Tensions boiled over this week as members of the river board finalized a second draft Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan, but not without members of the community clashing over the purpose of the plan.
The Monocacy Scenic River Citizens Advisory Board was divided during the final edits to the plan on how to address private property rights, which has been the central argument of property owners along the river.
Carroll County member Earl Bell proposed the original language on the issue of people crossing private property to access the Monocacy River. After five attempts, the river board agreed — unanimously — to add a recommendation that a stakeholder working group be established to study the impacts of public access to the river.
The river management plan has been so divisive at times that meetings have degraded to shouting matches and threats.
Deputies with the sheriff’s office have been attending the river board’s meetings since landowners began saying they would shoot members if they came on their property, and made other threats.
Bell was appointed to the river board by the Carroll County Board of Commissioners in April, a month after he stood and shouted at Frederick County’s liaison to the river board, Tim Goodfellow, for leaving during an unofficial public comment period. Bell followed Goodfellow into the hallway and continued to yell at him, The Frederick News-Post previously reported.
The discussion devolved to another shouting match on Wednesday. Two men in the audience began shouting at each other when one invoked Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and said he had God on his side. The other man stood and yelled repeatedly for him not to say that.
“When I heard the public comment going on, that’s when I stepped in,” said Sgt. Channing Hillman from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, who was at Wednesday’s meeting.
If people are talking, that is their First Amendment right, Hillman said. He watched body language, and while there was pointing and shouting, neither man tried to close the distance between them or physically confront the other.
Chairman George Grillon ended the public comment when the men began shouting. The confrontation then ended.
The draft plan will go to a public hearing in July. It will then be reviewed by the Frederick County Planning Commission before it goes to the Frederick County Council.
The new plan will be open for public comment and copies will be available at six libraries, county offices and on the river board’s website.
The river board released its first draft river management plan for public comment in October 2016. The plan included a setback that extended 300 to 500 feet — and much farther in some locations — from the banks of the Monocacy River onto private property.
The river board voted to remove the setback in February, after a deluge of public comments opposing it.
Since then, landowners have tried to remove other sections of the plan that support planting buffers, protecting archaeological and historical sites, and identifying ecologically significant areas along the river.
The river board agreed on Wednesday to remove a paragraph and map of ecologically significant areas identified by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources as places where rare, threatened or endangered species may live or have habitat.
Landowners have said the designation would reduce property values and was not based on confirmed sightings of the plants or animals.
An accompanying spreadsheet of animal and plant species that might be found in those ecologically significant areas will remain in the plan as an appendix.