To help protect property rights from government overreach causing needless harm, tell the Frederick County Council to vote down the “Water Buffer Bill” proposed by Councilmen Kai Hagen and Jerry Donald with support from County Executive Jan Gardner. Send your email now to: Councilmembers@frederickcountyMD.gov before the vote on Sept. 15 at 5:30 p.m.
Any council member voting for this bill is essentially, endorsing a government “taking” of private land via arbitrary government regulations. All without just cause or compensation to owners. This is fundamentally and morally wrong.
Both the highly regarded Frederick County Farm Bureau and Association of Realtors are against the bill with serious concerns. Even the Frederick County Planning Commission voted unanimously to reject the bill and recommend to the council that it not be passed.
There’s a right way and a wrong way for the government to acquire private land. The right way is to buy it from a willing seller or acquire it under the law of eminent domain, requiring just cause and compensation to landowners. The wrong way is to take control of private land through an unethical, back-door way of unnecessary government regulations.
This harmful, unnecessary bill is a step in the wrong direction. And because one bad step can lead to another, it begs the question: Whose property rights could be infringed upon next? Yours? This is why it’s vital to prevent government overreach large or small.
The Buffer Bill affects countless properties and farms county-wide that are contiguous to water bodies including rivers, lakes and streams. It seeks to change county law to needlessly increase the existing 100-150 foot wide buffer setback requirement further into waterfront land during any land subdivision process. This existing buffer requirement is already 2-3 times larger than a commonly recommended 50-foot-wide buffer for water protection in 49 states nationwide (Blinn & Kilgore). It also meets/surpasses federal government buffer standards (35-100 feet) for water protection.
The Farm Bureau was spot on when they said the bill’s “unnecessary restrictions can cause undue harm to landowners and farmers by infringing on property rights; reducing a landowner’s ability to use their own land; and can negatively impact property values. In this case, for no credible reason or compensation to owners.”
Moreover, after causing undue harm, the bill’s increased buffer size will have no practical effect to improve water quality (which is the purpose of the bill) due to significant diminishing returns in effectiveness of larger buffers in filtering pollutants. According to Yale University: “Studies unanimously support the conclusion that buffer efficiency at filtering out pollutants increases with width. However, this does not increase infinitely, and the goal is to find the most efficient width. For example, a study in the Mid-Atlantic found that 90% of sediments were removed by a 62-foot riparian buffer, but only 94% were removed by more than doubling the buffer width to 164 feet.” Thus, a buffer nearly 3 times larger than a 62-foot buffer only filters a tiny percentage more pollutants.
Additionally, state and county government scientific research specific to Frederick County waterways proves no countywide nitrogen/phosphorous pollution problem exists to support the bill’s blanket countywide buffer increase regulation to waterfront land.
All of the above renders the bill a resounding failure. The only thing the bill really does is allow the government to wrongly take control of more waterfront private land without justification or compensation to owners.
As a former chairman of the longstanding, prior joint-county Monocacy River Board, I care deeply about the treasure we have in the Monocacy and all waterways. I also care about property rights. Certainly, any waterbody law or plan should reasonably protect both and above all, do no harm. Such a balance is critical to good governance. Fortunately, this balance exists in current waterbody regulations which are effectively and reasonably protecting waterways, negating any need for the Buffer Bill.
The Buffer Bill issue reminds me of something my father told me when I was a young boy. He said, “If you didn’t earn it and I didn’t give it to you, it’s not yours to take. That would be stealing, which is wrong.” It also reminds me of the Monocacy River Plan update fiasco which caused public alarm. All due to language in the initial draft provided by Frederick County government (during County Executive Jan Gardner’s Administration) that recommended the counties take control of 8,000 acres of river-front land by unnecessary, vast buffer expansions without evidence of need.
Attorneys called this an “unconstitutional, unsupported regulatory-taking of private land” by local government. Citizens called it a government land grab. Fortunately, the plan was reasonably revised as more sound political judgements later prevailed.
This is either an unintended misguided bill or another land grab by design. Those who vote for the Buffer Bill should be voted out of office.
Earl Bell served as chairman of the Monocacy River Board.