Forest law proposal turns 'shall' into 'may' 'No big deal,' official says


A proposed change in Carroll's forest conservation law would affect only one word, but it is generating some talk.

Carroll commissioners are considering changing one word in the section of the law that deals with penalties, and at least one resident who was involved in drafting the law is concerned.

"It is more than a grammatical change," said Frank Grabowski of Westminster, who last year chaired a citizens committee that helped write the law.

The law, which was adopted in November, now says anyone who violates it "shall be assessed a penalty." The commissioners want to change it to read "may be assessed a penalty," County Attorney Charles W. Thompson Jr. said yesterday.

The proposed change is grammatical, and the commissioners simply want to clarify the law, Mr. Thompson said.

The attorney said he interprets "shall" to mean "may."

"It is not a big deal," he said.

Carroll's law is meant to help preserve county forests and requires anyone who disturbs 25,000 square feet or more of land to replace trees felled during development and to provide the county with data on existing woodlands.

The law says anyone who violates it shall be fined 30 cents per square foot of the area disturbed by development. The county may levy an additional $1,000 fine.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said of the proposed rewording, "I don't think it's going to change anything one iota. I'll go along with it."

When he first heard about the proposed change, he said he wasn't sure it was the right thing to do.

"I thought at the time it was watering down the county law," he said. "I always thought 'shall' is more demanding."

But after talking with Mr. Thompson, he said he agreed the proposed change would not alter the law.

Mr. Grabowski said the citizens committee and the commissioners had "considerable discussion" about whether the penalty section should say "shall" or "may."

"I think it says what it should say. 'Shall' means it [a fine] is not optional. 'May' to me provides relief first, ask questions later. 'Shall' says here's your fine and your penalty. If you don't like it, appeal and get your relief later," he said.

He said he wanted to talk over the change with Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Julia W. Gouge, who could not be reached for comment late yesterday afternoon.

After this one, the county should not make any more changes to the forest conservation law, Mr. Lippy said.

"We shouldn't go around tinkering with this forever. Sooner or later it should be the law of the land and should be allowed to rest as it is now," he said.

The county has levied only one fine for violation of the forest conservation law since it was adopted.

The owner of Stauffer Funeral Homes in Mount Airy was fined $3,649 for removing several large trees on a one-acre lot on East Ridgeville Boulevard without providing the county with data on the trees and other ground cover.

County staff members will answer questions and hear public comments about the proposed change to the forest conservation law at a meeting at 3 p.m. July 20 in Room 300A of the County Office Building. The commissioners will sponsor a public hearing on the issue at 2:30 p.m. July 27 at the same place.

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