OC Council’s Split Vote Derails Resident’s Wind Turbine Effort

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OCEAN CITY — After a years-long effort to obtain the necessary state and federal approvals and a favorable recommendation from the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, a downtown property owner last week was denied an opportunity to erect a private wind turbine on his bayfront property by the City Council.

For the last few years, Jim Motsko has been working to secure the necessary permits and approvals to put up a 39-foot tall wind turbine on his bayfront property on 6th Street. He had to secure approvals from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) because of the proposed wind turbine’s proximity to the bay and the navigation channels.

The City Council amended the town code to allow wind turbines as a conditional use in certain R-2 residential areas with stringent safeguards in place in terms of height and required setbacks from adjacent properties. Motsko also got little pushback from neighboring properties, save for a few concerns about aesthetics, potential noise and impacts on bay views. Finally, after a public hearing late last year, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to send a favorable recommendation to the City Council for final approval.

Having crossed those hurdles, it appeared final approval from the City Council would be a slam dunk heading into last Thursday’s Council meeting. In the end, however, the council voted 3-2 to approve the requested conditional use for the wind turbine, but the measure failed because four votes were needed and with two council members absent, Motsko came up just one vote short for the approval.

Councilmembers Lloyd Martin, Dennis Dare and Doug Cymek voted to approve the wind turbine, while Tony DeLuca and Wayne Hartman voted against the measure. Council members Mary Knight and Matt James were absent. While he fell just one vote short, the issue is not entirely dead. Motsko could bring the request back for a vote before the full council if four members of the council are willing to revisit the matter. Presuming DeLuca and Hartman would not change their votes, Motsko would need Knight or James to support the measure to gain approval.

DeLuca said he did not support the measure for a variety of reasons.

“It sounds like a lot to maintain and regulate and I don’t support it at this time,” he said. “I think there is a problem with the sound, problems with migratory birds, problems with aesthetics and problems with the perception, and perception is reality. I support the integrity of the neighborhood.”

The issue with potential noise was a recurring theme during the discussion. Some on the council pointed to another approved wind turbine on the Boardwalk at 15th Street. The turbine did run for a time, but has since been derailed by a problem with the electric connection. Mayor Rick Meehan said while the turbine was active, he never noticed any problems with the noise.

“I was up there a lot when it was spinning and I didn’t hear any noise,” he said. “The problem was with the electrical connection and not with the turbine itself.”

Meehan said noise coming from boats and other activity on the bay in the area of 6th Street would outweigh any noise created by the wind turbine.

“Mr. Motsko has worked for a number of years to bring the right product,” he said. “It’s right on the bay front and the ambient noise from the bay will far exceed any noise from the wind turbine.”

Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith said the amended code allowing the conditional use was thorough in terms of setbacks, heights and decibel levels, and Motsko’s proposed wind turbine had met all of the conditions.

“There are at least 14 conditions in the code as a conditional use,” he said. “There are many safeguards in place. All those things go with the approval.”

Smith said there was little to no opposition to the proposed turbine during the Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing on the project in December, including a new condominium project.

“The new condo was sent a notice,” he said. “They could have opposed if they wanted.”

Some on the council voiced concern about the precedent the proposed wind turbine might set. Smith said there were few areas in town that met the stringent requirements, and Martin said the code amendment was written to prevent the proliferation of wind turbines all over the resort.

“We’ve gone back and forth on this and beat it up pretty good,” he said. “We worked on it very hard to make sure it wouldn’t pop up just anywhere.”

The council voted 3-2 to approve the measure, but the request failed because it needed four votes. Meehan voiced some displeasure with the vote, suggesting if the proposed bayfront 6th Street location did not meet approval, then few if any would.

“I think this is such a good location,” he said. “If you’re not going to grant this, you might as well get rid of the ordinance. If you don’t approve this here, where would you approve it?”

Meehan pointed to the stringent approval process Motsko, a local Realtor whose founded and operates the White Marlin Open, went through just to get it before a vote by the council.

“If you don’t want windmills, we need to take a look at the ordinance,” he said. “I don’t want to put somebody through this again. I don’t think there is another spot as conducive for this.”

The council could revisit the issue, but four members of the council will need to support bringing the matter back before the full council. At this time, it’s unclear if the number is there to have the seven-member council reconsider the matter at a future meeting.


Ocean City Property Owners Encouraged To Buy Flood Insurance Despite Recent Map Changes

Lll oceanfront properties south of 143rd Street are no longer in the most onerous V-Zone. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City officials last week adopted the new flood insurance rate maps and the associated changes to the town’s code, but not before raising concerns the relaxed requirements could result in many property owners simply not renewing their policies.

The Mayor and Council on Thursday night, Feb. 19, adopted the new maps created by FEMA during a lengthy review process of the entire resort. FEMA has completed its flood insurance study for Ocean City and has redrawn the maps that designate which areas are at the greatest risk for flooding during coastal storms and other high tide events.

Changes to the maps impact the city’s Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance, and by association, the town’s building code. The flood maps had not been updated since 1986, and largely because of the ongoing beach replenishment, the creation of the dune system, the construction of the sea wall along the Boardwalk and the town’s own stringent building codes on elevation, the new maps significantly relax the flood insurance requirements for most resort properties.

For example, the 1986 maps had most oceanfront properties in the V-Zone, which had the highest risk and, therefore, the highest flood insurance rates. However, the new FEMA maps adopted by the council last week take most oceanfront properties out of the V-Zone. In fact, all oceanfront properties south of 143rd Street are no longer in the most onerous V-Zone.

In the new maps, almost all Ocean City properties are no longer in the 1 percent or 100-year flood zone with a mapped Base Flood Elevation. As a result, the requirements for flood insurance will be relaxed with lower rates for most property owners and no requirement for flood insurance at all for many others. In the past, mortgage companies and insurance companies required flood insurance, but with the new maps taking many resort properties out of the highest risk categories, that will no longer be the case for some.

Many resort property owners will see their flood insurance rates reduced significantly because of the map changes. Some at-risk bayside properties will likely see their rates increase, but many in the resort may drop their flood insurance policies altogether.

“Most will see a decrease in their flood insurance rates,” said City Engineer Terry McGean, who presented the flood map changes to the Mayor and Council last week. “Those in some designations will likely see an increase. If you live on a barrier island, it behooves you to get flood insurance.”

In short, the new FEMA maps will result in lower insurance rates for many and no requirement to even carry flood insurance for others.  With the relaxed maps, mortgage companies might not make resort property owners maintain flood insurance and for that reason, many might drop their policies.

The adopted maps will maintain the town’s stringent building codes in terms of elevation for at-risk properties. Those building standards, along with beach replenishment and the dunes, for example, have protected Ocean City properties during storms when other resort communities without similar standards have seen devastation from storms.

“People invest in Ocean City because we have a higher standard,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “If we didn’t have those higher standards, you would see houses fall into the ocean during a big hurricane.”

Dare said by adopting the maps, the town will enjoy reduced flood insurance rates while maintaining its same stringent building standards.

“It sounds like the best of both worlds,” said Dare. “We get reduced rates and we get to keep the same elevation standards.”

However, later in the meeting, Reese Cropper III, president of the Insurance Management Group (IMG), warned the map changes and the perceived insurance rate reductions were misleading and voiced concern many who likely need flood insurance simply will drop their policies because of the changes.

“The flood maps are a big concern to me,” he said. “I’m seeing some assumptions by officials and the public. People are making the assumption this will lead to cheap insurance. It will not.”

Cropper warned town officials to not simply convey the message the new FEMA maps and the associated flood insurance requirement changes signal a reduction in the risk threat during storms.

“I’m afraid a lot of people are not going to pay the premium and renew their policy,” he said. “I think we need to be careful about what information we put out there. I think we need a public service message.”

Cropper said it is human nature to not pay for something if it is not required, even if it will likely be needed someday. He warned of a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” mentality.

“I know the consumer will not pay for these flood premiums if they don’t have to,” he said. “They’ll say ‘when was the last time we needed it?’”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed the town had to continue to urge property owners to have sufficient coverage despite the relaxed rules.

“We need to encourage them to continue to buy flood insurance,” he said. “We need to get the word out in our newsletter. We live on a barrier island and we all need to have flood insurance.”


It May Be Freezing, But Many Thinking Summer, As International Student Worker Recruitment In Full Swing

United Work and Travel’s Annemarie Conestabile presides over a job fair in Moldova on Tuesday that resulted in 105 international students being recruited to live and work in Ocean City this summer. Submitted Photo

OCEAN CITY — While snow fell on Ocean City this week and spring seems as far away as ever, efforts were already underway in places like Moldova and Poland to fill out the resort’s summer workforce with international students from around the globe.

Each year, several hundred J-1 visa-carrying international university students arrive in Ocean City for up to four months to work and play and enjoy all the resort has to offer. They come from all over the world and make up a significant part of the resort’s summer workforce. Under the J-1 summer work and travel program, university students from outside the U.S. can enter the country and work for a period of up to four months. The visa also allows for a 30-day travel period before the students return to their native countries to begin their next semester.

While the concept seems simple on the surface, recruiting the student workers, getting their visas and paperwork in order, and finding them places to live and work in Ocean City is a complicated process. Private companies, such as United Work and Travel, for example, find the students and make arrangements for them to live in work in Ocean City. It’s a process that begins almost as soon as the last batch of international students from last year has returned home.

United Work and Travel’s Annemarie Conestabile, a resort-area resident who has helped host thousands of international students in Ocean City over the years, is currently on a recruiting trip in Eastern Europe. She is part advocate, part recruiter, and part den mother for many of the students. It’s a labor of love she has gladly undertaken for over a decade.

“It is now part of my life and who I have become over the past 15 years,” she said. “These students are my children, and we look after them 24 hours a day, seven days a week when they are in Ocean City.”

This week, Conestabile, representing United Work and Travel (UWT) and its parent company APEI, along with representatives from resort area businesses including Seacrets, Rope Walk and Sunset Grille, for example, continued their recruiting junket in Eastern Europe. On Tuesday, Conestabile presided over a job fair in Moldova during which 105 summer workers were recruited. By Thursday, she was in Poland doing the same thing with other stops on the tour to include Bulgaria and Moldova.

United Work and Travel will host roughly 1,000 international student workers in Ocean City this summer and filling out the ranks is a full-time job. Earlier this year, Conestabile and her UWT colleagues completed similar trips to China and Thailand, and Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

Finding the students, making sure their visas are in order and most importantly lining up jobs for them when they arrive in the resort is part of the battle. Conestabile said this week many of the international students return each year as long as they are eligible, and many resort businesses are happy to welcome the hard-working students.

“Our partner employers take such wonderful care of the students that many of them return year after year until they are no long eligible university students,” she said. “This program is a true cultural exchange experience for all parties involved.”

Another significant challenge for UWT and other agencies that recruit and host the foreign student workers is finding safe, clean, affordable housing in the resort. Again, many Ocean City property owners welcome the international students each year and treat them as if they are their own, but there are sometimes abuses.

“Housing is the most difficult challenge in Ocean City,” she said. “Being a seasonal resort town, finding quality, affordable housing can be challenging. Luckily, we have many wonderful landlords who truly support this program, but we are always looking for additional housing options. The safety and welfare of all participants is our priority.”


Frigid Weather Leads To Spike In Frozen Pipe Incidents; Several Area Restaurants Hit With Damage

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OCEAN CITY — Persistent frigid weather over the last week or so has resulted in hundreds of incidents of frozen water pipes bursting and flooding residences and businesses, including a couple that will be forced to close for a couple of weeks.

Late last week and through last weekend, temperatures around the resort area rarely if ever got above the freezing mark and many of the days saw high temperatures in the teens. Through mid-week, temperatures rose slightly, but a winter storm dropped about six inches of snow on the area Tuesday, complicating the issue. Late this week, another blast of arctic air has arrived in the area, resulting in the same extreme drops in temperature.

As a result, the area has seen hundreds of cases of frozen pipes bursting and flooding residences and businesses with no relief in sight. Ocean City Communications Director Jessica Waters said on Wednesday there had been over 200 reported cases of frozen pipes bursting in the resort alone, including 37 from Monday to Wednesday.

Waters said the majority of the reported cases were residential, although a handful were reported at commercial properties with varying degrees of damage. Among those commercial properties with frozen pipe damage were Five Guys, Abbey Burger, Kabob House and Coins, the latter of which will be forced to close for two to three weeks. Over in Ocean Pines, La Hacienda had a frozen pipe burst in an area of the building that was not part of the restaurant and suffered significant flooding damage.

“Frozen pipes thawed out and burst, which created flooding in our dining room,” said La Hacienda owner Bill Herbst on Wednesday. “It was a water supply line from the doctors’ offices above the restaurant. Sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning, the pipes thawed out and burst.”

Herbst said the damage was confined to his main dining room area, but will still cause the restaurant to be closed while repairs are made.

“It flooded my whole dining room, but luckily it was limited to the dining room and didn’t affect the bar area and the kitchen,” he said. “I’ll probably have to be closed for a couple of weeks.”

Despite the setback, Herbst was taking the flooding issue and associated restaurant closure in stride this week.

“It’s a pain, but it isn’t anything that can’t be fixed,” he said. “Nobody got hurt and it’s just something we have to work through and deal with the insurance and restoration companies. I guess if you’re going to have an incident that closes down your restaurant, there really isn’t a better time of year for it. At least it’s not July or August.”

Over at Coins in Ocean City, a similar situation played out that will result in the establishment’s temporary closure, said Manager Charlotte Kuti.

“It’s a mess,” she said. “We had water throughout the bar area. Royal Plus is drying it up right now, but I’ll probably be closed for two to three weeks or longer.”

While repairs can be made and damaged property can be restored or replaced, the incident has left people out of work at a particularly tough time of the year.

“It’s devastating in the sense that I have all of these people that need to work,” she said. “We’re going to move through the process as fast as possible to get our people back to work and reopen for our guests.”

Insurance companies have had their phones ringing off the hook over the last week or so as more and more claims for frozen pipes and resulting flooding come in. Beth Gismondi of Gismondi Insurance Associates said there have been new claims in the last few days alone.

“We’ve had a lot of broken pipes and sprinkler system pipes too,” she said. “It is a mess in the community. Cold air of this duration is just not usual. Heat pumps are not able to keep up with this kind of Arctic air.”

Gismondi offered sound advice for homeowners and commercial property owners as the deep freeze continues into the weekend.

“At the first sign of a frozen pipe, you must call a plumber and get the pipes unfrozen,” she said. “Hopefully, the homeowner or renter will not have any broken pipes and water gushing inside or outside. It’s important to thaw the pipe before it bursts, and to do that warm-up slowly. I recommend letting the professional plumber do his job.”

The Ocean City Fire Department also has advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of the frozen, bursting water pipe issue. Among the recommendations are wrapping wet water pipes with an approved heat tape. However, wet sprinkler pipes often cannot be wrapped with heat tape. All sprinklered areas of a home or business should be checked to ensure they are above freezing. In the case of residences or businesses unoccupied for the winter, water pipes can also be drained.

Finally, emergency contact numbers should be posted on the outside of the building so the fire department can contact responsible parties in the event of a pipe breakage. In addition, key lock boxes, which can be purchased from the OCFD, can allow access into a building in the event of an emergency to allow firefighters to turn off water mains.


Iron Man Offers Advice During Surprise Pocomoke High School Visit

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POCOMOKE — The Pocomoke High School student body got a rare mid-winter treat this week when former Baltimore Orioles great and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. surprised them with a visit on Wednesday afternoon.

Last spring, Ripken made preliminary arrangements to address Pocomoke’s senior class at graduation, but as the date drew nearer, a schedule conflict kept him from traveling to the southern Worcester County school and Ripken vowed to try to find another time. The Pocomoke student body then launched an aggressive and highly successful social media campaign to bring the Iron Man to the school.

The campaign waged on Twitter and Facebook, for example, caught the attention of Ripken and his agent, but it was still uncertain if he would make the trip to Pocomoke High. On Wednesday, the entire Pocomoke student body was brought into the school’s auditorium for an assembly presumably to ramp up the “We Want Cal” campaign. As the school’s self-made “We Won’t Stop” video, modeled after the Orioles’ slogan during a stretch run to the playoffs last season, showed on a video screen, Principal Annette Wallace addressed the student body.

“We talked to Cal’s agent and we need one more push to try to get him here,” she said. “Get your devices out and tweet ‘We Want Cal.’”

The hundreds of students in attendance whipped out their phones and mobile devices and followed their principal’s orders. Seconds later, the Iron Man himself appeared from the wings on the side of the stage, touching off wild cheers and a standing ovation.

The affable Ripken, dressed in a sharp blue suit, humbly acknowledged the students’ reaction and praised the school’s remarkable social media campaign that brought him there.

“When I got to the big leagues, there was no social media,” he said. “In fact, there was no remote control, and we had to actually get up and change the channel. All kidding aside, the power of social media can be wonderful and great things can happen like my being here with you guys today.”

While acknowledging all of the positives of the Internet and social media, Ripken warned the students with it comes responsibility, a message that seemed remarkably timely given some of the negative applications of social media involving local students in the last week.

“You have to show some restraint,” he said. “Some things should remain private. You still have to maintain strong principles and values.”

Ripken fielded questions from a panel of students chosen to be seated on stage. He was at times funny and at others serious, but he was always humble and delivered strong messages for the students in all cases. When asked about what sports he played, Ripken told the students it was important to explore all of their opportunities.

“I played every sport possible, but parents are always asking me about specialization,” he said. “I really encourage you to explore other sports and see what you enjoy the most. I played soccer, and, of course, you can’t use your hands, so I learned footwork and balance that carried over to baseball. The same thing goes for basketball, where things move quickly and you have to adjust to things coming at you fast. That carries over to baseball, too.”

Ripken said with so many kids specializing in a specific sport at a young age these days, many become burned out or begin resenting it.

“It should be fun for you,” he said. “See the value in developing your athleticism in different ways. Specializing too soon makes it seem more like work. Try new things and come back to what you like the most.”

Ripken said he was drafted by the Orioles out of high school and didn’t go to college, although a clause in his contract would have made the Orioles pay for school if he didn’t work out as a player. He advised the young students to pursue education.

“The odds are against you to make it in pro ball,” he said. “You have to have a backup plan. It’s a good idea to have a backup plan for whatever you’re doing in life. Know the importance of education because it stays with you your whole life.”

Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s Major League record for most consecutive games played and it is unlikely his own record will ever be approached, but it wasn’t always that way.

“I wasn’t a perfect attendance guy [in school],” he said. “On the first day of first grade, I tried to make a break for it. Honestly, it is all about commitment. You can’t accomplish everything by just showing up, but you can’t accomplish anything if you don’t show up. Be proud of the fact you stand for something and show up every day and try to accomplish great things.”

In perhaps his most important message of the afternoon, Ripken stressed the importance of education.

“You have to balance academics and athletics,” he said. “When I was in school, academics came first and if you did well academically, you earned the privilege to play sports. Take pride in your academics and apply the same commitment and responsibility to your athletics. They say practice makes perfect, but my Dad taught me perfect practice makes perfect. The same applies to academics.”

Ripken grew up around the Orioles and played his entire career with the organization. When asked who his favorite Oriole was while growing up, he didn’t hesitate to say Brooks Robinson.

“People held Brooks out for their kids to embrace because that’s the kind of person he is,” he said. “I never heard anybody say a bad thing about Brooksie. I learned from that. When I was slumping or struggling on the field, I sometimes became even more popular with the kids because parents appreciated the example I set.”

Ripken still closely follows his former team, and when put on the spot about his favorite current Oriole, he didn’t miss a beat.

“Adam Jones is a great and exciting player and I love to watch him play, but the player I really love to watch is Manny Machado,” he said. “He has a great glove and rocket of an arm and he is a special player. I’m curious to see if he’ll get a chance to play short again. He’s a great kid and he’s really not much older than you guys.”


30-Plus Vehicles Hit By Berlin Graffiti Spree; Victims Urged To Contact Police

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BERLIN — Berlin Police on Monday are investigating a graffiti spree that occurred in the downtown area that included over 30 vehicles and at least three buildings.

According to Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing, the department received the first phone call about the widespread vandalism in the Broad Street area downtown around 10 p.m. on Sunday and received additional calls on Monday morning. Over 30 vehicles were spray-painted with graffiti including some with racial slurs. Some examples include a white vehicle with red paint slashes down its entire side. The side of one building simply said “cheeseburger.” Another vehicle had “LOL” painted on its driver’s side window. Yet another building was adorned with the message “your mother is a nice lady.” Most of the damage this morning was noticed in the municipal parking lot off Main Street.

Downing said on Monday the Berlin Police Department is currently making an assessment of the total damages and more cases could be located as the investigation continues.

“We would not be surprised if even more cases are brought forward,” he said. “There could be cases where the property owners got up and headed to work and didn’t notice the graffiti painted on the opposite side. We’re urging everyone in the area to carefully check their property so we can get a better grasp on the extent of the damage.”

Downing said the department is currently in the process of gathering evidence and leads although no suspects have been identified. The chief said some of the buildings in the area have surveillance video cameras, which are being reviewed for further evidence. The Berlin Police are urging all property owners in the area to check their vehicles and buildings and report any damage to the department at 410-641-1333.

“We’re calling in some additional resources and we’re urging the public to come forward with any information,” he said. “It’s important for the victims to let us know the last time they saw their property before it was vandalized so we can fill in some of the blanks on the timeline.”

County Commits Funds To Study Of Proposed Arena; 6,200-Seat Arena In Worcester Pitched By Texas Firm

A facility similar to the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas is under consideration for northern Worcester County and being studied. Submitted Photo

SNOW HILL — While the project is merely conceptual at this point, Worcester County officials this week agreed to fund in part the further study of a potential 6,200-seat multi-purpose arena.

Worcester County Economic Development Director Bill Badger on Tuesday presented the County Commissioners with a proposal from Texas-based Hat Trick Consultants about the possibility of developing a multi-purpose sports arena that could be home to a minor league hockey team and would host, for example, regional high school and college sports events, boxing matches, conventions, concerts, graduations and other events. Hat Trick has already conducted its own feasibility study for the proposed arena in Worcester with favorable results, and the next step in what would likely be a lengthy process would be a similar study conducted by the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), which would be the state partner in the private-public partnership.

The MSA study would validate Hat Trick’s own study and would also review the impact of the project on surrounding MSA investments, including the Roland E. Powell Convention Center’s new Performing Arts Center, which just opened, and the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, for example. Badger on Tuesday urged the commissioners to fund Worcester’s portion of the MSA study, and after considerable debate, the commissioners agreed to pony up its $12,000 portion.

The breakdown for the MSA study, estimated in a range of $15,000 to $20,000, would be 60 percent for the county and 40 percent for the state, although Hat Trick has agreed to contribute $5,000 toward the additional MSA study.

Badger told the commissioners Hat Trick contacted his department about the possibility of a 6,200-seat sports and multi-purpose arena last summer. With a minor league hockey franchise as its centerpiece, Hat Trick projects the arena to host as many as 125 events per year with over 400,000 attendees. Hat Trick projects the facility would support an additional 100 full-time jobs and would contribute a direct economic impact of $19 million per year to the county. Interestingly, Badger said Hat Trick, which has built similar arenas all over the country and is always looking for new locations, fixated on the greater Ocean City area after watching another significant event in the resort last summer.

“It’s interesting how they picked the Ocean City area,” he said. “They watched the Dew Tour on television and thought to themselves ‘oh my, what an opportunity.’ I would hope we would proceed at least with a study. They seem very legitimate and the idea has merit.”

Hat Trick envisions bringing a minor league hockey team to Worcester as the primary tenant for the new facility, likely a “AA” level team in a major developmental league for the NHL. Hat Trick currently owns the rights to the Brahmas hockey club, which will play in either the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) or the Central Hockey League (CHL), both of which play at the AA professional level.

Hat Trick projects a 6,200-seat arena that could be expanded to 8,000 seats for larger events. In addition, the venue would feature outdoor sports and athletics fields to host regional events, a business park and some retail elements. Of course, the potential location was a big question for the County Commissioners on Tuesday. Hat Trick’s presentation simply puts the arena complex location within the limits of Worcester County visible to a major interchange.

Clearly, the company is hoping to take advantage of the millions who visit the resort area, suggesting the location would be in the north end of Worcester. While it didn’t cite a particular location, Hat Trick is looking in the area where the existing infrastructure could support the facility, likely in the area of the Routes 50 and 113. However, some county commissioners winced at the idea of another “jewel” for the north end.

“We need another leg in Worcester County and we need to grow in all areas,” said Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw, who represents the Pocomoke area. “We can’t keep putting all of our eggs in one basket. We need something else on this end, and we need to focus on a little wide range. Nothing against Ocean City, I’m in full favor of a study, but let’s try to move something down this way.”

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, who represents Ocean City, said the north end was the likely landing spot for the potential facility because of the existing highway network and the proximity to the resort area.

“I don’t disagree with the need to make the county whole,” he said. “Probably the best location would be somewhere in the area of the Route 50 and Route 113 intersection. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but that’s what I would do. I’m just not sure Pocomoke and Snow Hill have the infrastructure to support this. I do think it’s a great idea though.”

Whatever potential location is chosen, Hat Trick certainly has an ambitious schedule in mind for the new facility. The company projects construction would start in the summer of 2015 with a targeted completion date of fall 2016, in time for the 2016-2017 hockey season. Of course, the project is merely conceptual and even completing the appropriate studies by this summer seems far-fetched, much less what will likely be an extensive process for zoning, permitting, public hearings, water and sewer considerations and myriad of other hurdles.

Commissioner Diana Purnell also questioned the possible location and asked Badger who had been involved in the initial conceptual meetings. Badger told the commissioners he had preliminary meetings with Hat Trick along with other stakeholders, including, among others, Realtor Peck Miller and Ocean City Chamber Executive Director Melanie Pursel.

“Everything is going north and nothing is coming south,” said Purnell. “You said they met with community stakeholders. What community stakeholders? We need to be up front about the budget. Do the study, but don’t put us on the hook for the full amount.”

The facility is expected to cost in the $40 million to $50 million range, which would be funded by a private-public partnership including Hat Trick, the state of Maryland and Worcester. Badger said the onus would be on Hat Trick to develop the facility with some investment from the state and county.

“It would have to be a public-private partnership, but Worcester County is not going to be the savior on the financial end,” he said. “We made it very clear from the beginning there would not be a big financial commitment from the county.”

In one of the lighter moments during the discussion, Purnell referenced the private company’s name.

“I know hat trick is a hockey term, but I don’t like any tricks when it comes to the county budget,” she said.

Commissioner Chip Bertino, who represents Ocean Pines, said he would like further exploratory meetings with Hat Trick before committing the county to the project and voiced some concern over the possible impact on traffic.

“I would like a presentation for the commissioners,” he said. “I’d really like to meet these folks. I’m not entirely comfortable with this. I have real concerns about traffic, particularly along Route 589 and Ocean Pines.”

Badger explained any future arena development would take traffic issues into consideration.

“Whatever happens, they would not take an existing traffic problem and make it worse,” he said. “They would be very careful with the location. As far as a presentation, they’re very anxious to move forward and I’m certain they’d be glad to meet with you.”

The discussion went back again to the location and consideration for a possible south end site.

“I’m reluctant to support this,” said Lockfaw. “I really think we need to consider the south end. The property would be much easier to acquire. We keep funding study after study, but we’re not seeing anything go to the south end.”

Commissioner Ted Elder made a pitch for a possible Snow Hill location.

“The Snow Hill area needs this more than the north end or even the south end,” he said. “The traffic situation in Snow Hill will be better when Route 113 is finished, the real estate situation is favorable and we might even have that excursion train coming by at some time in the future.”

In addition, the commissioners appeared bent on meeting the Hat Trick consultants in person before committing even to the MSA study, but Mitrecic said the information provided already was solid enough to commit the $12,000 to the MSA study.

“To make them fly up here might be overkill,” he said. “Everything you need to know at this point is in the packet.”

The commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the county’s $12,000 investment in the MSA study and agreed to invite the Hat Trick consultants for further meetings.



Worcester A Future Home For Minor League Ice Hockey Team? County, State To Study Possibility

Photo courtesy of HTC Consulting

SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Commissioners have agreed to further study the possibility of building a 6,200-seat, indoor multi-purpose sports complex to support a minor league hockey team in the northern part of the county, among other activities, as well as an additional outdoor venue to support it.

Worcester County Economic Development Director Bill Badger told the commissioners that last summer his department by contacted by Hat Trick Consultants of Grapevine, Texas “to discuss their interest in building a 6,200-seat arena outside of Ocean City to attract a minor league hockey franchise.”

According to paperwork, the proposed arena “would serve as a multipurpose facility, thereby attracting professional sports franchises, concerts, high school and/or college basketball teams, lacrosse tournaments, conventions, boxing matches, horseback riding events, business meetings and other sporting events.”

An arena study was conducted and projected 125 events a year with over 400,000 attendees and 100 full-time jobs. The commissioners received the study last summer as did the Maryland Stadium Authority.

With HTC conducted the early study at its own expense, Badger recommended the commissioners this week support a MSA study to confirm the HTC findings and review the impact of this facility on nearby facilities, like the Roland E. Powell Convention Center and the Wicomico Civic Center. Additionally, Badger asked the county to consider an outdoor complex to complement the indoor area, bolstering its partnership in the new Maryland Sports Marketing Alliance.

Total cost of the study is expected to be between $15,000 and $25,000.

The commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the study with Commissioners Bud Church, Joe Mitrecic, Ted Elder and Jim Bunting in support and Commissioners Merrill Lockfaw, Diana Purnell and Chip Bertino against.

Full story to come.



Assateague Analyzing Feces To Determine Mares’ Future Pregnancies

Photo courtesy Assateague Island Alliance

ASSATEAGUE — While it certainly isn’t the most glamorous aspect of managing the famed wild horses on Assateague, a biological technician is spending much of November conducting pregnancy tests on many of the mares on the barrier island in an attempt to predict how many if any new foals will join the herd in the coming year.

Assateague Island biological technician Allison Turner has been following as many as 29 mares in the population of wild horses on the barrier island waiting for them to defecate. The samples are collected, frozen and sent to a lab to be analyzed to determine if any of the mares will be expecting next spring.

There could be one or two new foals next spring, or as many as five or six, or possibly even zero. For two decades or more, Turner has been carefully monitoring the birthing habits of the island’s most famed residents and the information, more specifically the fecal matter, she collects this month will help tell the story for the next year.

“Although it is highly unlikely that all will be pregnant, 29 mares need to be tested, which involves locating and following each horse until she does her business,” said Assateague Island Alliance (AIA) Public Outreach Coordinator Ashlie Kozlowski this week. “Then a sample needs to be collected quickly before becoming decontaminated by another horse. The results aren’t determined by one or two pink lines within five minutes, but rather after being sent to a lab to be analyzed. We’ll have to wait until the end of January to find out which, if any, mares are expected to foal.”

Kozlowski said the pregnancy test process for the mares on Assateague is fairly primitive, but effective.

“There’s really not much scientific about it,” she said. “Allison knows the Maryland herd by their alpha-numeric names and their markings and she simply follows them until they do their business. There are 29 mares she is tracking to collect samples from.”

What is fairly scientific, however, is the complex contraceptive program administered on the wild horses on Assateague put in place several years ago to effectively reduce and manage the size of the herd. In the interest of managing the herd size, which, if left unchecked would overtake the barrier island and gobble up the very natural resources the animals need to survive, the National Park Service several years ago began an contraceptive program for the mares in the herd.

Selected mares are injected with a non-invasive contraceptive called PZP in an effort to prevent multiple births by the same mare in an effort to maintain and shrink the size of the herd to its manageable threshold. Assateague’s contraceptive program has become the model for wild horse and other animal management programs around the country.

As recently as just a few years ago, the size of the wild horse population on Assateague had swelled to around 140. Two new foals were birthed on the barrier island last year, which has been the trend in recent years.

“The trend recently has been one or two new foals a year, but it’s kind of a moving target,” said Kozlowski this week. “In previous years, there have been as many as five or six. That’s why we do these collections and testing now, so we know what to expect in the spring.”

In a typical year, the size of the population remains relatively constant with one or two new foals being born and older horses lost to attrition, old age, illness or other man-made or natural causes. From a high of about 140 just a few years ago, the number of wild horses on Assateague currently stands at an even 100, which is in the ideal target range of 80-100 for the barrier island.

“The goal has always been reducing the size of the herd, but now we’re at the adaptive management stage with a population of 100,” said Kozlowski. “We’ve gone from trying to reduce the size of the herd to holding steady around that 100 mark.”

Kozlowski said similar fecal collections and pregnancy tests conducted last winter resulted in only eight mares being administered, or “darted,” with the PZP contraceptive.

She said the number of mares treated each spring changes based on the test results.

“For example, if any of the mares we’re testing right now come back positive, they won’t be darted in the spring,” she said. “We only darted eight last spring and that is a relatively low number. After they birth one foal, they’re typically placed on the contraceptive. That allows us to stabilize and maintain the population, and it’s also healthy for the mares because of the strain of multiple births.”

Local residents and visitors will have the opportunity this weekend to find out more about the history of the famed Assateague horses and the contraceptive program. Author and photographer Jayne Silberman will be on hand at the visitor center on Saturday to sign copies of her book “Inside the Herd,” a photographic journey with the island’s wild horses.

The book signing will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the visitor’s center. In addition, Assateague Island National Seashore Science Communicator Kelly Taylor will make a presentation about the wild horses at 11 a.m. at the visitor’s center.

Turtle West Sold Million Dollar Lotto Ticket To Local Man, But State Still Waiting To Hear From Him

1 lotto

WEST OCEAN CITY — While the winner’s identity has not been made public, the Greene Turtle in West Ocean City last weekend sold a Maryland Lottery Monopoly Millionaire’s Club winning ticket to a local man who has not come forward to collect as of Thursday.

The new multi-state draw game’s top prize of $21 million was won by a player in New Jersey, which triggered a total of 14, $1 million prizes around the country. The Maryland Lottery last weekend announced one of the $1 million Monopoly Millionaire’s Club winning tickets had been sold at the Greene Turtle in West Ocean City, touching off some intrigue around the rather close knit community about the possible winner and the likelihood it was a local given the time of year and the location.

When Greene Turtle staffers were informed the establishment had sold a $1 million winning ticket, they checked the daily sales log and found that only five of the tickets had been sold in advance of the drawing last Friday. Three of the tickets were sold to employees and each confirmed it was neither of them. A fourth ticket was sold to another Greene Turtle denizen who also confirmed she had not won the $1 million prize.

That left just one ticket unaccounted for and it was determined through some investigation that it was likely sold to a local man and frequent player. The unidentified winner came into the Greene Turtle earlier this week and asked why he had been receiving odd text messages and phone calls from unrecognizable numbers. When informed he was possibly the winner of the $1 million prize, he reportedly left abruptly and went to double check his Millionaire’s Club ticket.

The winner had reportedly checked the larger top prize sequence of numbers and determined he did not have the winning numbers. However, the ticket includes a second series of numbers and an icon from the Monopoly game in a smaller font size for the $1 million secondary prize that the winner had not checked.

It was later confirmed the local man, who is not being identified until he notifies the state, had indeed won the $1 million prize, although as of late this week he was remaining decidedly mum about his windfall. Maryland Lottery officials on Thursday confirmed the West Ocean City winner had not yet come forward to claim his prize. The winner has 182 days to claim the prize at Maryland Lottery headquarters in Baltimore. The Greene Turtle West, which sold the winning ticket, will receive a $1,000 bonus from the Maryland Lottery.

Meanwhile, state lottery officials were pleased a Marylander had claimed one of the multi-state Monopoly Millionaire’s Club prizes.

“We’re pleased to have one of the first Monopoly Millionaire’s Club members in the nation,” said Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency Director Stephen Martino this week. “This is an exciting addition to our game lineup that we hope will attract new players and be enjoyed by our current players.”

The Monopoly Millionaire’s Club game went on sale on Oct. 19 and its unique play style features three ways to win $1 million. Players can win the top prize capped at $25 million. Once that top prize is won, a separate drawing that awards a minimum of 10 Millionaire’s Club prizes of $1 million each is conducted. Each week the top prize is not won, the number of $1 million prizes increases. The drawings are held each Friday at 11:15 p.m. and the tickets are $5 each.

Players also have a shot at a $1 million prize on the upcoming national primetime Monopoly Millionaire’s Club television show the debuts in February. The show will feature an audience of players who are randomly selected after completing Monopoly-themed property sets by entering the codes on their tickets. Selected players will be flown to Las Vegas where the show will be taped and will receive a five-day, four-night stay for two plus spending money.