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Schuh Kayaks to Boost Public Water Access

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The sun was hot, the water was warm, the flies were ferocious but the view of the Chesapeake was magnificent as Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh, in shorts and T-shirt, approached the podium in the sand of the Beverly-Triton Beach Park Aug. 21.

“Our waterways are part of Anne Arundel County’s identity,” said Schuh. “With more than 530 miles of coastline, increasing water access to the general public will help secure a brighter future for our waterways and is a major priority of my administration.”

Then he got in a kayak, along with Recreation and Parks Director Rick Anthony and top staff, for a pretty grueling three-mile, 90-minute paddle south into the Rhode River. He was joined by veteran kayakers such as Ralph Heimlich, who towed this writer at least half the way, when he found me at the tail-end of the 17-kayak entourage.

Heimlich was using a surprisingly efficient wooden Greenland paddle developed long ago by the Inuit natives; and yes, he is related to the man who invented the life-saving Heimlich maneuver for people choking on food. That was his great uncle Henry, a surgeon.

$1.4M for Public Access

Schuh was on the water to illustrate the $1.4 million he put in his budget to increase access to the Anne Arundel County waterway system.

Despite all of that coastline and the 14,000 trailered boats registered in the county, there is only one public boat ramp. Schuh has budgeted $590,000 for boat ramp development with eight sites under evaluation, on the north and south sides of the major rivers.

The ramps are actually the easy part, since the county also needs to provide parking for the boaters’ vehicles and their trailers. Schuh budgeted $268,000 to increase overall water access, including funding for roads, parking, piers and launches. There is $375,000 for Fort Smallwood Park’s parking to support a boat ramp and fishing pier, and another $172,000 to fund master plans for three South County Regional Parks, including Mayo Beach Park, Beverly-Triton Beach Park and South River Farm Park.

Mike Lofton, an activist on the county’s Public Water Access Committee, said the Beverly-Triton Beach once attracted thousands of people on the weekend from as far away as Washington, D.C. An article in the Baltimore Sun said it was once segregated, or at least some of it facilities were, when it was in private hands.

No Swimming Allowed

The county owned the park for many years before it was reopened a few years ago. There were few residents on the beach when the county entourage and kayakers arrived last month. A prominent sign says, “No Swimming Allowed,” though there were a few kids in the water.

The Public Water Access Committee has ambitious goals for increasing the availability of access to the bay and its rivers. According to the committee’s charter on its web site: “Many people seek to live in Anne Arundel County because of its vast waterfront and are then surprised to find the extent to which this public resource has become privatized and unavailable to the majority of the public.”

The committee wants to open waterfront access to all government-owned land, whether federal, state or local. For instance, we kayakers were told that much of the undeveloped south side of the Rhode River is owned by the federal Smithsonian Institution for research purposes.

Schuh Nixes Crownsville

Schuh has told a task force investigating the uses for the shuttered Crownsville Hospital center that the county is not interested in acquiring the site.

The state is spending $1.1 million a year just to maintain the deteriorating 69 buildings and the 544 acres they sit on. There are a few nonprofits based there, but mostly the buildings are empty. The site opened a hundred years ago as the Hospital for the Negro Insane, since segregation reigned even for the mentally ill.

Part of the site has been parceled off for a few buildings, including the former headquarters of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, which recently moved to Prince George’s County.

The neighbors of the former hospital don’t want the site developed. It is in a relatively rural area and the nearby roads can’t handle much more traffic. Generals Highway, the main access road, already backs up in rush hour, especially when there are backups on nearby I-97.

The state doesn’t want to use the land or keep maintaining it, and has tried to give it to the county twice. Democratic County Executive Janet Owens rejected the state’s offer from the Ehrlich administration and now Republican Schuh has, as well.

Concerns of Sequestration

At the MACo conference discussed in the state column, Schuh moderated a Saturday morning session about “Maryland’s Federal Footprint.”

One of the presenters was Judy Emmel, associate director for state, local and government relations at the National Security Agency. Emmel, a long-time member of the public affairs staff, replaced Kay Hill, but the job has now expanded to include all NSA facilities in the United States.

NSA, no longer known as No Such Agency, has developed a more public profile in the last decade, not only because of controversy about maintaining phone records of U.S. citizens, but in a deliberate outreach to the community.

For the second year in a row, NSA had a booth at the MACo conference, including an old German Enigma machine from the National Cryptologic Museum next to Fort Meade.

Emmel did a PowerPoint with some interesting figures. “Some of the numbers are even new to me,” she said. The agency doesn’t publish a lot of figures because its spending is part of the “black budget,” the secret federal intelligence budget which is not on the public record.

NSA employs about 40,000 people in Maryland, including civilians, military and contractors, generating about $3.5 billion for the local economy, Emmel said. It contracts with 440 companies here, 300 of them small businesses. The agency also pumps $226 million into Maryland colleges and universities through contracts, grants and tuition subsidies.

Also on the panel was Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, who represents NSA and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, which develops some of the intelligence hardware.

Ruppersberger is upset about the automatic cutbacks in defense spending that are occurring through sequestration. It is “probably the most dangerous thing that has happened to our country,” he said. “The media refuses to write about it.”

He said he would like to put the president, the speaker of the House and Senate majority leader in a room and not let them out till they resolve the budget impasse.