Soil Conservation

Alan Heflin, whose family company, Heflin Brothers Inc., owns six farms, including three that border the Monocacy River, stands by a stone water runoff basin the owners constructed at the bottom of a grass waterway on the properties to prevent erosion. There are a number of the basins and grass waterways on the nearly 500 acres of farmland near Woodsboro.

Two months after landowners along the Monocacy River were to be informed of an updated river management plan, many were hearing about it for the first time last week.

Farmers and landowners filled a Taneytown Volunteer Fire Co. meeting area on Wednesday to oppose a protection boundary that runs through homes, farms and businesses along the scenic river. Attendees said the plan was an attack on their property rights and the boundary devalued their land.

The Monocacy Scenic River Citizen Advisory Board, made up of five Frederick County and five Carroll County residents, released a draft plan in September that updates the 25-year-old river management plan.

The board’s recommendations will go to each county’s council, the town of Walkersville and the city of Frederick for adoption and eventual legislative action.

“I just really have a hard time grasping the magnitude of what they’re trying to recommend when things have gotten so much better,” said Alan Heflin, whose family company, Heflin Brothers Inc., owns six farms, including three that border the river.

Despite farming the land for many years, Heflin never received a letter about the plan. He said a neighbor informed him and sent approximately 120 letters to landowners prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

The board pulled tax records for all landowners to send notifications, said Dr. George Grillon, the board’s chairman. About 50 people attended the meeting and no more than five received a letter, according to a show of hands.

Public comment was not scheduled, but the board voted unanimously to allow comment, Frederick County staff liaison Tim Goodfellow said during the meeting.

The plan proposes a Monocacy River Resource Protection Area that extends 300 to 500 feet from the river. More than 77 percent is within the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 100-year floodplain, which is tightly regulated. A 100-year flood refers to a flood with a 1 percent chance of happening in any particular year.

Grillon, a landowner on the Monocacy River, said the plan was designed to foster good stewardship, not confiscate land.

“Somebody, someday, other than you, who has the best intentions in their heart is going to own that land,” Grillon said.

Many farmers argued that they are good stewards.

Heflin has planted close to 9,000 feet of grass waterways on his properties to prevent erosion and installed other sediment-catching technologies. He works closely with the Catoctin and Frederick soil conservation districts and is one of their contractors, he said.

The board’s role is to make recommendations. The governments could later add legislation that dictates landowners’ use inside the boundary, said Earl Bell, an organic farmer on the Monocacy.

“The idea that somehow, arbitrarily and capriciously, we’re going to draw lines up and down the river and start telling people what they can and can’t do, we find offensive,” Bell said. “... We love you, but go away. We don’t need your help. There’s plenty of regulations to clean the water.”

Second boundary
causes confusion

Attendees confused the proposed boundary with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Ecologically Significant Areas, which was also on the maps.

Rare, threatened or endangered species habitats or significant habitats for healthy ecosystems might be in those areas, said Lynn Davidson, who has been with DNR for 30 years and works as a conservation technology manager on these maps.

The areas were not developed with the intent of being regulated, Davidson said.

One ecologically significant area in Walkersville surrounds Matthew Toms’ dairy business.

“The only rare species that I know that’s inside this line is a dairy farmer and some dairy cows,” Toms told the board.

Anne Bradley, the county land preservationist, wrote in an email that an ecologically sensitive area would not, in her opinion, affect a property’s eligibility for preservation.

Even though the DNR’s areas were not intended to be regulated, Heflin said the creation of the new resource protection boundary is disconcerting and creates a framework for regulation.

“If they don’t mean anything, then just take ’em away,” Heflin said.

Recommenders,
not legislators

The board reiterated throughout the meeting that its role is solely to make recommendations.

The plan makes 78 recommendations for best management practices. Of the 12 for agriculture, four have drawn the attention of local boards:

  • creating a new Monocacy River Corridor Priority Preservation Area
  • changing existing evaluation forms to give a higher priority ranking to farmland along the Monocacy River for preservation
  • setting aside a percentage of agriculture preservation funding for creating new forest buffers along the Monocacy
  • adding “premium payment” for farmers who plant new forest buffers.

The Frederick County Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board submitted a letter on Nov. 9, saying it did not support these four recommendations.

It would be inappropriate to give Monocacy River properties higher rankings when the purpose of the preservation programs is to protect prime farmland soils, which are not along the river, board Chairman Richard Grossnickle wrote.

The county could create a new priority preservation area to accompany five other existing areas, Bradley wrote in an email. Currently, no new areas are being reviewed.

The money is also not there, Heflin said.

Permanent agricultural easements remove property owners’ right to divide and sell lots for development. Heflin has seen easement offers of $10,000 an acre, which would not be sufficient for him, he said.

“How can we, in the report, emphasize that these properties need to have a higher priority,” Grillon said Thursday. His goal is to increase the value of these lands, not devalue them, he said.

Wednesday evening was deeply personal for attendees, because the new boundary covers homes and livelihoods.

Griffon said it was good to hear concerns and opinions. The board will review comments before moving the plan to the county councils.

Follow Samantha Hogan on Twitter: @SAHogan.

Samantha Hogan is the state house, environment, agriculture and energy reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

(14) comments

rb789

The Monocacy River Board and their county government sponsors (who appointed the Board members) are being disingenuous with the people they are supposed to serve & protect in good faith. The real rationale behind the land setbacks proposed in the River Management Plan, which they call the "Resource Protection Area boundary line" is to unnecessarily take private property from owners for government control. This is downright immoral & plain wrong!
The 5th and 14th amendments of The Constitution were established to protect citizens from having private property confiscated by the govt. In this case, nearly 8,000 acres will in essence, be confiscated from land owning citizens – through unnecessary & unreasonable regulations. All without compensation to owners.
Unnecessary because an enormously expanded river buffer cutting deep into farms, private land, and encompassing homes along the river is absurd when river setbacks are already in place in Frederick County for existing river land and 100 -150 foot setbacks exist for new development & subdivisions. Carroll County has similar setback requirements for development. On top of these setbacks that scientific research indicates are sufficient for clean water initiatives - there are numerous regulations & conservation initiatives in place for river front land owners and farmers to comply with. Moreover, nearly 80% of the land in the proposed expanded river buffer - is located within the FEMA flood plain boundary that is also tightly regulated. The setbacks proposed are 300- 500 feet and well beyond 500 feet in numerous locations. One property owner said the setback extends 4000 feet into their property! Another said 1000 feet. This is 10 – 80 times greater than a typical 50 foot river buffer setback. This is outrageous!
All of this devalues owner’s properties; reduces reasonable utility of their land; and is an ATTACK ON PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS for no good reason.
The main source of pollutants to The Monocacy is reportedly urban run off and pollution derived from tributaries upstream that feed into the Monocacy. An expanded river buffer along the Monocacy harming property owners and farmers, serves no just purpose and DOES NOTHING TO GET TO THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM and reduce pollution from primary sources. By the way, the federal Clean Water Act and TDML reqts along with other conservation practices have already greatly improved Monocacy water quality.
The land setbacks need to be eliminated from the River Plan – and if any politicians pass the setbacks for regulatory action, they need to be voted out of office for stealing land from hardworking, tax paying citizens and for disrespecting property rights!

Hammer

I wonder how much public money went into Heflin Brothers runoff systems? They received Heflin Brothers Inc. will receive $13,296.06 toward a $15,195.50 spring development watering facility, and also $15,000 under the Maryland
Agricultural Cost-Share Program. Its great they're doing these best practices, but let's be honest, farmers are getting the bulk of Bay improvements funding.

MD1756

We are being taxed (flush tax, rain tax) to pay for farmers poor practices. How about taxing them per acre farmed or livestock raised. It could be minimal but at least make them pay for being the biggest contributor to the poor health of the bay.

Fredmd21704

"Despite farming the land for many years, Heflin never received a letter about the plan. He said a neighbor informed him and sent approximately 120 letters to landowners prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

The board pulled tax records for all landowners to send notifications, said Dr. George Grillon, the board’s chairman. About 50 people attended the meeting and no more than five received a letter, according to a show of hands." something seems a bit odd. Do they have evidence to support these letters actually went out, or did they send only a few out, to those who they thought wouldn't show up or oppose? They need to investigate this a bit further.

matts853

Agree. This needs to be fully transparent and if people purposefully excluded others to avoid confrontation, they need to go.

MDS124

The flood plain is land that truly cannot be developed. Would you want to build a home or business that would have a good chance of not just water in the basement but flood damage?

The price on the easement of $10k is low if the land in this flood plain was actually worth it. Now, the land outside the flood plain is vastly more valuable and Heflin is correct that price is low for land that could be come the next Walmart or tract of homes. Farmers work incredibly hard and have to have scale for economic success. I am sure that they don't want some multimillionaire developer coming in and low balling a bid on land that is actually possible to develop based on a prior sale of flood plain that is right next to the land they want to sell!

The real interesting thing however is to look at home developments next to park reserves in the MD, VA area. Those homes are like gold. Very expensive. Why?- your neighbor is not a Walmart or even other endless development of homes, but a permanent land preserve -quiet, run by the government, populated by migratory birds (not rude neighbors.) If the homes are more expensive then the land under them is too.

I think if this process works its way through where all parties get to have a voice, that the land owners will eventually accept the protected lands. But, it has to be seen as a win, win and not some regulatory monster shoved upon then. Now maybe the tax information needs to be updated (where the list of land owners came from) but you can't have a situation where some stake holders don't even get a letter about this. I am hoping for a long term permanent conservation plan that the farmers and land owners embrace. It might take time, but lets do this right.

matts853

[thumbup][thumbup]

matts853

What the heck is a grass waterway? Anyway:

People have abused the land for centuries and we're now just beginning to realize the negative effects. In pre colonial times the Piedmont and Alleghany regions were entirely covered by stands of cathedral like hardwood forests. People clear cut almost all of it. And look what happened to the quality of our drinking water, the health of the bay, and the rapid decline and extinctions/extirpations of wildlife. It was not smart for us to clear cut all the way to the edge of rivers but people didn't know any better then. We do now.

We pride ourselves in America in freedom and our property rights. I get that and I totally understand the passion here. But what about the crabber or the oysterman who doesn't own a farm but earns his living fishing the bay? What about the restaurants that want to sell their catch at reasonable prices to customers? What about people that lose their lives or homes in floods? You see, we all live downstream here. Farms and developments are not isolated tracks of land - poor land stewardship on them impacts the region. This isn't prognostication; it's fact and happening right now.

It's proven science that we need buffers to: 1) slow down the flow of water, 2) reduce sediment runoff, 3) reduce pollutant runoff, 3) provide shade to cool the water for fish, 4) provide sorely missing habitat for wildlife, 5) enhance recreation oppurtunities, and 6) bring some sense of balance to our interlationship with nature. What we live in now is artificial.

We've butchered the land and it's simply not sustainable. It's painful for many, but we need to start adopting a bigger picture mindset. It's going to cost money for sure, and compensating these property owners needs to be part of this equation. But simply saying no, or go away is selfish and ignorant. There's a medium that can be reached.

wizcapskins

got to agree with you on this one. tired of seeing it look like chocolate milk when it rains

matts853

Apparently I can't 1) count, or B) read.

CDReid

Looks to me like The Monocacy Scenic River Citizen Advisory Board is a county version of the HPC, butting in where they have no business being.

Fredmd21704

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

matts853

How so? This is a water quality issue, not to mention an economic issue for a whole bunch of people, not just these farmers. Do you not care about the watermen in the bay who are going out of business. Do you not care about people getting washed away in flash foods or losing their homes and property. I bet you complain about storm water management fees and the "rain tax". Guess why they're going up - it's because we've clear cut to river margins. The Cro-Magnon, leave no tree standing mentality is selfish and slowly killing us. There's a reasonable medium here, and I'm all for compensation to help achieve it.

MAVRICKinc7

Wonder what the last drop of clean water will go for in our future exploration and extinction of our species?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. No vulgar, racist, sexist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, not personal attacks or ad hominem criticisms.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Be civil. Don't threaten. Don't lie. Don't bait. Don't degrade others.
No trolling. Stay on topic.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
No deceptive names. Apparently misleading usernames are not allowed.
Say it once. No repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link for abusive posts.

Thank you for reading!

Already a member?

Login Now
Click Here!

Currently a News-Post subscriber?

Activate your membership at no additional charge.
Click Here!

Need more information?

Learn about the benefits of membership.
Click Here!

Ready to join?

Choose the membership plan that fits your needs.
Click Here!