County weighs credits for trees

March 21, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll County commissioners are poised to offer new or expanding industries a new economic development incentive: tree credits.

County leaders see prospective benefits for local government and landowners in their plan to create Maryland's first forest "banks." The county's bank would provide credits for new or expanding industries that cannot meet tree-planting requirements under the county's forest conservation ordinance. Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Julia W. Gouge favor offering the incentive at no charge.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy alone favors opening the county forest bank to residential developers. Mr. Lippy said he would sell credits to anyone who needed them.

"I'd see nothing wrong with the county providing a service and at the same time making a buck on it," he said.

The idea of forest banking is being welcomed in Carroll's environmental and development communities, although some features of the program remain at issue.

One observer questioned the county's involvement in the tree-banking business.

The commissioners have sent a draft ordinance to establish forest banking to the state Department of Natural Resources, but DNR's reviewer said the agency won't clear the local ordinance for a public hearing and commission vote until the General Assembly acts on a similar statewide bill.

James E. Slater Jr., county environmental services administrator, explained how forest banking works:

Developers who don't meet the tree-planting requirements of the county forest conservation ordinance on construction sites would be able to buy credits in lieu of planting trees. Landowners who have established banks by placing land in an (( easement and planting trees or allowing it to reforest naturally would be able to sell credits.

Westminster attorney John T. Maguire II served on a committee composed of lawyers, a surveyor, a forester and county staff that drafted the ordinance.

DTC "The concept is excellent because it's a win-win for the landowner, the developer who needs to purchase [credits] and the environment," he said.

Mr. Maguire lobbied to allow land owners to delay putting forest banks in permanent easements until the owners sell credits. His reasoning was that forest bank owners should be able to withdraw from the banks and develop the acreage without being penalized.

"Even if they come back in 10 years and cut down the entire forest, the net result is that the environment got 10 years of forest cover that it would not otherwise have had," Mr. Maguire said.

County staff members disagreed, and the draft ordinance requires owners to put forest banks in easements when the banks are established.

Requiring easements at the start "is the degree of commitment the county's looking for when you establish a bank," said Neil Ridgely, program manager for landscaping and forest conservation. "The easement is what makes it a serious attempt."

Mr. Lippy said he favors allowing forest bankers to delay the easements until they sell credits.

Hampstead environmentalist Franklin L. Grabowski, former chairman of the county Environmental Affairs Advisory Board and now a member of the Carroll County Forest Conservancy District Board, praised forest banking as a "head start" on planting forests that otherwise might not be established until they were needed as part of a subdivision plan.

"The only potential problem I have is that the county will wind up getting in the [forest] banking business," Mr. Grabowski said. "I don't think it's right for the county to get involved in banking for the benefit of a few private developers."

Richard Hull, president of Carroll Land Services surveying and engineering, said the banking program would not have much impact on the price of a house. "The cost is still there," he said. "The big advantage to banking . . . is to the environment."

Mr. Dell opposed forest credit for residential developers, although he said he would consider it for industries "if that's what it would take to get an industry to come here and provide jobs and increase the tax base."

Mrs. Gouge also opposed allowing residential developers the credits.

"They should be used as an incentive for business and industry," she said, adding that the county could make credits available without charge to new or expanding industries that need them.

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