FEMA Aid, Foreclosures, Baltimore-Area Unemployment, and Marijuana Decriminalization | WYPR

FEMA Aid, Foreclosures, Baltimore-Area Unemployment, and Marijuana Decriminalization

Apr 11, 2014

WYPR's front steps are blanketed in snow during the mid-February storm.
Credit Nathan Sterner / WYPR

President Obama has issued a disaster declaration for Maryland in connection with the snowstorm of February 12th and 13th, qualifying the state for aid from FEMA. Plus: foreclosures, Baltimore-area unemployment, marijuana decriminalization, invasive catfish, street sweeping, skyscraper plans, and more.

FEMA Money To MD Following February Snowstorm: Maryland is set to get money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help pay for cleaning up after the major snowstorm that hit our region in mid-February. The storm that was the worst our state had seen in four years, dropping up to a foot and a half of snow on February 12th and 13th. FEMA says that it’ll distribute funding to eligible governments and nonprofit organizations in Baltimore, Carroll, and Howard counties. The money can be used to pay for up to 75 percent of the costs of snow removal, and de-icing and salting roads; it can also be used to pay for emergency measures taken to save lives and protect property. The Baltimore Sun notes that the state hasn’t yet released a cost estimate from the storm, so it’s not yet clear how much FEMA funding Maryland will get.

Winter Weather Delays ICC Construction: The just-finished winter was one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record for Maryland… and the State Highway Administration tells the Baltimore Sun that the snow has affected construction schedules for the InterCounty Connector. A $90-million extension of the toll highway that would take it to Route 1 was supposed to be done this spring. But the SHA announced yesterday that it’s re-evaluating that timeline. Officials say they don’t know when the extension will be open, but do now know “for a fact” that it will not happen this spring. A new completion date will likely be announced in a month.

Controlled Burns To Prevent Brush Fires; Yesterday’s Fire In Harford County: Now that winter is over, Maryland forestry officials are conducting controlled burns to prevent brush fires from occurring later in the spring. Officials with the state’s Department of Natural Resources oversaw such burns yesterday at Sandy Point State Park and Hart-Miller Island. Wildfire season is generally from February through the middle of May, but snow prevented fires from breaking out until recently. One such occurred in the Street area of Harford County yesterday afternoon… it went to three alarms, and took fire companies from Harford County, Cecil County, and York County Pennsylvania several hours to get under control. The Baltimore Sun reports that no firefighters or civilians were injured by the fire.

MD Foreclosures High In March: Foreclosures are still high in Maryland – last month, they were at a higher rate than in all other states but Florida. Real estate information firm RealtyTrac tells the Baltimore Sun that one in every 527 housing units in the state “was touched by a foreclosure filing” during March. More than 26-hundred foreclosure starts were reported last month. That’s up 19 percent from the month before, and up 28 percent from March of last year. The Sun notes that foreclosures in Maryland are running counter to national trends; countrywide, foreclosures have seen 42 straight months of year-over-year declines. State officials say they expect foreclosures to remain high throughout this year, but also predict a gradual decline in the months to come.

Marijuana Decriminalization: Narcotics prosecutors from around Maryland are forming a task force to determine how to train prosecutors to deal with a measure that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Meanwhile, the Maryland State Attorney’s Association plans to call on Governor Martin O’Malley to veto the bill. Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith – who serves as president of the Association’s board – tells the Frederick News Post that the group will send a letter to Governor Martin O’Malley urging him not to let the measure become law. O’Malley has indicated that he plans to sign the measure into law; if he does, it will go into effect on October 1st. A program note: we’ll discuss the marijuana decriminalization bill in the noon hour of Midday with Dan Rodricks. And we’ll look at another bill, dealing with medical marijuana, this morning at 9 on Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast.

Baltimore-Region Unemployment Rate Falls: The unemployment rate in the Baltimore region is down. The US Labor Department says the official jobless rate for the metro area fell from 6.3 percent in January to 6.1 percent in February. That’s more than a full percentage point drop from the year before. The Baltimore Business Journal notes that unemployment rates have been dropping in most of the nation’s metropolitan areas.

Why Prince George's County Is Getting The State's Attention: WYPR's Fraser Smith and Karen Hosler talk about the move of a state-level department from Anne Arundel County to Prince Georges County, and why the decision might not be as driven by growth strategy as officials claim. It’s this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics.

Strike At Johns Hopkins Hospital Continues: Dozens of Johns Hopkins Hospital employees continue to walk a picket line outside the medical center in the name of fair wages. It's the final day of a three-day strike by roughly two-thousand union service and maintenance workers, represented by the union 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. Their strike began Wednesday morning after a wage proposal from hospital management fell short of union expectations. Both sides say they’re still working towards a settlement. The strike is set to end at 6 o’clock tonight.

DNR Urges Marylanders To Eat Invasive Catfish: The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is calling on people to eat two invasive species of catfish. The DNR launched a campaign yesterday urging anglers to help reduce the populations of Blue catfish and Flathead catfish. Both species are now abundant in the Chesapeake Bay, and state officials say they’re posing a threat to the Bay ecosystem. The fish can get up to 100 pounds. There’s no limit to the number of catfish that anglers can catch and keep. And DNR officials say the fish are tasty, and are being served in seafood restaurants all around the state. There’s more here from the Annapolis Capital.

Plans For Downtown Skyscraper Unveiled: Plans for a new 43-story skyscraper in downtown Baltimore were unveiled yesterday. The city’s Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel apparently liked what it saw, and agreed to recommend that the Baltimore Department of Planning approve the schematics for a final review. The building would hold up to 380 luxury apartments, more than 12-thouand square feet of retail space, and six levels of parking. If it gets final approval, groundbreaking could take place in the fourth quarter of this year. There’s more here from the Daily Record and here from the Baltimore Business Journal.

25 Elephants’ Weight Of Trash Swept: Baltimore's new street sweeping program is yielding big results. The Department of Public Works says the first two weeks of its expanded effort has taken 190 tons of litter, broken glass, yard debris and other garbage from city streets, roughly the weight of 25 elephants.

Billboard Featuring Mr. Boh & The Utz Girl To Come Down: A billboard that’s become a Baltimore icon is coming down. The Natty Boh/Utz Girl sign has looked over Penn Station since 2007. Timonium-based Smyth Jewelers put up the ad showing Mr. Boh proposing to Miss Utz… but now owners of the billboard location are switching to a video format and the sign must move elsewhere. The Baltimore Sun reports Smyth is looking for a permanent home for the billboard.

Baltimore Baseball: The Orioles host the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards tonight, for the first game of a series that’ll continue through Sunday. Tonight’s game starts at 7:05pm.