- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007



Environment groups again challenge ICC

Environmental groups said yesterday that federal and state planners did not properly study the impact of the Intercounty Connector (ICC) on the environment and on the health of residents living nearby.

The Audubon Naturalist Society, Environmental Defense and other organizations told a federal judge that highway officials placed too much emphasis on building the 18-mile highway that would link Interstates 70 and 95 across central Montgomery County and not enough on exploring other options, such as mass transit. They also argued that the state did not look hard enough at the potentially harmful effects from the highway, such as emissions from cars.

An environmental study of the road was “a process that started with a single outcome in mind,” said Langley Shook, an attorney for the Audubon Society.

U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. heard the first of two oral arguments yesterday on two consolidated lawsuits filed against the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Army Corps of Engineers. The suit seeks to force another federal review of the road, which has been in the planning stages for four decades.

Attorneys for the federal agencies and the state, which is not named in the lawsuit but drafted the environmental impact statement, said the environmental review was comprehensive and thorough. And they said claims that air pollution from the road would cause major health problems for nearby residents were exaggerated.

Judge Williams scheduled the second oral argument for Oct. 29.


House GOP caucus jeers special session

The Maryland House Republican Caucus voiced opposition to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget plan yesterday, saying the governor’s intention to hold a special session to address a $1.7 billion budget shortfall is “a horrible idea” aimed at accelerating unnecessary tax increases.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican, criticized Mr. O’Malley for failing to address the looming deficit last session and for being “very light on details in most of these programs.”

Mr. O’Donnell also said the state shouldn’t try to address how to find about $2 billion to pay for the shortfall and a transportation package before the governor submits his budget for the next fiscal year.

“This proposal, because we won’t have a state budget before us, is going to take away that type of public discussion and the opportunity for county executives and the citizens of Maryland to come down and comment on these very, very vague proposals of the governor,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Rick Abbruzzese, Mr. O’Malley’s spokesman, answered the critics by saying Mr. O’Malley looks forward to working with both Democrats and Republicans “to get Maryland’s fiscal house in order.”

Mr. O’Malley has said he wants to hold a special session in early November at the latest to take up a variety of proposals to address the fiscal crunch. The package includes tax increases, tax cuts and reductions in the state budget.


O’Malley proposes leadership council

Gov. Martin O’Malley yesterday moved to set up a leadership council that will focus on doing more to prepare Maryland students for highly skilled jobs.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, issued an executive order to create the P-20 Leadership Council of Maryland. He said the council is needed to improve Maryland’s ability to compete in a job market that needs more skilled workers.

“This council builds an integrated partnership between the state, educators and the business community to meet this demand and will create a stronger work force,” Mr. O’Malley said.

The council will consist of 35 members, including representatives in education and the business community. The executive order the governor signed requires the council to search for ways to enhance education with an eye toward preparing students for highly skilled jobs.

The order requires the council to meet quarterly and provide the governor with an annual report on its progress.

The council will focus on providing students from elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools.


Population goes up after 50-year decline

Baltimore’s population has increased for the first time since the 1950s.

From July 2005 to July 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau count shows the city population went up by 897 persons, Mayor Sheila Dixon said. The city’s population in 2006 was estimated at 640,961.

The mayor said the change reveals a turnaround in the city’s fortunes and hopes.

The increased population makes Baltimore eligible for $2 million more in federal funding. Ten years ago, the city was losing 1,100 residents a month.


Stolen newborn calf found in men’s home

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office has charged two Taneytown men with stealing a newborn calf.

Timothy Robert Kloeckner and Timothy Patrick Nelson were served with a criminal summons last week after a deputy found the calf inside their home in the 700 block of Otterdale Mill Road.

The men told deputies that they stole the calf as a joke and intended to return it the next night. The owners of Lethridge Farm reported the calf missing early Sept. 23. Mr. Kloeckner and Mr. Nelson told the Sheriff’s Office that they were intoxicated at the time of the theft.

The pair are charged with fourth-degree burglary and theft under $500.


Remains were of man missing for two years

Remains found Saturday are those of a man with Alzheimer’s who was missing for more than two years, Maryland State Police said.

The wife of Robert Abramowicz, 81, of North East, reported him missing in July 2005. A hunter walking in Elk Neck State Forest found the remains Saturday in a ravine.

The medical examiner’s office has not determined a cause or manner of death, but police said they have found nothing suspicious.

Police used dental records to identify Mr. Abramowicz, who was found about a mile from his home.


Metrobus crashes, trapping driver

A Metrobus driver was briefly trapped in her bus after a two-vehicle crash yesterday afternoon.

There were no passengers on the bus when it crashed with a Ford work van shortly before 2 p.m.

The bus crashed head-on into a utility pole and sustained significant damage to the front, fire department spokesman Mark Brady said. The driver had to be extricated by firefighters and was taken to a trauma center. Her injuries were not considered life-threatening

How the crash occurred and who was at fault was not immediately known.

Mr. Brady said the work van caught fire. The driver had minor injuries but refused hospitalization.



Court finds faults with open primaries

A state law that gives incumbent officeholders seeking re-election the right to force their party to choose nominees for the seats in an open primary is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling could scuttle a long-standing prerogative for elected officials in Virginia that has been particularly controversial for Republicans.

The ruling also is likely to prompt legislative battles over state election law, including party registration or measures that could restrict who is allowed to vote in party primaries.

Virginia now allows any registered voter to participate in either party’s primaries.

Republican conservatives have challenged the law several times the past 10 years, saying it allows Democrats and others to meddle in their nominating process.

The court ruled unanimously that open primaries are constitutional when freely chosen by a political party because state law also provides them the option of picking nominees through such closed processes as conventions or canvasses, known as “firehouse primaries.”

But when an elected state official seeking another term uses the law to force the party to open the nomination to every voter through a primary, it violates the party’s First Amendment right of free association, the ruling said.


Vick’s seized dogs might be adoptable

All but one of the 49 remaining pit bulls seized from a home owned by Michael Vick at the outset of a dogfighting investigation have placement potential, according to a motion filed yesterday in U.S. District Court.

One of the dogs has a history of biting people and should be euthanized, according to the motion, which cites extensive behavioral testing done on all the dogs seized from the property in rural Surry County. It says the dogs were put through a protocol of 11 exercises to evaluate their behavior toward humans and other animals.

The motion also requests that the court appoint a guardian-special master to oversee the disposition and possible placement of the 48 dogs.

The motion now goes before U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, who accepted the Atlanta Falcons quarterback’s guilty plea last month. He can either grant it with all its provisions or deny it.

The animals were among more than 60 dogs seized by local authorities during a raid of the property in April. They have been held in animal shelters since.

Vick and three co-defendants are due in Surry County Circuit Court tomorrow to be arraigned on local charges, for which they could face from one to 20 years in prison.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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