With Metro shutting down, voters backing term limits, an explosion killing seven people at an apartment complex, racist and anti-Semitic graffiti popping out throughout the county, and a Sentinel investigation revealing problems with local water infrastructure, 2016 will certainly be a year to remember in Montgomery County.
Meanwhile in Prince George’s County, 2016 featured a new hospital is on the way, a delay for a much anticipated mode of travel, two new council seats, and tumultuous times for the county school system.
And The Sentinel was there to see it all. Here are the stories of 2016, from where we sit.
For Metro, 2016 brought shutdowns, firings
Metro celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, but it has not aged well.
This year was full of many challenges for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), as it dealt with train derailments, employees who falsified documents and an unprecedented complete shutdown of the rail system and subsequent SafeTrack maintenance push.
Agency leaders acknowledged the year was a tough one. However Jack Evans, the chair of the WMATA Board of Directors for 2016, said the problems helped convey to the region just how bad things had gotten.
“One of the goals I had after becoming chair was to raise the profile of Metro, raise the profile in the sense of, here’s where we are, these are the problems we’re facing, this is the money we need to address the problems we have,” Evans said on Dec. 15. “There was an unawareness of how bad things were, what we were facing, and a denial in many respects. But I think that has now changed.”
Voters support term limits in referendum
There will be four open seats on the Montgomery County Council in 2018 after voters backed a referendum limiting county council members and the County Executive to three consecutive terms.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump won the presidency despite losing Maryland and the national popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Rep. Chris Van Hollen defeated his House colleague Donna Edwards in the Democratic primary and a state delegate in the general election to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
And state Sen. Jamie Raskin overcame businessman David Trone spending $14 million to win the most expensive congressional primary in American history and eventually the general election.
County Council member Sidney Katz (D-3) said Democrats, Republican and Independents “are just going to be so very glad for this [election] to be over.” And that afterward, “get back to working together,” he said.
Apartment fire kills 7, exposes poor living conditions
About four months after a Silver Spring fire killed seven people and displaced about 100 others at the Flower Branch apartment complex, poor living conditions that have plagued tenants for years remained an issue.
The fire brought attention to the hundreds of housing code violations at the apartment complex and the struggle for decent living conditions for the people who live there.
During November, Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) officials found 860 housing code violations, including infestations of rodents, roaches and bedbugs to holes in ceilings, water leaks, chipped paint, broken cabinets and doors, mold, mildew and broken smoke detectors.
“It’s a lot of violations,” said County Council member Marc Elrich (D-At large). “The thing that troubled me is that they knew they were going to get inspected. These inspections are how many months after the fire? So they didn’t make any effort to fix stuff they were going to inspect it? That in itself is kind of shocking.”
Hate crimes surge in county
Montgomery County police reported a rise in acts of vandalism motivated by the presidential election, with vandals drawing racist and anti-Semitic graffiti on private and public property.
Through early December, police logged more than 75 hate crimes or bias incidents reported to police in Montgomery County this year, marking a 21 percent increase in “bias incidents.” Those incidents included swastikas drawn at schools and churches and pro-Trump and anti-Trump messages left on private and public property.
“We did see an increase you know during the election cycle, just prior to the election and immediately after the election,” said Montgomery County Police spokesperson Rick Goodale.
Investigation reveals containments, clogged pipes in county’s water system
A six-month long investigation conducted by The Sentinel Newspapers showed surface water in Montgomery and Prince George’s County contains fecal matter, while tap water and well water in the two counties has a variety of chemicals, turbidity and hardness issues.
The investigation also revealed more than 170 fire hydrants in Rockville have water pressure less than the optimal standard of 1,000 gallons per minute and it will take more than a decade to replace them all.
Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said the 12 hydrants in the city with a water flow of less than 500 gallons per minute create “potential problems” in public safety.
“With infrastructure, it’s not sexy to replace pipes. People don’t see it like new parks or buildings,” said Newton.
One good sign for local residents: tests showed little to no lead in the drinking water.