The slow-motion divorce between the Frederick and Carroll county governments has finally been granted on grounds of irreconcilable differences over the Monocacy River.
The split has been years in the making, as the two counties moved in opposite directions politically and culturally.
Custody of the river will be shared, though Frederick County has most of the waterway within its boundaries.
Late last month, the Carroll County Commission voted to eliminate the bi-county Monocacy Scenic River Citizens Advisory Board and create its own board, composed solely of Carroll residents.
The river board was formed between Carroll and Frederick counties in 1978, four years after the state designated the Monocacy a scenic river. With five members from each county, its purpose was to advise the two local governments on development issues along the path of the river.
The river is formed from two creeks in Pennsylvania that join at the Maryland border. The stream forms the border between Carroll and Frederick from the state line to the point where Md. 77 crosses the river. Then the river turns south and west and meanders through Frederick County to flow into the Potomac River at the county line with Montgomery County.
When the advisory board was formed, the two counties were roughly similar, largely agricultural and politically conservative. In 1990, the board wrote a plan to protect the Monocacy, giving guidance to local government and landowners regarding the management of the river and its resources.
But in the decades since, much has changed. Carroll has become more conservative and Frederick has become more moderate. When the river board set out to update the plan in 2016, it soon became evident that the two sides could not agree.
Broadly speaking, Carroll’s representatives were primarily concerned about protecting the property rights of landowners along the river. They strove to essentially change the language requiring certain actions by landowners into a list of suggestions for things such as buffer zones and recreational uses.
Frederick’s representatives, on the other hand, were primarily concerned about maintaining water quality while increasing recreational uses.
The first revision in 2017 was rejected by Carroll’s commissioners, which appointed new board members more in line with the commissioners’ wishes. The new Carroll faction narrowly pushed through another plan in 2018, and it was adopted by the Carroll commissioners. But the Frederick County Council decided to approve the 2017 version.
Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner and County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer told our reporters that the commissioners’ decision didn’t come as a surprise. Keegan-Ayer said that as she talked with Carroll Commissioner Stephen Wantz, it became clear that each county was happy with the plan it had passed.
Gardner now plans to present a bill to the County Council in the coming weeks to create a Sustainable Monocacy Commission, which will be the county’s own river board.
Stan Mordensky, a Frederick County member of the old advisory board who was critical of the 2018 plan, said the needs of Frederick and Carroll counties are different, with Frederick County dealing with much more development than Carroll.
“The river plan adopted by Carroll County forgot about the river,” Mordensky said. That about sums it up.
We think the more restrictive Frederick plan is the better way to protect the river. We may still be coping with some issues from Carroll, since its farmland is upstream from Frederick. But we are reasonably confident that the Maryland Department of the Environment will monitor the water quality closely to make certain this important natural resource is well-protected.