How about a little advice from some of our readers?

May 21, 2003|by BOB MAGINNIS

For the past six years I've been meeting for two hours every month with a group of citizens to get feedback on what we do - and what we should be doing - on the editorial pages of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

The idea for the group grew out of a project called New Directions for News, run by veteran journalist Jean Gaddy Wilson, who spent three days in July of 1992 convincing us that as a profession we did not listen carefully enough to our readers.

Over the years the make-up of the group has changed, as members changed jobs, moved away or, in the case of the students who were involved, graduated and went away to college. Five of the original members remain, but now the group needs some new blood.

What we're looking for are the readers of the future - students and working parents of small children - who have to make time to read The Herald-Mail's editorial page.


These are the people whose lives are filled with a whirlwind of activity. Sometimes when they say they're too busy to read, that's the truth. Sometimes, however, it's because we're not giving them anything they want to make the time to read.

If you'd like to be considered for membership, please write to Editorial Advisory Committee, c/o Bob Maginnis, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, MD, 21741, or e-mail me at Please include a brief description of yourself and why you believe you would be a good addition to the group. Thank you.

As I write this, the Weather Channel is predicting showers for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. With the hurricane season set to begin June 1 and federal forecasters predicting 11 to 15 tropical storms this year, are we looking at a repeat of the summer of 1972, which featured Hurricane Agnes?

The National Weather Service's official history of the storm notes that it began on June 14 of that year as a tropical disturbance off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and grew stronger as it headed north.

In the three weeks before the storm hit the coast, the NWS history notes that 2 to 3 inches of rain had fallen in the upper basin of the Potomac, "increasing the runoff potential of Agnes."

When the storm brought more rain, the already soaked ground couldn't handle it, sending more water into the region's streams and rivers.

After it was over, Pennsylvania had sustained $2.1 billion in damage, while Maryland and West Virginia had total damages of $110 million and $7.7 million respectively.

Stormwater management practices have improved since 1972, but the amount of development sending water into the storm drains and streams has also increased in the past 30 years. It would be a shame if the drought mentality that has developed in the past few years left the region unprepared for the possibility of another Agnes.

Local builders and developers were disappointed last week when the Washington County Commissioners decided to extend a ban on major development in the county's rural areas, for at least six more months.

The commissioners said they were continuing the moratorium until their staff could rewrite the zoning ordinance to dovetail with changes made in the updated Comprehensive Plan.

I've got to hope, despite all the recent rain, that the county will look at groundwater resources available to supply rural developments that would be served by well and septic systems.

On this issue, my fear has always been that if the county approves significant new development in areas where there's no municipal water system, residents whose wells go dry will petition the county, or worse, take legal action.

There was a proposal made to the last county board to have a $50,000 study of local groundwater resources done by Earl Greene of the U.S. Geological Survey. That was never acted upon then, and it now seems like a good time to revisit the idea.

Those who argue that the county government should have had this information a long time ago would be correct. But no one ought to be arguing that in the absence of this most relevant data, large-scale rural developments should move forward anyway.

The two columns I've written on the possible consolidation of Hagerstown and Washington County government have drawn little reader feedback, perhaps because people know getting a merger accomplished would take years and a ton of effort.

If there were only one government, however, Hagerstown residents' property taxes would go down. Instead of paying county taxes on top of city taxes, city residents would pay less.

Ask the city officials who are opposed to even studying this idea why looking at something that might reduce your taxes is a bad idea. I'd be interested in their answers.

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