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In letter to officials, Brochin takes city to task for Loch Raven policies

State senator says city actions in watershed are 'clearly unacceptable,' mentions 'costly litigation'

By Kevin Rector, krector@tribune.com

10:56 AM EDT, October 28, 2011

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State Sen. Jim Brochin has lashed out at Baltimore City officials over issues at Loch Raven Reservoir – again.

In the last few weeks, Brochin has been one of the most vocally unrestrained critics of city officials' recent decision to close down popular but unsanctioned mountain biking trails throughout the Loch Raven Reservoir forest buffer.

During a trail tour he helped organize on Oct. 14, Brochin chatted freely with media, mountain bikers and city councilmembers about how "ridiculous" he thinks the city's stance on the trails is. He rejected the idea that bikers cause significant erosion and sedimentation in the water supply.

Now Brochin has left the trailhead and turned instead to his senatorial letterhead.

In an Oct. 21 letter addressed to city Department of Public Works Director Alfred Foxx, Brochin, a Democrat who represents Towson, demands the city take a better look at its own actions in the watershed instead of focusing on bikers', specifically by changing two things he noticed there during the Oct. 14 tour.

First, he requests the city DPW immediately stop using fire roads, except for cases of emergency, when it is raining, just as it restricts bikers from using trails during rain.

"This will greatly diminish runoff and protect our water quality," Brochin wrote.

Second, he requests that two jersey barriers that the DPW placed across a stream bed cutting through a fire road be removed immediately.

"They are doing considerable damage to the water flow, and they are also causing significant sediment to back up," he wrote. "This is clearly unacceptable."

He went on:

"While I am not a scientist, I do know that both of these requests are best practices to enhance water quality, and I am hereby requesting that they both be adopted," he wrote.

"Baltimore City may own the reservoir, however it is in my Senate district," he wrote. "Furthermore, your ownership in no way gives you immunity from adhering to the environmental laws of the State of Maryland."

Both things Brochin demanded the city change have been previously criticized by bikers.

Copies of Brochin's letter were also sent to city Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the city DPW's acting watershed manager Clark Howells, the state's secretary of the environment Robert Summers, and Erin Fitzsimmons, with the Attorney General's Environmental Advisory Council.

After mentioning his copying the above, Brochin wrote, "Despite these steps, I am hopeful that the city will immediately move towards incorporating the best practices mentioned above. Costly litigation to Baltimore City will not serve anyone's best interests."

Brochin's office shared the letter with a reporter on Thursday, Oct. 27, almost a week after it was dated.

When asked, also on Oct. 27, whether she could confirm that Foxx had received the letter, Celeste Amato, a city DPW spokeswoman, wrote in an email that he had not received it.

"Mr. Foxx has not received this letter yet," Amato wrote. "We will respond to the Senator's letter after review of the issues."

An aide to Brochin said the letter was sent on Oct. 21, as it is dated. He also said he called Foxx's office, where an assistant confirmed for him that the letter was received.

Summers, who Brochin took on a tour of the reservoir land on Saturday, Oct. 22, did receive Brochin's letter, said a spokesman from his department.

The spokesman said Summers lives near Loch Raven and is "familiar with the trails."

He also said the department is treating the complaints in Brochin's letter "as it would any citizen complaint," and that a department inspector has been assigned "to look into the matter."

In an interview, Brochin said he was tired of the city hypocritically blaming mountain bikers for erosion while really causing it themselves, and had decided to turn the tables.

"They say they are very concerned about the water quality, and they are harassing bikers who don't damage the water quality at all, and in the meantime they don't have a clue about keeping up a reservoir, maintaining open space, and keeping up this gem," Brochin said.

"I don't think Baltimore City is being a good steward to the environment."