Between The Lines

The sale of the Berlin electric system appears to be in
serious jeopardy today, and that’s a good thing. Berlin insiders have indicated
the town has been privately mulling whether to draft an official letter
withdrawing its intent to sell the system. Most officials were mum on the
subject this week, for obvious reasons, but Councilman Gee Williams said this
week all the options facing the town would be put on the table at next week’s
Berlin Mayor and Council meeting.

Although a majority of town residents indicated last year
they backed selling the system, that slight support has been waning in recent
months as the price tag for executing the deal has ballooned. This is not to
say the selling price agreed upon with the two utility companies, Choptank and
Old Dominion, has abruptly changed. That’s unknown, although it may well be the
case. It’s the expenditures the town has already forked over to negotiate and
continue the process of unloading the utility that is reaching ridiculous
heights. As of late January, the figure was somewhere around $300,000, but it
was cautioned that number did not include every aspect and was obviously dated.
It may seem outlandish to say, but I am confident the cost to the town to pull
off this deal would exceed the $500,000 mark before the system ever changed
hands. And that’s simply crazy.

It was never expected this deal would be easy to pull off.
Town officials acknowledged it was not going to happen overnight and there
would be some bumps along the way, but it was also never thought it would be
this difficult. All this wrangling over unknown details says a lot. It’s
important to remember even if the buyers and the town were able to come to some
type of accord the deal would not be ratified until the Public Service
Commission puts it under its magnifying glass and holds a local public hearing,
which was all along expected to be contentious. It would be wise for town
officials to get out of this situation because it’s clearly not benefiting the

It’s no secret town leaders have been showing signs of
aggravation with the pace of the process. Mayor Tom Cardinale was candid with
his comments last week, indicating Berlin and the potential buyers are not on
the same page at this point. He said, “I’m not caving in to Choptank or ODEC or
anybody else just for the sake of getting it over with. We’ll wind up with a
good agreement or we’ll wind up with no agreement.” Councilman Gee Williams was
also frank this week, alluding to an impasse in the negotiations but stopping
short of reporting they are officially stalled.

By withdrawing its letter of intent to sell the system,
town officials will be essentially taking a step out of a big pile of dung and
stepping into a smaller pile. And yes in the midst of that stride some of the
remnants are going to hit those who supported the sale in the face. This has
backfired. That’s clear. However, if a little embarrassment and a slice of
humble pie is what it takes to get the town out of this mess, it’s worth it.

Senator Lowell Stoltzfus did it first, but Delegate Jim
Mathias seems to have done it best. Both shore legislators flexed their
political muscles over the last month, but Mathias seemed to have saved his
best for last with a late lobbying effort to rescue the hallmark piece of
legislation in his first session. After Stoltzfus was initially successful in
getting the Senate to reject the hydraulic dredging ban in the coastal bays, it
appears Mathias was able to work some magic and the bill was returned to the
Senate floor for a favorable vote with the House agreeing to revise its bill to
delay implementation. There was some back and forth among Senators about
compensating those fishermen harshly impacted by the bill, but it appears the
major change in the bill deals with when it goes into effect. The House voted
this week to implement the ban starting in 2008, rather than this year, and
that was enough for the bill to pass. As concerning as it is that fishermen
will be able to rage on the coastal bays watershed’s sea bottom for one more
year without having to pause to consider their impact on their future harvest,
it’s an amicable and rational compromise to delay its implementation till next

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.