Volunteers who've worked since July drafting a county forest conservation ordinance are angry and surprised that the Carroll commissioners are considering handing control to the state.
"It bothers the hell out of me," said Frank Grabowski, an engineer and a member of the Environmental Affairs Advisory Board subcommittee that wrote the draft. "We were assigned to put in personal time for free on something the commissioners said they wanted. Now they say, 'Time out, maybe we don't need this.' It's a little late to even ask the question."
Committee members and environmental activists are concerned the commissioners could bow to pressures from an influential group of homebuilders, who have recommended keeping the program under state control.
The state-mandated program is intended to conserve forests andcreate new woodlands.
"Trees don't contribute to political campaigns, developers do," said Kevin Dayhoff, landscape designer and conservationist. "Commissioners need to rise above and consider everyone'sbest interest."
Joseph Barley, a subcommittee member and foresterfor Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., said the issue provides an opportunity for the commissioners to show their commitment to environmental concerns.
"If they believe environmental issues are important, they should accept responsibility and design a program that meets county needs," he said.
In order to form their own plans, Carroll's eight municipalities must know by Dec. 31 whether the county will writeits own ordinance, adopt and administer the state law, or defer to the state.
A county program must be at least as stringent as the state's and must be submitted for approval to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources by April 30.
The commissioners have scheduled an information meeting Thursday to discuss their options.
Supporters of a county ordinance say it would be more flexible and easier to administer than a state program. County administrators could respond more quickly and provide more personalized service to developers, they say.
Grabowski added, "What we have is far better than the stateordinance for home builders."
The county draft is simpler than the state law. It concentrates on retaining forests and eliminates provisions requiring creation of new forests.
But Home Builders Association of Maryland-Carroll chapter representatives say the state couldadminister the program more efficiently and cheaply.
"If the state is willing to do it, given the economic times, we believe the county should take them up on the offer," said Tom Ballentine, HBAM regional spokesman.
But the state is not so willing -- or able -- to administer it, say DNR foresters. County administrators say adopting a local program might not require new staff.
"The statute encourages jurisdictions to develop their own programs," said Jeff Horan, a DNR official who helped draft the law. "The state running it would be theexception. It should not be a tremendous workload increase. It should gel with other programs."
DNR forester Bill Brumbley said the forestry division does not have the staff to administer the law efficiently. He said the review process would "slow down undoubtedly" for developers.
HBAM's contention that the law requires a prompt state review is technically correct, but wouldn't benefit developers in practice, said Brumbley. A conservation plan could sit idle before the review period begins, he said.
Costs for running a county program are not known. But two commissioners say they doubt a state-administered program would cost the county nothing.
Several environmentalistssay they are befuddled by HBAM's position and speculate that the association has other motives.
HBAM members object to the county's administration of the landscape ordinance -- requiring landscaping in developments -- claiming enforcement has been too zealous, said Ballentine.
Since the forest law is complicated, Ballentine said some developers "don't have much confidence the county will be able to administer it very smoothly."
Neil Ridgely, subcommittee member and county landscape plans reviewer, said he believes HBAM wants forest conservation removed from his agency.
"They want to get it with an agency more beholden to development interests," he said. "We won't review by intimidation."
HBAM members deny that personal conflicts haveinfluenced their recommendation.
"Everybody involved needs to rise above personal differences," Dayhoff said. "The development community is being short-sighted."
By delaying a decision, the commissioners have left municipalities in the lurch. Municipalities must announce by Dec. 31 whether they will come under the county's ordinance. Ifthe county does not enact its own ordinance, municipalities would have to write their own or defer to the state.
AT A GLANCE
* Event: County forest conservation ordinance information meeting
* Time/date: 3 p.m. Thursday
* Location: Room 07, County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster
* Information: 857-8123