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Exelon offers Harford $50,000 for 'emergency room' at new 911 center

Harford County Council members questioned the county treasurer about a proposed resolution to let Exelon contribute $50,000 to the new Emergency Operations Center complex.

"This money will be used in the room that is for the emergencies, not the 911 center part," treasurer Kathryn Hewitt said.

"One reason they were going to help us is because a lot of our emergency preparedness in this county is centered around Peach Bottom and because we do a lot of testing with them and a lot of emergency drills with Exelon in regard to Peach Bottom," she said.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti questioned the fact that administration director Mary Chance met with Exelon and suggested they contribute to the center.

Hewitt said she was not privy to the conversation but noted $50,000 is a very small amount for the project, which has $25 million dedicated to it in bond money alone.

"Is it practice to go out and ask a corporation? Probably not a common practice to do that but because we partner with Exelon so much on the emergency preparedness and they come and participate when the emergency center when it is activated, they are one of the partners there," she said.

Hewitt also pointed out: "I think it's because they wanted to make a gift to the county to show their appreciation for the work the county does… with Peach Bottom."

Lisanti said she found it odd, given the timing with Exelon undergoing a federal relicensing process.

"I find this a little peculiar," she told Hewitt. "For us to actively request this as part of a major capital project under the guise of public safety, give me some confidence with this."

Councilman Jim McMahan said the nuclear regulatory agency requires several counties to have an extensive training program in place for anything related to Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station.

"We have never had a room dedicated to these tabletop exercises," he said about the need for the complex.

Councilman Chad Shrodes said it was nevertheless important to remember what Exelon has done for the county, noting it put in a new trail and park, as well as helped out Darlington Volunteer Fire Company.

"I just don't want this to dilute what a great partner Exelon has been," Shrodes said.

The council did not vote on whether to accept the Exelon contribution.

Growth Act revision

The council approved a revision to the state's Sustainable Growth Act to add the potential of two building lots through the subdivision process.

The emergency bill defines a major subdivision as anything larger than seven lots, more than the minimum the state proposed in the act.

Shrodes, a leading opponent of the state proposal, said it is unfortunate county officials do not have more impact with the legislation.

"It is eminent domain without adequate compensation to property owners," he said. "I wish there was more that we could do."

Lisanti said she understands his position but thinks more analysis is needed into the quantity of development rights and family conveyances and how they would be affected by the legislation.

Shrodes replied that kind of analysis can be an ongoing process, especially in regard to creating a transfer of development rights program.

"Getting into the creation of a TDR program, it's a pretty lengthy and involved process. It itself could take over a year," Shrodes said, pointing out the bill has a deadline. "There's not a one-size-fits-all TDR program that will work for every jurisdiction in the country but I do know that we are up against the clock and this is our last shot at preserving something, a little bit of the value of the land that's out there."

Council president Billy Boniface said he sees the concerns both from an environmental perspective and the perspective of maintaining equity for a farmer maintaining his land.

"While I don't like the idea that we should put more thought into this further down the line, when something like this comes up, if we as a council have the opportunity to help the farmer maintain some of his equity, we have to move forward with that," Boniface said, adding: "The TDR program is being shopped around to everybody but us right now."

Councilman Jim McMahan said he is "totally against" the act, calling it "an act of outright thievery" from Annapolis.

After approving several amendments, the council voted 6-1 to pass the local legislation; Lisanti was the only one to vote against it.

Tax credits

The council also voted to approve bills changing the Fallston sanitary subdistrict, granting tax credits to properties next to the Magnolia Road waste-to-energy facility and two bills, one of which is an emergency bill, authorizing the county to borrow up to $65 million in bonds for a long list of school, library, water and sewer and other projects.

When Councilman Dion Guthrie questioned the need to pass this as an emergency bill, Hewitt replied: "We started the analysis of what we felt to be refunded and when it was discovered this bond issue was one that was attractive to be refunded, we started the process to put this process in."

She said she believes it was deemed an emergency bill "because of the amount of money it saves our taxpayers," comparing it to refinancing a home.

McMahan also mentioned he has been concerned about the lack of school zone designation in the Route 924 corridor, but a school zone should be designated within the next several weeks between Ring Factory Road and Patterson Mill Road.

The zone will include crosswalks and signs that warn of fines doubled for speeding, among other things, he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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