DG Scenic shot of Monocacy River 1 (copy)

The Monocacy River as seen from Michaels Mill Road in Buckeystown.

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.

Follow Samantha Hogan on Twitter: @SAHogan.

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

(27) comments


I urge everyone to see past the “clean water” guise that is being used as a way for the govt to wrongfully take private property along The Monocacy. If the govt wants to obtain land they covet, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach this. The right way is for the govt to BUY the land. The wrong way is for the govt to unnecessarily TAKE private property without regard to individual property rights and without compensation to owners. This is exactly what The 2016 Monocacy River Plan is proposing: Land confiscation through govt regulations! The River Plan is based on a false premise. They claim taking 8,000 acres of private property along The Monocacy - to be under govt control, is necessary for clean water purposes. THIS IS FLAT OUR WRONG. According to professionals in the industry (including The Carroll County Water Resource Manager), the primary source of pollutants to The Monocacy comes from urban run off and the vast Monocacy watershed area. It is not coming from private property along the river. Thus, taking private land with a huge, REGULATORY land setback (not voluntary as has falsely been claimed by some including Jack Lynch) does nothing to solve the real issues of The Monocacy. The proposed setback cuts deep into private property, farms, and even encompasses people’s homes! The grossly excessive setback can exceed 500 feet where ever the FEMA 100 year flood plain exceeds 500 feet - which occurs in “numerous locations along the river” (Ch 10 pg 1of The River Plan). The truth is this setback can extend not 300 feet, not 500 feet, but thousands of feet into numerous properties! This is no small matter. This unnecessary GOVT LAND GRAB will cause significant harm to property owners & farmers to devalue their properties; reduce land utility (impairing farmer’s livelihoods); impose additional needless regulations; and intrude on privacy. All for NO genuinely justifiable reason and without compensation to owners. This goes way beyond the boundaries of reasonable governance and moral decency. It goes against the values of The Constitution. And it affects everyone. Because when the govt unnecessarily takes land and reduces property rights of some citizens - it diminishes the property rights of ALL citizens. The bottom line is: There’s NO scientific basis for an expanded river buffer as effective existing buffer requirements already exist ranging for 50 to 150 feet. These are more than ample buffers for clean water purposes (as evidenced by numerous scientific research from sources including The Army Corp of Engineers, Yale University; NCSU; Chesapeake Bay Program, Frederick County internal reports; and others). Moreover, a slew of governmental regulations exist to address clean water & conservation needs for The Monocacy including The Clean Water Act; Chesapeake Bay Act; EPA TMDL requirements; Conservation Soil Programs to name a few. The Monocacy’s water quality has substantially improved. Furthermore nearly 80% of the land in the proposed setback area lies in the FEMA Flood plain which is tightly regulated including building prohibitions. There is simply NO need whatsoever, for any kind of additional setback and more regulations – none! There’s a reason why The Farm Bureau, The Assn of Realtors and others, along with countless alarmed citizens have come out to oppose the River Plan – it’s unnecessary, unethical, unconstitutional, and a VERY BAD PLAN! Please folks, look at what is really going on here. OPPOSE the River Plan!


Eighty percent of the proposed river buffer is already Federal floodplain, yet soil loss and erosion still occur. Trees uprooted, yes that's upstream poor practices pushing flooding on your land and violating your property rights Mr C. Property rights require respect for others property, its like the right to swing your fist ending at my nose, if you poorly regulate your runoff, you violate my prooperty downstream. No one is hurt by an expanded buffer and more investment in building that buffer. It's a state-wide goal. It's needed. I drink that water. I won a common property right in it and shre that common right with all of the county and all of Maryland.


The science is clear that a larger riparian buffer more consistently reduces the amount of nutrients and sediment from agricultural runoff that enter a waterway. A 50-foot buffer for a river the size of the Monocacy is inadequate.



This burden should not be imposed on the farmers and rural property owners along the Monocacy, as they are not the source of the problem. The problem can be directly traced to the large residential, retail and commercial development along the river. How much runoff does the combined Clemson's Corner, Market Square and Walmart shopping centers contribute. A lot, I'm sure! What about runoff from Worman's Mill or the Villages of Urbana? Has anyone from the State or County looked at the storm-water-management ponds in Dearbought lately? They're filled with trash, plastic and other debris, which will eventually spill into the river. What about the new self-storage strip center located right on the river at Broadband Drive? And wasn't this area supposed to be a "high-tech" office park? Ridiculous! Leave the farmers alone and get the State and County workers to regularly clean up this mess.


Absolutely agree, kstr92!!


Agree, but everyone needs to contribute. That includes farmers and rural property owners...


If there aren't enough 'battles' going on, someone has to add the Monocacy River. Planning commissions and developers own a lot of the problem building too close to the river. Before any legislation or regulations for the River, there needs to be more specific data from where the River begins in the North. If legislation is passed to "take" the land for the buffer, every property owner must receive a payment for the fair market value of the land they are forced to give up. Keep in mind, taking the farmers' land could eventually affect their ability to provide for themselves. If they cannot adequately provide for their needs, eventually, someone will eventually come along and take their property due to foreclosure, if they have a mortgage they can no longer pay, or for some other reason. As a native of Frederick County, I have seen some pathetic decisions made all in the name of greed. People have rights when they purchase property and their rights MUST be honored.


At this point judicial review of the draft Monocacy River Management Plan ("Plan") is not a potential remedy since there is nothing for the judiciary to review. Under the separation of powers, the judicial branch of government cannot order the legislative branch not to legislate. In the absence of an adopted Plan and a plaintiff with standing to sue, the controversy is not "ripe" for adjudication.


jt, are you saying that the plan is not enforceable and if it is not there is no harm to the property owners? That would make sense, but if so, why are the property owners upset?


Unless and until the County Council & County Exec adopt some version of the proposed Plan, there is nothing to litigate. Example: A legislator introduces a bill to prohibit motor vehicles on public highways. There is justifiable outrage over the bill. One or more citizens sue, challenging the validity of the bill on various grounds and requesting the court to enjoin the legislature from adopting the bill. Since the legislature has yet to do anything, the court will dismiss the suit on the ground that the controversy is not ripe for adjudication. Unless and until the County adopts some version of the proposed Plan, upset property owners should engage the political process rather than the judiciary.


Because recommendations in the plan have the potential to become regulations passed by the county governments. People opposed to the recommendations don't want to take that chance.


I think you're saying they are not a body politic, only advisory, so can't be sued. These grumblings are meant to intimidate the board, almost like a defacto SLAPP suit. I hope the board realizes that. They need to finish their job - produce the plan as intended and pass it to the legislators. They are only the messenger. Let the county governments deal with the land rights arguments.

And I agree that farmers who lose land to subsequent regulation need to be compensated. How much or in what form is beyond my pay grade at this point. But I would think the counties could bond the land, payable upon a future sale, which would help defer payments to later years. Or find money for AG preservation. Either way this is a mess.


In general, anybody can sue anyone for anything. However, there are substantial sanctions against a plaintiff and plaintiff's attorney if the the court determines that the suit is brought in bad faith or without substantial justification. Under the circumstances, a suit at this point against the Monocacy Scenic River Advisory Board and its members would likely justify sanctions.


There are a variety of voluntary programs including CREP to reforest river buffers. It is easy to support mandated easements when you did not buy the land or pay the taxes.


So, the 2 county representatives are in disagreement over the science. Mr. Madigan appears to be towing the county line for Carroll, because at least 2 of their commissioners are adamantly opposed to the plan. I know, because I spoke to them last week.

Unfortunately, either the FNP did not ask, or Mr. Madigan could not explain, why he beleives the science does not support the buffer. I am glad he acknowledges the river is polluted though. The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) volume of nutrient runoff established by MDE is being exceeded, and much of that excess runoff is from farmland. That's really all the science you need to know. I look forward to what Mr. Goodfellow puts out to prove it.

From all appearances, Carroll County is trying to kill the plan. They just don't want to acknowledge there's a problem. But it's a 4 century old problem that began when settlers clear cut land right down to the edges of rivers and the bay. The Monocacy River and Chesapeake Bay watershed were designed by nature to function with trees surrounding them. This past Saturday, I attended a workshop hosted by the Carroll County Forestry Board entitled "Challenges to Our Forests". The top bullet point on one of the slides says "More than 99% of the pre-settlement eastern deciduous old-growth forest ecosystem is gone". What else is there is to say? You'd have to be a member of the flat earth society to deny we have a problem.

There's a direct correlation between deforestation and increased instances of drought. We had off and on occurrences of drought between 1998-2002, and this last fall had a statistical minor drought. At the same time, floods are getting more frequent and more intense. People can debate the causes all they want, but it's a fact that temperatures and sea levels are rising.

The best thing for the long term sustainability of agriculture and for clean drinking water is to put some trees back where they belong - back where nature intended. It's the obvious and simplest thing to do if we're going to save ourselves from ourselves. I can see farmers asking if they can pull water from the Monocacy to irrigate crops in the not so distant future. Then we're talking water rights and property rights. Or asking for bulkheads to shore up their land from floods. Who will they ask to,pay for that? I respect farmers, but I hate that this has become a battle of landowners against people that live downstream.

People are more connected to the Internet than to nature these days and that's dangerous. We're not infallible to laws of nature. I truly believe we're killing ourselves slowly. But let's bury our heads in the sand and hang on to that extra 300' - 500' feet.

'This land is your land, this land is my land...this land was made for you and me...'


Great post matts. It's ironic that your post was so much easier to understand than the actual article. FNP needs to hire you.


He does a good job, doesn't he, 99?


Not exactly a 4 century old problem as it's been less than 300 years since the first settlers settled here


I am sure the Indian's would dispute the claim that they weren't here 300 years ago.

Comment deleted.

Just giving back to you CD - you constantly denigrate folks posts so what is good for the gander is .....


Captain John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay in 1608. Shortly thereafter settlements occurred in Jamestown and spread toward the bay. You're right that colonial settlement in the Monocacy region didn't start in earnest until the 18th century. My point is settlement began in the 17th century within the bay watershed.


I stand corrected, I thought you were talking specifically about Frederick County. My mistake.

Comment deleted.

Fredmd - criticism accepted. I should learn to comment only on the post and not past behavior. Thanks for the reality check.


Good post Matt.. Water is a natural resource that needs to be protected.

Tony C

Full Disclosure: I own a farm along the River w/ aprx 1800' of river frontage ( 20-25 acres of my property is potentially impacted by this proposed plan). How will the expanded buffer zones improve the water quality? How are the proposed expanded buffer zones better then the current FEMA FLOODPLAIN restrictions? Shouldn't the property owners be compensated if 300-500' of their property is going to be encumbered by new easements, restrictions and/or regulations? If trees are planted and when the river causes erosion and the trees are uprooted...which is a fairly regular occurrence along the Monocacy, who will be responsible for cleaning up the downed trees...actually, who will be paying to install the trees to begin with....the property owner, the County (read taxpayers)? CREP is an option, but that already exist, so why the need for this new plan? Has anyone been able to verify whether sewer outfalls from northern municipalities has ever been addressed? Can anyone point to one farmer or landowner who has contributed to the reported poor water quality of the Monocacy...if so, why is that not being addressed without creating an entirely new set of expanded buffers, restrictions/regulations? There may be a problem with the water quality of the Monocacy, but the cause has not been well defined in my opinion. And, in my opinion, the proposed Monocacy River Management Plan is like buying a car, then being told by a volunteer appointed advisory board to the Government that I can now only drive my car 3-5 days out of 7 because the air quality will be improved by limiting the use of my car...would you be OK with that? Tony C.


Good analysis, Tony. It bothers me too that they do not look at all the causes and come up with a more realistic plan - but full disclosure, I do not own any land along the Monocacy or septic systems that might empty into the River.


There are many problems contributing to "pollution" of this river. Some writers here have indicated parking lots and developments are the problem. From my understanding sediment and fertilizers are the biggest problem here and all the way to the bay. If I just look at the river at Frederick Junction after some big rains, it is clear to me that sediment is a large problem. During these times it is referred as the Mudococy.

I do know farmers have fought sediment management that would help with this problem. It is true that the majority of the problem is not along the river but what feeds the river, the many streams that feed into to it. This is not to say the river itself does not need shading and other setbacks to help the health of this large watershed. But the watershed needs better buffer management if it is not to continue its degradation.

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