Nonprofit groups tied to Havre de Grace usually get preference when reserving the public tent at Hutchins Park for events, but the City Council made an exception Monday when it approved a reservation for an Army-sponsored event for Aberdeen Proving Ground workers.
The city-owned tent was erected, which is 60 feet by 60 feet, in the waterfront park shortly after Mayor Bill Martin took office in the spring of 2015. The tent is part of his administration's efforts to bring more visitors to the city and create more recreation areas for residents.
Groups can reserve the tent at no cost, but city officials prefer that those groups be local nonprofit or volunteer groups.
The application for the APG event was an issue for Councilwoman Monica Worrell and Councilman Steve Gamatoria, since it came from a very large organization — the Army.
"The U.S. Army is as dear to our hearts as it gets, but is this attached to a local organization?" Worrell asked.
The event is a team-building luncheon for employees of the I2WD, or Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate. It is scheduled for noon to 4 p.m. on Aug. 24, according to the application.
The luncheon is a private event, and there is no cost to the city, Patrick Sypolt, director of administration, told council members.
Councilman Jason Robertson asked if people could still visit the park for activities such as fishing during the event; Sypolt said they can.
Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is Harford County's largest employer, has a population of soldiers and civilian workers that fluctuates between 18,000 and 22,000.
A number of those personnel call Havre de Grace home. Council President David Glenn noted Worrell's concerns about supporting local organizations, but "we've also tried to build a very viable relationship with our APG community, our APG partners."
"I would say we go ahead and support this event," Glenn said.
Gamatoria suggested the council work with Martin and his staff to develop rules for reserving the tent, in order to avoid overuse to the point it becomes competitive with local businesses that host events such as weddings.
"We have a very strong and close relationship with Aberdeen Proving Ground, but my fear is that this would get to the point where, [we say]where is the line in the sand, so to speak?" Gamatoria said.
Worrell suggested postponing a vote on the application until city staff could provide documentation of the costs associated with the event, but she withdrew that proposal when the mayor and Police Chief Teresa Walter stressed that there is no cost to the city.
Martin explained that the tent is "free to use, for anybody." He compared groups that submit an application to hold an event to putting a "reservation sticker" on it.
"APG is just asking for a reservation, that's all they're asking for," he said.
He called for a vote on the application, and the council voted 5-0 in favor of it. Councilman Michael Hitchings was absent Monday.
The other three applications were passed without debate. The events include an Aug. 19 social, hosted by the Havre de Grace Green Team, for community gardeners and their sponsors, a Sept. 9 crab feast for members of the Susquehanna Hose Company and a Sept. 17 church picnic for Havre de Grace United Methodist Church.
"I think these are great uses for the tent and things that I think are beneficial to the city," Gamatoria said.
Martin noted Tuesday that his concerns about the tent competing with businesses are similar to Gamatoria's.
"We don't want to be the free, cheap place people go on the water," he said.
He stressed city officials prefer that reservations be granted to community organizations, but he noted APG "has always been kind to our city."
"If a for-profit business said, 'Can you hold it for us?' we'd probably say no," Martin said.
He noted a business could still host an event there, since the tent is open to the public.
"Anyone can use it, but council extends a courtesy of reservation to the local nonprofits and volunteer groups," Martin said.
He said Wednesday that the tent can be used on a "first come, first served" basis if not reserved, comparing it to a bench and picnic table in Tydings Park.
Reservations are a good tool to have if an organization wants to put on an event that 100 people would attend, however, according to Martin.
He noted participants in the Havre de Grace Yacht Club's Youth Sailing Program have been using the tent this summer without a reservation. There have not been conflicts with other tent users so far, as there have not been other people in the park during the sailing classes.
"It's a big tent, 60-by-60, and there's plenty of space for everybody," Martin said.
The tent is occupied every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon for the Havre de Grace Farmers Market, which draws more than 40 vendors. About 615 people attended the most recent market day, according to Martin.
Havre de Grace Police officers also make regular checks on the park during their patrols, Martin said.
"We haven't had any problems yet of people competing to use [the tent]," the mayor said. "So far, it's been very tranquil."
City renews MOU with HdG Alliance
The council voted unanimously in favor of Resolution 2017-07 to renew for one year the memorandum of understanding between the city and the nonprofit Havre de Grace Alliance Inc.
The Alliance works with the city and local businesses on marketing, economic development and tourism initiatives for Havre de Grace, according to Glenn.
The Alliance was formed in late 2015 after the city ended its relationship with the former Havre de Grace Main Street Inc. that fall.
"It's just a privilege to be able to support them again this year," Worrell said.
BGE replacing gas lines
Public Works Director Tim Whittie encouraged residents to remain patient as BGE's two-year project to replace underground gas lines continues.
The project started in 2016, and utility crews have been closing streets as they dig to get to the gas lines. The project is happening in phases throughout the southeast section of the city, including the downtown area, according to the city's website.
Whittie said BGE crews are expected to mill and repave streets where they have been working in August.
"We just ask for patience," he said, noting the city is working closely with BGE.
Water main break
Whittie praised the DPW workers who spent 14 hours on Thursday, July 13, repairing a massive water main break.
"It was for me, in the two years I've been here, the biggest water main break that we've had in the city," he said.
He noted the break was so large, it caused University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital to lose water pressure. The line that broke is along Pulaski Highway, according to the city website.
The incident lasted from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., according to the website.
"It was a long day and they stuck together and worked as a team and I was really proud of them," Whittie said.
The mayor, council members and even one resident also heaped praise on the DPW crews.
"There's noting people want more than cold running water in the middle of the summertime," Martin said.