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Marks withdraws Loch Raven Reservoir mountain biking bill

Council attorney says county does not have jurisdiction over city-owned property

By Jon Meoli, jmeoli@tribune.com

8:32 PM EDT, May 7, 2012

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Despite widespread community support, County Councilman David Marks withdrew a bill that would allow mountain biking at the Loch Raven Reservoir before it could reach a vote Monday.

"It's largely because the life of a bill is 40 days," Marks, who represents the 5th District including Towson, said before Monday's council meeting. "I would love to keep this bill alive and continue to sort out the issue, but I have to make a decision tonight, and right now there is not the support to pass any sort of legislation that expands mountain biking in Baltimore County's green buffer."

The bill was discussed at a heavily attended work session May 1, but council attorney Michael Fields said the council did not have the authority to legislate for the city-owned property located in the county.

Marks said support for the bill died when it was made clear that it was not effective, and there was also fear of setting a bad precedent in relation to the forest buffer zone.

That's not the end of the story, though.

A letter dated May 8 and addressed to Baltimore City Council President Jack Young from County Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond, who represents the 2nd District, urges the city to work with mountain biking community.

"We are supportive of efforts to permit the responsible use of the off-road trails surrounding the reservoir area, consistent with sound environmental policy that ensures the continued reliability of the Loch Raven Reservoir as a source of quality drinking water," the letter reads.

When reached Monday afternoon, city Department of Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher said the city would not comment on county legislation.

Additionally, State Sen. Jim Brochin (D-42), who testified in favor of the bill at the work session and was responsible for bringing the issue to the forefront last fall via a public sparring match with city officials, has requested an opinion from the Attorney General on who governs what at the reservoir.

"In order to achieve peace and serenity for the mountain bikers, we need to do this in a deliberative way that crosses every 't,' dots every 'i,' and figure out who ultimately has responsibility, and move forward," Brochin said when reached Monday by phone.

He expects an answer later this week, and while he understands the reasons for Marks withdrawing the bill, Brochin said he was not happy about the turn of events.

Dave Ferraro, president of the Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (MORE), an advocacy group that has been working with the city and county in order to solve the problem, said he still considers the legislative attempt a success despite its withdrawal.

Fields said during the work session that the forest buffer law is more typically applied to development cases, not recreational land use.

"When the city wants to build trails, the ordinance will not apply and they won't be in violation of it," Ferraro said.

Ferraro has been in constant contact with members of the city DPW about the issue, and said "it doesn't really surprise me that we had to take this circuitous route to get there, but I think we're there."

At the council work session May 1, Ferraro was joined by dozens of speakers and well over 100 supporters from the mountain biking community, all of whom urged the council to adopt the resolution and end the city's strict actions against bikers at the reservoir.

Carol Silldorff, executive director of Bike Maryland, and Frank Maguire, regional director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, were among the advocacy group leaders who urged the council to move on the bill.

Other speakers included bike shop owners Katie Gore of Loch Raven Village, and Bruce Robertson, who moved to the area for the trails. Both and are unhappy with the "draconian measures" taken by city rangers.

But because the county has no way of imposing regulations on the city and the way it uses the reservoir, the support was for naught.

"I think we've made it very clear that it's (the city's) responsibility, and we'd really like for them to reach an agreement with the mountain bikers," Marks said. "I don't know anything more we can do."