Water plant gets backing of GOP panel

Central committee calls Piney Run project `essential'

`Had to make a statement'

Some criticize letter as politicization of public works issue

October 28, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Republican State Central Committee has taken the unusual step of lending official support to a public project - the proposed $14 million water treatment plant at Piney Run Lake in Sykesville - creating a contentious issue for the 2002 county elections for commissioner.

The Republican central committee members unanimously believe the project "is in the best long term interests of Carroll County residents and thereby support the Carroll County Commissioners in their decision to construct this essential public facility," according to a resolution adopted by the committee in late August and obtained by The Sun. The county's three commissioners are Republicans.

"We wanted to take a position supporting all the commissioners and we felt we had to make a statement," said committee member W. David Blair. "This has become a very political issue because of attacks made on the commissioners for this decision."

But the resolution conflicts with the views of Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who has consistently opposed the project.

Others in Carroll's dominant Republican Party agree with her.

"This is really beyond me," Gouge said. "I wasn't aware that they had taken any public opinion polls in South Carroll. The committee usually does not get involved in hot potatoes like Piney Run."

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who has pushed for the plant with Commissioner Donald I. Dell, said the committee's support is important.

"This shows the issue has gotten to the political level, so the committee is weighing in," Frazier said.

The proposed treatment plant has yet to win state construction approval. It faces strident opposition from residents of South Carroll, including the chairman of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, Mike Naused, a registered Republican. The council serves as an unofficial liaison between residents and county government.

"The Republican committee is politicizing an issue that is really not political," Naused said. "They are trying to make it a Republican versus Democrat issue when it should be what is best for the community and the integrity of this area. The South Carroll community at large is against this project."

Divisive issue

The Piney Run project has consistently split the board of commissioners, with Frazier and Dell outvoting Gouge on every issue related to it.

Dell and Frazier see the plant as the means to increase the water supply in populous South Carroll and have authorized more than $1 million in expenses to pave the way for its construction.

Gouge has pushed for several alternatives, including wells and an expansion of the plant on Liberty Reservoir, and has called for a halt in spending until the issue is resolved.

Committee roles

The central committees for both parties represent the interests of party members and organize local activities, most often campaigns and election activities. They rarely take a position on an issue such as the Piney Run plant.

"I don't know if it is the role of the central committee to get involved in public policy," said state Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican legislative delegation. He said he knew about the letter but had not seen it.

`Goes against ... constituents'

Zoa L. Barnes, vice chairman of the Carroll County Democratic State Central Committee, called the endorsement provocative.

"It goes against their own constituents and certainly against Julia Gouge, their primary vote-getter," Barnes said, referring to Gouge's strong first-place finish in the primary and general elections in 1998. "This is really a bipartisan issue that the Republican Party has made partisan and against one of its own communities. The project will have a profound impact on South Carroll. It will mean growth goes on, and no one understands that logic."

`Primarily in response'

Del. Joseph M. Getty, who once served on the Republican central committee with Gouge, said, "It is the committee's prerogative to decide how much it wants to get involved in public policy. I think they did this primarily in response to the Democratic committee's visibility as an anti-Piney Run advocate."

Democratic central committee members who live in South Carroll have been visible opponents of the plant.

When asked whether the Democratic Central Committee had taken a stance on the issue, Barnes said it opposes the project because members believe it would promote sprawl.

Getty said that, with no Democrats holding elected county office, the minority party has found Piney Run an ideal rallying issue.

"There is strong Republican leadership in our county coupled with majority voter registration," Getty said. "The opposition has to find a wedge issue to make ground politically and to crack into the solidarity of Republicans in the county."

Election a year away

Gouge has announced her intention to seek re-election; the other two commissioners have not committed yet.

Thomas McCarron, chairman of the county's Democratic State Central Committee, said he is happy the Republican committee has formally taken a position.

"Now the choice is clear for 2002," said McCarron, of Eldersburg.

"There is overwhelming public sentiment against this plant," he said. "We welcome the support of any Republicans who feel this plant is not the right way to go."

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