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Texas abortion law and the future of Roe v. Wade

Environment
Easton could use federal funds to upgrade crucial stormwater management infrastructure

EASTON — The engineering department in Easton is looking to upgrade crucial stormwater management infrastructure at a few problem areas in town that have historically flooded.

For funding, the town will tap into its allotments from the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package approved in March so it can bring dormant projects and repairs to life.

Town engineers have been eyeing infrastructure improvements along Harrison Street, Dover Road and Commerce Drive for years, and are finally set to upgrade stormwater management systems at both locations after collecting more than $8 million in grants from the COVID-19 bill passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year.

Rick Van Emburgh, the town engineer, said when Easton gets hard rains, typically above two or three inches, Harrison Street, Commerce Drive and the north side of Dover Road are often flooded in certain sections, with water getting above curb height.

Each of those three roads need bigger stormwater pipes, and the infrastructure system might need to be replaced entirely at each location.

Van Emburgh said it could cost several million dollars to replace infrastructure at those three roads, which is why Easton was looking for a funding opportunity to begin upgrades. That finally came with the arrival of the American Rescue Plan Act check, which excited Van Emburgh.

“The summary of it is, we know we got problems in town,” Van Emburgh said. “It’s a problem we’ve been fighting for several years. Since my time here, we’ve been trying to figure out what to do ... I’ve been here for six years and we haven’t had a major overhaul since I have been here.”

At Commerce Drive, the water often pools up after hard rains or storms. The entrance to Dick’s Sporting Goods off that street is usually flooded after any big rain event.

Sarah Boschi, the front end manager for Dick’s Sporting Goods, said it’s been a concern for the retail store since it opened in 2014.

“Right by the sidewalk, there’s usually a lot of water. People have to go around it,” said Boschi.

While it hasn’t deterred customers or affected business so far, Boschi said the store welcomes any improvements to the roadway.

Van Emburgh said one issue on Commerce Drive is that dirt accumulates at the end of the pipes and clogs it up. As a solution, Easton will simply replace the pipes there with larger ones, in order to facilitate better stormwater flow.

At Harrison Street, most business owners contend with minor flooding after a downpour or major storm.

Diane Towers, the owner of boutique store La De Da, said it’s not a major issue for her business, but the “pipes and different things are clogged up” on the street after storms.

After “a real heavy rain, there will be a little bit,” Towers said, but added she has “never seen anything crazy.”

Still, Easton’s engineering department has identified the street, which is lined with many small businesses, as a crucial spot for upgrades. The piping system there is 750 feet long, running under the street from the town hall to the parking lot beside the Tidewater Inn.

But the underground system is cluttered with utility lines, fiber optic lines and gas pipes, and the stormwater pipes are too small. The street has flooded significantly, according to town engineers. In mid-August, for example, Harrison Street was inundated after a heavy rain.

“There are times where we had to close the roads. It does get a lot of water in those intersections,” said Van Emburgh. “We’re looking to come up with a design that goes through the alleys to reroute some of the water so it doesn’t flood on Harrison Street.”

Additionally, almost the entire piping system could be replaced with larger ones, according to Van Emburgh.

On Dover Road, the town could create a larger piping network to help reduce flooding behind Rise Up, where water often collects at the parking lot. Engineers could place other stormwater features to slow the water flow and absorb it, such as rain gardens or other green infrastructure.

Van Emburgh said Easton is still in the design phase, but he could begin the projects by next year if the town decides to fund the projects.

The upgrades are in line with other stormwater management improvements approved by the town, including stream restoration projects — which help reduce stormwater flow — at Papermill Branch and Windmill Branch road. The Papermill Branch project has been completed, while the Windmill Branch restoration could begin soon.

If it moves forward, improving the piping infrastructure will be Easton’s largest stormwater management project in years — and a project that is desperately needed, said Van Emburgh, considering the growth of the town in the past two decades.

”Some of the pipes are 100 years old or more,” the town engineer said. “When they were put in, they didn’t (plan) to carry the water that comes off some of the developments that we have today.”

The town announced last month that it was receiving $16.4 million from the latest federal coronavirus relief spending program. The town plans on using part of that money for infrastructure repairs and upgrades and part of its for a grant program to help local businesses and other groups impacted by the pandemic.


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National
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Abortion foes hope to replicate Texas law after Supreme Court denies preliminary injunction: ‘Thank you, President Trump, for a 5-4 majority’

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court is letting a new Texas law that restricts abortions stand — instead of imposing a preliminary injunction against the statute. The court voted 5-4 to let the Texas anti-abortion law stand — at least for now.

The Texas law and a five-vote conservative majority on the Supreme Court potentially challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion.

The Texas law allows private individuals to sue abortion providers and other facilitators of abortions in Texas courts. Anti-abortion plaintiffs could receive damages of $10,000 or more in those cases which apply to abortion after six weeks and a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The Supreme Court’s five conservative justices, three of them appointed by former President Donald Trump, voted not to block the Texas law which went into place Wednesday. They pointed out the law could still be challenged and potentially overturned.

“In reaching this conclusion, we stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit. In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts,” the conservative justices wrote their opinion.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court’s four other conservatives in keeping the Texas restrictions. Barrett succeeded late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an ardent backer of abortion rights last year. Trump’s three Supreme Court nominations (Barrett along with Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch) were part of the majority opinion.

The ruling is a victory — at least temporarily — for anti-abortion activists and could show a larger change in the court when it comes Roe v Wade and abortion rights.

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices in pushing for the Texas law to be blocked.

“The Court’s order is stunning. Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand. Last night, the Court silently acquiesced in a State’s enactment of a law that flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedents,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissent.

Anti-abortion advocates welcomed the 5-4 decision.

“No freedom is more precious than life itself. Starting today, every unborn child with a heartbeat will be protected from the ravages of abortion. Texas will always defend the right to life,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican.

The Supreme Court’s upholding of the Texas law — at least for now — is a departure from federal courts’ usual penchant to block implementation of abortion laws aimed at the 1973 Roe v. Wade case.

Jenna Ellis, who served as legal counsel for former President Donald Trump, said abortion clinics in Texas have stopped scheduling abortions after six weeks. She also created Trump’s three SCOTUS appointments for the abortion decision.

“Thank you, President Trump, for a 5-4 majority,” Ellis said.

Abortion rights advocates — including President Joe Biden — criticize the Supreme Court ruling and the Texas law.

“Texas SB8 will impair women’s access to health care and, outrageously, deputizes private citizens to sue those they believe helped another person get a banned abortion. It’s a blatant violation of the right established under Roe v. Wade. We will protect and defend that right,” Biden said, referring to the Texas statute.

Vice President Kamala Harris also said the law “violates the precedent established in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade.”

“This all-out assault on reproductive health effectively bans abortion for the nearly 7 million Texans of reproductive age,” Harris said.

Some Democrats and other abortion rights advocates want Congress to take action to preserve Roe, abortion rights and change the balance on the court.“Republicans promised to overturn Roe v Wade, and they have. Democrats can either abolish the filibuster and expand the court, or do nothing as millions of peoples’ bodies, rights, and lives are sacrificed for far-right minority rule. This shouldn’t be a difficult decision,” said U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and state Attorney General Brian Frosh, all Maryland Democrats, also voiced opposition to the Texas law and its impact on Roe.

“Texas’ new law effectively eliminates the constitutional right of women to make their own health care decisions related to abortions. Worse, it incentivizes vigilantes, unconnected to the woman or the health care provider, to file lawsuits and obtain damage,” Frosh said

Some Democrats want Congress and state governments to try to codify Roe and legalized abortion into various statutes.

“The right for women to make their own choice about their own health and well-being is a constitutional right. Denied access to health care and those choices will put women at risk,” Cardin said.

Other conservative states will try to follow Texas’ path if its abortion restrictions stand. “We will protect pre-born babies. This decision is a huge victory for the Pro-Life movement. Texas Right to Life hopes to replicate our success across the nation,” Texas Right to Life said in a statement.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, counted 862,000 abortions in the U.S. in 2017, 926,000 tallied in 2014, and from just over 1 million in 2011, according to the Associated Press.

Anti-abortion advocates contend there have been 62 million abortions in the U.S. since the 1973 Roe decision legalized abortion.


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