Council Okays Proposed Brewery Company’s Conditional Use With Stipulations

1 oc brewing

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.

 

Snowy Owl Winter Irruption Not Expected To End 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.

 

 

Surfrider Foundation Honors Citizen For Petition Effort

Ocean City resident Matt Landon is pictured with Ocean City Surfrider Foundation representative Shelly Dawson, left, and Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager John Weber.

OCEAN CITY — The local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation last week honored an Ocean City man with a Certificate of Appreciation for his efforts to derail a preliminary decision by the Mayor and Council this fall to consider allowing vehicles on the beach in certain areas during the offseason.
In September, the Ocean City Mayor and Council discussed the possibility of a one-year pilot program allowing vehicles on the beach in certain areas from Nov. 1 to March 31 to accommodate surf fishing and other activities in the hopes of stimulating the offseason. The town’s elected officials agreed to move forward with the pilot program contingent upon a Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) review and approval.
However, even the concept of allowing vehicles on the beaches in the resort caused a public outcry, eventually forcing the town’s elected officials to abandon the idea completely. The public uproar was driven largely by a petition drive engineered by Ocean City resident Matt Landon.
Landon created the petition on Change.org titled “Ocean City, Md. Council: Repeal the approval to drive on the beach from Nov. 1 to March 31.”
In a matter of days, the petition had garnered over 900 signatures of those opposed to the proposed program.
“Locals wait all summer long for clean, empty, tranquil beaches,” the petition read. “Now, with this drive-on approval by the Ocean City Mayor and Council, we can only envision walking over the dune crossing and seeking multiple trucks in the place where you would normally surf, practice yoga, run, exercise, let your dog run free or just come to relax. Local residents come out of hiding to enjoy the peacefulness of the Ocean City Beaches from October to April.”
The proposed pilot program would have allowed vehicles on the beaches between 27th Street and 94th Street in Ocean City from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. from November through March. Unlimited permits would have cost $75 each, but the permits would have to be tied to surf fishing.
In the petition, Landon appealed to the elected officials to reverse their perceived support for the pilot program to allow vehicles on the beach from November through March.
“Too many people use the mid-town beaches during the offseason,” the petition read. “Please take a step back and reconsider this. Myself and others strongly believe this is a poor decision made on the Council’s behalf and one that shows a lack of respect for the ocean and a lack of understanding of the area as a community.”
At their next meeting after the release of the petition and the associated public outcry, the Mayor and Council voted 6-1 to withdraw the application to the DNR to review the pilot program and create a plan to market it. Last week, the Ocean City Surfrider Foundation recognized Landon for his efforts with a Certificate of Appreciation.

Worcester Prep Students Rally For Community’s Needy

Worcester1BERLIN — The spirit of giving was on full display this week at Worcester Preparatory School as students began organizing seemingly endless stacks of food for distribution to the less fortunate in the community during the holiday season.
On Wednesday, students at Worcester Prep started to organize and prepare the massive amounts of canned goods and other non-perishable food items they have been collecting since Thanksgiving for the annual Student Government Association (SGA) Food Drive. On tables in the school’s dining hall were  stacks of food the students were organizing by type in preparation for distribution to six area churches and support organizations, which will, in turn, distribute to those most in need in the community this holiday season.
Each year, Worcester Prep’s SGA organizes the annual holiday food drive, which includes contributions from each and every one of the school’s 550 or so students. Each student is asked to donate at least $3 and as many canned goods or other non-perishable food items for the drive.
“It’s an annual thing Worcester Prep and the SGA has been doing for as long as I can remember,” said SGA President Lucas Baier. “Every kid donates $3 and brings as many canned goods as they possibly can. The food is then organized and distributed to six different churches or support organizations throughout the area.”
Baier said the $3 donations from each student this year brought the total to around $2,000. That money is then used by the SGA to purchase hams to go along with the endless baskets of food collected and distributed to the local organizations. In the past, the SGA would take the money and buy as many hams as they could from area grocery stores, but the volume of donations this year had the students looking for a new source.
“At over $2,000, this is the most we’ve collected in any year,” said Baier. “We used to go around to local stores and buy as many hams as we could, but with the volume of the donations this year, we made a deal with Sysco to get as many as we could with what we collected.”
Worcester2The SGA Food Drive distributes the massive amounts of food collected to various churches and support agencies in the area across different geographic, secular and religious borders. Among the recipients this year are the First Baptist Church, St. Paul’s in Berlin, the Stevenson United Methodist Church’s Spirit Kitchen, Diakonia in West Ocean City, the Atlantic Methodist Church in Ocean City and the Joseph House in Salisbury.
With the food stacked and organized in the school’s dining hall, the students were ready to split it up evenly and distribute it to the recipients. Baier said parents with minivans or trucks would help transport the holiday food packages to the churches and other organizations.
In addition, earlier this month, the Lower School students each wrapped a present to be collected by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office for distribution to the needy in the community during the holiday season.
Baier said the amount of food and monetary donations collected were commensurate with the tough economic times.
“This year and last year, the churches and organizations called us and came to us seeking donations because the demand is stronger than ever with the economy and so many still struggling in the community,” he said. “We’ve collected more this year than ever and I’m very proud of our students for rallying for their community.”

Thunderbirds Returning To Ocean City Next June

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, pictured in 2012, will headline the 2014 OC Air Show followed by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels in 2015. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds this week officially announced the jet team will be returning to appear in the Ocean City Air Show in June 2014 after being grounded along with other military demonstration teams last year due to sequestration and federal budget cuts.
The Thunderbirds will headline the June 14-15 event over the skies of the resort. The Thunderbirds formally announced their 2014 performance schedule this week following the International Council of Air Shows Convention in Las Vegas last week. The Thunderbirds last performed at the Ocean City Air Show in 2012 and were scheduled to appear again last June before all military demonstration teams were grounded due to sequestration and federal budget cuts.
This fall, the Pentagon announced it was reinstating the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and other military demonstration units following the one-year hiatus. With the grounding orders lifted, the demonstration teams met in Las Vegas last week to begin patching together performance schedules for 2014 and beyond and the Thunderbirds included the Ocean City Air Show on its tour for 2014. The Ocean City Air Show in June will mark the Thunderbirds’ only performance in the mid-Atlantic region in 2014.
“We’re glad to be back,” said Thunderbirds Commander and lead pilot Lt. Col. Greg Moseley this week. “Right now, we’re focused on training. While we’re excited to know we’ll be able to tell the Air Force story on the road, we’re completely focused on ensuring we have a safe show season.”
The Thunderbirds’ announcement this week comes just one week after the Blue Angels confirmed an Ocean City Air Show stop on its schedule for 2015. The Blue Angels plan their air show stops and other appearances in a two-year cycle and the last cycle was completed in 2012, meaning their plans for 2013 and 2014 were already in the books. The Blue Angels were set to appear this June before the federal government cancelled their season.
The Thunderbirds will headline a full line-up of some of the nation’s top military and civilian performers at the Ocean City Air Show in June. Other performers already confirmed are the U.S. Army Silver Wings parachute team and the GEICO Skytypers. The rest of the line-up will be announced in the months leading up to the event.
“The OC Air Show keeps getting bigger and better thanks to the support of the town of Ocean City and the hundreds of thousands of spectators who come out to make it a success, some from as far away as New York, Ohio and the Carolinas,” said OC Air Show President Bryan Lilley this week. “We’re absolutely delighted to have both of our nation’s military jet demonstration teams committed to fly over OC over the next two years.”
The announcement of the Thunderbirds’ schedule this week, and the Blue Angels similar announcement last week, confirms the Defense Department’s renewed commitment to supporting community engagement following the shutdown. In an internal memo to military service chiefs last October, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stressed a continuing need to reinstate and maintain the military demonstration teams.
“Community and public outreach is a crucial departmental activity that reinforces trust and confidence in the U.S. military and in its most important asset-people,” said Hagel. “It is our obligation to sustain that trust well into the future.”

Mathias Seeking Third State Senate Term

State Senator Jim Mathias is pictured signing his re-election papers. Submitted Photo

OCEAN CITY — As expected, incumbent State Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) filed for re-election this week, setting the stage for what promises to be a spirited campaign against Republican challenger and current Delegate Mike McDermott for the seat.
Mathias, the popular incumbent state senator, whose District 38 includes Ocean City, Worcester County and much of the Lower Shore, officially filed for re-election on Wednesday. He said shortly thereafter he is ready, willing and able to continue to represent the Lower Shore in Annapolis.
“When I wake up every morning, my number one priority is doing everything I can to help the people I was elected to serve,” he said. “By working together, we have been able to make sure that the voices and the needs of the citizens of the Lower Shore have been heard in Annapolis.”
After serving as mayor of Ocean City for 10 years from 1996 to 2006, Mathias entered state politics when he was chosen to serve out the term of the late Delegate Bennett Bozman. Mathias was re-elected to the House 38B seat in 2006, narrowly beating Republican challenger and Ocean City hotelier Michael James. It was a situation that repeated itself in 2010 when Mathias edged James for the District 38 Senate seat. Now four years later, Mathias is seeking a new term as the Lower Shore’s senator in Annapolis and will be challenged by McDermott, who filed for the District 38 Senate seat in September, and possibly other candidates.
With his announcement on Wednesday, Mathias pointed to some of his proudest accomplishments over the last four years in the Senate. Among the accomplishments he listed is being a strong advocate for veteran issues on the Eastern Shore and across the state. For example, he co-sponsored legislation to make it easier for small businesses to hire veterans and was the lead sponsor on legislation making it easier for veterans to get the benefits they deserve by adding their veteran status to their driver’s licenses.
“A few weeks ago, I was asked by some fellow veterans ‘are we going to send Mathias back to Annapolis?’ and without hesitation, I replied you betcha,” said Sarge Garlitz of American Legion Post 166 in Ocean City. “I worked with Jim to expand slot machines into veterans clubs in Worcester County. Since that bill passed, over three quarters of a million dollars have been given to local charities. Senator Mathias worked tirelessly to allow veterans to display their military status on their driver’s licenses, making it easier for them to get the benefits they have earned. Our military men and women serve this country faithfully and admirably and it’s comforting to know that we have someone like Jim Mathias fighting for us.”
Mathias has also been a strong advocate for agriculture and the poultry industry on the Eastern Shore and in his largely rural district, an effort not lost on his colleagues in county government.
“In the last six months, the poultry and farming industry on the Eastern Shore has been under attack with proposed regulations that, if implemented, would be devastating to our industry,” said Worcester County Commissioner Virgil Shockley. “Jim has been at the forefront of fighting alongside the farming community against these regulations. He truly understands that agriculture is the economic engine of the Eastern Shore.”
While agriculture is certainly a driving force for the Lower Shore economy, tourism is another major piston in that economic engine and Mathias has been an advocate for tourism in and around the resort area. For example, he took the lead on the current effort to move the start of the school year back after Labor Day and has worked to secure state funding for the expansion and renovation of the Ocean City Convention Center. He also spearheaded the effort to expedite the process of allowing county business owners to purchase alcoholic beverages on the free market. His work on behalf of the county business community has not gone unrecognized.
“I’ve watched Jim Mathias effectively work for his constituents with his whole heart and soul,” said Seacrets owner Leighton Moore this week. “As a business owner, I tremendously appreciate Jim’s eagerness to work with everybody, regardless of their party affiliation, in his work to get things done for us here on the Lower Shore.”
A Democrat, Mathias has shown a willingness to break ranks on several key issues deemed important to his Lower Shore constituents. For example, he voted against the state’s gas tax hike and increases in the sales tax, income tax, alcohol tax and other taxes. He also voted against the gun bill and the repeal of the death penalty and voted for harsher penalties for sexual predators.
“We were able to accomplish these goals through team-building to make sure that my colleagues and state leadership in Annapolis understood our needs and were willing to work with us,” he said. “While we weren’t able to win every fight, I made sure that all members of the Maryland General Assembly knew what was important to the citizens of the Lower Shore.”
With much work yet to be done, Mathias said this week he is eager serve another term as the District 38 Senator.
“Working together, we have made great strides for the families of the Lower Shore, but there is still more to do and I look forward to continuing to work for you for the next four years,” he said.