continental 1 website, would run for part of its length along Route 219 in western Pennsylvania.
Continental 1 is intended to improve international trade, according to the project’s website – meaning that, if the route is completed, a significant portion of its traffic would be trucks hauling heavy loads, Sheehan said. The roundabout included in Alternatives 3 and 4, he argued, would slow such traffic significantly.
“I think Alternatives 3 and 4 are awful, terrible, bad and every other synonym I can think of because of that traffic circle idea,” Sheehan said. “Coming down out of Pennsylvania, it’s a freeway-style system that suddenly terminates in a traffic circle. What a terrible idea!”
Sheehan said he supported Alternative 2 because “it can be constructed in a short, finite period of time,” leaving the possibility of future expansion of Continental 1 open for the future.
Bill Orner of Grantsville, meanwhile, said he supported Alternative 4 for more personal reasons.
“Alternative 2 is going to take my house and part of my business,” he said. Alternative 3, he added, would place a roundabout right next to his house, causing a nuisance.
Officials said they will take the testimony they heard Monday night into consideration as they refine their plans and choose which of the three alternatives will be built. Final location and design approval is expected to come sometime this summer, with construction beginning sometime in 2018.
Some, however, are already looking to the future, considering the next piece of the puzzle. Cook noted that Route 219 will remain a two-lane road in Maryland between Old Salisbury Road and the Pennsylvania border, even after the project discussed Monday is completed.
“Obviously, the critical piece now – the Pennsylvania line (extension), the Meyersdale bypass – we have to find funding vehicles,” Cook said. “Hopefully, with these promises of infrastructure funding coming out of Washington, these projects get some attention.”
GRANTSVILLE — New Germany State Park has scheduled several activities for February.
In hopes of snow, New Germany rangers are inviting challengers to a snowman contest Feb. 3 at 1 p.m. at the Lake House, McAndrews Hill Road.
The Friends of New Germany will host a membership meeting Feb. 4 from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the Lake House. The Friends of New Germany is a nonprofit organization made up of volunteers who care about the park and want to enhance, maintain and support it through fundraising and a variety of projects. Anyone interested in joining the group or becoming a volunteer is welcome to attend. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-895-5453.
The Maryland Conservation Corps will offer beginner cross-country ski lessons at New Germany State Park on Feb. 4 and 12. The lessons will begin at noon inside the Lake House and will last about two hours. There is no charge for those with their own equipment. In the event of no snow, the lessons will include some basic ski instruction, followed by a winter hike.
The lessons are being offered as part of the Healthy Parks, Healthy People program, an international movement that focuses on utilizing parks to promote the health of people and the environment.
Imagine a young couple, more than 60 years ago, traveling the roads of Grantsville talking about their future and the difference they could make in their communities.
Ruth and Olen Beitzel raised a family, welcomed grandchildren into the world and embarked on careers and business, yet they never lost that dream and desire to make a change.
“When we were just 16, I was riding with him in a milk truck to the creamery and while he was unloading the milk, Olen said to me, ‘Someone ought to make cheese in this area with all of the farmers we have.’ I must have heard him say that to me over a 100 of times since that day,” Ruth said. “Then a few years ago, just around the time he was turning 70 he mentioned it again and I asked, ‘Do you think the time is now?'”
To her surprise, he said yes and the couple, along with their family began to make plans to make that dream a reality — a reality that set to open on Saturday — High Country Creamery and Market in Grantsville.
Olen said he never forgot that dream. “I guess you could say I got busy doing other things. But after I retired from Beitzel Corp., I felt like I still had things to do.”
Encouraged by the show of support, the Beitzels began to put their plan into action and shared their plans with their daughter, Linda Kling. Olen and Ruth knew they needed to find a cheese-maker and they already had a candidate in mind — grandson, Brandon Kling.
“Brandon has always liked to create things and we asked if he would be interested,” Olen said.
“I had not thought of cheesemaking, but as we talked about what he had in mind, it got my gears turning. I had always liked to cook and I like to be creative,” Brandon said. “Cheese-making is both scientific and artistic.”
Seeing the unlimited potential in this plan, Brandon agreed and made contact with the cheese-makers at Firefly Farms in Accident. He worked closely with Mike Cooke at Firefly as an apprentice for two years to educate himself about the process. Once he completed the apprenticeship, the family opened up a pilot plant in neighboring West Virginia to get a jump-start on their business, while plans and work was completed on the Grantsville facility.
The West Virginia plant allowed Brandon to perfect his methods and soon the plant began soliciting businesses and restaurants to offer their cow’s milk cheese products.
“We do not put anything into our cheese that is not natural. Cheese is simple — milk, salt, cultures and natural flavorings, no preservatives,” Brandon said.
Their efforts were quickly rewarded and now High Country cheeses are offered at more than a dozen stores and restaurants. High Country products have also been offered at local Farmers Markets.
The new store, located at 97 Locker Lane, will feature a viewing area, where people can see first-hand how cheese is made. The store will be stocked with cheese accompaniments, local produce, including fresh meat and baked goods and a variety of gift items. An area will be se -up for tastings and a wide array of foods will be offered at the in-house eatery.
Ruth said the desire from the first day of planning has been to offer quality products made with quality ingredients, with a dedication to scratch-made foods.
“It’s all farm to table. That is how we ate growing up. It wasn’t called farm to table, but it was all natural, grown or raised locally and that is what we will have here,” she said.
“We like to say nothing will be served here that is frozen except ice cream,” Brandon said. “We also want to have a museum-like area, where kids can visit and see first hand where the food they try is made, with a understanding of its origin.”
Linda said the family plans to expand their product line to include preserves, canned items and pickles, all made with old family recipes.
High Country Creamery and Market will be open until 7 p.m. Saturday. Cheese-making days will be Monday and Wednesday. The business will be open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 7a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
If you are in Deep Creek Lake from July 30 – August 6, you are in luck! The Garrett County Fair will be held right here on Mosser Road in McHenry, Maryland. Offering rides, agricultural contests, vendors of all kinds, and much more, the fair is not something to miss!
Casselman River Bridge State Park is located near Grantsville, Maryland on historic National Road (Route 40). The park spans four acres. It is known for it’s stone bridge, which was one of a kind when it was built in 1813. This park is perfect for anglers, history nuts, and kids. Spruce Forest Artisan Village and Penn Alps Restaurant and Craft Shop are located next to the park.
Grab a picnic basket and enjoy the day in Casselman River Bridge State Park!
For more information, click here or call 301-895-5453.