Foresters, environmentalists and municipal officials urged the county commissioners to create and administer their own forest-conservation program tailored to Carroll's needs.
The environmentalists outnumbered a small group of developers who want to leave the program to the state.
At a meeting attended by about 60 people Thursday, the commissioners heard public comment on whether to write their own law based on the state measure -- which is aimed at creating new woodlands and halting the loss of trees to development -- or to defer entirely to the state Department of Natural Resources' version.
Most of the speakers said a county program would be simpler and more flexible than the state's and more responsive to developers -- including small- and large-scale home builders, commercial enterprises and county and municipal governments.
They also said they preferred that the program be run by people who are familiar with the county, rather than by state administrators.
"It's great that the county can be on the leading edge in developing a plan," said Linda Cunfer, chairwoman of a New Windsor civic and environmental organization.
"I don't believe the state can run this for you as efficiently as you can," said Gil Breeding, a retired Finksburg resident who spent 30 years in the Maryland Forest Service.
Five developers, most of them representing the Home Builders Association of Maryland's Carroll chapter, argued that the county would be administering the program needlessly, since the state must do it by law. To avoid "confusion," the developers advocated letting the state work out potential problems with the new program -- called the most ambitious of its kind in the nation -- for at least several years before the county considers taking it over.
"I've neverfound anyone who's been concerned about the time it takes for developers to get a project through," said Martin K. P. Hill, a Manchester developer. "Now everybody's worried. We (developers) are not worried,so the county shouldn't be worried."
The commissioners said that they favored developing a county program but would not commit themselves to undertaking it. A county environmental committee wrote a draftordinance, which must be submitted to the DNR for approval by April 30 after a public hearing.
Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he is perplexed by the developers' objection.
DNR officials say the law is intended to be administered by local jurisdictions. The state would assist counties and municipalities and monitor their performance. A county program must be at least as stringent as state law,they say.
Municipalities must announce by Dec. 31 whether they will assign their obligations for conserving trees to the county. If the county does not enact its own ordinance, municipalities would have to write their own or defer to the state measure.
Municipal leaders urged the commissioners at Thursday's meeting to adopt their own program because it is easier to work with the county than the state.
"The state law would be a nightmare to apply to every little subdivision coming into town," said Mount Airy Planner Teresa Bamberger. "I'm in town. I know its needs and characteristics."
Most municipalities don't have the time or expertise to write the ordinance or the personnel to administer one, officials say. Hampstead, Manchester, New Windsor, Union Bridge and Mount Airy have informed the county that they would accept the county's delegation of the law.
The law applies to any builder who will be disturbing about a quarter-acre or more of forest on a tract of about 1 acre or more. The developer would be required to submit and gain approval of a forest-conservation plan, which could include replacing cleared trees, before obtaining other building permits.
Builders expressed concern that the county would need to hire additional staff to perform reviews and inspections. Office of Environmental Services Administrator James E. Slater Jr. said he doesn't expect that to be necessary.