The great divide

Barron Shaw, of Norrisville, shows where his peach orchard on the Mason-Dixon Line would be crossed by the Transource Energy’s Independence Energy Connection project’s high voltage power line. Residents of northern Harford County say their project will adversely affect homes, businesses, scenic highways and preserved farmland. Their fight against the project is expected to continue in 2018.
Barron Shaw, of Norrisville, shows where his peach orchard on the Mason-Dixon Line would be crossed by the Transource Energy’s Independence Energy Connection project’s high voltage power line. Residents of northern Harford County say their project will adversely affect homes, businesses, scenic highways and preserved farmland. Their fight against the project is expected to continue in 2018. (MATT BUTTON/THE AEGIS)

Immigration, travel bans, Obama care repeal and improper behavior by celebrities and politicians were continuing themes that dominated the national and world headlines in 2017.

Harford County wasn't immune to any of them, and several local public controversies packed a few wallops of their own, as divisions over such bread and butter local issues as development and politics seemed to widen.


While some county residents headed off to Washington, D.C., for the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Donald Trump, others went to the capital the day afterward to protest, participating in the Women's March to express concerns that the new administration would be hostile to women and other minorities and civil rights protections.

Aberdeen resident Linda Dean Salmon said the crowds at the Women's March on Washington were so large that "you literally couldn't turn around, people were so packed."


The Harford County Muslim community condemned Trump's travel ban to and from several predominantly Muslim countries because of terrorism concerns – an issue that would be fought over in the courts all year long.

A Bel Air woman went public with her complaint that a town police officer had stopped and questioned her about her immigration status, for "walking while brown," as she took a daily walk in her neighborhood. Aravinda Pillalamarri, who was born in the United States of Indian parents and graduated from Bel Air High School, received apologies from the police chief and town officials, as the story about what happened to her went viral on the Internet.

There were protests outside the Bel Air office of First District Congressman Andy Harris in the winter over his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act, and more protests in the fall against Republican led federal tax cut proposals that opponents said would benefit only the rich.

Harford County Council members became flummoxed when a frequent speaker at council meetings used a racial slur when talking about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. John Mallamo of Bel Air received a stern rebuke from Council President Richard Slutzky, and an apology from Mallamo.

An equally disturbing incident occurred in October, when seven Bel Air High School students were disciplined for making a photograph with a racial epithet toward African-Americans during the school's annual Scrabble Day. The incident sparked protests at school board and Bel Air town board meetings, where several people claimed it was not isolated and reflected endemic racism in the county and its institutions.

Joppatowne area residents protested plans by a Muslim group to encourage people to buy homes in a new "peace village," prompting the group and the builder to declare the community would be open to all buyers. That didn't stop the builder from suing county government for holding up her permits and county officials suing for defamation.

Another controversy arose in Joppa over plans by a waste processing business to install a tire pyrolysis plant, which nearby residents and others said could pollute the air and water and cause health problems. Opponents criticized county government for allowing the project to move forward without public review.

Northern Harford County residents dug in their heels to fight a proposed high voltage overhead power line through the Norrisville area and neighboring southern York County, Pa., claiming the Independence Energy Connection would blight the rural landscape, disrupt homes, farms and businesses and have no economic benefit for their communities.

The project's owner, Transource Energy, held several community information meetings in both counties, but the opponents, banning together as Stop Transource Power Lines MD and PA, vowed to keep fighting before their respective state utility commissions and legislatures in 2018.

Harford County's Comprehensive Zoning Review was completed in 2017 and though such exercises are typically a source of public friction among elected officials, communities, landowners and developers, the process concluded with a minimal amount of rancor. Two social media driven groups, Keep Madonna Rural and Protect This Village Forest Hill, successfully thwarted commercial rezonings proposed in their communities. The 112 properties whose owners requested zoning changes was a low for a comprehensive process which is conducted every 12 years.

Aberdeen city officials managed to inflame an already simmering controversy over the future of Ripken Stadium, as the mayor and city council reaffirmed their intentions to sell the stadium and then alienated Cal and Bill Ripken's organization by effectively stonewalling negotiations over a new stadium management contract.

The future of the stadium remained very much unresolved at the end of 2017 neared, much as it was at the end of 2016. The Ripkens said their youth baseball programs and the IronBirds would remain in Aberdeen regardless of what the city does with the stadium. Sill, many county political and business leaders expressed concerns that the city's actions were, in the words of one, giving Aberdeen and Harford County a "black eye" and could ultimately lead to the Ripkens and their businesses departing for some friendlier location.

The national stage didn't desert Harford County on the sexual abuse front, when allegations that "House of Cards" star Kevin Spacey had once assaulted a minor, that weren't denied by Spacey, prompted the actor's firing from the show that had just begun filming for Season 6.

"House of Cards" production was suspended, throwing a number of local people temporarily out of work, but is slated to resume in early 2018, as sponsor Netflix said the season would be completed without Spacey and then the show will end.

Three members of the Fallston Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Company and a former member faced charges at year's end in connection with an attempted sexual assault against a 17-year-old male at a company firehouse.

Following a mass shooting at Texas church, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler and two county legislators announced in December they will seek state legislation to make it easier for people to carry guns in church for their protection.

"Can you think of anything more egregious than being in the house of the Lord and someone coming in with ill intent?" Gahler asked.

The sheriff also touted his decision from a year earlier to join a federal program that reports any undocumented people processed at the county's jail to federal officials, saying that during the first year, 44 detainees were identified as being in the U.S. illegally and were priority candidates for federal deportation proceedings.

The County Council ended its year by deciding to reimpose a three-minute speaking limit for citizens (five minutes for those representing groups) to rein in a trend toward long-windedness on the part of a handful of regular meeting attendees. Slutzky, the council president, said he had perhaps been too lenient and explained the time limit would ensure everyone who wants to speak will be heard.

It was that kind of year.

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