Soaking the public at Piney Run Lake


March 11, 2001|By MIKE BURNS

I DON'T know what good a public hearing will do on the question of whether to build a new drinking water treatment plant at Piney Run Lake.

I mean, public hearings are supposed to enlighten the affected citizens and, on rare occasion, those who supposedly serve said citizenry.

Another purpose, the one most respected by bureaucrats and elected officials, is to meet those pesky legal requirements for public disclosure and participation that hinder their efforts at autocratic rule.

But there appears to be no need to enlighten Donald Dell and his erstwhile campaign treasurer, Robin Frazier, on the subject. They have already seen the light and acted accordingly.

And they have magnanimously taken steps to share that enlightenment with the public through an information-packed brochure soon to be available at a few carefully selected locations.

That thoughtfully saves Carroll County citizens from the inconvenience of attending a public hearing and, indeed, from the chore of thinking up any embarrassing questions that might be posed to the county commissioners and their staff.

As for any possible procedural requirements and niceties, we are informed by Commissioners Dell and Frazier that they do not apply. Two heads nodding in agreement are all that count in the tri-cornered county commissioner system of government.

So what is this rabble-rouser Julia Gouge doing, calling for a public hearing on the now foreclosed matter?

"To give people an opportunity to voice their opinion," the third commissioner explains. What impudence, what heresy! How dare she challenge the divine wisdom of the ideological soulmates!

And besides, hasn't Ms. Frazier assured her subjects that the aforementioned brochure on the Piney Run project will be "nicely printed"?

Of course, there was the initial impression given by the ruling duo that the descriptive pamphlet would be mailed to the homes of the body politic to assure a broad dissemination of vital public information on this $14 million project.

But that was before the cautious couple noticed how postal rates had gone up this year.

Ever conscious of saving pennies when spending millions, they decided instead to print only 2,500 copies and place them in county libraries and senior centers. That will save $1,800 in postage stamps alone.

By not printing 10,000 copies of their chef d'oeuvre, the duarchy will save the hard-pressed county at least $2,000.

Remember that Ms. Frazier suggested earlier this year that the county might be able to cut the property tax rate if it could manage to hold down spending?

No library or senior center near you to grab a copy? Well, you can always read the sophisms of Commissioner Frazier on the subject on the Carroll County government Web site.

It's not the same as a nicely printed brochure, but it contains the same ideas that drove the two commissioners to hastily approve the long-shelved project way back in July of last year.

Well, actually what drove the executive decision was an impasse with the owner of Liberty Reservoir, Baltimore City.

The county commissioners didn't want to be told by the mayor of Baltimore how to zone the county lands and manage the county's economic development.

And they didn't want Carroll water users to be held hostage to whatever rates the city might choose to impose in the future; Baltimore raised its water rates 20 percent last spring.

Since Carroll depends on drawing 3 million gallons daily from the huge reservoir, and would like to get more, the Piney Run plant would serve as a sort of declaration of independence from city water and city interference in zoning.

Commissioner Gouge has long urged a more conciliatory approach toward city concerns in obtaining future water supplies from Liberty Reservoir. She'd also rely on drilling and using more high-yield wells inside the county to quench the growing local thirst.

She objects that the brochure misleads Carroll residents in stating that the Piney Run plant will pay for itself in 10 years and in its assertion that the new plant will meet South Carroll's water demands in periods of drought.

There's also public apprehension that boating and fishing activities at Piney Run Lake would be curtailed by using it as a water supply. Commissioner Frazier dismisses that concern in the brochure.

Of course, these points of dispute should be raised for serious consideration by the county's elected leaders. They should be analyzed by the county experts on finance and hydrology to see if they have merit.

But guess what? Commissioners Dell and Frazier maintain they've already studied these angles very carefully and rendered their joint Solomonic judgment.

Nothing's going to rock them from their decision. Especially not the opinions of people who attend public hearings, whose objections are already well known.

If these two commissioners had wanted to listen to what the public thinks, they'd have called a public hearing. They didn't. They voted. That's it.

Now if anyone has further cost objections, they might even cancel that printing order for the brochures and really save the county some money.

Mike Burns writes editorials for The Sun from Carroll County.

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