Debate on water plan boils over

At civic group's meeting on plant, officials argue issues

Frazier attends unannounced

She rises to defend Piney Run idea as Gouge criticizes it

September 22, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Despite frequent criticism from South Carroll residents, Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier insists that a $13.5 million water treatment plant on Piney Run Reservoir is the best solution for water shortages in South Carroll.

Frazier said she will not bow to public pressure and endorse watershed protections with Baltimore City that she says infringe on local land-use decisions.

At a Freedom Area Planning Council meeting in Eldersburg on Tuesday, Frazier arrived unannounced and took a seat at the back of the room, upstaging Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who had been invited to speak on water issues.

Gouge, who cast the dissenting vote on using Piney Run as a water source, reiterated her support for getting more water from Liberty Reservoir - a position backed by many of the most vocal residents of Sykesville and Eldersburg.

Carroll withdraws 3 million gallons of water a day from Liberty Reservoir. It needs 3 million more to meet future needs of South Carroll, the fastest-growing part of the county.

Two Carroll commissioners, Frazier and Donald I. Dell, have voted to build the treatment plant and draw water from the county's Piney Run Reservoir. They do not want to withdraw more water from Liberty Reservoir, as Gouge does. Carroll operates a water treatment plant at Liberty Reservoir, which is owned by Baltimore city. The county would keep the Liberty plant in operation along with the new facility at Piney Run Reservoir.

A new well, under construction in Sykesville, promises to add as much as 340,000 gallons a day to the supply. Gouge said that source, known as the Fairhaven well, gives the county time to study its options before rushing into a costly construction project on Piney Run Reservoir, a popular recreation spot.

"Why are we rushing?" she asked. "We are OK for now. There should be a hearing down here on Piney Run. We have done this project backwards, voting first and now getting the facts together."

Her comments brought applause from the standing-room-only crowd of about 125.

How can we stop the other two commissioners?" asked Paul Nusbaum. "Why are you the only one who sees our point of view?" asked David Olsen.

That's when Frazier rose to speak. "I am right here."

Frazier reminded the crowd that she had served on the planning commission before she was elected county commissioner in 1998. Using Piney Run Reservoir, built nearly 30 years ago as a future water supply, is sound, she said.

"We must provide adequatepublic facilities for the growth that occurs, because it is planned," she said. "Our responsibility is to provide infrastructure before growth comes. We have not rushed into this decision. I have been in on it for years."

Building a second water plant for South Carroll has been part of the county's plan for more than 20 years, she said. She had statistics to back up her claims, but the audience quickly diverted the focus to the Reservoir Watershed Protection Agreement, a document endorsing environmental safeguards in land surrounding the metropolitan water supply. Dell and Frazier won't sign the agreement they believe violates individual property owners' rights to develop their land as they wish, including the county's desire to rezone for industry. Nearly 40 percent of Carroll falls within the watershed area, including Sykesville and Eldersburg, and includes five of seven areas designated for growth by Carroll planners.

"I agree with the intent of the agreement. We certainly want to keep water clean," Frazier said. "But, the agreement says we cannot decrease agriculture and conservation land in five of our seven growth areas, where Smart Growth says we must grow."

Smart Growth is the state's effort to control suburban sprawl.

"We are truly trying to attract industry, so maybe people can stay here for jobs and not travel outside the county every day," she said. "Right now, we don't have enough marketable industrial property."

Carroll plans to rezone 570 acres within the watershed for industry. Officials see the rezoning as a way to attract business and increase the industrial tax base, the lowest in the Baltimore area.

But those at the meeting Tuesday did not want to hear about industrial growth. They wanted assurances that the water supplied will be protected.

"Many citizens here want you to sign the agreement and protect our water sources," said Catherine Dodson of Eldersburg. "You have to oblige us as our representative and sign the agreement, if that is what we want."

Frazier asked that the public trust her. "You vote for the person who has your ideology," she said. "You trust them to make decisions you would make."

With a few deletions and some rewording, Frazier said, she could support the agreement. Gouge has said she intends to sign it.

Frazier and Dell are trying to schedule a meeting to review proposed changes in the agreement with Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. She said Wednesday the meeting could occur within the next week.

"It is simply dishonest for us to sign and say we won't rezone, when we know that we will," Frazier said.

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