County solicits federal funding

Commissioners ask aid for airport, school plans

Mikulski aide told of needs

Senator's support sought for Gillis Falls Reservoir

April 03, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll officials pushed for federal assistance for the county schools, airport and water supply in a meeting yesterday with a representative of U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

The officials asked for federal money to help pay for education expenses associated with the federal No Child Left Behind initiative and for approval of a navigational system that would make it easier for corporate jets to use Westminster Regional Airport. They also asked for Mikulski's support for their efforts to build a reservoir in South Carroll.

Amy M. Short, Mikulski's assistant, made no promises other than that she would make the senator aware of the county's concerns.

The county needs approval from the Army Corps of Engineers before it can build Gillis Falls Reservoir in Woodbine near Mount Airy. The corps has denied several applications for reservoirs throughout the country in recent years.

The severe drought last summer might alter the corps' position, said Steven Horn, Carroll's director of planning, who is seeking regional support for the project.

"Central Maryland was hard-hit in the drought, and we are really interested in pursuing a regional water-supply solution for the entire area and southern Pennsylvania," Horn said. "The drought made us realize that this is not just a Carroll County issue.

"We are focusing on creating partnerships," he said, adding that Howard County and several Pennsylvania counties would benefit from the reservoir.

Frederick County officials said last month that they would support Carroll's efforts to build the reservoir.

Carroll County has acquired and preserved 1,200 acres for Gillis Falls Reservoir in the past 30 years or so.

"We have purchased nearly all the land we need, and we could serve a large area regionally," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "We would like to finish buying the land and get the environmental studies reinstated."

Crisscrossed by several potential feeder streams, the site seemed ideal for a reservoir when the county began accruing land in the 1970s. Construction would involve flooding about 190 acres, disturbing wetlands and animal habitats.

"There were stringent changes in environmental regulations," Horn said. "Eliminating one ecosystem to create another was not well received."

Rather than risk having the project denied, the county withdrew its application about 12 years ago. Now, Gillis Falls is emerging as a viable solution to persistent water shortages, officials said.

"We are willing to approach this on a regional basis and work with other counties," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "This has the potential to be a regional solution."

Short asked the commissioners to provide historical details, stress the need and lay out what federal assistance the county might require.

The commissioners also asked for help in acquiring Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) equipment for the regional airport just outside Westminster. Designated by the Federal Aviation Agency a "reliever airport" for Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Carroll airport has benefited from several improvements, including the new 5,100-foot runway.

"The final ingredient to realization of the airport's potential is the establishment of a precision approach," said Gary Horst, supervisor of the Office of Performance Audit and Special Projects and the airport.

Carroll has yet to secure approval from the FAA for the GPS system. Without it, the county faces difficulties in leasing the seven corporate hangars it just built. Horst said the improvements to the airport probably will be completed by July.

"We need to know when we will get GPS approach so we can give that information to potential users," he said. "It is critical."

Gouge said the commissioners would be willing to meet in Washington with transportation officials and Mikulski. "That worked when we wanted a runway expansion," she said.

Education officials used yesterday's meeting to ask for financial relief in meeting several unfunded federal requirements, particularly those associated with the No Child Left Behind initiative.

"This program should not move forward without the dollars behind it," said Harry Fogle, director of elementary and special education. "Our county government does a remarkable job funding education. But when the state and federal governments come up short, the kids come up short."

Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent for administration, said the regulations generate "unknowable costs" that wreak havoc with the schools' budget. When Congress passed the initiative, the federal government indicated that it would contribute 40 percent of the costs, Guthrie said. It is actually paying 17 percent, forcing the county to pick up about $6 million of the costs.

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