Landowners along the Monocacy River are threatening to sue the Frederick and Carroll county governments if a proposed resource protection area is passed.
The draft river management plan written by the Monocacy Scenic River Citizen Advisory Board proposes a resource protection area a minimum of 300 to 500 feet from the river’s banks and extends onto private property.
Property owner Lisa Bell said she views the proposed Monocacy River Resource Protection Area as land confiscation through regulation.
“I think that deserves a full-fledged legal battle,” Bell said.
Bell is a business consultant and runs an organic hay farm along a mile stretch of the river with her husband, Earl Bell. Their farm straddles the Monocacy River and extends into Frederick and Carroll counties.
They are collecting petition signatures opposing the plan to nudge the river board to drop the resource protection area and prevent property owners from taking legal action, Lisa Bell said.
Signed petitions are arriving at their home daily, but they did not have an exact count Monday, she said.
Tim Goodfellow, of the Frederick County Division of Planning and Permitting, said he had not received any petitions as of Monday. But he was aware of at least one petition circulating among landowners, and that the Bells and several other property owners were speaking with someone about legal representation.
Multiple farms line the Monocacy River and must already comply with federal and state regulations.
On the Bells’ 100-acre farm, they juggle a nutrient management plan overseen by the Soil Conservation District and the state, certified organic regulations and Federal Emergency Management Agency flood plain rules.
From Earl Bell’s vantage point on the river, he said, he sees a natural 50-foot tree buffer. After some research, he is not convinced the science backs up a larger buffer to ensure clean water.
Carroll County staff have walked 800 miles of Monocacy River tributaries as part of a stream corridor assessment to identify potential pollution sources and urban stormwater projects, said Byron Madigan, Carroll County’s staff liaison to the river board.
Carroll County’s water quality problems begin before the water reaches the Monocacy River, he said.
“Putting a large buffer on a river already carrying polluted water isn’t going to clean the water,” Madigan said.
Madigan has a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. He spent 14 years with the Chesapeake Bay Program and has been Carroll County’s water resource supervisor for nine years.
Neither he nor Goodfellow has a voting position on the river board.
The draft plan is not the first time Frederick County has tried to establish a buffer along the Monocacy River or that a voting body has approved the idea.
One action item in Frederick County’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan, the most recent edition, calls for the county to: “Establish a new variable-width development setback/buffer area, specific to Catoctin Creek and the Monocacy River, which addresses water quality protection, topography and other landscape elements, wildlife habitat, historic and archeological resources and scenic viewsheds.”
In 2003, the county Planning Commission and river board also worked on a regulatory setback, but the board did not support it at the time, Goodfellow said.
With a setback, the government is not taking land deeds, which means the property owners continue to own and pay taxes on the land, Lisa Bell said. If legislation is later created to regulate the resource protection area, then the county governments could limit what the land is used for and potentially decrease privacy, she said.
If the counties like the property, it should be purchased through voluntary easements, Lisa Bell said.
There are multiple social, economical and environmental reasons to have a designated buffer along the Monocacy River, Goodfellow said. The question still up in the air is whether the 300- to 500-foot Monocacy River Resource Protection Area is the appropriate width for such a buffer.
There is no scientific backing for the current proposed buffer width to support improved water quality, Madigan said.
“If [the river board is] going to make recommendations, it needs to be [based] on available science,” he said.
Goodfellow plans to give the river board further scientific studies at a Feb. 1 meeting. He would not share specific studies with The Frederick News-Post prior to the board’s discussion.
“The edits the river board will be reviewing has a whole set of scientific studies on buffers,” Goodfellow said.
The river board voted at its last meeting to send landowners a letter and fact sheet of frequently asked questions. The four-page fact sheet is available online, but Goodfellow did not know when the information would be mailed to landowners.
The Feb. 1 meeting has been moved from the Taneytown Volunteer Fire Co. to Winchester Hall in Frederick at 7 p.m.