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This Week in Potomac 1-11-06

ICC Construction Closer

The Maryland State Highway Administration announced Jan. 4 that it completed its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Intercounty Connector (ICC) and Maryland transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan announced Jan. 5 that the FEIS has received tentative approval from federal officials.

The FEIS is an updated and revised version of a draft environmental impact statement released in November, 2004. Approval of the FEIS was one of the last hurdles to building the ICC, which Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. promised would receive funding and begin construction in 2006. The more than $2 billion project would be built with a combination of state and federal funds.

The ICC is a proposed toll highway linking I-270 near Gaithersburg to I-95 and Route 1 near Laurel in Prince George's County. Most Montgomery County Councilmembers support the ICC and several Councilmembers called the steps forward long-overdue. The highway was first proposed more than 50 years ago as part of an "outer Beltway" for the region, most of which has been erased from master plans.

Environmental groups have sharply criticized the proposal and could file lawsuits to prevent funding and construction.

The public may read and comment on the FEIS through Feb. 27 by visiting www.iccstudy.org.

Planning Board Approves Open Space Plan

The Montgomery County Planning Board has approved a plan for the future of parks and open space in Montgomery County. To qualify for funding consideration through the state’s Program Open Space, the Board must periodically submit such a plan to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Major features of the Board’s plan, titled Land Preservation, Parks, and Recreation Plan, include strengthening support for environmental and natural resource protection and agricultural preservation to help balance the demands for a wide variety of additional recreational facilities to serve the county’s growing population.

The Board anticipates that soccer, lacrosse and football fields will be at the top of the future recreation needs in the county.  The Board also acknowledged the need for other recreation facilities including skate parks, trails for mountain biking, and more and larger dog parks.

“Program Open Space funding from the state is vital to our land preservation strategy,” said Planning Board Vice Chairman Wendy Perdue. “As the county’s population increases, the need for protection of open space becomes even more critical.”

Key features in the plan include a quantitative analysis of needs for future parks, open space, parkland acquisition and recreation facilities through the year 2020; an assessment of current agricultural land preservation programs and a summary of new initiatives needed; current implementation programs for conservation of natural resource lands and a summary of necessary improvements; and proposed improvements for historic and archeological resources.

The final plan will is available on-line at www.montgomeryparks.org.

Hearing on Hearings

The Montgomery County Planning Board invites organizations and members of the community to comment on how to improve the Board’s public hearing process on Thursday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. at Park and Planning headquarters, 8787 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD.

For more information or to sign up to speak, contact Park and Planning's Community Outreach department at 301-495-4600. Speakers may also sign up at the public hearing.

Written comments are also welcome and may be addressed to Derick P. Berlage, Chairman, Montgomery County Planning Board, 8787 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910, faxed to 301-495-1320 or e-mailed mcp-Chairman@mncppc-mc.org.

Preventing Fire Fatalities

There were five fire fatalities in Montgomery County in 2005, all of whom were 75 or older. Four of the five victims died in fires caused by improperly discarded smoking material, according to Pete Piringer, a spokesman for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue.

Temperatures in the past week were higher than the norm for this time of year, but safety precautions remain crucial in winter months.

“Winter typically is the busiest time of year for us,” Piringer said.

County residents over the age of 65 are typically at the greatest risk of dying in a fire. Reasons include the fact that they may be less able to take quick action necessary in a fire emergency, and they may live alone without somebody to help during an accident.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue recommends the following safety tips for older Americans:

* Kitchen Fires — Most kitchen fires occur because food is left unattended on the stove or in the oven. If you must leave the kitchen while cooking, take a spoon or potholder with you to remind you to return to the kitchen. Never cook with loose, dangling sleeves that can ignite easily. If a fire breaks out in a pan, put a lid on the pan. Never throw water on a grease fire.

* Smoking — Don’t leave smoking materials unattended. Use “safety ashtrays” with wide lips. Empty all ashtrays into the toilet or a metal container before going to bed. Never smoke in bed. Don’t smoke when drowsy.

* It is important to have a working smoke alarm on each level of a home, have an escape plan, and call the fire department from a safe area, preferably a neighbor’s house.

While there were no major fires in Potomac in the week following Christmas, Piringer mentioned that several fires in Montgomery County were caused by people improperly disposing of fireplace ashes.

C&O Canal Towpath Still Closed Along Widewater

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park has extended the temporary closure of the towpath in the Widewater section of the canal, between mile 13 and 13.6, because unseasonal weather conditions have prevented placement of the final towpath surface. “We were hoping to finish this up by the end of the calendar year,” said Dan Cody, a civil engineer with the Park Service.

A detour is provided around this construction area via Berma Road. Visitors are advised to follow posted detour signs. The detour will be in effect until further notice. “It’s all weather-dependent at this point,” Cody said.

Skate at Your Own Risk on C&O Canal

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park reminds visitors that ice skating in the park is at your own risk. Caution should be used whenever ice skating. Before going on the ice, ensure that the frozen water is at least four inches thick. For safety, always ice skate with at least one adult, and never go ice skating alone.