Natural gas, ballfields and feral cats top agenda items

MD-habitat coming to hurlock 3x-092115

Special to Dorchester Banner/Habitat Choptank
Community members are invited to the Sept. 28, Hurlock council meeting to learn about Habitat Choptank’s plans for expanding its affordable home ownership program into Hurlock. The meeting is set for 6 pm at the town office. From left: Nancy Andrew, Habitat Choptank executive director, the Rev. Charles Cephas, council member, Greg Whitten, Habitat Choptank board president, and Mayor Joyce Spratt.

HURLOCK — In her report at the Sept. 14 Hurlock Council meeting Mayor Joyce Spratt read a letter from the Dorchester County Council in response to the town’s request to lease the ballfield owned by the county but used and maintained by the town. The issue has been on the table for several months and while the previous County Council was open to the idea, the current Council is not.

The town’s interest in the property, known as the Hurlock Athletic Complex, was a topic of discussion at a recent County Council Executive Session. While not interested in leasing the property, the Council would “like to solicit input for development and expansion of the complex” from the town.

During an August 2014 Council meeting, the Mayor said the town received a letter from then County Council President Jay Newcomb asking if the town would mow the ballfields because the county did not have the manpower and he raised the possibility of a long-term lease. The Mayor explained “we started taking care of them and then thought we may also be able to enhance that park. Now with the new Council they don’t want to do that.” The Mayor suggested the Council review the possibility of enhancing the N. Main St. park for use next spring.

Bringing natural gas to Hurlock’s downtown business community is an issue that the Hurlock Citizens group continues to doggedly pursue. Spokesman Frank Bittner presented the “second survey results as requested by Chesapeake Utilities” regarding the extension of natural gas and said, “Perhaps these 18 surveys when combined with the 28 or 30 of the other interested homeowners from the first survey would make it feasible for Chesapeake Utilities to extend their service to the business district.”

Mr. Bittner said natural gas suppliers in areas like Hurlock have slowed their expansion because “there’s not enough money to be made.” He noted that Chesapeake Utilities representative Darrell Wilson said if a development of high end homes builds 30 or 40 units in town the company would be interested. In 2010 when they first came to town to negotiate the franchise agreement “they were coming here to buy access.” He believes if the small business area was part of the original negotiations in 2010 it would already be completed and “we wouldn’t be having this discussion.” The end result was the utility company picked “only the most profitable customers,” including Amick and B&G. Mr. Bittner asked the Mayor and Council to bring Chesapeake Utilities back to the “bargaining table” to analyze the new data.

Mayor Spratt said “I don’t think anybody sitting at this table has said anything against it (natural gas). In fact, we endorsed it. If you think things have changed we’ll certainly invite him back in October.”

Mr. Bittner suggested that if the town “could kick in some money to make it happen they would get it back from a franchise fee.”

Feral and abandoned cats are a bone of contention in Hurlock. Resident and Citizens Group member Pat Finley coordinated last year’s joint venture with Snip/Tuck to neuter/spay as many of the town’s feral cat population as possible. Last year the town allocated $2,500 for the project with a matching grant obtained by Snip/Tuck. Ms. Finley estimated 75-80 cats were neutered/spayed with 225-450 unwanted births prevented.
During home visits she and Citizen Group members assessed cats, determined trap needs, advertised clinics, transported animals, and helped at the clinic. Ms. Finley asked the Council to allocate additional money to continue the project. Councilman Earl Murphy asked her to present a funding request proposal.

Surprisingly, the meeting ended with no discussion about a new business that promises to bring economic development and jobs to Hurlock. On Sept. 9 a public meeting, held with little advance or widespread notice, invited residents to ask questions about a proposed 4-way stop at the intersection of Rtes. 392 and 331. Following that discussion the sparse group heard a presentation by Cannamedus executives about a prospective medical marijuana and holistic medicine production and distribution center in the former Marvesta Shrimp Farm.

The only reference at the Sept. 14 Council meeting came from resident Jack Lewis who attended the Sept. 9 meeting. He asked Town Attorney Robert Merriken if the government could close a state cannabis facility that runs counter to federal law. Mr. Merriken believed that if a facility is properly licensed it would not be shut down. He noted that cannabis production is an expanding business country-wide.

After the final gavel some residents, including Councilman and OMA Compliance Board designee Charles Cephas, were concerned that the Sept. 9 meeting violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA). Because the meeting was an open, public meeting it was under the aegis of the OMA. The attempt to give “reasonable notice” of a public meeting fell short of OMA requirements. The meeting was posted on a bulletin board as required but lacked a date; no notice was given to the media that regularly covers town meetings; notice was on the Internet as required but on a private Facebook page, not on the town’s website.

Asked his opinion in a Banner interview, Town Attorney Robert Merriken said he “didn’t know anything about the (Sept. 9) meeting” ahead of time. A unanimous Council consensus at that meeting offered a letter of support to the project which Mayor Spratt said would be given to Cannamedus the following day. According to Mr. Merriken that decision should have been in the form of a Resolution to be approved at a regular Council meeting. When asked his responsibility if a complaint is filed with the OMA Board, Mr. Merriken said “If a complaint is filed I’ll be the one to draft a response.”

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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