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.”
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.
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.