Midshipman Dies After Skateboarding Accident on Assateague

It was a tough month for the U.S. Naval Academy as two midshipmen have passed away over the last month, including Hans Loewen, 20, who died after being gravely injured on Assateague Island.

ASSATEAGUE — A Naval Academy midshipman severely injured in a skateboarding accident at Assateague State Park back on March 22 passed away while in a coma at the University of Maryland Medical Center Shock Trauma on Saturday.

Midshipman Third Class Hans Loewen, 20, of Hampstead, N.C., passed away on Saturday at Shock Trauma six days after he sustained injuries in a skateboarding accident while on liberty away from the academy on March 22. Loewen was camping at Assateague State Park with other midshipmen when he sustained the injuries while skateboarding. After initial treatment on the scene by local emergency personnel, Loewen was transported to Shock Trauma in Baltimore.

A York, Pa. man who was camping at the Assateague Island National Seashore that weekend said he observed three young men taking turns being pulled on a skateboard behind a jeep that Saturday evening. He said he didn’t think much of it at the time because it just appeared to be three young men horsing around and not harming themselves or others.

He did say a small crowd had gathered to watch the display, but he left around dusk, or about 8 p.m., and didn’t learn of the tragic accident until the next day. When he and his wife drove out of the national park, the road where the young men had been horsing around was blocked off as crews cleared the roadway. He said he thought at the time one of the famed horses or perhaps one of the hundreds of sika deer he had seen in the same area the day before had been hit by a vehicle, but learned the real story later that day.

In the days following the accident, Loewen’s family remained at his bedside and was supported by friends, midshipmen and Naval Academy leadership.

“My wife Barbara and I join the Brigade, staff and faculty in mourning the loss of Midshipman Hans Loewen,” said Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Michael Miller in a statement. “Hans was a vibrant midshipman who loved his life to the fullest and that spirit will forever be imprinted in his classmates and the Naval Academy. As we celebrate Hans’ courage and commitment, we also come together in support for his family and friends, and all who were touched by his presence. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the Loewens and our extended USNA family during this very difficult time.”

Loewen, a sophomore, was an oceanography major in the 7th Company at the Academy and his extracurricular activities included the Adventure Racing Team, the American Nuclear Society and the Rock Climbing Club. According to his family’s Caring Bridge memorial page, Loewen was a calculated risk taker, attacking his many passions with intensity and preparation including kite surfing, rock climbing, downhill longboarding, surfing, paddle boarding, mountain climbing, mountain biking and several others.

“He researches each of his passions and when he engages in it, he does it with calculated intensity,” the memorial page reads. “On Saturday, March 22, Hans miscalculated a bit as he was engaging in one of his many extreme sports and suffered a devastating brain injury, despite wearing a helmet, after skateboarding beside a slowly moving vehicle and falling beneath its rear wheel.”

The Naval Academy will continue to support Loewen’s family, friends and loved ones during this time of grief. Grief counseling services and support are available to midshipmen, faculty and staff through chains of command, chaplains and the Midshipmen Development Center.

Loewen was the second USNA midshipman to pass away in the span of less than a week. Midshipman Will McKamey, 19, of Knoxville, Tenn., died while in a coma at Shock Trauma on March 26 three days after collapsing during a Navy spring football practice. The freshman running back collapsed on the field and was airlifted to Shock Trauma in Baltimore where he passed three days later.

 

 

‘George Feehley Has Surfed His Way Into The History Of Ocean City And Will Always Be Remembered’

George Feehley, who passed away last weekend at the age of 87, is pictured tandem surfing. Photo by Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

OCEAN CITY — The sun set on the “endless summer” for a local legend last weekend with the passage of a former Ocean City elected official, lifeguard and surfing icon.

George Feehley, 87, passed away last Saturday at the Coastal Hospice at the Lake in Salisbury, but his legendary exploits and indomitable spirit live on. Feehley served on the Ocean City Council for 12 years including two as council president from 1994 to 1996 and was instrumental in a period of growth in the resort. Already a Baltimore high school sports legend, Feehley arrived in Ocean City for good in the mid-1940s and quickly became a fixture on the north end of the beach at the outskirts of the resort, the corporate limits of which only extended to about 40th Street or so.

Feehley officially joined the Ocean City Beach Patrol in 1946, but was already patrolling the north end of the town before that. Shortly thereafter, residents in the area north of Ocean City, which was just a part of unincorporated Worcester County at the time, asked Feehley to be the lifeguard at the beach and he agreed on the condition he could also run the beach umbrella and chair concession.

While his athletic exploits were his claim to fame, many local residents remember Feehley for his time in public service. Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan memorialized Feehley during the council work session on Tuesday.

“George served this community for a number of years, as a councilman for 12 years, and was elected and served as council president from 1994 to 1996,” he said. “George was very active in the community and moved here a long time ago. He was very active in supporting the Ocean City Beach Patrol and actually guarded a portion of the beach in the area of 40th Street on his own for a period of time.”

Meehan said Feehley was instrumental in forwarding a lot of the programs and services the town of Ocean City offers today.

“He was also very active in the 1980s in helping establish the Senior Center in Ocean City and its programs for the seniors,” he said. “He was a successful realtor and successful in other adventures he had tried, as well as a good promoter of Ocean City and supporter of businesses in Ocean City. It is very unfortunate and George will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family and all who knew George. We want to thank him for his service to the town of Ocean City.”

While Feehley was an active member of the Ocean City Beach Patrol and a pillar in the resort’s surfing community for years, he spent his winters as a gym teacher in the local school system, most notably at Buckingham Elementary in Berlin.

“Mr. Feehley had a career as a teacher, in fact, he taught my husband back in grade school, so I know he’ll be missed,” said Ocean City Councilwoman Margaret Pillas on Tuesday. “That is what he spent his whole life doing, even on the council, trying to teach citizens, athletes and even surfers. He will be missed. I will miss him.”

While his accomplishments on the City Council were noteworthy in many respects, Feehley is remembered in many circles for his tireless work on behalf of the Beach Patrol and his athletic prowess in numerous regional, national and international lifeguard competitions even late into his life.

“George got involved with the modern Beach Patrol because of his desire to use his athletic abilities in a competitive environment,” said Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin. “I did not know him back when he guarded a beach just north of the town limits, but met him when he joined the Beach Patrol’s chapter of the USLA.”

Arbin said Feehley’s rigorous training regimen provided inspiration to the beach patrol’s much younger members.

“Seeing someone George’s age continue to train and compete was really a motivator and inspired our younger members to try even harder,” he said. “We could always count on George to contribute a large number of team points to our chapter in the National USLA championships and improve our overall team standing.”

While serving on the council, Feehley became a strong advocate for the Beach Patrol, according to Arbin, and helped forge the modern day organization.

“For many years, while George served on the City Council, the beach patrol had a special friend in high places and his influence allowed our team members to compete in major competitive events with the financial support of the town,” he said. “George Feehley has surfed his way into the history of Ocean City and will always be remembered.”

While Feehley was already guarding the north end beach in the late 1940s, it wasn’t until the early 1960s when he took up the latest craze to hit the resort. Ocean City surfing legend Skill Johnson and his brothers Al and Carl are largely credited with introducing surfing to the resort in the 1960s. Johnson, who now resides in Hawaii, said this week Feehley quickly picked up the sport and became a surfing legend in his own right.

“In 1964, the first surf shop in town was at 18th Street, but we always went up to 43rd Street, which was at the end of town limits, to surf and George had a house up there and used to guard the beach,” he said. “He saw us surfing out there and took it up and became a natural from the start. He was an athlete beyond belief.”

Johnson said he and the others in the nascent resort surfing community always marveled at Feehley’s athletic prowess.

“George was a strong man,” he said. “He used to lift weights and he had these 100-pound dumbbells he used to throw up with ease. He was one of the fittest guys I ever met. I first met George at the local premiere of ‘Endless Summer’ at Stephen Decatur High School in 1964. I got a ticket and went in, then I went back out and gave the stub to George.”

Johnson said the Ocean City community won’t soon forget Feehley’s contributions to the resort.

“He’s an Ocean City legend,” he said. “He was one of the coolest guys in Ocean City. He was a true classic and won’t be forgotten.”

Even late in life, Feehley continued to train and compete in several high profile lifeguard competitions. In November, he donated the numerous medals he had one over the years to the Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum. According to an online article published in 2002, Feehley was asked why he continued to train and compete in the lifeguard competitions at his late age.

“It’s what I do,” he said. “While some guys play golf, tennis or go fishing, I compete in lifeguard competitions, mainly because I enjoy doing it. I feel fortunate that I can still get out there and compete.”

Feehley often competed in lifeguard competitions with athletes half his age or younger. He competed in national and international events where the senior divisions stopped at 65, even when he was in his 70s at the time. In 1996, he competed in the world championships in South Africa against a pool of 1,500 athletes from around the globe at the age of 70. He was the oldest member of the U.S. team, but earned a silver medal in rescue board paddling and placed fourth in two other events. A year later, Feehley won two silvers and a bronze at the USLA National Championships in San Diego.

According to legend, he was once in Chicago competing in a lifeguard competition when he was befriended by some Japanese competitors in the same event. When Feehley revealed his age, they all started bowing to him. Whenever they passed Feehley on the beach or at the hotel, they continued to bow, according to Towson University professor and former Ocean City Beach Patrol member Ellworth Boyd, who wrote an extensive article on Feehley in American Lifeguard magazine over a decade ago.

Feehley had also been a member of the Ocean City American Legion Sinepuxent Post 166, the Ocean City Beach Patrol, the Life Saving Association of America, the Ocean City Realtors Association and the Dune Club. A private memorial service will be held by the family at a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in his name to the Ocean City Beach Patrol Fund at 109 Dorchester Street, Ocean City, Md. 21842.

 

Team Effort Leads To ‘Happy Ending’ To Ocean City Locks Story

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OCEAN CITY — Valentine’s Day weekend provided the perfect backdrop for a great love story with a happy ending this week involving a pair of locks attached to a pole on the Ocean City Boardwalk by a visiting couple several years ago that briefly went missing before being found again on Monday.

Back on Valentine’s Day in 2008, Lauren Burr and her boyfriend and future husband were visiting Ocean City. The young couple purchased a large, metal lock and carved their initials on it before hanging it on a post on the Boardwalk at Dorchester Street as a symbol of their growing love for each other. A year later, Burr’s boyfriend joined the Marines. The couple got married in March 2010 and Burr’s husband then went away for a year for training.

During his absence, Burr would often visit Ocean City and return to visit the symbolic lock hanging from the post on the Boardwalk at Dorchester Street. After Burr’s husband completed his training, the couple moved to North Carolina in April 2011 and two months later learned they were expecting their first child. When Burr was eight months pregnant, the couple returned to their favorite bench near the lock they had hung three years earlier and added a second, smaller lock. The second lock was carved with the letter “C” for their soon-to-be first child Claire.

The couple returned often to the bench near the post on the Boardwalk that held the two locks, which had weathered and begun to show their age. According to Burr, the locks had survived hot summers, harsh winters, more than a few storms and even Hurricane Sandy. She said this week she was happy to see them still hanging strong after that terrible storm.

Last week, Burr’s friends were visiting Ocean City and were well aware of the locks the couple had hung. However, when they visited the site, not only were the locks gone, but the pole on which they had been attached were also missing, as were many of the other familiar poles in the same area. Through various connections, Ocean City Councilman Doug Cymek was made aware of the situation and set in motion in effort to locate the symbolic locks. Through mutual friends, Cymek’s daughter made the councilman aware of the situation.

“It was interesting how it came to my attention,” said Cymek this week. “I was contacted by my daughter, who was contacted by a mutual friend that knew Lauren and knew the story of the missing locks. I told my daughter it might be a long shot, but I would make an effort to find out what happened to the locks and the pole.”

As it turns out, that particular pole and others in the area were removed to be refurbished as an add-on to the recently approved Boardwalk Arch recoating and restoration. Cymek contacted Public Works Director Hal Adkins and City Engineer Terry McGean to find out where the poles had been relocated.

Some of the poles had been stored in a storage facility, while others, including the one with the two symbolic locks attached, had already been sent out to the contractor for refurbishing. Ocean City staffers on Monday were trying to locate the missing pole and the locks attached to it, and through a series of phone calls and other communications, it was determined the locks had been taken off the pole by simply unscrewing the bracket they were attached to and were found sitting on a bench at the contractor’s facility. As a result, the locks are safe and sound and will be reattached to the same pole at the same location in the future, likely somewhat higher than they once were.

“We were able to get a happy ending,” said Cymek. “We had a lot of people involved in finding them, many of whom were off on Monday because of the holiday. We know our visitors have a special place in their heart for Ocean City and something we might think is so small is clearly a huge part of someone else’s memories of the beach. With a little bit of help from our staff, we are hoping to restore the locks and hang them back on Dorchester Street for the Burr family to enjoy for many years to come.”

Burr, of course, was relieved the locks that had hung on the pole at Dorchester Street near the Candy Kitchen for just about six years had been found.

“I’m just so happy,” she said on Tuesday. “I never imagined so many caring people could be in one community. Ocean City has always been a special place for my husband and me, but now when we visit, it will mean so much more to us. They aren’t our locks anymore, they are everyone’s locks. Everyone has put so much effort and love into finding them and now we want to share them with everyone.”

Burr said on Tuesday the story of the lost and found locks has grown from a very personal one to a communal one.

“The first lock symbolized our love for each other, and the second lock symbolized our love for our daughter,” she said. “Now, this really illustrates the love shared by this entire community. Hopefully, this serves as a reminder for people to love one another and pay it forward.”

Annual Boat Show To Highlight Big Winter Weekend; Event Layout Will Be Tweaked Due To Ongoing Construction

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OCEAN CITY — The Seaside Boat Show returns to the Roland E. Powell Convention Center this weekend, and despite a little less space than usual due to the ongoing construction of the Performing Arts Center in the facility, the annual harbinger of warmer days to come promises to be one of the best ever.

For the last 30 years, the Seaside Boat Show, sponsored by the Ocean City-Berlin Optimists, has helped mark a turning point in the winter season for many visitors to the resort and its hearty year-round residents and this year should be no different. Coupled with the three-day President’s Day weekend with Valentine’s Day right in the middle, the boat show is a jumping off point for many businesses closed during the winter and provides a respite from the dreary winter that has dragged on longer than usual this year.

In the past, the Seaside Boat Show has battled tough winter weather, a sagging economy and other obstacles with aplomb, and although those factors might still come into play this weekend, one of the biggest changes this year is the configuration of the boat show space. The ongoing construction of the Performing Arts Center in the convention center has forced the Optimists to reconfigure the usual space and make adjustments for some of the features.

“With the construction of the Performing Arts Centers going on, we’re going to be a little bit smaller this year,” said Ocean City-Berlin Optimists spokesman Charles Smith this week. “The large exhibit hall where we usually set up is not entirely available and our space is cut back a little bit, but the good news is we were able to cut back a little on some of the space for the larger dealers and rearranged the other space so we’re able to accommodate all of the vendors and the other features we have going on.”

Smith said those familiar with the boat show will find the entrance and ticketing areas changed this year. In the past, boat show visitors entered the convention center and turned to the right to access the ticket areas and the event itself. This year, tickets for the event will be sold to the left of the main entrance to the facility in an area near the convention center’s box office. Aside from the rearranging of some of the space, visitors to the Seaside Boat Show can expect much of what has made the event so special for over three decades.

The annual boat show, dubbed this year “the boat show that works for kids,” provides the local Optimist Club with its largest fundraising opportunities of the year with nearly all of the proceeds invested back into the community in the form of support for local youth. The local affiliate has over 120 members and is recognized as one of the best clubs in the parent Optimist International organization.

Income derived from the annual boat show helps support many local youth and community service programs in a variety of ways. For example, the Optimists hold an annual lottery during the boat show with proceeds dedicated to its scholarship program. Tickets are $100 and can be purchased throughout the weekend during the show with the drawing set for 5 p.m. on Sunday. The top prize is $75,000, with a $10,000 second-place prize and a $5,000 third-place prize. Over the last three decades, nearly 300 area students have received an estimated $1.55 million in scholarships from the boat show lottery.

While its benefits in terms of providing an economic shot in the arm for the resort business community cannot be discounted, the boat show’s biggest beneficiaries are the local charities and public service programs the Optimists support with the funds they raise. In addition to the scholarship program, the show provides the Optimist Club with the opportunity to raise funds for the many programs it supports including the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Junior Achievement, Diakonia, Children’s House by the Sea and all local schools and recreation programs.

One of the highlights each year is the wonderful door prize which all attendees will be eligible to win. For years, North Bay Marina and Scott and Mary McCurdy have donated a boat for the main door prize and every person who purchases a show admission ticket will once again have a chance to win it this year.

Despite the smaller space, the boat show will feature over 350 boats, 150 vendors and 50 boat dealers. The dealers and exhibitors will offer special show prices throughout the weekend. They will display their newest and most popular models along with other boating and water-related items. The large number of boats sold each year during the event makes the Seaside Boat Show one of the most popular of its kind on the east coast. The show will also have financing and insurance companies on hand to facilitate boat purchases.

As the name implies, the annual event is all about boats large and small, but there is much more going on with something to offer everybody. In addition to boats, the exhibitors will include marine electronics, trailers, canvass tops, motors, jewelry, artwork and fishing gear. The Seaside Boat Show opens on Friday, Feb. 14 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 15 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and concludes on Sunday, Feb. 16 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $1 for kids and a weekend pass can be purchased for $15.

 

Data Indicates No Earthquake Occurred

A Maryland Geological Survey found “earth motion activity” but data showed it was not consistent with “seismic or earthquake events.”

OCEAN CITY — There were more questions than answers late today about what caused the ground to shake and buildings to rattle in the Ocean City area shortly before noon on Thursday, but Maryland Geological Survey officials have confirmed the data collected at various seismic stations in the area is not consistent with an earthquake.

Around mid-day Thursday, there were dozens of reports of possible seismic activity from Ocean City to Ocean Pines to Bishopville and southern Sussex County and beyond as local residents reported loud booms and homes and businesses shaking for as long as 10 seconds and as many as two different times. The Maryland Geological Survey around mid-day confirmed there had been “earth motion activity” registered in the area around the same time the reports started flooding in.

“The Maryland Geological Survey (MGS) has identified earth motion activity around the same time and we have asked seismologists in the area to analyze the data further,” said MGS Director Richard Ortt on Thursday afternoon. “We have two separate teams of seismologists looking at the date from our seismometer in Reisterstown and several seismometers in the surrounding states including Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.”

Later on Thursday, Ortt reported the possibility of an earthquake in the area had all but been ruled out.

“Seismologists at Columbia University have analyzed the data from three area stations at Reisterstown, the Eastern Shore and Lewes and have advised that data from those sites is not consistent with an earthquake,” he said. “Very small scale events were observed at the seismic stations, however the signatures and travel times between the stations are inconsistent and do not follow the known travel times of seismic or earthquake events.”

Essentially, the MGS by late Thursday had acknowledged tremors had occurred, but was not prepared to determine just what had happened. “Unfortunately, it was not picked up by any other reporting seismic stations in the area, so there is no consensus as to what the event was or where it originated,” a message from MGS read.

From the beginning, there was speculation the loud booms and subsequent shaking were caused by sonic booms, possible from activity at Wallops Island on the Virginia coast just south of Ocean City and Assateague, or by military jets passing over the mid-Atlantic coast or conduction training and maneuvers. However, Wallops Island spokesman Keith Koehler said on Thursday afternoon there was nothing going on at the facility that would have caused sonic booms. The Patuxent Naval Air Station in southern Maryland conducts training exercises over the Atlantic off Maryland’s coast from to time, but it is uncertain if there were any exercises being conducted on Thursday.

In November, distant rumblings were heard and felt across much of Worcester County including Ocean City causing concerns in the area about a potential earthquake or other seismic activity. However, it was determined the loud booms and  window rattling were the result of the U.S. Navy practicing simulated carrier landings for two large aircraft at Wallops. The sonic booms were the result of a new partnership between the Navy and Wallops allowing for the practice of simulated, land-based aircraft carrier landings on a modified airstrip at Wallops. The two twin-engine turboprops are expected to conduct up to 20,000 passes this year at Wallops

Council Okays Proposed Brewery Company’s Conditional Use With Stipulations

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OCEAN CITY — Despite some concerns with the potential odor, noise and other impacts on the neighboring community and adjacent businesses, the Ocean City Mayor and Council on Monday approved a conditional use request for the proposed Ocean City Brewing Company on the site of the old Adkins Lumber Company at 56th Street.

The Ocean City Brewing Company, proposed for a site along Coastal Highway at 56th Street, which most recently home to Sassy Beachwear, will be a mixed-use project including a restaurant and bar and an on-site brewery producing beer for sale on the property and for wholesale distribution. The proposed brewery is of a much larger scale than the smaller local breweries that have sprung up in and around the resort area in recent years and consequently needed approval as a conditional use in the commercially-zoned area in and around 56th Street.

The conditional use approval is just another step, albeit an important one, for the project. The Ocean City Planning Commission, which is expected to review the overall site plan for the project on Tuesday night, sent a favorable recommendation for the conditional use approval to the Mayor and Council after allaying some of their own concerns with the brewery segment of the project. After considerable debate on Monday, the Mayor and Council approved the conditional use request but only after adding several conditions of their own.

The project includes an on-site brewery capable of producing 1,000 gallons of beer, or roughly 60 kegs, in a single batch. During the Planning Commission review of the conditional use request, company staffers explained the brewery would likely produce one batch per week at most times of the year, with more than one batch produced at other times depending on the demand. The process takes at least two days from start to finish, so even at peak times the brewery might produce a batch two or three times per week.

Much of the brewing process will take place inside the existing building on the site, but there are certain elements that must be accommodated outside the existing building, perhaps most importantly a 31-foot tall grain storage bin, or silo, located outside and at the rear of the property.

The grain used in the brewing process will be delivered by truck and air-blown into the grain storage bin, or silo, which will hold enough grain, or malted barley, for 10 batches of beer, meaning it could be filled about once every 10 weeks depending on the volume of business and frequency of the brewing process. In addition, the used grain, or by-product of the process, will be stored in a large container truck on the property, until it can be hauled away. The by-product has use as feed for poultry and other agricultural uses and will be hauled away the day the brewing process is completed in most cases.

When it reviewed and ultimately approved the conditional use request last month, the Planning Commission voiced concerns over the potential odor of the brewing process and subsequent storage of the by-product on the site and issued its favorable recommendation after some of those concerns were allayed by the applicant. The applicant told the Planning Commission the brewing process would take about four to five hours at least once a week and characterized it as no more offensive than a neighborhood bakery.

On Monday, the Mayor and Council had their own concerns about the potential odor during the brewing process and during the on-site storage of the spend grain as by-product. The town’s elected officials also voiced concern about the appearance of the 31-foot grain storage silo, which will certainly change the landscape in and around the 56th Street area.

“I have some concerns with the look of that grain storage bin, although I’ve been told not to call it a silo,” said Councilmember Joe Mitrecic. “I personally like the smell of beer brewing, but not everybody does.”

Councilmember Margaret Pillas voiced concern about the potential aroma and its impacts on neighboring properties.

“I remember lumber stacked back there, but I don’t remember a smell for several blocks,” said Pillas. “I have a problem with the aroma. If I go to the Best Western and that aroma is wafting up to my balcony, I’m probably not getting used to it, and I’m probably not coming back.”

Councilwoman Mary Knight also expressed concern over the aroma and questioned whether there was a system available to filter, or clean, the air emanating from the brewery. Throughout the discussion, it was brought up at different times how other manufacturing companies clean the air coming from their plants.

“One of my big concerns is the aroma or odor,” said Knight. “Is there a system that can be put on it now before it’s up and running and the complaints start? Also, can’t that grain storage bin be moved inside? I think it could be an eyesore. We welcome this and I think it’s a great project, but we just need some of these issues addressed.”

The 31-foot silo will only be filled once every few weeks and perhaps even longer depending on the frequency of the brewing and the demand for the product, so any dust or noise associated with filling it is expected to be minimal, representatives reported. However, the height of the storage bin in an otherwise fairly residential area raised concerns for the council.

In addition, the on-site storage of the by-product until it can be hauled away after the brewing process also raised concerns. The concerns included the potential odor and even the likelihood seagulls will be attracted to it and everything that entails in terms of impacts on existing businesses, hotels and condos.

Mayor Rick Meehan suggested the developer find a way to move the storage of the by-product inside the facility somehow, along with other equipment expected to be housed outside the building.

“I think they need to find a way to move the storage of the by-product inside because there is plenty of room,” said Meehan. “The same goes for the CO2 system and other equipment. Move that all inside. I think that will alleviate some of the concerns.”

Nonetheless, Meehan said the project is an attractive one for Ocean City and urged the council to approve the conditional use request if certain conditions were implemented and adhered to.

“There’s a lot going on at this property,” he said. “We talk about businesses declining in Ocean City and this is an example of somebody trying to start a viable business. Maybe we need to talk about how it can be done and not how it can’t be done.”

Meehan said the council had before it a request for a conditional use, meaning it had ability to put certain conditions on its approval. If the developer fails to live up to the conditions placed on the approval, the conditional use, by definition, can be taken away.

“This is a permanent conditional use,” he said. “Any time they violate a condition, they can lose their approval. I think they know it’s in their best interest to adhere to any conditions put on it.”

Councilman Doug Cymek said he had conversations with the developer and was satisfied concerns would be addressed through the approval process.

“I’ve been talking to the brewery group and I think they truly want to do whatever they have to in order to make everybody happy,” he said.

Knight agreed the project was exciting and voiced pleasure with the overall concept, but still came back to the large grain storage bin on the property.

“We have to make a decision that’s best for the town,” she said. “We want to encourage this type of development, but I still think that 31-foot silo is going to be a point of contention in the community.”

Pillas said while she liked the concept, she couldn’t vote to approve the conditional use without significant changes.

“This is going to be a no-vote for me,” said Pillas. “We’d love for you to come into town, but I think there are just too many impacts on neighboring businesses.”

The Mayor and Council listed several conditions for approval of the conditional use request. Among them are air scrubbers on the system to alleviate the odor, moving the grain storage bin inside the building, moving the by-product storage inside until such time as it can be removed, a six-foot privacy fence and trees planted in the buffer between neighboring properties, no outside seating for the restaurant and no canned beer produced in the brewery. The council also adopted the conditions placed on the project by the Planning Commission that required the applicant to pay any fees related to the treated wastewater from the brewery and the monitoring of any site plan changes.

The council voted 4-2 with Pillas and Brett Ashley opposed and Councilman Dennis Dare absent to approve the conditional use request.

 

School Officials Explain How Weather Closure Process; Tuesday Pre-Storm Closure Defended

Baltimore Ave. in Ocean City is pictured on Wednesday morning. Photo by Chris Parypa Photography

NEWARK — The Tuesday night snowstorm followed by single-digit temperatures for much of the week led to a mid-winter break for Worcester County schools this week, but the decision-making process is complicated and not always popular, according to school officials.

With an ominous forecast calling for a major winter storm and as much as four to eight inches of snow and high winds in the local area starting Tuesday afternoon, school officials early Tuesday morning made the decision to close the county public schools that day. The first snowflakes did not fall until late in the afternoon on Tuesday, leading some in the community to question the decision, but during a brief Board of Education meeting on Tuesday morning, moved up to an early start time because of the pending storm, Supervisor of Maintenance and Operations and Pupil Transportation Steve Price explained to school board members how the decision was made.

The planned closure on Monday for the Martin Luther King holiday, followed by the decision to close schools on Tuesday in advance of the storm, followed by the post-storm closures on Wednesday and Thursday had county students off for much of the week. As of mid-day Thursday, no decision had been announced for Friday. However, Friday was already scheduled for a half-day for the end of the grading period and schools are closed on Monday for a planned teacher professional day.

With just a half day planned for Friday and Monday’s already scheduled closure for a professional day, it appeared likely the county schools will be closed for six straight school days and eight total counting the weekend, leading to a break the equivalent of the holiday closure. It’s clearly not the best situation for all involved, except maybe the students, but one school official said this week was unavoidable given the conditions.

Price said the process starts as early as 3:30 a.m. He checks conditions in his area and consults with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Price then contacts the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, confers with his counterparts in neighboring school districts to get a consensus and ultimately contacts Assistant Superintendent of Administration Lou Taylor to reach a final decision.

While some questioned the wisdom of closing the schools on Tuesday when the storm ultimately didn’t materialize until the early evening, Price said the decision was not difficult based on the rather ominous forecast.

“It’s a long, involved process,” he said. “As for today [Tuesday], the big concern is we would get everybody in school and start the day, then turn around a couple hours later and send everyone back home.”

Worcester County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson is involved in the decision-making process. Wilson said the uncertainty surrounding the forecast makes the decision to open or close the schools difficult and leaves the decision makers open to criticism one way or the other.

“We always take that into account,” he said. “If the storm doesn’t materialize as expected, we often take some criticism. As far as Tuesday goes, the thing to remember is we’ll have buses with kids still out there at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. It’s not always the regular school hours that lead to a decision.”

The storm did ultimately arrive on Tuesday evening, and while the overall snow totals did not match the predictions of up to eight inches, enough of the white stuff did fall in the local area to cover the roads with ice and drifting snow. The decision to close on Wednesday was an easy one, and despite plowing and salting, the situation had not improved by yesterday, leading officials to close again on Thursday. With Friday’s planned half day and the temperatures still well below the freezing mark, schools will likely be closed all week.

While the major roadways were mostly cleared by Thursday, the side roads and rural areas were still covered with snow and ice through much of the latter part of the week, making the closure decision an easy one for school officials. Price said one of the main concerns is the older high school students who drive themselves to and from school.

“First and foremost is the safety of the students,” he said. “One of my main concerns is the 16-year-old students in high school that aren’t used to driving. They cause me as much heartache as any other contributing factor.”

Price said the wide disparity in road conditions across Worcester and the Lower Shore factors majorly into the decision.

“We understand not every county road is going to be cleared,” he said. “Worcester County has very limited equipment and when that first snowflake falls, panic sometimes ensues. The kids and even adults are not used to it. The bus drivers are pros, but somebody coming the other way may not be a pro.”

By late in the week, most parents were at their wit’s end with kids home all week. Most families have two working parents and many have younger children in day care, complicating the daily routine when schools are closed.

Board of Education member Sara Thompson asked if the decision can be expedited to allow for parents and guardians to make plans in terms of little ones in day care and older kids being home without supervision. Taylor said those factors are part of the decision-making process.

“We do that when possible,” he said. “We understand the issues parents have with day care and planning.”

While snow and ice, poor road conditions and plummeting temperatures resulted in the major closures this week, another common natural phenomenon through much of the school year is fog. County schools occasionally have one- or two-hour fog delays, and Price said this week those decisions are complicated.

“Those are tricky, but we always err on the side of caution,” he said. “I can get up at 5 a.m. and not be able to see the hand in front of my face, and an hour later, I can see all the way to Chincoteague or vice versa. Sometimes, it happens the other way around.”

 

 

School Officials Explain How Weather Closures Decided; Tuesday Closure Defended

1 school decision

NEWARK — The Tuesday night snowstorm followed by single-digit temperatures for much of the week led to a mid-winter break for Worcester County schools this week, but the decision-making process is complicated and not always popular, according to school officials.

With an ominous forecast calling for a major winter storm and as much as four to eight inches of snow and high winds in the local area starting Tuesday afternoon, school officials early Tuesday morning made the decision to close the county public schools that day. The first snowflakes did not fall until late in the afternoon on Tuesday, leading some in the community to question the decision, but during a brief Board of Education meeting on Tuesday morning, moved up to an early start time because of the pending storm, Supervisor of Maintenance and Operations and Pupil Transportation Steve Price explained to school board members how the decision was made.

The planned closure on Monday for the Martin Luther King holiday, followed by the decision to close schools on Tuesday in advance of the storm, followed by the post-storm closures on Wednesday and Thursday had county students off for much of the week. As of mid-day Thursday, no decision had been announced for Friday. However, Friday was already scheduled for a half-day for the end of the grading period and schools are closed on Monday for a planned teacher professional day.

With just a half day planned for Friday and Monday’s already scheduled closure for a professional day, it appeared likely the county schools will be closed for six straight school days and eight total counting the weekend, leading to a break the equivalent of the holiday closure. It’s clearly not the best situation for all involved, except maybe the students, but one school official said this week was unavoidable given the conditions.

Price said the process starts as early as 3:30 a.m. He checks conditions in his area and consults with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Price then contacts the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, confers with his counterparts in neighboring school districts to get a consensus and ultimately contacts Assistant Superintendent of Administration Lou Taylor to reach a final decision.

While some questioned the wisdom of closing the schools on Tuesday when the storm ultimately didn’t materialize until the early evening, Price said the decision was not difficult based on the rather ominous forecast.

“It’s a long, involved process,” he said. “As for today [Tuesday], the big concern is we would get everybody in school and start the day, then turn around a couple hours later and send everyone back home.”

Worcester County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson is involved in the decision-making process. Wilson said the uncertainty surrounding the forecast makes the decision to open or close the schools difficult and leaves the decision makers open to criticism one way or the other.

“We always take that into account,” he said. “If the storm doesn’t materialize as expected, we often take some criticism. As far as Tuesday goes, the thing to remember is we’ll have buses with kids still out there at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. It’s not always the regular school hours that lead to a decision.”

The storm did ultimately arrive on Tuesday evening, and while the overall snow totals did not match the predictions of up to eight inches, enough of the white stuff did fall in the local area to cover the roads with ice and drifting snow. The decision to close on Wednesday was an easy one, and despite plowing and salting, the situation had not improved by yesterday, leading officials to close again on Thursday. With Friday’s planned half day and the temperatures still well below the freezing mark, schools will likely be closed all week.

While the major roadways were mostly cleared by Thursday, the side roads and rural areas were still covered with snow and ice through much of the latter part of the week, making the closure decision an easy one for school officials. Price said one of the main concerns is the older high school students who drive themselves to and from school.

“First and foremost is the safety of the students,” he said. “One of my main concerns is the 16-year-old students in high school that aren’t used to driving. They cause me as much heartache as any other contributing factor.”

Price said the wide disparity in road conditions across Worcester and the Lower Shore factors majorly into the decision.

“We understand not every county road is going to be cleared,” he said. “Worcester County has very limited equipment and when that first snowflake falls, panic sometimes ensues. The kids and even adults are not used to it. The bus drivers are pros, but somebody coming the other way may not be a pro.”

By late in the week, most parents were at their wit’s end with kids home all week. Most families have two working parents and many have younger children in day care, complicating the daily routine when schools are closed.

Board of Education member Sara Thompson asked if the decision can be expedited to allow for parents and guardians to make plans in terms of little ones in day care and older kids being home without supervision. Taylor said those factors are part of the decision-making process.

“We do that when possible,” he said. “We understand the issues parents have with day care and planning.”

While snow and ice, poor road conditions and plummeting temperatures resulted in the major closures this week, another common natural phenomenon through much of the school year is fog. County schools occasionally have one- or two-hour fog delays, and Price said this week those decisions are complicated.

“Those are tricky, but we always err on the side of caution,” he said. “I can get up at 5 a.m. and not be able to see the hand in front of my face, and an hour later, I can see all the way to Chincoteague or vice versa. Sometimes, it happens the other way around.”

 

Snowy Owl Winter Irruption Not Showing Signs Of Ending Soon

A snowy owl is pictured at the Delaware Seashore State Park. Photo by Sharon Lynn

ASSATEAGUE — The frequency and volume of snowy owl sightings throughout the local area and across much of the northeast in recent weeks have not abated and the phenomena is now being considered a once in a lifetime event.

Through much of December and the early weeks of 2014, local residents and visitors to beaches in Maryland and Delaware have been treated to rare opportunities to see snowy owls up close and in person as the arctic visitors have flocked to the mid-Atlantic coastal areas. Their visit is called an “irruption” in scientific terms, and while irruptions are fairly common for many species of migratory birds, the ongoing irruption of snowy owls in the local area has been especially noteworthy and is being referred to now as a natural history event.

A couple months in, the snowy owl irruption has shown no signs of abating, according to Carrie Samis, education coordinator with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

“The irruption isn’t waning,” she said. “The birds are everywhere in record numbers. This is the biggest irruption in 40 to 50 years and likely the largest in our lifetime. While irruptions occur in other years, it’s never been of this magnitude.”

Samis said this week there is no indication the snowy owl irruption w until the magnificent birds are ready to continue their migration later this winter or early spring.

“It’s likely that we’ll continue to see snowy owls through February,” she said this week. “By March, they’ll probably start making their way back to the arctic.”

Scientists are seeking answers for the unusual irruption of snowy owls and are trying to gain a better understanding of the migration patterns of the large, majestic birds. To that end, an effort called Project SNOWstorm has been started to research the current irruption in the local area and across much of the U.S. Through Project SNOWstorm, some of the birds have been briefly captured and fitted with a solar-powered transmitter allowing scientists and bird-watching enthusiasts to track their movements. The first snow owl fitted with a transmitter was tagged on Assateague in December and the bird has traveled hundreds of miles since.

The first owl tagged in Maryland, appropriately named “Assateague,” has traveled great distances since being fitted with the first transmitter back on Dec. 17. “Assateague” left the barrier island two days after being fitted with the transmitter and flew north to Cape Henlopen where it hung around for a day. The owl then flew 38 miles across open water to reach the north shore of the Delaware Bay.

From there, the owl moved across the New Jersey coast to the town of Reed’s Beach, where he spent a week. Leaving Reed’s Beach, “Assateague” flew across southern New Jersey in the middle of the night and followed the Tuckahoe River toward the Jersey shore before flying up the coast to Atlantic City, where he spent some time on the famous Steel Pier. “Assateague” then continued up the Jersey coast to Brigantine, completing a journey of 100 straight-line miles or 150 flying miles from where he started on Assateague just 11 days earlier.

By contrast, a second snowy owl tagged under Project SNOWstorm in central Wisconsin on Dec. 23 has not shown the same wanderlust as his Assateague relative. Named “Buena Vista” for the area in Wisconsin where he was first observed and later tagged, that snowy owl has rarely ventured more than a mile or so from where the transmitter was first affixed.

“Assateague” has not been heard from for several days, but scientists are not overly concerned. Project SNOWstorm officials believe the owl has likely moved into an area with limited cell phone coverage, which will not impact the GPS data. The units continue to record locations around the clock, even if the owl moves out of cell tower range. Once “Assateague” moves back into transmitter range, a fresh pile of backlogged data showing his recent whereabouts will become available, according to Samis.

“Although ‘Assateague’ is out of range now, the transmitter is still collecting information, which will automatically download once the bird is back in range,” she said. “Assateague has traveled well over 250 miles since being fit with the transmitter, from here to Delaware to New Jersey. Already, we’re seeing differences in movement and behavior that could help us better understand these birds.”

From the outset, Project SNOWstorm set a fundraising goal of $20,000 for more transmitters to track the snowy owl irruption in the local area and across much of the eastern U.S. Less than two weeks into the fundraising effort conducted on Indiegogo, just over $19,000 has been raised. Samis said this week the $20,000 will be used specifically for transmitters, but the fundraising efforts will continue after the goal is reached and donations will continue to be accepted.

“Additional dollars will be used to fund more research, toxicology screenings, necropsies when dead birds are found, etc.” she said. “The more money they raise, the more research they can do, gleaning as much information as possible about this event. We really don’t know a lot about snowy owls and this is our big chance to learn a lot more.”

Later this month, the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art at Salisbury University is hosting a panel discussion on the snowy owl irruption and the research it has inspired. Samis will be joined on the panel by ecologist David Brinker and state wildlife veterinarian Cindy Driscoll, both of Maryland DNR. The program is set for Wednesday, Jan. 20 from 4-6 p.m. at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art.

 

 

Seals Beginning To Show Up On Ocean City, Assateague Beaches

Wednesday's seal on 100th Street. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — The first batch of migrating seals on the beaches in and around the resort were reported this week, providing an opportunity to remind curiosity seekers and photographers to observe and enjoy the annual visitors from a safe distance as they move through the area as part of their natural migration process.

National Aquarium Marine Animal Rescue Program Stranding Coordinator Jenn Dittmar confirmed this week there had been four sightings on the beaches in Ocean City since Monday, signaling the annual appearance of the popular seals each winter.

“We’ve seen at least four individual seals since Monday and all of them thus far have been harbor seals,” Dittmar said this week. “All have been reported on the Atlantic side beaches and all of them have been in good body condition.”

Dittmar said the four reported this week were all observed on the beach in the north end of Ocean City. However, Assateague Island National Seashore Science Communicator Kelly Taylor said this week a handful have also been seen in and around the barrier island, including one spotted bobbing in the Inlet on Wednesday.

For the next several weeks, seals of various species and sizes will appear on the beaches throughout the mid-Atlantic area and on rocks, piers and docks along the bayside. For the most part, the seals are typically healthy and just resting and sunning themselves on the beach or on jetties, docks and piers before moving along in their migration. In some cases, the seals are injured or ill and require rescue and rehabilitation from the MARP program and its volunteer network. However, those spotted thus far this week have been healthy and showed no signs of illness or injury.

“Typically this time of year, they’re just starting their migrations and they are fit and healthy and just resting on their stopovers here,” said Dittmar. “Later in the season, we might see more that are in need of rescue or assistance because they are on their return journey and have traveled great distances.”

With the return of seals along the coastline in the resort area will be an in-kind number of curiosity seekers and photographers intent on interacting with the visitors. However, Dittmar this week reiterated the importance of observing from a safe distance and protecting and preserving their privacy.

“If you’re lucky enough to see a seal on the beach, it’s best to give the animal at least 100 feet of space and, if possible, stay downwind,” she said. “Enjoy watching our seasonal visitors from a distance and take plenty of photos and videos, but please try not to disturb them as they still have a long journey ahead of them.”

Dittmar said healthy seals can usually be observed resting in a “banana” position on their side with their heads or rear flippers in the air. An injured, ill or entangled seal will often be seen resting flat on its stomach. Anyone observing a seal that may be in need of medical attention can call the National Aquarium’s Stranding Hotline at 410-373-0083, or the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) at 800-628-9944. The Maryland Coastal Bays Program also has a link for reporting seal sightings on its website at mdcoastalbays.org.