Much like the winding Monocacy River, debate over how to protect its water and the land of adjacent property owners has taken several twists for several years.
Late last week, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners decided that Frederick and Carroll counties should proceed with their own plans.
Frederick County passed its own Monocacy River Plan in April, after Carroll County approved one based on the work of the Monocacy Scenic River Citizens Advisory Board last November. That board will be split up into separate bodies representing the two counties.
County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) and Carroll County Board of Commissioners President Stephen Wantz (R) said in interviews this week two key issues led to the split: the definition of the word “corridor,” and whether ecologically significant areas, or ESAs, should be included in the plan.
Keegan-Ayer said council members don’t want to change its corridor definition — which states that the river is “a linear feature versus a broader geographic area description as a watershed,” but doesn’t specify a distance from the riverbanks.
Carroll County wanted to define it as within the riverbanks, and also remove some references to ESAs throughout the plan.
“Frederick County has different visions for the river based on the fact we’re growing faster than Carroll County and our portion of the river is really a larger section,” Keegan-Ayer said. “We have to do what we need to do for our county based on how our county growth is impacting the river.”
Wantz said Frederick County Council members wouldn’t budge on the two aforementioned issues.
“I didn’t see any reason for moving forward in an attempt to having a joint plan,” he said. “It just can’t keep sitting out there spinning.”
The structure of the individual river boards going forward will likely differ. Wantz said he plans to appoint members soon, and wants to keep Carroll County members already appointed.
County Executive Jan Gardner (D) said in an interview this week she plans to introduce legislation next week to form a new board for Frederick County. It will contain between five and 10 members, and include members of the scientific community, landowners along the river, the agricultural community and others.
Council members would then have the ability to modify her proposal, she said.
According to the state’s Scenic and Wild Rivers Act, up to two members of those boards may own land contiguous to the Monocacy River, and land not contiguous.
Gardner, Wantz and Keegan-Ayer all said they weren’t concerned about two boards and two different plans serving one river.
Tensions have run high in the past concerning the river plan between two primary factions: those who want to protect the river’s water quality and other environmental factors, versus those who feared the document would serve as a springboard for local government to seize parts of their private property.
That includes the board itself, where Earl Bell, chair of the current Monocacy River Board, said this week he would prefer a “bicounty” board. That was seconded by Frederick County Council Vice President Michael Blue (R).
“It’s disappointing to me, because that’s not what I would have preferred,” Blue said. “But it’s not a big deal to go with Plan B.”
River Board Vice Chair Matthew Toms said two plans for one river could create issues.
“It could create complications,” Toms said. “I think the best thing for water quality if that’s the concern both counties has is both counties to work together as one. ... Long term, that would be the best thing. I think by splitting the boards up, we’re taking a short-term approach to a long-term problem.”
Keegan-Ayer, however, was frank about why the two counties split.
“You get to a point where you say, am I going to continue beating my head into a wall?” she said. “When it’s down to two core beliefs that the two boards cannot agree on, you just have to say, ‘We’re done.’”