ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s snow emergency will continue through next week, Gov. Robert Ehrlich said Thursday in a wide-ranging news conference where he also announced an end to most drought restrictions, a major smallpox vaccination initiative and the appointment of his top campaign fund-raiser to the Board of Regents.
Ehrlich declared a state of emergency Sunday, after a series of storms dumped more than 2 feet of snow on much of the state. Before he lifts the restrictions, which qualify the state for federal relief, he is awaiting approval of federal funding.
Although most main roads are cleared and life is returning to normal, maintaining the state of emergency will help the cleanup, said State Adjutant Gen. Bruce Tuxill, head of the Maryland National Guard. The Guard will continue to assist with snow removal efforts while the state of emergency is in effect, he said.
The emergency declaration could be lifted by Monday, said Donald Keldsen, Maryland Emergency Management Agency director.
State troopers handled 656 accidents and 2,100 disabled vehicles from Sunday to Tuesday, said State Police Superintendent Edward T. Norris.
In all, the storm will cost Maryland $30 million to $40 million, Ehrlich said. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., will spearhead an effort recoup up to 75 percent of the bill through federal aid, he said.
The massive snowstorm, which produced record snow totals in Baltimore, also finally, officially quenched the state’s two-year drought.
Ehrlich lifted water-use restrictions in Maryland’s central region — including Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Harford, Howard and Montgomery counties. Restrictions, including prohibitions on lawn watering and car washing, remain in Baltimore City, where reservoirs continue at below-normal levels.
It is an ironic end to the drought: Predictions were that parts of Maryland may flood as temperatures in the 40s and expected rains melt the deep snow pack. The state’s last blizzard, in 1996, was followed by severe flooding.
Ehrlich dealt also with another potential disaster — a terrorist using a biological weapon to spread smallpox.
The state’s smallpox vaccination program will begin today, Ehrlich said, announcing that the initiative would make vaccinations available to all state residents by 2004.
Health care workers in Baltimore and Wicomico County will receive the first doses today, in the program’s first phase, said J. B. Hanson, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene spokesman.
The second phase would provide vaccinations for all state health care workers who want them, and finally the inoculation would be made available to all state residents who want it by 2004. By that time, a new, less dangerous, vaccine may be available, said Health Secretary-designee Nelson Sabatini.
“Maryland is among a handful of states moving and working so quickly to initiate (President Bush’s) plan,” he said.
Ehrlich, who vacationed with Bush at Camp David last weekend, nearly coined a new slogan: “We live homeland defense daily,” he said.
Ehrlich also announced the appointment of his gubernatorial campaign’s top fund-raiser to a seat on the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents.
Richard Hug, who raised more than $10 million as finance chairman of the Ehrlich for Maryland Committee, was appointed to the 17-member board along with former Gov. Marvin Mandel, Robert Pevenstein, a Timonium businessman, and Robert Mitchell, a Bethesda homebuilder.
The board governs the university system’s 13 public universities.
Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell did not confirm speculation that Hug is in line to replace the board’s current chairman, Clifford Kendall.
The previous chairman, embattled Baltimore businessman Nathan Chapman Jr., stepped down amid allegations that he mismanaged millions in state pension funds. Chapman was a close ally of former Gov. Parris Glendening, who recommended him for the spot. The board typically approves the governor’s selection for chairman. – 30 – CNS-2-20-03