A passionate advocate for Dipping Pond Run Lawyer battles nuns, developer and club to save trout stream

October 03, 1995|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,SUN STAFF

Howdie Burns' passion for Dipping Pond Run is as powerful as a storm-driven river.

"Look what they've done to our stream. They're killing it," he snarls as he surveys the silted bed of the Green Spring Valley trout stream.

In his battle to protect the watershed, Harold H. "Howdie" Burns Jr., 46, has taken on his neighbors, an exclusive country club, a respected developer and even the Maryvale nuns.

"When you [mess] with my stream, I become unhinged," says Mr. Burns, a

lawyer, human rights activist and scion of a well-known Catholic family.

Such zeal has earned him the respect of land preservationists, valley homeowners and environmental activists. But developers and some county officials call him a fanatic who would rather burn bridges than build them.

"He's overzealous and unwilling to negotiate," says Shelton Dagurt, an attorney for Chestnut Ridge Country Club, the target of a Burns lawsuit.

"Howdie Burns is profound and profane," says Dr. Doug Carroll, who owns 65 acres in the valley. "His style is the only style that will work, because we can't wait for government bureaucrats to protect our environment."

That style has been seasoned in protests -- first against the Vietnam War and [See Preserve, 4B] later

[Preserve, from Page 1B]

against human rights violations in Central America. Along the way, Mr. Burns tried a brief career as a Baltimore County biology teacher before graduating with honors from the University of Maryland School of Law. A bespectacled man with a mustache and shock of gray hair, he rediscovered Dipping Pond Run in 1986 when he moved to the community of Greenwood, off Greenspring Avenue.

Mr. Burns attended Maryvale Preparatory, a Catholic school near his present home. He rode horses on the stream valley's paths and played in the run's cooling water. His father, Harold H. Burns Sr., was the physician for the nuns who operate Maryvale.

And he fell in love again with Dipping Pond Run. The three-mile-long stream runs southward, weaving through woods and marshes until it hits a gorge along the Maryvale property, where it makes a last rush downhill to the Jones Falls.

It is the only stream in the Jones Falls watershed that still has native Eastern brook trout, a fish highly sensitive to changes in stream temperature. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, trout reproduction in the stream was at an all-time high in 1991. A year later, it was at an all-time low.

Mr. Burns blamed the problems on a dam and storm water retention ponds built by neighboring Chestnut Ridge Country Club.

Using the old legal doctrine of riparian rights, he and neighbors sued the club for discharging sediment into the stream. The doctrine prohibits landowners from damaging the quality and quantity of water that flows through property downstream.

In June, they won an injunction from Baltimore County Circuit Judge Lawrence R. Daniels, who noted that the country club "frankly does not have a good track record of compliance with environmental regulations." But he awarded the neighbors only $1 each in damages because he could not determine how much of the damage to the stream was attributable to Chestnut Ridge. The club has appealed the ruling.

Mr. Burns now is taking on Scottish Development, which plans to build 30 houses on 70 acres of Maryvale school property owned by the Baltimore Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

This fight is much more painful. "Maryvale is like family," says Mr. Burns, who has filed an administrative challenge to the county's approval of the development plan.

Occasionally, Mr. Burns wins converts.

Scott and Susan Fine ran into him three years ago when they were building a new home.

"At first we thought he was just the neighborhood meddler," Mr. Fine says. "We've since come to understand his honest and sincere passion for Dipping Pond Run. Because of him, we share that passion."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.