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Wisp Resort- a Flashback to Snowier Weekends

With the Wisp Resort opening this weekend, we decided to celebrate with some flashbacks to snowier winters.

First, let’s take a look at this old school video of Wisp Resort.

And some photos…

 

Now lets take a look at how much fun we’ll be having this weekend…

Can’t wait to have a great weekend!

See you on the slopes!

Wisp Resort Set to Re-Open for Winter Operations

In February, Wisp Resort was forced by rain and temperatures in the 50’s to suspend skiing and snowboarding operations.

Now, in the midst of a cold and snowy March, Wisp Resort is anticipating a re-opening of winter operations sometime this week.

The exact day will depend on just how much natural snow they get from Winter Storm Stella and how much machine-made snow they can make with the colder temperatures.

With a depleted snow base and mild forecast, Wisp Resort closed for skiing two weeks ago after just 72 days of operation. It was their lowest number of operating days in the past ten years even though they had pumped more than 160 million gallons of water for snowmaking up to that date, the third highest total in the past ten years.

“The weather was pretty uncooperative this winter,” dryly noted Artie Speicher, Mountain Operations Director at Wisp.

“Mother Nature was testing our resolve, just like she is now. She’s given us another window this week, so we’re going to make the most of it.”

The Deep Creek Lake Area received 5 inches of snow on Friday, March 10 along with temperatures dipping into the single digits.

Wisp’s snowmaking team will be making snow as weather permits this week, and Winter Storm Stella is expected to add several more inches of natural snow Tuesday.

The resort suggested skiers and snowboarders check www.wispresort.com and Wisp’s Facebook page for updates and opening announcements.

for more information, click here.

Maryland fracking regulations could serve as a model to other states

It is a challenging time to be the president of the Garrett County Farm Bureau, especially as a young man working his way through college.

Garrett County is a rural community. I have grown up on my family’s farm, helping to produce the hay and raise the goats and vegetables that are currently funding my tuition.

The farmers that I represent are hardworking people who deserve to be able to use their land as they choose — this includes using the resources it contains. However, we are experiencing an increased influx of people from urban and suburban areas of the state trying to dictate and legislate what is best for us.

Fifteen years ago, the issue was windmills; today, it is fracking.

The Garrett County Farm Bureau has been advocating for our farmers’ ability to safely and responsibly drill for gas on their own land for over 10 years and now we are at a turning point. It is critical now that we do not completely ban hydraulic fracturing in Maryland and cut off a tremendous amount of opportunities for residents of Garrett County.

People often want to know why farmers like hydraulic fracturing. From our perspective it isn’t about hydraulic fracturing at all. It is about accessing and producing natural gas from resources on our own land.

For everyone living in urban and suburban areas, fracking is making your air cleaner to breathe, slashing the costs of natural gas and products made from natural gas, improving the national economy and allowing us to export gas to foreign countries.

For my farmers, it does all of that as well as enable them to recover the value of the gas they own.

The farm community has been quietly accommodating the impacts of residential development around Deep Creek Lake on our community for a long time now. If our gas production requires the Deep Creek community to accommodate a little, we expect the same courtesy we have been extending to them.

There are certainly people in the community who love recreational industries and are passionately opposed to gas production. They believe it will somehow inhibit their ability to use and make money off tourism at Deep Creek. But there are also people in the community who would love to produce gas and have no interest in recreational industries. All of them have the same constitutional right to use their own property in the way they choose. The state does not have the right to arbitrarily allow some to choose and others not. The trick is to find a path that is respectful of everyone and asks everyone to compromise some.

That was the precise goal of the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative and the protracted negotiations about regulations among the various stakeholders that have taken place over the last five years. The goal of the Farm Bureau has been to establish regulations that protect our farms as well as the surrounding community. We think the proposed regulations do that.

There is nothing like them anywhere else in America. If someone shows you a drilling practice in another state you don’t like, there is a strong possibility it is prohibited here in Maryland.

We have been producing and storing gas here since 1955, and the gas industry is a valuable part of our economy. We would like that to continue and grow with the addition of jobs, royalties and taxes from shale production in Maryland.

Before Gov. Martin O’Malley created the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission, he weighed the same question that is before the Maryland Legislature right now: Ban fracking or regulate it. His assessment was that as a state with a small amount of producible reserves surrounded by states with a large amount of producible reserves upstream from Maryland, it would be in Maryland’s best interest to create the tightest possible regulations and then use our influence and our power as a consumer to move our regulations into the surrounding states. He was right.

If we bury these regulations now with a ban, we will be wasting millions of dollars that have been spent developing the regulatory process and denying landowners the right to develop their gas resources. But the real cost will be to the environment, because we did not have the courage to pursue his vision to the end and influence the people who produce gas for Maryland in other states to do it to in a way that Maryland finds acceptable.

Aaron Lantz is president of the Garrett County Farm Bureau.

 

for more information, click here.

 

Organic Farmers Don’t Want Drilling on Their Doorstep

This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP).

Story by Mary Greene of the Environmental Integrity Project. Photos by Karen Kasmauski and Garth Lenz of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Note: this story is part of a collaborative photojournalism project, “The Human Cost of Energy Production,” about the threat of expanded fracking for natural gas to rural areas of Pennsylvania and Western Maryland, which readers can view byclicking here.

Walking the Backbone Food Farm, located in Oakland, Maryland, with Katharine Dubansky and her two youngest children, it’s easy to see the appeal of organic farming.

Alongside field after field of vegetables, there are pens and pastures where pigs, goats, sheep, and cows while away their days. The wind turbines on Backbone Mountain that produce kilowatt after kilowatt of clean power stand sentinel over the property, as though in tribute to and guardian over the Dubansky’s production of sustainable, safe food. When they are new to the farm, little piglets slip the fence and run loose. Eventually, one of the many free-roaming Dubansky dogs will scoot the piglets back under the fence, squealing, toward their mothers.

In a way, Backbone Food Farm is emblematic of the appeal of western Maryland. Although most farms in this valley are not organic, there are very few factory farms or other large-scale, industrial farming operations in this part of Garrett County. The terrain is rugged and mountainous and doesn’t always yield easily to a plow. According to Katharine, most of the farmers in the Oakland area are reformed Amish. Like her Amish neighbors, Katharine is strong and hearty. She has capable, intelligent eyes and walks with an easy confidence.

She and her husband, Max, came to organic farming quite naturally. Max’s father was an organic farmer in Grantsville and he was working another organic farm in Flintstone, Maryland when he and Katharine were introduced through mutual friends. Young and unafraid of hard physical work, their interest in organic farming grew as their relationship blossomed. Katharine, who had recently graduated from college, gave up her intended career as a teacher to pursue their mutual dream.

As she attends to chores, Katharine explains that an energy company may construct a compressor station – a large, industrial complex used to transmit compressed natural gas through a pipeline – just a mile and a half from their farm. If the fracking ban is lifted, private property leased to oil and gas companies will be drilled. Once production begins, more and more compressor stations and other infrastructure, like pipelines, storage tanks, impoundments, processing plants, and ugly elbows of pipe that protrude from the ground called “pig launchers” will litter the landscape. As has happened in western Pennsylvania, small towns will be overrun with railcars and endless lines of trucks carrying explosive natural gas liquids.

It’s hard to imagine what the threat of fracking means to these hardworking, earnest people. Katharine and Max’s entire lives are bound to their 106 acres of land. Their oldest daughter, recently graduated from high school, bought sheep with her graduation money and intends to stay on and manage the livestock. Even their beloved but departed milk cows remain fixtures in their lives and on this farm, their sun-bleached skulls adorning the red-picket fence that runs alongside their farmhouse. As the two youngest girls, Tessa, 6 and Iris, 9, show off their new litter of bunnies, Katharine whispers her concern. “How can …flares and diesel fumes work here?”

A supporter of Citizen Shale, she is opposed to fracking and doesn’t want to see western Maryland ravaged in pursuit of a finite quantity of natural gas. She considers herself an environmentalist and understands the risks that fracking poses to both her financial livelihood and health. She is not a NIMBY (“not in my back yard” ) person who objects to any kind of energy development near her farm. For example, she had no problem with the construction of the large wind turbines on the ridge over their property a few years ago.  But she is worried that the oil and gas industry would introduce more intense disruption of their lifestyle – with pollution, noise, and truck traffic.

Katharine is also torn over how vocal she can be. She and Max sell their meat and produce, including beautiful mushrooms grown in the wooded portion of their farm, mostly at the local farmers markets. Many of the patrons come from Deep Creek Lake, the wealthiest community in Garrett County. “Those folks make the drive because they know they’re buying safe, healthy, locally grown food. Fracking will destroy that,” Katharine explains as she shows off the rustic cottage on the property they rent to cross-country skiers in the winter. “But at the same time, I risk alienating the relationships I have now with customers and other vendors if I get too mouthy about it.”

Most of the elected officials in Garrett County are pro-drilling, and for the most part, the county is more conservative than the rest of the state. As lawmakers and citizens continue to debate the pros and cons of opening western Maryland to fracking, people like the Dubanskys will need to decide where they stand, and how strong their voices will be. For now, Katharine is watching, listening, and boning up on her research.

As she walks back toward the farmhouse, where she finds Max taking a break to give Tessa a piggyback ride and twirl her around, she contemplates her next move.

With earth-stained hands on hips and feet firmly planted on the ground, she admits: “I may have to jump into this thing whole hog. But I have to be careful. I can get quite passionate.”

Support the work of the International League of Conservation Photographers by donating at this link.

for more information, click here.

DNR to stock streams and ponds with trout raised in hatcheries

Each year, to the delight of anglers, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources stocks 131 streams and ponds with trout raised in the state’s four trout hatcheries in Garrett and Washington counties. The Baltimore Sun spoke with Marshall Brown, cold water production manager at the Albert Powell Hatchery in Hagerstown, about the spring stocking process that runs from February through May.

You place trout everywhere from the Gunpowder River to Deep Creek Lake. Who chooses the sites?

Brown: That was determined years ago by fisheries biologists. Occasionally, we’ll add or subtract a site because of changing water quality conditions or in the accessibility of a stream through private property.

How many trout will you stock this spring?

Brown: About 338,000 rainbow, golden rainbow and brown trout. Our hope is that 95 percent will be caught because most won’t survive year-round. When water temperatures get over 70 degrees, trout start to suffer.

Do hatchery fish mix with brook trout, which are native to Maryland?

Brown: Typically, we don’t release them in streams and tributaries where brook trout are prevalent.

Do avid fishermen wait at creeks and lakes for your arrival?

Brown: Some do. We publish a stocking schedule each week. Some people wait outside the hatchery and follow us to the sites. Yesterday, we hauled fish up to Wills Creek, in Cumberland, and one guy followed our tank truck all the way (70 miles).

So fishing starts on your arrival?

Brown: About 60 percent of streams are open year-round. But about one-third of them will be closed from March 6-25, during stocking, and the rest are closed March 19-25. (For more details, go to http://dnr.maryland.gov/Fisheries/Pages/default.aspx.

Do anglers themselves visit the hatcheries?

Brown: They come in daily to see the fish. Some will point to a trout and ask, “Where are you stocking this one?”

How many eggs do you purchase?

Brown: About 600,000, nearly 99 percent of which hatch.

What does each fish cost?

Brown: It’s well below the commercial rate of $2.85. For us to raise the same trout costs around $2. It’s paid for by trout stamps (which fishermen must buy) and federal funding.

Will trout eat each other?

Brown: They can cannibalize smaller fish, so we try to keep them graded by size at the hatchery.

What other perils face trout in a hatchery?

Brown: Parasites. Bacterial gill disease. Last year, we lost 20,000 fish from an outbreak of ich (white spot disease).

How do you move the fish from tank truck to streams?

Brown: Mostly, we haul buckets of trout, by hand, to the water source. Once in a while a fish (escapes), but we pick it up and go on.

Do the fish wriggle off right away?

Brown: It depends. If it’s fast water, they’ll swim; in a pool, they may sit there awhile.

Are native species smarter than hatchery-raised trout?

Brown: People who work with native ones will tell you so. For the most part, hatchery-reared trout are aggressive fish that are used to human interaction because they are fed daily. But once in a stream, they adapt quickly and avoid you — golden trout, especially, are very elusive.

How large are the fish you release?

Brown: Most are 1-year-olds, averaging 10 to 12 inches and one-half pound. But 10 percent of each load are “holdovers,” or 2-year-old fish nearly double that size, which gives fishermen a variety. We’ll also throw in a few “trophy” fish, which are 3- or 4-year-olds averaging 5 to 8 pounds each.

Do you remember the trophy fish?

Brown: You get familiar with some of them from their different color patterns or body features, like fin erosion or missing scales.

Over four years, you must bond with some trophy fish. Ever name them?

Brown: I remember one we had years ago named Steve. He was a big one, but I’m sure he’s dead now.

 for more information, click here.

Autumn Glory photo contest deadline nears

The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce is celebrating the 50th Annual Autumn Glory Festival with a photo contest open to all photographers.

The winning photo of the county’s fall foliage/colors will be published as the cover of the Autumn Glory Festival brochure. The photographer will be recognized at the Autumn Glory Kickoff Reception with two complimentary tickets.

Photo entries must be postmarked by March 31. Winners will be announced on the chamber website, www.visitdeepcreek.com, by May 31.

All entries must be original photographs taken within the past two years. Photos must be a vertical shot.

Entries may be submitted via email to jen@garrettchamber.com or via thumb drive or CD/DVD to Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, 15 Visitors Center Drive, McHenry, MD 21541.

There is a limit to 10 photos submitted per photographer.

The entry should include photographer’s name, phone number, email, mailing address, and location and approximate date of photo.

Photographers release the rights to the chamber to use their photograph in print or online media with photograph credit if possible.

For more details, go to www.visitdeepcreek.com or call 888-387-5237.

For more information, click here.

 

Watershed Management Website Established

Contact Person:    Deborah Carpenter,  Director of Garrett County Department of Planning & Land Management

301-334-1920; dcarpenter@garrettcounty.org

Date:  February 28, 2017

 

The Garrett County Department of Planning & Land Management has launched a watershed management website to provide a centralized location for information, resources and news.  The website is designed to encourage and promote public understanding and participation in watershed activities and opportunities.  The website provides maps, publications, and information about past, on-going and planned environmental activities within each watershed.  In addition, website visitors will gain access to available mapping and water quality resources as well as information about funding opportunities and other related data.  

The Deep Creek Watershed Management Plan called for better agency coordination, as well as better public access to information.  The watershed website is a collaborative effort between Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Maryland Department of Environment (MDE), and Garrett County as a way to establish regular communication and cooperation on issues, projects and programs involving our Watersheds.   

The website can be accessed at: https://www.garrettcounty.org/watershed 

Any questions regarding this website should be directed to the Watershed Coordinator in the Garrett County Department of Planning & Land Management at (301)334-1923 or via email at garonhalt@garrettcounty.org.

Cheers,

Bob Hoffman

President

 

 

To Frack Or Not To Frack? Will Maryland Legislators Place Constituents’ Health At Risk?

 

“I’m a farmer, which is where the story starts,” began Kim Alexander.

Worried about health problems and the environmental impact from fracking, Kim recounted her long walk. “In October, my friend and I took to the road, the trail, the river side; 320 miles across the state of Maryland in a walking performance to educate, celebrate and protect our watershed and the communities it supports, from the far ranging impacts of natural gas development.”

Kim also visited Dimock, Pa., and gathered water from the Ely family, whose well water was made undrinkable by fracking.

“The water in the bottle is the actual water we collected from the Ely family water well after 48 hours.” - Kim Alexander in Dimock, Pa.

“The water in the bottle is the actual water we collected from the Ely family water well after 48 hours.” – Kim Alexander in Dimock, Pa.

I would frequently see the drilling in rural Pennsylvania when I worked in Butler and Williamsport hospitals. I was particularly disturbed by a scene at Summit Elementary like this, which, given what we know about the health dangers of fracking, struck me as a terrible threat to children.

     Natural gas flaring - school - image by Kelly Finan

Natural gas flaring – school – image by Kelly Finan

Recently, I attended an Allegany College of Maryland meeting of the Western Maryland (WMD) state legislators on fracking. I then went to Frostburg State University to get background for this series and met Kim and other activists, and have followed their path, learning about the health risks I outlined in my earlier posts.

Background on Maryland bills

There are two competing bills in the Maryland legislature that will soon come up for a vote. SB0740/HB1325 would prohibit fracking in Maryland. Another competing bill, SB0862, from Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D) calls for a referendum county-by-county and further study and regulations. While this initially might sound reasonable, it’s not. One obvious problem is that if residents oppose the fracking, a new bill to challenge that can be proposed every year (p. 3, sec G3-4). A re-vote is not a provision if the pro-fracking faction wins. Carter Conway’s bill specifies that the regulations are to rely on the recommendations of the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission and of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but excludes studies from Johns Hopkins and other research institutions from consideration. Why would that be?

We know that the EPA has failed to protect residents from drilling, as I explained here. Public Herald has recently released a thorough study showing that Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has hidden more than 9,000 complaints.

Given that about three-quarters of Maryland’s residents live in places where anti-fracking resolutions are in place, allowing fracking to be decided by the two westernmost counties is likely to disenfranchise them and put their health at risk.

Also, as Barbara Hurd, local resident and acclaimed writer, recently put it, “We live in places intricately bound to other places. Our communities are connected to other communities; our habitats to other lands. The effects of fracking do not abide by jurisdictional boundaries. No regulations can stop polluted water and tainted air from traveling wherever they will.”

Growing health concerns, yet division over fracking in MD

At the Allegany College information session, anti-fracking comments from citizens dominated. At the last Cumberland City Council meeting, 42 attended to support the ban and 13 spoke against fracking. At both, concerns focused on:

  • Air and water pollution and health risks from fracking

  • Increased traffic and accidents on windy roads

  • Lack of transparency, non-disclosure agreements and gag orders to hide harms

  • Lack of trust in safety regulations and monitoring.

  • Risk to the livelihood of the farmers and to the tourism industry

Dr. Robin Bissell, a family practice physician in Garrett County since 1999, worries about possible contamination of our water especially because so many families use wells so there’s little chance of detecting contamination if it occurs. Furthermore, with the weakening of the EPA, it’s unlikely that adequate regulation will occur.

Also, there are documented increases in asthma exacerbations due to air contamination. With ACA being threatened, many of our patients may find themselves without insurance. If they have symptoms, they may not seek medical attention when they should.

Two other Garrett County physicians concur. Dr. Tom Johnson added, “It is not prudent for our community to accept this risk at this time.” Another physician, who specifically noted that he is a Republican and Trump supporter, also opposes fracking in WMD.

Medical associations are increasingly voicing their opposition. The Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is supporting the bill to ban fracking altogether in Maryland, as is the Maryland Public Health Association. Similarly, the Pennsylvania Medical Society unanimously approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on fracking, because of the growing evidence of its harms.

Almost all the populated cities and towns have enacted fracking bans or resolutions - image courtesy Food and Water Watch

Almost all the populated cities and towns have enacted fracking bans or resolutions – image courtesy Food and Water Watch

A poll by OpinionWorks in 2015 showed 68% of Maryland residents wanted a ban or long-term moratorium; only 3% favored fracking. A similar poll last fall did not include the moratorium; 56% supported a ban vs. 28%. The margin in Garrett County, where most drilling would occur, and a Washington Post poll last fall had similar results.

The Western Maryland delegates are strongly pro-fracking and keep telling people that they have strong support from the citizens of WMD, although all the polls above contradict that. I have reached out to three local state legislators for further comment. Senator George C. Edwards returned my call. Edwards tried to reassure me about health risks. I asked, “You say that fracking will be safe and well-regulated…but who will do that?” Edwards responded, “We’re going to have the strictest regs… We’re not Pa.!” Asked about the safety of all the heavy trucking equipment carrying chemicals, polluted wastewater and possibly liquefied natural gas maneuvering on windy, mountainous roads in an area notorious for blowing snow and fog, he deflected the question, saying that gas would be transported across Maryland by pipeline—about 250 miles—presumably to Dominion Cove Point’s processing facility on the Chesapeake.

Recent protests against TransCanada’s plan to run a pipeline under the Potomac River, the water source for millions of people in the metropolitan D.C. area, also illustrate the health concerns.

Further casting doubt on reliance on regulatory oversight for our safety is Governor Larry Hogan’s (R) inaugural statement, “We must get the state government off our backs, and out of our pockets, so that we can grow the private sector.”

That’s similar to the Trump administration’s vows to deregulate safety requirements across the board and to dismantle agencies. Scott Pruitt, who sued the EPA multiple times, is now the head of the EPA. It is unlikely that he or Gov. Hogan would then monitor and enforce environmental regulations.

Also, to my surprise, Del. Wendell Beitzell, who was assistant director of environmental health at the Garrett County Health Department, said at the ACC meeting, “Fracking poses no threats.”

Conflicts of interest

Beitzel’s comment astonished me, so I wondered why he felt so strongly. He apparently has considerable financial incentive to support fracking. In 2011, Maryland spent $455,000 for agreeing not to develop his farmland in Garrett County. Beitzel also introduced a bill, despite the conservation easement, to allow drilling.

Now, Beitzel has sponsored bill HB1461, cross-filed in the Md. Senate by Edwards as SB0980, to provide restitution for large landholders who can’t frack their land if there is a ban. Where do they propose the funding for this come from? The owners of renewable energy systems that generate electricity through the solar energy photovoltaic systems would be taxed 25% of their sales for this “restitution fund.” There is, of course, no similar restitution fund for damages caused by fracking.

Jobs

There is a common misconception, promulgated by Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. (D), who said that fracking “affects two counties where there are no jobs whatsoever” other than prisons. This is not true, as tourism has been increasing in the counties. A recent op-ed noted, “Tourism and vacation real estate provide about half of all jobs and two ­thirds of Garrett County’s tax base…nowhere in the world do fracking and world­-class tourism mix.”

Recreation and tourism are essential to WMD. - Rafting image - courtesy Nadine Grabiana; Fishing - Mike Cline, Wikipedia

Recreation and tourism are essential to WMD. –
Rafting image – courtesy Nadine Grabiana; Fishing – Mike Cline, Wikipedia

When Kim canvassed local businesses, no one supported fracking. The only people who did not sign the ban petition expressed fear that signing would hurt their businesses.

Buckel’s office e-mailed me that he believed fracking could bring “492 to 2,425” jobs. But on a WCBC radio interview, he said, “It might provide “25, 50, 100, 250 jobs”.  More alternative facts, it seems. Note, too, that mostly out-of-state workers get the high-paying jobs. Local worker jobs are usually low-paid, low-skill, part-time jobs.

Tourism is also on the upswing. Garrett County has seen over 6% growth in tourism in 2016, with real estate making a comeback from historic lows in 2008, up 16% this same year. A report produced by the Outdoor Industry Association found that recreation employed about 6.1 million people, vs. 2.1 for oil and gas.

A new report from the Department of Energy says that 3.4 million Americans were directly employed by the clean energy industry in 2016 vs. 3 million for fossil fuels. Further, renewable energy employment grew by nearly 18% between Q2 2015 and Q1 2016.

Conclusion

It has been heartening to witness grassroots mobilization and activism. These people in WMD love their land and are driven to protect it and downstream communities. Kim even wrote this anti-fracking ballad:

There is growing opposition to fracking by health, environmental and conservation groups. New York, Vermont and Massachusetts have statewide bans or moratoria. Florida is considering a ban to protect its tourism and water—a bill that has notable bipartisan support.

"Only a ban on fracking will protect Maryland. Anything else is a wolf in sheep clothing." - image ©LuckyG

“Only a ban on fracking will protect Maryland. Anything else is a wolf in sheep clothing.” – image ©LuckyG

Instead of focusing on bills that risk our clean water, clean air and our countryside, it would seem far wiser to reward innovative approaches to land use and investments in renewable energy and tourism, both of which have a much broader benefit to local communities and the state, and which pose no risks to our—and our children’s—health.

For more medical/pharma news and perspective, follow me on Twitter @drjudystone or here at Forbes.