Connecting state and local government leaders

Baltimore Sewers a Big Budgetary Drain; Meth, Children and Despair in North Dakota

Baltimore's Inner Harbor

Baltimore's Inner Harbor Jon Bilous /


Connecting state and local government leaders

Also: Humiliating the best and brightest teachers in Tampa and still funding the SolarBees ‘boondoggle’ in North Carolina.

Here’s some of what we’ve been reading today this weekend…

BALTIMORE, Maryland: Man, it’s hard, on the street and under the streets in Charm City. Baltimore has spent $700 million and will drop another $400 million to clean up crumbling leaky sewers that routinely deposit untreated waste into area waterways. Yet, as The Baltimore Sun points out, “less than four months before a court-ordered deadline, the overhaul is nowhere near done.”

Whenever the rain pours — and even when it doesn't — the city's streams and harbor are still so contaminated by raw human waste spilled from corroding sewer lines that it's unsafe in most places for people to swim or wade. It's risky to kayak or even fish without scrubbing afterward to clean off potentially disease-causing bacteria.

Repairs won’t be finished until 2018, according the the paper. Crews have yet to begin one massive fix that will push the total price tag for the city over $1 billion. [The Baltimore Sun]

DICKINSON, North Dakota: First there was the oil, then the money, then the methamphetamine. Addiction to the drug has become a scourge in boom-time North Dakota drilling country. Counselors told Forum News Service that they see increasing numbers of addicts losing their children to the foster system:

As serious narcotics arrests have grown as a side effect of the oil industry in western North Dakota, one of the aspects not immediately apparent to the public is the human cost that befalls children of convicted offenders. According to data from the North Dakota Department of Human Services, 59 children in nine of the southwest North Dakota counties were entered into foster care for parental substance abuse… as of June 30. This accounts for around 40 percent of all children in foster care in those counties, said LuWanna Lawrence, spokesperson for the Department of Human Services. 

Jan Kuhn, director at Sacajawea Substance Abuse clinic told reporters that drug cases have flourished in the boom. Drugs such as heroin and meth were rarely heard about just a few years ago. [Forum News Service via The Billings Gazette]

TAMPA, Florida: They were really good students  and now they are really good teachers and they deserve the bonus Florida has set aside for them. But they are deciding in increasing numbers that they don’t want to dignify the humiliating review process lawmakers tied to the bonus by submitting applications, reports The Tampa Bay Times. The new Best and Brightest Scholarships tap a new $44 million fund. Interested teachers have to include in their applications scores from the SAT or ACT—the tests high school students take as part of the college application process.

Orange County music teacher Kevin Strang called the award a "slap in the face" to experienced teachers. "If the state of Florida truly cared about education, it would be rewarding all effective teachers for remaining in the profession, improving working conditions, and offering incentives to those entering the profession with the proper education and credentials," he said.

Amy Stagner, a math teacher at Pasco's Ridgewood High School, called it an "offensive policy" and suggested teachers should boycott the program. "Until the teachers of Florida are able to stand united against absurd policies, politicians will never hear our arguments," Stagner said. "Teachers who are scrambling to retake the ACT or SAT before the Oct. 1 deadline cheapen our entire profession by agreeing to participate in this nonsense."

The bonus program is also experiencing logistical problems, the paper reports. Bonus amounts reach up to $10,000. [Tampa Bay Times]

RALEIGH, North Carolina: Tar Heel lawmakers quietly set aside $1.5 million to continue a “SolarBee” water-cleanup project at Jordan Lake. That amount comes on top of the $1.3 million the legislature has already spent on the project. "You kind of got to chuckle when you start talking about SolarBees,” Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr told WRAL-TV. He sees the project as a distraction and a boondoggle. “They’re gigantic blenders. What are they going to achieve?” Starr says the sun-powered gadgets have never been proven to do anything to attack the blue-green algae sprouting in the lake and filling it with chlorophyll. What they do instead, he says, is further delay implementation of the 2009 Jordan Lake Rules, which aim to decrease the upstream runoff into the lake feeding the algae. “[SolarBees] don’t address the actual cause of the pollution. It's a mask,” he says.

The SolarBee budget provision puts another three-year hold on the Jordan Lake rules, which are opposed by state developers and home builders. [@NCCapitol / WRAL-TV]

TELLURIDE, Colorado: A local judge threw the book at homeless man Benjamin Yoho for trashing a large swath of Uncompahgre National Forest. Yoho is going to jail for six months and will be on probation for a year after he gets out, reports KDVR-TV in Denver. “This was no ordinary case of littering,” said Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh. Yoho reportedly built an illegal home and dumped four tons of garbage in the forest over the last year and a half. In May, volunteers and staffers from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control removed the debris by helicopter. San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters said the sentence should serve as a warning. “Unfortunately, the defendant in this case took advantage of the charitable nature of the Telluride community and made a mockery of it,” he said. [KDVR-TV]

John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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