2 oppose putting farms in plan

Draft includes their land within area of proposed Union Mills reservoir

December 17, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Two Westminster-area residents object to Carroll County's decision to include their preserved farms within the boundaries for the proposed Union Mills reservoir, part of the 2006 county water and sewer master plan.

The draft plan stresses the need to acquire land for potential reservoirs at Gillis Falls and Union Mills -- projects first envisioned in the 1970s -- to meet future water demands in Westminster, South Carroll and the Hampstead/Manchester area.

"We've been talking about this ongoing need for water supply in the county, particularly in the Westminster area," county Planning Director Steven C. Horn said in a public hearing on the plan last week. "Recent changes at the state Department of the Environment has really, hopefully, let us realize the benefits of this long-range planning."

But the Union Mills plan conflicts with the goal of John Chambers, son of former Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers, who said he wants to save his family's 300-acre farm off Bachmans Valley Road in Westminster and its 1860s-era farmhouse.

Chambers also questioned the county commissioners about the reservoir's planned location along a polluted stretch of Big Pipe Creek and the John Owings landfill -- a former dump that leaches chemicals.

"The quality of the water is not good: aquatic life has died out," Chambers said during the public hearing. "It seems to be strange why you would go ahead and build it now."

The water and sewer master plan is undergoing a revision that is required every three years. It has not been adopted.

Westminster, in particular, is grappling with a water deficit that has effectively shut down development. The city is negotiating ways to enhance its water supply with the state Department of the Environment.

A direct intake at Big Pipe Creek and an eventual reservoir at Union Mills are "projects we've got our eye on," said Matthew B. Davis, Westminster's manager of planning.

The county's plan also focuses on the proposed emergency waterline connecting the Medford Quarry to Cranberry Reservoir in Westminster and a modernized water-treatment plant the city is scheduled to construct.

While most of Carroll's municipalities build and operate their own water and sewer facilities, the commissioners are responsible for coordinating the overall planning for these systems throughout the county.

A Mount Airy resident on the town's water commission joined Chambers and George Mulinix, his Saw Mill Road neighbor, at the public hearing. Mount Airy, which might expand restrictions for "large water users" that use more than 1,000 gallons per day, has submitted some minor revisions to the county plan.

"Given what Mount Airy went through, the county has realized it has to be clear in terms of where we are headed with water," Rita Misra, the Mount Airy resident, said later. "Nobody wants to pay for these big projects in advance of need, but you can't wait until you're overdrawn."

The county considers the Gillis Falls site key to meeting Mount Airy's water needs. But some residents are still debating the merits of building a direct intake versus a large reservoir there.

The county has bought 95 percent of the land around Gillis Falls and owns two-thirds of the designated Union Mills property, Horn said.

After the public hearing, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge asked that the public have 30 days, 20 more than the standard 10-day period, to comment on the master plan.

Chambers and Mulinix said they hoped their conservation-district farms, which have joined the county's agricultural preservation program, would be exemptfrom the Union Mills plan.

Chambers said such preserved land would prevent development from encroaching upon a future reservoir, a problem now faced by Piney Run Lake in South Carroll.

"We've taken the step to affirm that there's no chance we're going to build back in there," Chambers told the commissioners.

The Whittaker Chambers farm has been designated a National Historic Landmark since 1988, John Chambers said.

There, Chambers' father hid secret documents, purportedly stolen by accused spy Alger Hiss, in a hollowed-out pumpkin on the farm. They were known as the Pumpkin Papers.

"In my judgment, that says we are under some federal protection, to maintain it for historical purposes," Chambers said.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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