Judge Adkins-Tobin’s refusal to pause the destruction of Abingdon Woods for 30 days is mind-numbing. The judge stated that the petitioners failed to provide sufficient evidence of how they would be harmed by the tree clearing. Her statement that the developers got the permits legally is debatable, as the Maryland Court of Appeals decision on Harford County’s approval of the forestry management plan, due any day, has not been issued.
A brief history of this forest reveals that just three years ago, the forest was protected by environmental laws because of its critical function in maintaining water quality in the Bush River and Chesapeake Bay. COMAR 26.08.02.04-1 regulations require that the water quality of Tier II streams such as Haha Branch be protected to maintain public health and the environment.
A resolution initiated in 2019 by Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, which was opposed by Harford citizens and Councilman Andre Johnson, who represents the Abingdon area, incorporated the forest into an Enterprise Zone. This resolution allowed the developer to circumvent the laws protecting Tier II waters. COMAR 26.08.02.04 -1 K: Demonstrating Social and Economic Justification for an Impact to Tier II Waters states “the requirement for social and economic justification is met if the watershed affecting the Tier II water is located in a priority funding area” (Enterprise Zone).
Placing the forest into an Enterprise Zone is not consistent with the county’s stated definition of an Enterprise Zone and is not in the best interests of Harford County residents.
Harford County code defines the purpose of an Enterprise Zone:
- To promote development and occupancy of vacant, underutilized land and buildings.
- To support the county’s commitment to revitalize older industrial areas of Harford County.
Abingdon Woods does not contain any underutilized land, industrial areas or vacant buildings. It was a mature forest with a stream and wetlands.
HarfordNEXT, (Harford County’s Master Land Use Plan) establishes policies that the Department of Planning and Zoning can use to provide safe, harmonious and livable communities, and prioritize the preservation of the county’s most environmentally sensitive and valuable lands. HarfordNEXT identified Abingdon Woods as an “essential hub” and a priority “core forest for preservation.”
The county’s Green Infrastructure plan describes the ecological services provided by this forest, stream and non-tidal wetlands “as paramount to maintaining a high quality of life for our citizens.” The plan states, “Forests provide public benefits — including flood protection, erosion control, and removal of pollutants from the air and water. This forest regulates the temperature and amount of precipitation, houses essential pollinators and other beneficial wildlife, and stores carbon.”
Putting a price tag on the ecological services provided by Abingdon Woods is difficult, but it is surely worth more than the developer spent renting large equipment for a month. The value of this forest to the public good is surely worth waiting 30 days to protect. The costs of not protecting Abingdon Woods are enormous, not just for those living close to the forest, but for all Harford County residents and beyond.
This particular forest is the last large forest in the Bush River watershed and drains into Otter Point Creek, home of the National Estuarian Research Reserve, one of only 32 such sites in the entire nation. The reserve includes the Anita C. Light Estuary Center and contains one of the last freshwater marshes remaining in the Upper Chesapeake Bay. The destruction of this ecosystem will permanently degrade the water quality of Otter Point Creek, the Bush River and the Chesapeake Bay, and accelerate the downward spiral of the blue crab, rock fish and oyster populations.
What a fool’s errand to compare the cost of concrete to the creation that sustains life on earth.