Panel wants pact intact

Council asks state not to meddle with water agreement

`Avoid negative impacts'

Neighbor counties worry about building in watershed area

October 14, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Department of the Environment has been asked to stop trying to appease Carroll County and keep its hands off the longstanding pact governing the development of land surrounding one of the region's main water supplies.

MDE had offered Carroll the possibility of limited development in the Liberty Reservoir watershed if the county were to agree to preserve land for every acre it develops through a process called mitigation.

The Baltimore Metropolitan Council made the request to MDE in a letter. The council oversees the Liberty Reservoir Watershed Management Agreement. It is signed by Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties and Baltimore City. Carroll County has refused to sign the agreement as it is written.

"The concern is that the state is taking a voluntary agreement between jurisdictions and making it a regulatory function," said James Slater, Carroll County's environmental compliance specialist and a member of the council's reservoir technical group. "Concerns have been expressed all around."

The two commissioners who refuse to sign the agreement, Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, say it inhibits the county's ability to attract industry. Much of the land where the county would like to see new industry lies within the watershed, but the agreement protects the area from development.

The county has been turned down in its efforts to meet with the jurisdictions that have signed the document, and its efforts to loosen the language of the agreement have been fruitless.

But until an accommodation is made to Carroll County, Dell and Frazier say they won't sign the agreement. Julia Walsh Gouge, the third county commissioner, has said she would sign the agreement as it is written.

Paul Farragut, executive director of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, wrote to the state last month, expressing concerns that "amendments suggested have not been reviewed and supported" by those who have signed the agreement.

"Of particular concern are the recommendations to allow development in exchange for mitigation and the formation of a commission to review mitigation plans," Farragut wrote in a Sept. 18 letter to MDE Secretary Jane T. Nishida.

In a letter to the Carroll commissioners, Nishida had urged the county to sign the agreement. Her July 31 letter said the state would allow industrial development in the Liberty Reservoir watershed if the county would sign the agreement and preserve land elsewhere.

For every acre Carroll developed for industry, the state would require as much as 5 acres to be preserved.

Dell and Frazier have rejected the mitigation offer.

Mitigation should be a last resort, Farragut wrote to Nishida, "only after every effort has been made to first, avoid negative impacts."

"This is not a good deal for the city or Baltimore County," said Neil Ridgely, spokesman for Finksburg Area Planning Council, an unofficial group that has urged Carroll County officials to sign the agreement. "They both want no industrial development in the watershed."

"The letter very politely tells the Maryland Department of the Environment to keep its nose out of the watershed management issue," said Ross Dangel, spokesman for Freedom Area Planning Council, which monitors growth and related issues in South Carroll.

Carroll County has withheld its signature since 1996. Without that endorsement, Baltimore City will not allow Carroll to draw more water from Liberty Reservoir, a 45-billion-gallon lake along Carroll's border with Baltimore County, or permit Carroll to expand its treatment plant there.

Because it cannot draw more water from Liberty Reservoir until it signs the agreement, Carroll County has looked elsewhere to meet the growing demand for water in southern Carroll -- the county's most populous area.

That search has taken it to Piney Run Lake, which commissioners Dell and Frazier want to tap. Work has begun on a proposed $14 million water treatment plant on the lake in Sykesville, a move that has irked South Carroll residents who worry that the recreation spot would be harmed if it is used as a water supply.

MDE has said it will not issue a construction permit for the plant.

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