Later this week, the county commissioners will do what politicians often try to avoid: make a tough decision.
The commissioners plan to adopt a mineral mining plan on Thursday, the day a moratorium on new development in the Wakefield Valley area expires.
Area residents vehemently oppose the proposed plan, which will dictate where mining may occur in Carroll. They call the plan "dastardly" and "draconian" and say it robs them of their property rights.
Supporters -- mostly mining company employees and business owners whodepend on mining profits -- say the plan will save jobs and allow mining to occur without unnecessary bureaucracy.
At a three-hour public hearing at Francis Scott Key High in Uniontown Thursday, people speaking in opposition to the plan outnumbered supporters two to one.
About 200 people attended the hearing, the last in a year-long series of public meetings on the proposed plan, which was written by a citizens committee and the county planning staff.
The plan creates a mining zone in the Westminster-New Windsor-Union Bridge area where development that would preempt mining would be banned.
Friday, thecommissioners gave a New Windsor citizens group and the three miningcompanies with land in the county extra time to explain their disparate views.
The New Windsor Community Action Project has proposed an alternate plan that members call "the common sense alternative."
"This plan is worse than what we have now. This plan gives the mining companies carte blanche to rape the land of our county," said NEWCAP member and attorney Richard Offutt.
NEWCAP proposed creating a "floating" zone over land underlaid by minerals. If a mining company wants to open a quarry, county officials would determine if the quarrywould be compatible with the neighborhood and meet specific standards.
The floating zone would be marked on the county comprehensive plan and on zoning maps, said NEWCAP attorney Clark R. Shaffer. This would help avoid complaints area residents have made that no one told them about mining activity when they bought land, he said.
NEWCAP also proposed that properties that receive zoning for mining should not be assessed for taxes at the agricultural rate. The tax rate for industrial land is 75 percent higher than for ag land, a state assessments official said.
Mining company officials said they are not happy with all aspects of the proposed plan, but are supporting it because it is a compromise.
The three mining companies that own land inCarroll have postponed making certain business decisions until the plan is finalized, said George B. Brewer, president of the Maryland Aggregates Group of The Arundel Corp.
"The uncertainty, the lack of a plan, has created a hardship on my company," he said.
Arundel owns about 400 acres in Wakefield Valley, but does not have the needed mining permits.
David H. Roush, plant manager at Lehigh Portland Cement Co. in Union Bridge, said the mining companies are not an "evilforce."
"These mining companies are people -- people who live right here in Carroll County," he said.
Even if a plan is approved this week, the issue won't die, Shaffer said.
"This issue is going to be a tough, hard issue. No matter what you do, you're not going to solve all the differences between the land uses. They're going to clash," he said.