Several Frederick County residents supported a proposal Tuesday evening by County Executive Jan Gardner (D) to create a new board to help recommend policies that would protect the water quality of the Monocacy River.
The Sustainable Monocacy Commission, introduced by County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) on behalf of Gardner, is meant to replace the former Monocacy Scenic River Citizens Advisory Board, which was a joint board between Carroll and Frederick counties.
The latter board is now split, as the Carroll County Board of Commissioners announced in September it would leave the river board and create its own.
Frederick resident Harry George, who has spoken at meetings about the river board and corresponding river plan, supported the proposal but added he would like to see more people from the scientific community on the commission.
Gardner’s proposal is similar to the old board in that it still recommends policies to improve the water quality of the Monocacy River, and urges the body to educate and promote the importance of the river’s environmental and recreational uses.
It differs, however, because it asks the board to use the river plan the council passed earlier this year, and in its overall composition of members. The proposal does include two Frederick County landowners along the Monocacy and two non-contiguous landowners, but it also calls for one representative of the agricultural community and two county residents with scientific education or background.
One change that has been made since the bill was introduced was that the representative from the County Council and the city of Frederick are now non-voting members.
Along with George, Stan Mordensky, a former river board member who lives in Ijamsville, also said that members of the scientific community should have a voice on the board.
“We have a chance to get it right this time, and I sure hope that we do,” he said.
Council Vice President Michael Blue (R) said he is supportive of Gardner’s proposal, and believes the composition is a “good balance” of those who support property rights and environmental standards.
Councilman Phil Dacey (R) said at a prior meeting that he was concerned the proposal would conflict with the state’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Act — and the prior bi-county board that established — but Blue said it’s unlikely that both boards would exist if Gardner’s proposal were passed.
“It makes no sense to have them both running together,” Blue said. “I understand his concern that, is it possible? Yes. But is it probable? No.”
But Dacey said Monday that given how the state law is written, having both boards could still create potential issues.
“It’s more of a process point for me on having the county usurp state authority, or essentially conflicting [with] state authority,” Dacey said, noting that he wouldn’t support the bill as written.
After the public hearing, Chief Administrative Officer Rick Harcum said Gardner was open to modifying parts of the bill. One possible change is that the two non-contiguous landowners could be changed to read “Frederick County residents” or something similar, Harcum said. He added it was not Gardner’s intention to require that phrase to have landowners in it.
But she wasn’t open to making the board larger than nine members, because that would make it difficult to “stand up,” Harcum said.
Councilman Kai Hagen (D) questioned Harcum about including the term “watershed” in the proposal. Harcum responded that the “Monocacy River and its tributaries” essentially defined the same area.
“Watershed is kind of a trigger word,” Harcum said, a nod to the scientific community and property rights advocates who have disputed what the river board and corresponding river plan should examine.
No matter how the bill is changed, Kevin Sellner, a professor at Hood College who studies water quality and related issues, testified that the mission of the new commission should be rooted in science, not politics.
“Property rights should definitely be included in this, but it’s the river and its tributaries that should be the drivers of what this should be,” he said.