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Council questions WSSC rate structure change

LAUREL – A change in county water bills is almost certainly coming, but exactly how much more (or less) residents will pay is still to be determined.

On March 30, the Prince George’s County Council Transportation, Housing and Environment Committee (THE) held a joint meeting with their counterpart from the Montgomery County Council, the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) committee to hear from Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission staff about progress on the utility’s rate structure study. WSSC has to change the rate structure to remain financially viable, officials say.

“There’s always this tension between having enough revenue to meet the needs for providing the services, both water and sewer, but also on the capital side,” said Council member Todd Turner, chair of THE. “People are consuming less water, so because the revenues aren’t coming in because of the consumption, what are you going to do? Unfortunately, nothing goes down in cost, it seems like, so in making that (increase) reasonable, there’s a balance that we have to find as part of this process.”

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Rockville battles budget woes

Rockville Seal

ROCKVILLE – Residents and community representatives spoke out Monday night in the last public hearing before the City Council passes the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

City Manager Robert DiSpirito proposed a $129.4 million operating budget, which would be a 2.5 percent increase from last year’s. DiSpirito proposed to keep the city’s taxes for real property and personal property the same as last year’s.

The city manager said he did not have as much influence over the budget as he would like, given that he started in Rockville long after the city began to craft its budget.

“I’m a Johnny-come-lately on the process, definitely,” said DiSpirito, who started as city manager in January.

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Historical sites hail restoration of funding

As the current Maryland legislative session draws to a close, organizations advocating for the preservation of the state’s historical sites and open spaces are applauding the restoration of funds for that purpose. The capital budget, which was approved March 29, includes $600,000 in funds for preservation grants.

“With final approval of the Maryland state budget, grant funding for historic preservation will see its first appropriation in nearly a decade,” said Nicholas Redding, executive director of Preservation Maryland, a Baltimore-based historical advocacy organization that lobbied extensively to restore funding. “Thanks to the support of members, partner organizations and legislative champions, Preservation Maryland is pleased to report that funding once considered lost forever is now officially back. The Montgomery County delegation has been extremely helpful and very supportive of historic preservation work, as evidenced by their support for this funding as well as key local initiatives like state bond bill funding for Pleasant View Historic Site near the Kentlands/Quince Orchard which also passed this session.”

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Metro examines possible effects of heft and vibrations from newer subway cars

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WASHINGTON – Metro is investigating residents’ complaints that trains are causing damage to D.C. homes, according to a spokesperson.

Meanwhile, the organization has been looking for rail fasteners that can hold more weight.

Spokesperson Richard Jordan said in a statement Metro is investigating the claims as well as whether Metro even has a role in the vibrations that those D.C. residents reported.

“Metro has retained an independent third-party expert (Wilson Ihrig) to conduct field measurements following complaints of vibration from residents along a specific section of the Green Line,” Jordan said Wednesday. “While Metro has not confirmed the cause or severity of these vibrations – or even confirmed that the complaints are Metro-related, we have committed to conducting independent testing to determine next steps.”

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Medical marijuana registration begins today

Medical Marijuana

People interested in using marijuana for medical purposes can register online as of April 10 at 9 a.m. with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

To obtain medical marijuana under the law enacted in 2013 by the state legislature, patients must register online with the commission on its website, mmcc.maryland.gov. Only patients whose last names begin with “A” through “L” may register the week of April 10 through April 16. Only those with last names starting with “M” through “Z” may register the week of April 17 through 23. Instructions on how to register will be on the homepage.

Starting April 24, patients may register regardless of last name.

So far, MMCC has licensed 15 growers, 102 dispensaries or stores and 15 processors. Growers are now building their indoor “farms” and will start growing plants, which have a three-month growing cycle, said Phil Goldberg, CEO of Green Leaf Medical LLC, one of the licensed growers. Green Leaf’s building is in Frederick, while its business offices are in Gaithersburg and Germantown.

Green Leaf, which is almost done raising $4 million from investors, expects its building to be done in late May and to have product ready to sell to stores in late September or early October, Goldberg said. Also on the Green Leaf team, he added, is Spencer Karson, a Maryland native who spent the last eight years in Colorado growing medical marijuana.

The commission website indicates that the first wave of growers and dispensaries is on a similar schedule and tells patients to expect September openings for the first stores. Registering now, the website says, “will allow patients time to establish a bona fide doctor-patient relationship months before any medicine is available.”

Physicians also must register with MMCC to prescribe medical marijuana in Maryland, under the law establishing the commission. Their normal prescribing privileges and registrations with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency are not sufficient. The MMCC online physician registry is open, and the commission urges physicians to sign up.

Goldberg, president-elect of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association, said the legislature assured there would be dispensaries throughout the state by directing MMCC to license two stores per legislative district. In addition, he noted, licensed growers can choose to have one dispensary in the county of their choice. Of the 15 licensed growers, 10 will run dispensaries as well (not Green Leaf).

Montgomery County will have 20 dispensaries. While the stores’ precise locations are not available yet, the licensed dispensaries and their legislative districts (“LD”) are listed here.

LD 14: B1 Earthgroup Inc.; Herbiculture, Inc.

LD 15: Cannabus LLC; Mikran, LLC.

LD 16: Budding Rose LLC; Chesapeake Alternatives LLC; Harvest of Maryland.

LD 17: HMS Health LLC; Maryland Compassionate Care & Wellness LLC; Peake ReLeaf LLC; Sugarloaf Enterprises.

LD 18: Columbia Care LLC; Holistic Industries LLC; PharmaCann LLC.

LD 19: Maryland Alternative Relief Inc.; Premium Medicine of Maryland LLC.

LD 20: GTI Maryland LLC; Maryland Medical Cannabis Co. LLC (M2C2 HerbaFi).

LD 39: Maryleaf LLC; MI Dispensary.

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Takoma Park concerned about status

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Takoma Park is concerned after the Trump administration issued an executive order that may punish sanctuary cities.

The City of Takoma Park considers itself to be a sanctuary city, where city officials (including police) will not identify illegal immigrants. The city has been a sanctuary city since 1985, and its sanctuary law specifically prohibits city employees from asking city residents about their citizenship and immigration status, as well as cooperating with federal laws that may lead to deportations, according to the city.

“One of the things we want to make sure is that people have the information they need and resources they need to answer their questions and to meet the challenges that are facing us,” said Mayor Kate Stewart.

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Local bee population continues to decline as problems with mites mount

inside-the-bee-hive

During April, the Bee Informed Partnership, of which the University of Maryland is a major participant, conducts a national survey on the state of the bee population and the number of bee colonies lost during the prior year.

In the 2014-2015 survey, about 44 percent of bee colonies were lost, and once again the data showed that the bees died in the summer as well as the winter. While it’s normal to lose bees in the colder months, it should not be happening during the summer, said University of Maryland Assistant Professor Dennis van Engelsdorp.

Results of the current survey are expected to be released mid-May.

“Locally, here in Montgomery County and the D.C. area, bee hive losses are pretty high, 40 to 50 percent,” said Jim Frazier, owner of the Maryland Honey Company in Gaithersburg.

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"It will have teeth"

Governor signs bill designed to make Metro a safer place for riders

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Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed a bill to create a new Metro Safety Commission last week, bringing Maryland, D.C. and Virginia closer to their goal of creating a state-level safety oversight body for Metro.

Del. Kumar Barve (D-17), Maryland House Transportation and Environment Committee chairperson, said one of the hardest parts of passing the legislation, which was signed March 30, was for the three jurisdictions to work together.

“Having three cooks in the kitchen is daunting even when the three of them agree,” Barve said.

Chuck Bean, executive director of Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said the new commission, if the Federal Transit Administration approves the bill, would have more power than the previous safety oversight group, the Tri-State Oversight Commission.

“The creation of the Metro Safety Commission is important because it will have regulatory oversight of safety matters for Metro, meaning it will have teeth and the power to impose fines or suspend service, and that’s something we’ve not had before,” Bean said Friday.

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Immigrants long for role models as they adjust to life in their new home country

This is an ongoing series devoted to the stories of Montgomery County’s immigrant population.

In 2005, Claudia Paiva, then 15 years old, boarded a plane with her family from Peru to the United States, attracted by the prospect of university scholarships for Paiva and her older brother.

“It’s very expensive for a middle-class family to send a kid to college in Peru, and there aren’t as many scholarship opportunities as there are here,” Paiva said. 

Paiva and her family came to the U.S. on a six-month tourist visa and remained in the country without papers after it expired, living as undocumented immigrants for several years.

“Peru is a very traditional, very religious country,” Paiva said. “When we got here, my parents became very protective and repressive, and I resented them for that for a long time.”

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