Debate on forest law branches into grammar

July 23, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

The Carroll commissioners' debate over whether "shall" should be changed to "may" in a section of the county's forest conservation law took another turn yesterday.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy, who initially backed the proposed word change, said the public's perception that the commissioners are trying to "water down" the forest conservation law has caused him to reconsider his stance.

"In light of the public perception that we're watering this down, I would object to any replacing of the word 'shall,' " Mr. Lippy said.

The forest conservation law, adopted last year, now says anyone who violates it "shall be assessed a penalty." The commissioners want to change it to read "may be assessed a penalty."

Commissioners have said the proposed change is grammatical and is needed to clarify the law, aimed at preserving the county's fragmented forests.

County Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr. has said he interprets "shall" to mean "may." But yesterday Mr. Lippy said that while that interpretation may be legally correct, it was not the public's interpretation.

Mr. Lippy said he has received several phone calls about the proposed change and has discussed the issue with Frank Grabowski, who was chairman of a committee that helped write the law. Mr. Grabowski is also chairman of the county's Environmental Affairs Advisory Board.

Carroll's law requires anyone who disturbs 25,000 square feet or more of land to replace felled trees and to provide the county with data on existing woodlands.

The law says violators shall be fined 30 cents per square foot of the area disturbed by development. The county may levy an additional $1,000 fine.

Mr. Grabowski has said the proposed change is not grammatical. He has maintained that "shall" should remain in the LTC law because "may" implies relief from penalties.

"I don't want it to appear that I'm a part of a conspiracy to water down this legislation," Mr. Lippy said. "I think the perception is out there."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he supports the word change, regardless of public perception. He also said he wanted to hear the concerns of all the members of the Environmental Affairs Advisory Board.

"There is good reason to change it," Mr. Dell said. "There has to be some discretion there. I'm not saying we won't fine people."

The county has levied only one fine for violation of the forest conservation law since it was adopted. The owner of Stauffer Funeral Homes in Mount Airy was fined $3,649 for removing several large trees on a one-acre lot on East Ridgeville Boulevard without providing the county with data on the trees and other ground cover.

Mr. Lippy said the issue should be put to a vote when Commissioner Julia W. Gouge is present. She didn't attend a staff meeting yesterday with county environmental officials.

The commissioners will sponsor a public hearing on the issue at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room 300A of the County Office Building in Westminster.

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