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The Monocacy River Plan

Earl Bell

(1/2017) A flood of controversy is rising along the scenic banks of the Monocacy River. As a result, strong sentiments overflowed from local citizens at a public meeting held earlier this month at the Taneytown fire hall.

The meeting, hosted by The Monocacy Scenic River Citizens Advisory Board and Frederick & Carroll counties (which appointed the Advisory Board members), outlined their recommendations that the government take control of an extraordinarily wide buffer of land along the river banks from private property owners. The government would take the land without compensation to owners.

The land is owned by farmers and other local residents, who want to keep their land.

Despite the majority of those in attendance failing to receive proper notice of the public meeting (which the Advisory Board claimed to have done), dozens of outraged land owners, citizens and farmers filled the fire hall and expressed strong opposition to the Advisory Board’s proposed Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan.

They only learned of the updated plan and the meeting by word of mouth from citizens against the proposal, who fear this proposed land grab is a first step in allowing the government to wrest control of private property in Frederick and Carroll counties.

As an American and U.S. citizen, I am reminded of a quote from one of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson:

"When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."

As a property owner - and most Americans are in some form or another, whether it be via land, homes, and/or personal possessions - I view this as a warning sign. If the government can propose this recommendation (see below for more details on what I believe is their ulterior motive), what is to stop them from taking similar actions in the future against my fellow residents in Frederick and Carroll counties for other private property the bureaucrats may covet?

These land grabs start as a small government take down, so as not to be so noticed. And bit by bit, our government For the People and By the People, has become the largest land owner in America.

Did you know that nearly 30% of American land is owned by the federal government? Not to mention what state and local governments might own.

An Expanded Land Buffer Zone is unwarranted:

Back to our lovely lands in Frederick and Carroll counties.

Land owners and citizens are concerned because the River Management Plan creates an extensive land setback or buffer zone for a "protection boundary area" that would extend 300 - 500 feet on each side of the Monocacy into private property. This is well over 10 times the size of setbacks that typically exist along some rivers.

The proposed land setback cuts through farms, private land, and even encompasses existing homes along the Monocacy River. Not only is the expanded setback unnecessarily extensive, but it encroaches on land owner’s property rights; intrudes on their privacy; and negatively impacts property values.

When it comes to land setbacks, studies have shown that a much smaller 15 to 35 foot buffer area is more than adequate for the ecological set back purposes stated in the plan. However, citizens opposed to the River Management Plan assert that no proposed buffer zone is needed in the first place – as a natural buffer already exists and nearly 80% of the land in the newly proposed setback area lies within FEMA’s 100 year flood plain, which is very tightly regulated.

Moreover, according to research, most of the pollution in the Monocacy is "non-source" pollution, derived from the 744 square mile basin and tributaries that feed into The Monocacy. Statistical data indicates that a buffer zone will do very little when it comes to protecting the overall water integrity of the Monocacy River.

To be sure, everyone wants reasonable ecology and water management for the Monocacy River, as well as to maintain its scenic beauty. Those land owners closest to the river especially share these goals. The Monocacy adjacent landowners have a vested interest in following best land management practices; already have a legion of government regulations to comply with; and the vast majority are good stewards of their land, particularly knowing its proximity to the river.

Government Over Reach:

So why is the Advisory Board making these recommendations?

Many suspect, including myself, that there is a stealth motive here. Local land owners and citizens recall what the very same Monocacy Scenic River Advisory Board attempted to do 13 years ago.

Back then, The Board recommended land "easements" along the Monocacy River. The apparent goal behind the land setbacks along the river was to create public access for a bike path across private property. Strong opposition from local citizens in defense of owner’s property rights shelved the idea.

For awhile, at least…as one might think the bad idea is back and brewing again in the minds of the Advisory Board and their government sponsors. Except this time it has been re-packaged in the River Management Plan as the 300 - 500 ft. buffer zone for ecological purposes.

Mr. Alan Heflin, whose family company owns multiple farms encompassing land bordering the Monocacy, commented at the Taneytown meeting about the plan’s proposed pollution/clean water intent: "I have a hard time grasping the magnitude of what they’re trying to recommend when things have gotten so much better." He cited statistics showing significant progress in improved water quality in the Monocacy. Heflin also noted "the creation of the new resource protection boundary (the buffer zone) is disconcerting and creates a framework for regulation."

That’s for sure. But it's also about the bit by bit government take down of private property. In this case, a government land grab without compensation, and for no genuinely justifiable purpose.

Call to Action

River front property owners are currently in the government cross hairs. However, all property owners should take note…your property could be next.

If you would like your voice to be heard, please attend the next public meeting is on January 4, 2017 in Frederick. And also as a concerned citizen, please email your comments on the River Plan as the deadline has been extended through 1/31/16. Comment should be sent to the following contacts:

Most importantly, send your comments by email to the Frederick & Carroll County Council members as they decide on this issue. They can be reached at the following link: www.frederickcountymd.gov/591/County-Council

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