Wetlands Revision Could Mean Lower Price For Reservoir

Farm/business

Outcry Leads Feds, State To Revert To 1987 Definition

October 16, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

The county could take advantage of a temporary relaxation in the definition of a wetland to save money on its proposed Gillis Falls Reservoir project.

County Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said she hopes the temporary change could help the project, which has been blocked by stringent state and federal environmental regulations.

"I want to look at it real thoroughly," she said about the change. "I think it will definitely have an effect."

Last week, the state followed the federal government's lead in temporarily changing the definition of a wetland while revisions are studied.

The federal government is revising rules implemented in 1989 after landowners, developers and others complained they were too stringent. Maryland law incorporated portions of the 1989 federal rules.

Federal and state officials now are using 1987 rules to determine whether a property should be considered a wetland.

Michael E. Slattery, senior project manager for the Nontidal Wetlands Division of the Water Resources Administration at DNR, estimated that the 1987 rules could be in effect for a year or more until new ones are enacted.

Wetlands provide habitat for wildlife and help in flood-control and filtering pollutantsbefore they reach the Chesapeake Bay.

About 5 percent of Carroll's land -- some 12,000 acres -- is classified wetlands, the Soil Conservation District estimates.

The proposed 430-acre Gillis Falls Reservoir, which has been planned for 20 years, would provide water for South Carroll residents into the 21st century. If constructed as planned, it would disrupt about 177 acres of wetlands and disturb a natural trout stream.

Gouge said she will contact officials at the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to try to find out if the temporary change will reduce the amount of wetlands included in the reservoir area.

For every acre of wetlands the county destroys in building the reservoir, it mustcreate two on another site, she said.

If the rule change means fewer acres are considered wetlands, that could mean the county would have to spend less to create wetlands, Gouge said.

State and federal officials have estimated that, nationwide, it could cost $10,000 to$110,000 an acre to create wetlands.

"It's worth checking into," Gouge said.

K. Marlene Conaway, assistant director of the county Planning Department, said she doesn't believe the rule change will alter wetlands acreage in Carroll.

"I don't think we'll see a reduction in acreage in this area. The main reduction will be on the (Eastern) Shore," she said.

Richard B. Williams, a project manager at KCITechnologies Inc. in Westminster, which does engineering and land survey work, said the 1987 rules required a property to have vegetationnatural to a wetland, a certain amount of standing water and specific types of soil before it could be declared a wetland; 1989 rules said the land only had to have the potential for those to be considered a wetland.

Most development projects in the county will not be affected by the rule change, he said.

Developer Martin K. P. Hill of Manchester said he does not expect developers to rush to have projects approved under the 1987 rules because of "ambiguity" about what thefinal rules will be and because building is in a slump.

Deanna Hofmann of Mount Airy, chairwoman of the Sierra Club Catoctin Group, said she's disappointed in the rule change.

"It's bad news. It opensup land to development that was previously protected under the law,"she said.

Changes currently being proposed could make the rules more similar to those written in 1987 than in 1989, Slattery said.

Said Williams, "Until it's enforced, it's hard to tell."

Norman Astle, assistant director of public affairs for the Maryland Farm Bureau, said farmers generally welcome the new revisions because they probably will be less restrictive than the 1989 rules.

"It couldn't beany worse," he said.

The federal government is taking public comment on the revisions until mid-December.

If the proposals are implemented, up to 60 percent of Maryland's 285,000 acres of wetlands, orone-third of the freshwater wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay region, could be freed for development.

Across the country, 25 million to 60 million acres that had been classified as wetlands no longer would be, according to government field tests.

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