The Frederick News-Post’s Jan. 10 editorial, “Maintaining health of Monocacy River must be a shared responsibility,” while well-meaning, does a disservice to landowners opposed to the Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan.
Your opinion piece suggests that those landowners opposing the management plan do not care about the “health” of the river. I do not believe that to be so. Landowner opposition is not directed at the management plan but at the proposed addition to the plan of a Monocacy River Resource Protection Area, which the landowners see as a potential threat to the value of their property and their rights as property owners.
The current Monocacy River Study and Management Plan was proposed in 1990, and, in the absence of opposition, approved the same year by the commissioners of Carroll and Frederick counties, the Maryland Scenic and Wild Rivers Review Board and the Maryland General Assembly. It was signed into law by Gov. Schaefer on May 14, 1991. It remains as such until it is revised, amended or repealed.
The Monocacy Scenic River Citizens Advisory Board, which provides counsel and advice to Frederick and Carroll counties and the state of Maryland, relative to implementation of the management plan, proposes to add additional information and management recommendations to the plan. Among other things, the board wishes to add a Monocacy River Resource Protection Area. The stated purpose of the MRRPA is “to protect conserve and enhance significant Monocacy River Resources and their ecological functions and values that provide environmental, social and economic benefits to Frederick and Carroll County residents.” The MRRPA is new in name only; it neither adds to nor eliminates from the existing plan. It is a means of labeling areas within the river corridor that contain valuable physical, biological and social resources, many of which are already subject to regulation, but without labels. All the resources of the river corridor included in the proposed MRRPA are also present in the 1990 plan, but are not labeled as such. Absent the MRRPA labels, the 1990 plan has had a relatively peaceful existence, free of landowner opposition, for the past 26 years.
Now there is understandable concern that the MRRPA, if added to the existing plan, might serve as a setback line to restrict or limit the use of land within the protected areas and, in doing so, erode property values. Concern that the MRRPA might be used in this manner has attracted opposition to the proposed changes to the plan by people who own land within the protected area. It is not an unreasonable concern, nor is it a likely threat to property owner rights.
Opposition to the proposed changes might have been avoided if the Scenic and Wild Rivers Act and its provisions for landowner protection were better known to the public. The secretary of natural resources is responsible for administering the Scenic and Wild Rivers Program. In doing so, while approving scenic and wild river management plans, the Monocacy plan included, the secretary is required to consider, protect and ensure protection of the rights of property ownership. It should also be noted that the MRRPA, along with other proposed changes and additions to the existing management plan, is only a proposal. To become part of the management plan, or to replace it, additions and changes to the plan must be approved by the Frederick County government and the Carroll County Board of Commissioners. Unless the process for revising, amending or replacing the current plan differs from the process that resulted in the approval of the 1990 plan in 1991, the proposed changes or revision must also be approved by the Maryland Wild and Scenic Rivers Review Board and the Maryland General Assembly. Until that happens, the 1990 Monocacy Scenic River Study and Management Plan remains in effect.
The MRRPA is intended to be beneficial, not regulatory. It identifies the location of valuable biological and physical resources throughout the river corridor. In that respect, It offers to current and potential landowners, land-use planners and others involved in the protecting the biological and physical resources of the river corridor useful, if not critical, information about resources in the protected areas. While it proposes to add an MRRPA component to the management plan, the Monocacy Scenic River Advisory Board has no regulatory authority, only an informative and advisory function. The board must, and does, rely on good science, resource data and reasoned advice in its efforts to conserve and protect the natural and scenic resources of the river corridor, the so-called health of the river. Inclusion of an MRRPA in the plan would enable the board in its advocacy and advisory capacity to identify areas and locations within the river corridor that are worthy of conservation and protection.
James Gilford writes from Frederick.