Watchdogs or Lap Dogs?

January 05, 1994

If the Carroll County commissioners don't like the advice they are getting from the county's Environmental Affairs Advisory Board, then the board, by definition, must be doing its job.

It is supposed to be an independent advisory panel, not one that caters to the commissioners' preconceived notions on environmental matters. Any effort to stack the environmental affairs board with less independent-minded members will detract from the body's integrity and the value of its advice.

In the three years since the seven-member board was created, it has made substantial contributions to protecting Carroll's imperiled natural environment. The committee was called on to write the county's forest conservation law. It has conducted a number of hearings on stream preservation and has been instrumental in developing a workable voluntary recycling program.

The Environmental Affairs Advisory Board has also been adamant about enforcing environmental regulations. When a developer suggested that he donate money for street trees in New Windsor instead of replacing the trees he was destroying on a five-acre development, the board noted that the purpose of Carroll County's forest protection law was "forest conservation, not tree conservation."

By zealously guarding Carroll's ordinance on preserving forests, the board has turned Commissioner Donald I. Dell into one of its most severe critics. Because the board has refused to back down from its contention that the conservation law was intended to preserve existing woodlands and allow the removal of trees only as a last resort, Mr. Dell contends the board is "overprotecting" the county's environment. He would like to see the ordinance repealed.

Because the board has no enforcement power, however, Mr. Dell's complaint about overprotection is off the mark. The board's recommendations have established a high standard of environmental awareness and concern. The county's elected officials, who are ultimately responsible for enforcing county laws, know that lowering that standard to accommodate special interests is likely to have political repercussions.

The county commissioners won't be fooling anyone if they appoint less independent-minded members to the environmental affairs panel. Carroll's residents can easily distinguish between a board that believes in environmental protection and one that gives it lip service.

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