Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Health Care On The Cheap

WaPo has an update on HoCo's initiative to offer medical coverage to uninsured residents for a little as $50 a month.

So far, 1,200 county residents say they plan to enroll; officials are limiting the effort to 2,200 for the first year.

For one month, beginning tomorrow, county residents can sign up for the program, which will provide as many as six visits a year to primary-care doctors (women will receive an additional OB/GYN visit under the program), free in-patient hospital care, mental health care, discount prescriptions and other services that would probably cost thousands of dollars if participants had to pay out of pocket. Those enrolled will also be assigned coaches to help them work out personal health plans.

The county and private foundations will pitch in money, and local doctors will provide free or reduced cost services to help keep fees within reach for those currently uninsured.

According to the paper, a single person with an income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level would pay about $50 a month; a couple with a family income up to 300 percent of the poverty level would pay about $115. For an additional $1.65 a month, they can also buy coverage for basic dental care.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Arrest In WL Stabbings

From HoCo PD:

Howard County Police arrested Gregory Imes today, who was wanted in the stabbings of two Columbia residents over the weekend. Imes, 26, of no fixed address, is charged with attempted first degree murder for critically wounding Reginald Crudup and Maria Elana Cokley, both 51.

Police were called to the 10300 block of Twin Rivers Rd. around 6:15 a.m. Sept. 27 and found the two victims suffering from multiple stab wounds upon arrival. Police believe Imes broke into the home and stabbed the victims in the master bedroom before fleeing. Both victims were taken to Shock Trauma by ambulance in critical condition. The hospital is declining to release updated information today on the victims’ conditions due to family requests.

Police asked for the public’s help in locating Imes and offered a $5,000 reward for information. After receiving numerous tips, police were able to apprehend Imes today. He was arrested at a McDonald’s restaurant in the 10000 block of Washington Blvd. in Laurel without incident. Detectives have continued the investigation throughout the day, serving search warrants and gathering information. Police are working to determine if anyone may be eligible to receive reward money in the case.
Investigators believe Imes is the former boyfriend of Cokley’s daughter. They believe he broke in through a sliding glass door, confronted Crudup and Cokley, who were the only people home at the time, and fled. Officers recovered a knife at the scene.

Imes is charged with two counts each of attempted murder, first degree assault and reckless endangerment, as well as one count of first degree burglary.

Spending Slows - Kinda

The Sun reports that HoCo exec Ken Ulman is putting the brakes on some spending, though he's yet to sound the alarm like others in the region:

Ulman has reserved until March $6 million in capital budget cash intended for road and parking lots resurfacing programs and maintenance, and is leaving 60 county jobs unfilled. Except for uniformed public safety jobs, Ulman said, no new vacancy will be filled without a detailed review by Lonnie Robbins, the county chief administrative officer, and Raymond S. Wacks, the budget director.

"We may get to the point where we just shut everything down," Ulman said of hiring.

The executive has also asked county department heads to slow spending, he said, though he has not given them specific limits.

Friday, September 26, 2008

River Hill Gets Everything First

OK, maybe not everything, but the village is one of Columbia's first to receive those big rolling recycling bins. With seemingly everything costing more these days, we're looking forward to getting something for free. Here's a link to when you can expect yours.

From a River Hill Village e-mail list:

Recycle bins have been distributed in the Village of River Hill. Single family homes- 65 gallon wheeled carts, townhomes with garage-35 gallon wheeled carts, and townhomes without garage-18 gallon open-top bins. Please store these bin so that they cannot be seen from the street or from adjacent and surrounding properties, other than on collection day. You may exchange your cart or bin for another size by calling 410-313-6444 or send an email request to help@howardcountyrecycles.org. Regardless of the size that you choose the bins/carts convey with the property.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Taking Up The Collection For OM Middle

We came across this post in a blog for Bridgeway Life Groups that sparked our curiosity:

Greetings all! I wanted to give you all the latest information regarding the request from Pastor Mich to have the Life Groups ministry help out with some landscaping with Oakland Mills Middle School. I am proud to announce that we has a ministry WILL be participating in this venture this fall. This is a one time deal…not something that is going to be on going and won’t require a lot of time and attention down the road.

I will be in touch with more information once it becomes available. However, here is what we are asking from all of our Life Groups. We would ask that at your next gathering, if you would please take up a collection from the folks in your group to contribute to getting the supplies needed for the project (mulch, seeding, etc.) and then when bring it with you to church this Sunday or next Sunday (Oct 5th)...Then, we’ll pick a work day (most likely, a Saturday morning) and anyone who can show up on the date to help, please do so. We really want to be able to use this opportunity to do something that shows “Christianity in Action” to those in our community.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Downtown Downturn

Given the state of the economy and the real estate markets in particular, we're beginning to wonder if all this discussion about plans for downtown seem, well, what's the word, remote.

A lot of dust has to settle before we'll ever see a shovel in the ground. Just ask the folks who were planning to build a highrise in town center. They filed for bankruptcy protection.

Now check out this release from the prime corporate mover behind a new downtown -- General Growth:

CHICAGO – September 22, 2008 – General Growth Properties, Inc. (NYSE: GGP) today announced that the Company’s Board of Directors and management team is pursuing a comprehensive evaluation of its alternatives, both financial and strategic, in an effort to align the market value of the Company’s common stock more closely with the intrinsic value of the Company’s stable, high quality portfolio of real estate assets in good locations with significant barriers to entry. Occupancy reached a record high of 93.2% in the second quarter of 2008 and comparable net operating income continued to increase, even in a challenging consumer sales environment.

The Company currently anticipates that it will be in a position to offer a long-term fixed-rate portfolio mortgage financing to lenders in mid to late November, and in the interim will actively pursue several sources of financing for the Company’s near term maturing obligations. The Company and its advisors are also developing a comprehensive, strategic plan to generate capital from a variety of potential sources including, but not limited to, both core and non-core asset sales, the sale of joint venture or preferred equity in selected pools of its assets, a corporate level capital infusion, and/or strategic business combinations.

General Growth is one of the largest U.S.-based publicly traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) based upon market capitalization. The Company currently has ownership interest in, or management responsibility for, a portfolio of more than 200 regional shopping malls in 44 states, as well as ownership in master planned community developments and commercial office buildings. The Company's portfolio totals approximately 200 million square feet and includes over 24,000 retail stores nationwide. The Company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol GGP.

The Sun/Flier's ExploreHoward blog tried to assess what this means for General Growth's operations in Columbia:

Greg Hamm, regional vice president and general manager of Columbia for General Growth, said he could not definitively rule out the company selling its property in downtown Columbia in the future, but said there are no immediate plans to do so.

“I think it doesn’t change any of our plans or what we intend to submit to the county,” he said...

...Columbia is unique among General Growth’s properties in that it has a main retail space, the Columbia mall, surrounded by other property owned by the company that can be developed. Those factors make it less likely it would be sold, Hamm said.

“Columbia is not only a great existing retail property for us, but it’s a unique and significant future development opportunity because of the land we own around it,” he said.

The blog goes on to report that the Securities and Exchange Commission added General Growth to its list of companies protected against short sales, a type of stock purchase in which the buyer profits from a drop in stock price.

Here's a prediction: It won't be long before someone says downtown Columbia must be redeveloped to save General Growth, to save HoCoLand and our tax base.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Genius In Our Backyard

The mysterious folks at the MacArthur Foundation handed out their genius awards -- which come with $500,000 gifts, no strings attached -- and one went to a Columbia fiction author.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a recent arrival to our fair neighborhood, but we claim her nonetheless.

Here's what WaPo said:

Nigerian-born novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie -- whose most recent book is "Half of a Yellow Sun" -- took the call in Lagos last Monday. It was her 31st birthday. "It's very exciting," she said, still chortling at week's end. "I really appreciate the recognition. "

And the $500,000?

"I don't have to think about taking a teaching job for the next five years," said Adichie, who recently moved to Columbia to be with her fiance, Ivara Esege, a physician at the University of Maryland. "I can write and get well paid for it for the next five years, which is the best possible position for a writer to be in."

One thing about the MacArthur grants isn't generally known: The money, which is taxable as income, doesn't arrive all at once. It is apportioned into quarterly payments of $25,000 over five years. Adichie, for one, describes this as a "prudent" approach: "I was thinking it's a good thing I don't get a lump check, because God knows what I might do."

Here's what MacArthur said about her:

Chimamanda Adichie is a young writer who illuminates the complexities of human experience in works inspired by events in her native Nigeria. Adichie explores the intersection of the personal and the public by placing the intimate details of the lives of her characters within the larger social and political forces in contemporary Nigeria. Dividing her time over the last decade between the United States and Nigeria, she is widely appreciated for her stark yet balanced depiction of events in the post-colonial era. In her most recent novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), Adichie unflinchingly portrays the horror and destruction of the civil war following the establishment of the Republic of Biafra. Using multiple narrative voices, a precise movement back and forth in time, and prose that is at once witty and empathetic, she immerses the reader in the psyches of her characters, whose loyalties to each other and their ideals are tested as their world gradually falls apart. In humanizing the Biafran tragedy, Adichie’s novel has enriched conversation about the war within Nigeria while also offering insight into the circumstances that lead to ethnic conflict. A writer of great promise, Adichie’s powerful rendering of the Nigerian experience is enlightening audiences both in her homeland and around the world.

Chimamanda Adichie received a B.A. (2001) from Eastern Connecticut State University, an M.A. (2003) from Johns Hopkins University, and an M.A. (2008) from Yale University. Her additional works include the novel Purple Hibiscus (2003) and short stories that have appeared in such publications as the New Yorker, Granta, and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Will The Table Be Round Or Square?

There's been much too-ing and fro-ing of late about whether the public will get to hear what CA and General Growth talk about when they sit down to go over downtown redevelopment plans.

At least one discussion will be open:

The Columbia Association (CA) Board of Directors will host a meeting with General Growth Properties on Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. at CA Headquarters. Topics to be discussed will include plans for downtown redevelopment in Symphony Woods and the Town Center lakefront at Lake Kittamaqundi. This meeting is open to the public and residents are encouraged to attend.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bambi Beware

It's that time of year again...to stay out of the woods ;-)

From HoCo PR...

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – The Howard County Department of Recreation & Parks has announced its fall/winter schedule of managed deer hunts. The hunts will be held in an effort to help maintain a stable, balanced white-tailed deer population in our parks where deer browsing has been shown to reduce biodiversity.

Since the program began in 1998, there has been an observable improvement in habitat quality and vegetation abundance in many of the parks where managed hunting has taken place. As a result, the amount of hunting in Alpha Ridge Park, David Force Park, High Ridge Park and the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area has been reduced to a level needed to manage deer abundance and protect natural resources. The County has reduced the number of managed hunting days by two. This year’s managed hunts will include a combination of bow and shotgun hunting. Hunting hours are from dawn until 12 noon, and each park will be closed for all other uses during this time. The hunting schedule is as follows:

Alpha Ridge Park:
Bow & Shotgun November 17

Blandair Park:
Bow Hunting October 8, 22; November 5, 19; December 3, 17;
January 29

David Force Park:
Bow & Shotgun October 16, 30; November 13; December 18; January 15; February 5

High Ridge Park:
Bow & Shotgun December 4

Middle Patuxent Environmental Area:
Bow & Shotgun October 14, 21; November 11, 18; December 16;
January 8; February 12

North Laurel Area:
Bow & Shotgun October 28, November 20 and December 2

Schooley Mill Park:
Shotgun Hunting October 13, 27; November 10; December 1, 15

In addition to this managed hunt program, in which specially screened and selected hunters are allowed daytime access to certain parks, the Department also operates a sharpshooting program. The sharpshooting program utilizes licensed and qualified marksmen and precise, accurate, noise-suppressed firearms at night in areas where the managed hunt is not feasible. While the schedule for sharpshooting has not been finalized, it is anticipated that there will be no new properties added to the program this year. Last year’s locations included: Alpha Ridge Landfill, Blandair Park, Daniels Mill Overlook, Gray Rock Openspace, Rockburn Branch Park, Timbers of Troy and Worthington Park.

Since deer population reduction programs such as the hunts and sharpshooting are not possible in many areas of the county, the Department of Recreation & Parks has developed a Deer Management Reference Manual to help homeowners and gardeners live in harmony with white-tailed deer. The manual, which is available in all county library branches, contains information on the use of deer repellents, fencing to protect crops and property, how to avoid deer-auto collisions, and Lyme Disease prevention. There is also information about the county’s deer management program available on the Department’s website at www.howardcountymd.gov/RAP/RAP_HomePage.htm.

The Department of Recreation & Parks and the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service can also arrange to have experts on the topic speak to homeowner associations, schools or other groups. Other Recreation & Parks’ deer management programs include an effort to reduce ticks on deer through the use of “Four-Poster” devices which deliver an approved pesticide to deer attracted to a feeder baited with corn. Developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the devices have been shown to reduce tick populations by 90% or more.

For more information on the deer management program, call the Department of Recreation & Parks at 410-313-1675.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Local Intervention In The Housing Market

The feds seize control of the nation's largest insurance company, and here in Howard, county officials stage their own intervention.

From HoCo PR:

Howard County Housing Purchases 300-Unit Apartment Community, Columbia Landing

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – The Howard County Department of Housing and Community Development announced today that the County’s Housing Commission has completed a $36 million acquisition of Columbia Landing, a 300-unit apartment community on Tamar Drive in Columbia.

“We have said from the beginning that offering moderate income housing was important to this Administration, and today’s announcement is proof of that,” said County Executive Ken Ulman.“With this acquisition, the Housing Commission has increased its portfolio size by 75%, from 400 units to 700 units,with a property that will pay for its own maintenance and operation, as well as help preserve affordability for families.”

The Housing Commission has retained the existing property management company, Equity Management, and will work closely with them to ensure a seamless transition and maintain a high level of service to the residents. The Commission plans to make about $1.2 million in renovations to the property over the next two years.

County Council Member Calvin Ball, whose district includes Columbia Landing, said he was very pleased with the Commission's acquisition of the property. "This is an important step forward for affordable housing in Howard County," said Ball.

The Housing Commission will continue to rent the same units at the same rates to the same tenants who are living there now; rent will stay the same. Additionally, the Housing Commission will begin to phase in some new renters who qualify at moderate-income levels–60% of the Baltimore area median household income (which is approximately $47,000 for a family of four). It is anticipated that eventually 40% of the units will be made available at rents that are affordable to those who otherwise could not afford to live in Howard County – such as teachers, government employees and military workers. The remaining 60% of the units will continue to be rented at market rates.

“Columbia Landing has served in the past as an affordable option in Columbia. This acquisition will ensure that this property will continue to be a high quality, mixed-income community that offers real choices to all of our citizens,” said Stacy L. Spann, the Commission’s Executive Director.

The Commission also expects the property to provide valuable cash flow which will decrease the County’s Department of Housing & Community Development and the Housing Commission’s dependence on federal government subsidies and the County transfer tax.

Roadwork Ahead!

Judging from the recent construction on Route 175, you probably want to avoid this project on Governor Warfield Parkway if you can.

From the county:

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – A Howard County construction project to resurface and restore structural integrity to roadways in Columbia is scheduled to begin on or about Wednesday, September 24. Existing pavement along Governor Warfield Parkway between Windstream Drive and Little Patuxent Parkway will be milled and replaced.

Construction will take place weekdays between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.; delays, occasional detours and partial lane closures can be expected during these hours. Flagging operations will be in place to direct traffic as needed, and signs will be posted to advise motorists of the construction. Weather permitting, the project should be completed by mid-October 2008.

For questions or concerns about Capital Project H-2008, contact Lisa Brightwell, Public Works Customer Service, at 410-313-3440, or by e-mail to publicworks@howardcountymd.gov.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Doughoregan 's Development

Back in the day when we got from here to there on our bicycles we always enjoyed a summer day's ride down Manor Lane. We felt like we were out in the middle of nowhere as the pavement turned to dirt and our bikes kicked up clouds of dust among the quiet fields. And then all of a sudden the most magnificent country house would appear. We'd muse about what it might be like to live in that fine spread and would ask ourselves "Where's Jeeves?!" It was only later we learned the full history.

Of course, we'd like to preserve the treasure and its surroundings for eternity. But time marches on. We read with interest this story in WaPo about Doughoregan Manor's future:

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 16, 2008; B01

The descendants of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence announced yesterday they have reached an agreement that will allow limited development of senior housing on their historic Doughoregan Manor in Howard County but will keep most of the ancestral property -- visited by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson -- in family hands.

Camilla Carroll and her brother Philip D. Carroll said they have agreed to sell 150 acres of their 892-acre family estate to Erickson Retirement Communities. Erickson also reserves the option to purchase another 38 acres. In addition, the Carroll family will donate 36 acres of their property to the county for a park. The historic manor, part of which dates to 1727, will remain intact.

The sale price was not disclosed.

"We're delighted to have found a solution that brings more senior housing into the county, provides more ballparks for kids and that has minimal impact on schools and roads," Camilla Carroll said in a prepared statement. "It has taken us five years to find a win-win solution for our family and our community, but we've finally found it with this plan."

The news was welcomed by county officials, neighbors and those in the historic preservation community, who had feared the historic property, once part of a 13,000-acre estate owned by Declaration signer Charles Carroll, might be sold and turned into subdivisions. Those fears were heightened in 2007, when a historic easement protecting the land expired.

"There was a lot of uncertainty of what would happen" to Doughoregan, said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D), who visited the property not long ago. "It is arguably the most historic unprotected property in the region. It's a wonderful gem."

The intensely private Carrolls had long maintained they wanted to keep the property in family hands, but had told county officials they needed a plan that would provide for upkeep and maintenance of the manor and other buildings.

Brad Phillips, a spokesman for the Carrolls, said the Erickson deal will keep at least 665 acres in family hands in perpetuity. The agreement will require county review, a process that could take up to two years.

The deal calls for the construction of up to 1,500 independent living and health-care units. If Erickson officials choose to purchase the additional 38 acres of land, the organization could build another 500 units. County officials like the plan because it is targeted at seniors and unlikely to have significant impacts on schools and traffic.

"It's a creative proposal that has the potential to be a win-win solution for the preservation of this national historic treasure," said County Council Chairperson Courtney Watson (D-Northeast County), who represents the council district where Doughoregan is located.

Erickson officials issued a one-sentence e-mail statement about the deal.

"We look forward to working with Howard County officials to bring a full-service Erickson campus to the historic Doughoregan Manor site that will combine a maintenance-free active lifestyle with an ever-expanding host of amenities, social activities and wellness and medical centers, proven to improve both physical and mental health," said spokesman Mel Tansill, senior director of corporate public affairs for Erickson Retirement Communities.

The home of Charles Carroll, the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence and the last of the 56 signers to die, at the age of 95, has long topped preservationists' lists of endangered historic sites. Some have even called it Maryland's Monticello.

It is the only one of the signers' homes still in family hands. Chares Carroll, who died in 1832, is buried in the small chapel that adjoins one wing of the manor.

"Doughoregan Manor is one of the most significant privately owned properties in Maryland and arguably in the country," said Tyler Gearhart, executive director of Preservation Maryland, the state's oldest historic preservation organization.

The property was named a national historic landmark in 1971. But as with many historic properties, upkeep and tax liabilities made it difficult for descendants of the original owners to maintain.

When family matriarch Nina Ryan Carroll died in 1989, county officials said her heirs paid $10 million to settle the estate. In 2006, family members told county officials it would cost as much as $8 million to cover the costs of maintenance and upkeep on the home and outbuildings just for three years.

"It's a good day for historic preservation in Howard," said Mary Catherine Cochran, president of Preservation Howard County. "Assuming this goes through, this is our best case realistic scenario."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tatyana Wins Silver

Wheelchair athlete Tatyana McFadden did well in Beijing, according to the Sun/Flier's Explore Howard blog:

Four days after starting the 2008 Paralympics with a sixth-place finish in the T54 100-meter wheelchair final, the Clarksville resident regrouped to earn a pair of silver medals on Sept. 14, her final day of her individual competition.

The two-second place efforts, which came in the T54 200m and 800m events, gave her a total of three silver medals over the course of the week. She had already placed second in the 400m race on Sept. 12 with a personal best time of 53.49 seconds.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Traffic Projects Put On Hold

We don't know about you, but our commute this morning was ugly. Where did all the cars come from? We were hoping maybe the high price of gas was keeping people away but maybe that was just wishful thinking.

So it was disappointing to see this story in the Sun: State officials last week announced that they are pulling back on some transportation project to account for drops in state revenues related to high gas prices and a slowing economy.

Don't we need some infrastructure stimulus?

The largest share of the cuts will be absorbed by the State Highway Administration, with almost $530 million in projects deferred. Among the larger Baltimore-area road projects to see delays are the addition of a northbound lane on U.S. 29 and a planned widening of Route 32 in Howard County. Also delayed are projects to improve intersections affected by the Pentagon's base realignment and closing process near Fort Meade, Aberdeen and Bethesda.

In the mass transit arena, the biggest share of $437 million in deferred projects involves the MARC system, where the O'Malley administration has been pursuing an ambitious expansion plan. The delayed MARC projects include Penn Line track improvements and the purchase of some additional coaches. The recent acquisition of 13 coaches and the expected delivery of 26 new locomotives early next year are still on schedule.

Friday, September 12, 2008

No More Spring Break?

HoCo school officials are studying whether to just give kids a long weekend instead of a week off around Easter, according to the Flier. Supporters say a shorter break will let kids get out earlier in June and give teachers more time to prepare for state assessments.

The Flier reports that school officials surveyed some parents and school system officials on the issue in 2004.

Of the 802 parents who responded to the PTA survey, 52 percent said spring break should be shortened, 37 percent said it should not be shortened, and 10 percent replied that "maybe" it should be shortened.

The most frequent comments from those who supported a shorter break were that a three-day break is sufficient, provides greater instructional continuity, and would lead to a last day earlier in June.

Those who wanted to keep a week-long break commented that families use the time for vacations, that teachers and students are exhausted and need a longer break that time of year, and that band and foreign language classes frequently use the time for trips and competitions.

A survey of roughly 1,500 school-system employees, including teachers, administrators, instructional assistants, counselors and other staff members, showed that 29 percent supported a shorter spring break, 59 percent did not, and 11 percent were undecided.

At the time of the 2004 survey, 16 of Maryland's 24 school systems had shorter spring breaks.

We have one question: Do we really want teachers and administrators spending more time holding pep rallies and stopping all instruction to prepare and practice for tests?

In an editorial, the Flier said the idea of a shorter spring break "seems sensible" and suggested school officials start classes after Labor Day.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mobilizing On Town Center

Another group is organizing to have its voice heard on development of Columbia's downtown, according to this story in the Sun. The paper said Columbia Tomorrow is led by development consultant Jud Malone and includes folks such as Phil Engelke, a designer for RTKL architects, and Sharonlee Vogel, a member of the county's Transportation Board, president of Transportation Advocates and a volunteer on the county's Commission on Aging.

A group of about 40 people gathered Tuesday at the edge of Symphony Woods on Little Patuxent Parkway to announce the new organization. Among the crowd were representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, development lawyers and the county's Economic Development Authority. General Growth is expected to begin the redevelopment process by submitting formal requests to the county this month.

Malone, a former Town Center representative on the Columbia Association board of directors, said the event represented a formalization of a loose collection of friends and associates who have worked for years to boost civic participation in Columbia's governance. His organization and the other pro-development groups are trying to counter criticisms and questions about school capacity, infrastructure costs and traffic congestion raised by other longtime residents at community meetings.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What's The Weather?

Around the Columbia Talk campus, it's safe to say the weather is a pretty big topic of daily conversation, especially during hurricane season, when debates rage about the future course of nature's fury.

Some members of the clan insist they can tell when summer ends and fall begins, not by the calender but by the smell of the air (did you know summer started to wind down in early August?) So it was with special interest that we read this story on the alamanc crowd in WaPo this morning. Get ready for a milder winter. No wait, maybe it'll be cooler. Or...

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008; B01

HAGERSTOWN, Md. -- They call themselves "prognosticators," people who study the phases of the moon and the height of wasp nests, then declare there will be showers on Oct. 18, 2009.

Prognosticators create long-range weather charts for the handful of surviving farmer's almanacs -- an old job, done an old way. They eschew Doppler radar and weather satellites and look for clues in the timeless rhythms of nature.

But now, the world and the weather don't look as timeless as they used to. Scientists say the planet is warming, threatening to make droughts more widespread, heat waves more punishing and hurricanes more severe.

So one of the country's most fervently unmodern subcultures has had to confront climate change. Prognosticators are deciding how -- or if -- they should factor greenhouse gases into weather-predicting formulas that are two centuries old.

Traditional methods "worked really well for hundreds of years," said Bill O'Toole, prognosticator for the Washington area's local almanac, J. Gruber's Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack, founded in 1797. "Global warming has kind of messed it up," said O'Toole, who has started predicting shorter winters and less snow than in the past.

But yesterday, one of the giants of the almanac world pronounced in the opposite direction. The Old Farmer's Almanac, based in Dublin, N.H., predicted "global cooling" for the next two decades. The forecast was based on an expected change in sunspots and ocean temperatures, still better-understood factors than climate change, said the almanac's editor, Janice Stillman.

"We're looking forward to cooler-than-normal conditions for quite some time," Stillman said in a telephone interview. "We just simply don't predict what kind of effect greenhouse gases . . . may have on that."

Across the country, this is almanac season. The 2009 versions of these old-timey books are arriving in stores, from such behemoths as the 3.5 million-circulation Farmers' Almanac in Maine to the struggling almanac in Hagerstown, which will print 75,000 copies.

Almanacs were designed as both entertainment and how-to books for frontier families. They still have old eclecticism: brisket recipes, corny jokes, lists of the vice presidents. And the weather predictions remain a big draw.

The forecasts are far-reaching and, not surprisingly, tend to vary from book to book. "Blustery and colder" is the Maine almanac's prediction for Dec. 31, 2009, in the Mid-Atlantic. "Cloudy, not as cold," the Hagerstown almanac says.

If this kind of ultra-long-range forecasting sounds improbable, the U.S. government says it's impossible.

"In the opinion of most scientists in the field, you cannot say anything about individual daily weather more than about a week out," said Mike Halpert, of the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Prognosticators contend that the government's not looking in the right places.

Some of them say the secrets of the weather can be traced in cycles of sunspots -- dark spots on the sun related to changes in magnetic activity. The idea is that shifts in the sun's energy eventually effect the climate on Earth. Another school studies the movements of the tides, believing that they signal changes in the weather in roughly 18-year cycles.

Others look closer to home.

"This year, I find . . . the squirrels are not shaking the nuts out of the trees," said Gerald S. Lestz, 94, editor of Baer's Agricultural Almanac & Gardener's Guide in Lancaster, Pa.

Lestz said he also noticed that wasps were building their nests relatively close to the ground, perhaps indicating that snow would not pile up too high.

This winter "looks a little on the mild side," he said.

Almanac staff members say their predictions are trusted by the public, often consulted by brides-to-be, members of the clergy, horse racing promoters and other people who want to know if the rain will fall on a special day that might be months or years off.

They contend that they're correct more often than not.

In Hagerstown, the weather isn't even the most astounding thing the $3.50 almanac predicts: it boasts a formula to identify the sex of an unborn child, using the birthday and Zodiac sign of an older sibling.

"I've never, ever had anybody tell me I was wrong" about that, said Jerry Spessard, almanac's business manager. About half of the booklet's customers, he said, live in the Washington area.

But for prognosticators, climate change is a problem on a much bigger scale. It threatens the very bedrock of their craft -- the idea that nature is repeating itself.

Scientists around the world have concluded that average temperatures could rise 3 degrees or more by 2100, as mounting levels of carbon dioxide and pollutants trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere. That change is expected to raise sea levels, alter long-established weather patterns and affect plant and animal life.

In Hagerstown, O'Toole said he realized that the old ways had to change. In recent years, he has revised the way he uses the old chart of the moon's phases, predicting that summer conditions will come earlier and stay longer.

"I forecast less snow. I forecast the first snow later in the year and the last snow earlier in the year," said O'Toole, a retired math and computer science professor from Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md.

O'Toole, a man used to slow changes, has become alarmed, and he urges people to do their part to stop climate change.

For O'Toole, the arrival of Tropical Storm Hanna on Saturday was just the latest evidence of the change. His forecasting methods, based on centuries-old charts keyed to the phases of the moon, predicted storms this month. But they didn't foresee anything like Hanna, which dropped seven inches of rain in some spots in Northern Virginia. His forecast had been "fair, cooler."

"I was surprised at the intensity," O'Toole said. He said it was part of a new pattern: "Storms will become more numerous and stronger; that will be the general trend."

But other prognosticators haven't gone as far in accepting climate change.

"Our formula basically is about 200 years old, and it's worked pretty well for us," said Sandi Duncan, managing editor of the almanac in Maine.

Duncan said the almanac prognosticator's formula is a secret, even to her. The aim is to prevent people from saving the $5.99 and forecasting the weather on their own. But she said the prognosticator, known only by the pseudonym "Caleb Weatherbee," had not considered climate change as a major factor in the forecast.

"It hasn't really played that much of a curve into our weather picture," said Duncan, whose almanac, like the one in New Hampshire, is calling for a cold winter.

At the almanac in Lancaster, Lestz said he had seen signs that temperatures are warming, but "we're going to give . . . climate change a little more time to get organized." He said he would include it in his forecasts as a minor factor.

"On a scale of one to 10, three," he said.

What about the wasps and squirrels?

"They're nine and 10," Lestz said.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Who Should Be Our Next President?

We're not talking Obama or Palin..er McCain here. We're talking about the next Columbia Association prez.

CA is seeking your input:

The Columbia Association is seeking Columbia residents to participate in the Citizens Advisory Committee to aid in the selection of CA’s next president. Members of the committee will assist the CA Board of Directors in the recruitment, selection and appointment process for the next CA president, serving in an advisory role to the CA Board and working with an executive search film. Members will be expected to review resumes, develop a best-qualified list, interview candidates, make recommendations for the final selection and assist in developing a plan to introduce the new president to the community.

The committee will be comprised of up to 21 members of the community, including at least one resident from each of the 10 villages and no more than three members from any one village. Members must live on CA-assessed land and have strong business acumen and experience in managing organizations, corporations or agencies. Applicants should not have significant business or financial involvement with CA or with organizations that do significant business with CA.

Members will be required to actively participate in regular and special committee meetings. They will also be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The committee will be active at least through February 2009.

Those interested can apply online. Alternately, residents may submit letters of intent via mail, explaining why they wish to serve and their qualifications, to Columbia Association, Attn: Janet Loughran, 10221 Wincopin Circle, Suite 100, Columbia, MD 21044. Applications are due by Friday, Sept. 26. The CA Board Operations Committee will review candidates for the committee and recommend appointments to the CA Board in October.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Something New At Bonaparte Breads

We're big fans of Bonaparte, one of the regulars at the Oakland Mills farmers market. We learned this week from madam that she's opening a Bonaparte Express at Savage Mill a week from Monday.

She promised us the food would be organic, the prices reasonable and the service quick.

And she'll be open for breakfast.

Hopefully she'll have almond croissant .

Friday, September 5, 2008

No Lance Event

From Sun/Flier's ExporeHoward blog:

This weekend's noncompetitive cycling event to benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation and, locally, the Ulman Cancer Fund has been canceled because of the heavy rain and high winds expected from tropical storm Hanna. The event, called 24 Hours of Booty, had been scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

For information about possible refunds, go to info@24hoursofbooty.org. If a refund is not desired, the $45 registration fee will be used as a donation.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Catching Up: Gunplay In Kings Contrivance

We've been away for the Labor Day holiday but thought this was worth noting. From HoCo PD:

Howard County Police have charged an 18-year-old Columbia man in the non-fatal shooting of a 15-year-old yesterday in Columbia.

Dominique Davon McDonald, of 9761 Clock Tower Lane, was charged today with attempted murder, assault, armed robbery and reckless endangerment. He is currently in the Howard County Detention Center on no bond.

Police were called to Howard County General Hospital around 10 p.m. for a report that a male teen was being treated for a non-life threatening gunshot wound to the head. The teen, who will not be identified, told police he had been shot during a robbery in the area of Clock Tower Lane in Columbia around 1 a.m. Aug. 27. The teen fled, but did not immediately report the incident. He later called a family member who took him to the hospital.

Through investigation, detectives identified McDonald as a suspect. Police served a search warrant at McDonald’s residence early this morning and arrested him without incident. Detectives cannot release specific details about the information or evidence obtained, as the investigation is ongoing.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Rollin' And Recylin'

Those rolling recycling bins are coming, according to the Sun. The county is buying about 71,000 bins and will notify neighborhoods about one week before they begin distributing them:

...the bins, which come in three sizes: 64 gallons for detached homes, 35 gallons for townhouses with garages and 18 gallons for townhouses without garages. The county conducted a pilot project on one trash route in the Elkridge area last year and said recycling increased 25 percent as a result.