Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Public Service Commission to Hold Hearing on June 29 Storm Response

The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) has scheduled public hearings around the state to ask residents for their opinions and experiences regarding the response of power-providing utilities following the June 29 storm that left many customers without electricity for more than a week. The PSC hearings will cover all three power utilities that serve Montgomery County, including a hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 7, in Rockville that will primarily focus on Pepco.

The Aug. 7 hearing on Pepco will begin at 7 p.m. in the Third Floor Council Hearing Room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. The meeting will be televised live by County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). The broadcast also will be available via streaming through the County Web site at www.montgomerycountymd.gov.

To speak at any of the public hearings, you must sign up on the night of the public hearing at the facility where the hearing is being held. A table will be established outside of the respective hearing rooms for signups to speak. Speakers generally will be allotted a maximum of five minutes.

The PSC has scheduled a total of eight public hearings on the storm. Public hearings that focus on Baltimore Gas and Electric Company will be held Monday, Aug.13 (7 p.m. in the Joint Hearing Room of the Legislative Services Building, 90 State Circle in Annapolis); Tuesday, Aug. 14 (7 p.m. in the Paul C. Wolman Assembly Room of the War Memorial Building, 101 N. Gay Street in Baltimore); Wednesday, Aug. 15 (7 p.m. in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building at 3430 Court House Drive in Ellicott City); and Thursday, Aug. 16 (7 p.m. in Hearing Room No. 106 of the Baltimore County Office Building, 111 West Chesapeake Avenue, in Towson).

A hearing that will focus on the Potomac Edison Company will be held Monday, Aug. 20 (7 p.m. in Winchester Hall, 12 East Church Street, in Frederick).

For additional information about the hearings, contact Regina L. Davis of the Public Service Commission at rdavis@psc.state.md.us or at 410-767-8054.

Written public comments may be submitted by Sept. 10 to: David J. Collins, Executive Secretary, Maryland Public Service Commission, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul Street, 16th Floor, Baltimore, Maryland 21202.

Feedback Wanted on Zoning Rewrite Draft

Since October 2010, planners at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission have been revising sections of the Montgomery County Zoning Ordinance as drafts for consideration by county officials, residents and members of an advisory panel. The revisions are part of an ambitious effort to rewrite the Zoning Code to modernize antiquated, redundant zoning regulations and create new tools to help achieve goals in community plans.

Now, planners have released a consolidated draft that combines all of those sections and addresses many of the comments received so far. Their goal: to solicit more input before taking a revised draft of the Zoning Rewrite to the Planning Board for consideration in September and throughout the fall.

Download the consolidated draft or review a reference copy at the Park and Planning Headquarters Information Counter, the Silver Spring Regional Center, the Mid-County Regional Center or the following libraries: Marilyn J. Praisner (Fairland), Rockville Memorial, Germantown, and Davis. Feedback is encouraged at the Zoning Rewrite Project’s comment board.

The rewrite effort aims to make the Zoning Code easier to use. Last rewritten in 1977, the current 1,200-page code is viewed as inconsistent and outdated. The revised code--which will be considered by the Planning Board in a number of work sessions before going to the County Council for review early in 2013--is expected to reduce the number of zones, clarify what uses are permitted in each zone, and rethink 1950s-era commercial strips and office parks.

The draft Zoning Code covers what’s permitted in each zone, how one can build, and the process by which development is reviewed and approved. It also reduces or consolidates 123 existing zones into less than 40 proposed zones, working to ensure consistency with current height and density rules as well as recommendations in each community master plan.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Seeking World War II Veterans

Are you a veteran of World War II, or do you know someone who is? Montgomery County will honor these important men and women at an event on September 19 at the Silver Spring Civic Building. Event organizers are currently seeking to contact veterans, so please call 240-777-7929 if you or someone you know served in WW II.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Celebrating BioHealth Innovation's New Headquarters

I was happy to help celebrate the opening of the BioHealth Innovation’s new headquarters at the historic Wire Hardware Building in Rockville. BHI was established as a public-private partnership to accelerate the technology transfer and commercialization of biohealth research in Maryland, and that’s a great thing for Montgomery County. Congratulations BHI. We're glad to have you in Rockville.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

County's Response to June 29 Storm

Did you know that the June 29 derecho left 261,445 out of 351,971 Montgomery County electricity customers (across three utility companies) without power? About 69 percent of our traffic signals lost power as well as 91 percent of the nursing homes and 93 percent of the large assisted living facilities. That’s in addition to both WSSC water treatment plants losing power. These issues were compounded by the extremely high temperatures that followed. Get more details and an assessment of Montgomery County’s response in the packet from our July 24 briefing from the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. The slideshow starts on page 4.

New Requirements for Locating Large Gas Stations

Yesterday we unanimously approved an amended zoning text amendment that impacts the location of new large gas stations in the County. ZTA 12-07, as amended, will require large gas stations to be located at least 300 feet from schools, parks, playgrounds, day care centers and other outdoor facilities.

The original ZTA would have added standards for County Board of Appeals approval of a new gas station designed to disperse more than 3.6 million gallons of fuel per year by requiring those stations to be located at least 1,000 feet from any public or private school or any park, playground or hospital or other public use. It also would have established that distance as related to any property used for cultural, entertainment or recreational use. A gas station designed to dispense less than 3.6 million gallons a year will not have a minimum distance requirement from other land uses.

The ZTA will impact all future large filling stations that seek to locate in the County. Right now there is one application in for such a station—a gas station that Costco sought to locate near its future new store in Wheaton. The amended ZTA approved today means that Costco cannot build its station as currently configured. However, it does not necessarily prohibit a station on a relocated portion of the property or a smaller station.

Before casting my vote in favor of this new proposal, I reviewed a large amount of scientific evidence, examined practices in other counties and guidance from the EPA, listened to hours of testimony, and read correspondence from hundreds of interested citizens.

I ultimately came to the conclusion that this new proposal sets reasonable limits on the placement of large gas stations and will serve to protect public health. At the same time, this revised amendment also alleviates my concerns that the original proposal was overly broad and not supported by the scientific evidence.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Civic Education Now a Video Game

I guarantee once you your child starts playing these games, she will be hooked, and she will be a better citizen to boot.

I was fascinated listening to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor talk last week about her program designed to prepare young Americans to become knowledgeable, engaged 21st century citizens.

In 2009, Justice O’Connor founded iCivics to reverse Americans’ declining civic knowledge and participation. Securing our democracy, she realized, requires teaching the next generation to understand and respect our system of governance. Since then, iCivics has produced 16 educational video games as well as vibrant teaching materials that have been used in classrooms in all 50 states. Today the non-profit offers the nation’s most comprehensive, standards-aligned civics curriculum that is available freely on the Web.

Maybe I’m biased, but I’m partial to the game, Counties Work.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Good-bye, Rebecca Lord

I am heartbroken at the loss of my friend and staff member Rebecca Lord, who passed away yesterday after a long and extremely courageous battle with cancer. If you had a chance to work with Rebecca, you know she was brilliant. She had a great appreciation for the intersection of public policy and politics, and she was a fabulous advisor.

But more important, Rebecca was the rare person who had found a real balance among family, work and self. She lived her life to the absolute fullest, always prioritizing her husband Jon and two sons Eli and Ethan. She also carved out time for her own goals--friends, travel and personal enrichment as well as her commitment to helping women and her community. I, along with the entire team here, am devastated by her passing, but I feel extremely privileged to have known her.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Annual Farm Tour and Harvest Sale

Check out the Montgomery County Farm Tour and Harvest Sale on July 28 and 29 for hayrides, pony rides, music, demonstrations and other activities. You can also purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, plants and more. It’s an educational experience and a great family outing.

Did you know...

Today, Montgomery County has the highest percentage of farmland under agricultural land preservation easements in the nation

Agriculture contributes $243 million to the County’s economy

There are 561 farms and 350 horticultural enterprises in the County

The average farm size in Montgomery County is 121 acres

Montgomery County was among the first counties in the nation to develop no-till conservation farming

Monday, July 9, 2012

Public Hearing on Rapid Transit

Share your views on the proposed rapid transit system at a public hearing on July 12 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Council Office Building. This public hearing is hosted by the County Executive and the 15-member Transit Task Force.
For more information on the proposed rapid transit system, see my blog post, Is Rapid Transit Right for Montgomery?.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Transfer Station to Stay Open July 4 for Yard and Food Waste

To assist residents still without power and those who are recovering from the aftermath of Friday’s severe storm, the Montgomery County Shady Grove Transfer Station, 16101 Frederick Road, Derwood, will remain open for residential customers only on Wednesday, July 4 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition, the County’s MC311 Call Center will remain open on July 4 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On July 4, residents visiting the Transfer Station should use the Route 355 entrance and follow the “Recycling, Trash and Yard Waste” sign. Customers are asked to be patient as there may be a waiting time. Division of Solid Waste officials say that the mid-morning and mid-afternoon hours are traditionally lighter. There is no charge to residents.

Once power has been restored throughout the County and operations are back to normal, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) will provide special storm debris collection. The date the collections will begin and additional details will be provided as soon as the information is available. Residents will be asked to place storm debris in the public right-of-way, ensuring that sidewalks, driveways and roads are not blocked.

MCDOT’s Division of Highway Services is systematically working to open roads and intersections that are blocked by downed trees and limbs where they are not entangled with power or utility lines. Residents are encouraged to contact the MC311 Call Center by calling 311 or visiting www.montgomerycountymd.gov/311 to report debris locations.
Residents may also continue to use County-provided trash and yard trim curbside collection or drop off disposables at the Transfer Station.

Guidelines for preparing items follow:

Curbside Collection of Yard Trimmings:
Bag, bundle, or containerize branches, limbs and yard trim and place at curb on trash day. Bundles should not exceed 30 inches in diameter and branches should be no larger than four feet in length and four inches in diameter. Total weight must be less than 45 pounds for containers, bags and bundles.

Spoiled Food:
Residents without power may dispose of their spoiled food immediately at the Transfer Station. Normal hours of operation are: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Note: Special July 4 hours listed above.

Residents whose power has been restored and want to dispose of spoiled food with their next regular trash collection, are asked to place the food in containers in their freezer until their next collection day. This will slow decomposition and should also help neutralize odors. Pour liquids good down the drain. Double-bag food in trash bags, tie tightly and place bags into outdoor, sealed trash cans with tight-fitting lids. Remember to rinse and recycle any food or beverage packaging.

Using the Transfer Station:
If branches, tree limbs and stumps are too large (longer than four feet) for curbside collection, residents can drop materials off at the Transfer Station.

Using a Private Contractor for Debris Removal:
When using a tree service, landscaping or lawn service to remove and dispose of storm debris at the Transfer Station, residents should be aware that commercial businesses are charged fees at the Transfer Station.

Council to Hold Debriefing on Pepco's Response

On Thursday, July 19, the Council will hold a debriefing to gain a better understanding of Pepco’s performance following the sudden and powerful storm that struck the Washington Region on the evening of June 29. Four days after the storm, approximately 100,000 customers in Montgomery County were still without electric power and more than 100 of the County’s 800 traffic signals were not operational.

The meeting will be held in the Third Floor Council Hearing Room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. The meeting will be televised live by County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). The broadcast also will be available via streaming through the County Web site at www.montgomerycountymd.gov.

At the meeting, Maryland Public Service Commission Chairman Doug Nazarian will describe how the Commission will assess Pepco's performance in restoring power. Pepco CEO and Chairman of the Board Joe Rigby has been invited to share his perspective on his company's response. The County Executive also has been invited to discuss the County's role in responding to the storm and any lessons learned from the experience. In addition, Maryland State Delegate Brian Feldman and State Senator Rob Garagiola, who sit on General Assembly committees with jurisdiction over utilities, will share their perspectives.

Food Safety after the Storm

If you are one of the 76,500 customers still without power, it is past time for your perishables. Food in the refrigerator is safe if the power has been off for no more than four hours. After that, discard perishables such as meat, poultry, soft cheese, eggs and leftovers. Check out www.fsis.usda.gov/fact_sheets/keeping_food_Safe_during_an_emergency/index.asp
for more details and a chart. A full freezer can keep food frozen for 48 hours after a loss of power. A half-full freezer can keep food frozen for 24 hours.

County's Two Fireworks Displays Cancelled

Due to the continued disruption caused by the severe summer storm last week and the need to apply all available County resources to recovery, Montgomery County has made the decision to cancel both of its fireworks celebrations and related events. The Mid-County Sparkles! Fireworks display was planned for Einstein High School in Kensington and the Germantown Glory fireworks were scheduled at the Maryland SoccerPlex in the South Germantown Recreational Park. In addition, the Mid-County site is still very hazardous due to fallen tree limbs and debris making conditions extremely dangerous. While this is unfortunate, safety must of course come first.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Protect Yourself when Making Repairs after Storm

Here is the full text of the press release from our Office of Consumer Protection:

The Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) warns county residents to be cautious when hiring contractors to repair damage caused by last week’s severe storm and advises consumers to do their homework before signing a contract for any home repair or improvement, or tree service work.

“Storm devastation can strike twice if consumers are later victimized by unscrupulous contractors,” said OCP Director Eric Friedman. “Unfortunately, unlicensed contractors frequently follow in the path of storm damage seeking to exploit the misfortune of residents.”

The Office of Consumer Protection offers the following advice to homeowners:

~ Do not panic and hire someone because they are the only company that can come out to the house right away. Make sure the home improvement contractor is licensed with the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC) by calling 410-230-6309 or check online. Also, make sure the contractor is familiar with and has expertise in repairing the type of damage that your house has sustained, such as roofing or foundation repair.
For tree service or removal, check to see if the business is a licensed tree expert with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Forestry Division at 410-260-8521 or online at www.dnr.maryland.gov. If a licensed company is used, there is a complaint process through the Department of Natural Resources. If an unlicensed company is used, it is often impossible to track down the company, particularly if they have been paid in advance. In addition, consumers should ask to see written verification of the company’s insurance and workers compensation coverage.

~ Get estimates from three contractors. Some fraudulent contractors will capitalize on the situation and overcharge consumers or lead them to believe the damage is worse than it really is. State law requires a written contract for any work completed. A home improvement contract should include the terms and conditions of the warranty. The manufacturer’s warranty should be a separate, written document. The contract must also include: the contractor’s name, address and home improvement license number; the approximate starting and finishing dates; and a description of the work to be done and materials to be used.

~ State law prohibits home improvement contractors from collecting more than one-third of the contract amount as a deposit. If the contract is signed in your home, the contract must allow the consumer three days in which to cancel the contract. Under emergency situations only, the consumer may waive this three-day right to cancel, but must sign a special form to do so.

~Check the contractors’ complaint records with the Office of Consumer Protection at 240-777-3636 or online at http://montgomerycountymd.gov/consumer and the Better Business Bureau at 202-393-8000 or online at www.dc.bbb.org, and with the MHIC and DNR.

OCP, the County’s consumer protection agency, investigates thousands of complaints each year involving automotive sales and repairs, new home purchases, home improvements, credit issues, retail sales, internet services and most other consumer transactions. OCP provides pre-purchase information to consumers, as well as speakers to the community on consumer issues.

For more information, call 240-777-3636 or visit OCP’s website at http://montgomerycountymd.gov/consumer.