A bill that aims to create a new board to recommend practices to protect water quality and educate county residents about the Monocacy River could be substantially different by the time the Frederick County Council votes on it.
The “Sustainable Monocacy Commission,” introduced by council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) on behalf of County Executive Jan Gardner (D) in early November, was initially scheduled for a vote last Tuesday. But council members have proposed amendments that could alter the legislation.
One is a paragraph introduced by Councilman Kai Hagen (D), which describes the commission’s role and notes that it should “assess, on an ongoing basis, the condition of the river and its tributaries” regarding water quality and the river’s overall health.
“With the engagement of a number of people involved with the Monocacy River issues for a long time, we drafted a paragraph that provides some context, some justification that states why the commission should exist,” Hagen said.
He was also open to hearing more about Councilman Phil Dacey’s (R) proposed amendment, which would rename the body the Watershed Quality Advisory Commission.
“You can’t protect the water without paying attention to activities throughout the watershed, period,” he said.
Dacey said his amendment would take the focus off just the Monocacy River and look at the entire watershed, an idea that might take some of the politicization out of the issue, especially for those who own property along and near the river.
“It would take the Monocacy [River] out of the crosshairs ... and broaden the scope,” Dacey said. “Those landowners kind of feel targeted almost, and there’s no way for them to be targeted if there’s a watershed advisory commission.”
Many aspects of the legislation would remain unchanged. Currently, it would aim to preserve the water quality of the river and its tributaries, along with its nearby ecological habitats.
The body would also review local, state and federal studies that affect the Monocacy River, along with meeting with the Carroll County River Board (or similarly named body) on at least an annual basis, among other objectives.
Gardner said earlier this week she wasn’t opposed to Hagen’s amendment, but added she would prefer not to see the legislation broadened to include the entire watershed.
“This really is intended to be focused on the Monocacy River and its tributaries ... one thing you may do in one watershed may be applicable to another watershed, but I still think the focus should be primarily on the Monocacy River,” Gardner said.
She added she would consider vetoing the bill if that change occurred, but would wait to see how many council members approve such a change.
Gardner, however, was supportive of another amendment Jessica Fitzwater proposed, which would change the composition of the board. It would increase the number of commissioners from nine to 11, adding a third member who resides on property not adjacent to the river and a third member with some scientific expertise.
Other members include those from the agricultural community, a non-voting elected official from the city of Frederick and County Council (or designees for those two), and two landowners along the Monocacy River.
Hagen was supportive of that amendment, noting the board should have focus on the science. Fitzwater could not be reached for comment by phone Thursday.
Any proposed amendments should be introduced at some point in January, after the holiday break.