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In the second of two candidate forums held by the League of Women Voters of Calvert County, candidates for the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners discussed ways to fill the Patuxent Business Park and how to deal with traffic issues in the county, among other issues.

Commissioner candidates at June 11 forum included only those who have an opponent in the primary election. Republican at-large candidates included David Gatton, Tom Hejl, Linda Kelley and incumbent Commissioners’ Vice President Steve Weems. Republican District 1 candidates included Joe Chenelly, incumbent Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark and Mike Hart. Republican District 2 candidates included incumbent Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter and Benjamin Krause.

The forum did not include those without opposition in the primary election: first district candidate Emad Emile Dides (D), second district candidate Michael J. Moore (D), third district candidates Kelly McConkey (D) and incumbent Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) and at-large candidates Joyce Stinnett Baki (D) and George W. Owings (D).

Questions from the audience included topics such as Dominion Cove Point, renovating the former Louis L. Goldstein Armory, transportation improvements, whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should conduct an environmental impact statement for Dominion Cove Point and more.

On the topic of the Patuxent Business Park, Nutter said the county doesn’t actually own the park but has been head-hunting for years to bring in businesses.

Hart and Krause said they hoped to put more effort into bringing businesses to the park, even buying the land.

“It just dumbfounds me that we’re not even trying to get MEDCO [Maryland Economic Development Corp.] out of there,” Gatton said. The county could use some of the additional expected tax revenue from the possible Dominion export project to buy out the business park.

Kelley said the business park is an easy target, a “lightning rod” during elections, and that designating the land as a business park was not an immediate plan to get the spaces filled but was a “land bank system.”

Weems said when he first ran for commissioner, he was passionate about the business park but came to realize the limitations once he was in office.

“There’s a lot of moving parts here,” Weems said.

“If there was a magic wand to wave to bring that business park to life, it would have been waved by now,” Chenelly said. “It’s part of a big jigsaw puzzle where we have a lot of things that need to take place, need to be approved to make that a viable business park.”

Krause said he would look into what could be done to buy the park and bring in careers.

“You need to look at the checkbook before you decide to buy anything, so you got to be careful what you wish for,” Clark said to Krause. Clark also pointed out one lot in the park was sold, but the developer decided not to build because of the economy.

During discussion about improving transportation in the county, candidates expressed that building a new bridge across the Patuxent River should be priority, but others suggested other measures to mitigate traffic problems in the meantime.

Hejl suggested the county encourage carpooling, and Chenelly said the county can do more with park & rides.

Hart took some heat for suggesting a long-term solution to transportation issues could be bringing in the Metro.

“Mass transit brings in problems,” Hejl said, saying bringing more people into the county through mass transit could bring in more crime.

“Wow, Mike. Metro?” Clark said. “I mean, that’s like saying put sewer in Dunkirk ... fatal mistake, fatal mistake.”

Nutter said the traffic and transportation issues go beyond the bridge.

“There are choke points all down Route 2/4,” he said.

Several questions involved holding Dominion Cove Point accountable for safety and environmental impacts from the proposed export facility at the Lusby plant.

One question asked the candidates what they would do to make sure Dominion properly reports air and water impacts.

Many of the candidates, including Clark, Hejl, Kelley and Nutter, said federal entities such as FERC will hold the company accountable.

Gatton said the commissioners need to stay on top of the company through phone calls and site visits.

Krause said he stopped trusting federal agencies when a British Petroleum well spilled oil into the Gulf of Mexico for many weeks.

“Your safety depends on us,” he said. “It is us you’re turning to.”

Hart said he wants an independent agency outside of the federal government to evaluate operations at the plant, and the commissioners have a duty to protect people.

In response to a question about if an environmental impact statement should be conducted for the expansion, Hart was the only candidate who said he supports an EIS.

The primary election will be held June 24. For more information on voting, candidates or where to find a polling place, see The Calvert Recorder’s online voters guide at www.somdnews.com.

sfleischman@somdnews.com