Industry plan roils Liberty waters; Business park expansion angers conservationists


The proposed expansion of an Eldersburg industrial park could muddy the waters of Little Morgan Run, a major tributary that flows through Carroll County to Liberty Reservoir, the drinking water supply for 1.5 million people in metropolitan Baltimore.

Carroll County planners have proposed rezoning 75 privately owned acres of farmland and woods in the Liberty watershed near the stream and adding the land to the Central Maryland Distribution Center, an industrial park near routes 26 and 97.

But plans for expanding the center -- a top economic development priority for county officials -- are drawing fire from environmentalists.

"They want to turn Morgan Run into a glorified storm drain," said George Murphy, an Eldersburg resident and environmental activist. "That is exactly what will happen if you align the stream with an industrial park and its requisite sewerage and runoff. You won't have trees overhanging the water. You will have tailpipes."

The stream starts as Little Morgan Run west of Route 97 and is fed by several smaller creeks on its way to the reservoir, a 43 billion-gallon lake that defines the southeastern end of Carroll County. Liberty, one of three reservoirs owned by Baltimore City, offers the area its highest-quality and most easily treatable water.

Anglers prize the Liberty watershed for its fat, brown trout, which they call a certain sign of healthy tributaries. Visitors are drawn to its hiking and equestrian trails among towering trees that shade the waterways. The watershed includes Morgan Run Natural Environmental Area, about 1,300 acres of state-owned parkland that is home to deer, fox and wild turkey, making the area "the best back yard in the world," Murphy said.

"Our job is to come up with a marketable site; planners do the environmental analysis," said John T. "Jack" Lyburn, county director of economic development. "This one is extremely marketable and one we would really like to have. We can put it together with an existing parcel and double the size. This is critical mass, when you are trying to establish an industrial corridor."

Carroll is seeking to increase its industrial base, the lowest among the metropolitan counties, and officials have made economic development a top priority. Enlarging an existing industrial parcel, blessed with high visibility and good roads, makes sound economic sense, Lyburn said.

But before any developer can build on the site, the area must be rezoned from agricultural use to industrial use. In doing so, the county would do an environmental analysis detailing the effect of industry on the watershed.

That could trigger a battle with Baltimore City.

"We will scrutinize development and protect our watershed," George G. Balog, city director of public works, said recently. "It is property we own, and we will control it."

The expansion would extend the industrial park to streams that feed Morgan Run. Worse, it would destroy forests and farmland, Murphy said.

"A forest acts like a sponge that keeps the water table going, and it absorbs 14 times as much water in rainfall as roads," he said. "Carving out 75 acres would lower the water table and the structure of the stream."

At a recent session of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, Morgan Run was given as an example of stream deterioration with increased levels of chlorides, much of which comes from road salts and septic systems. A stream can withstand only so much degradation before plant and aquatic life is destroyed, Murphy said.

The expansion proposal, one of three that call for adding to South Carroll's industrial base, is included in the Freedom Area Comprehensive Plan, a document awaiting review and adoption by the county commissioners. The plan outlines growth for the next six years in South Carroll, the county's most populous area, with more than 28,000 residents.

More than half the county's work force commutes to jobs outside Carroll. Industry could bring those jobs here. But, Murphy said, the cost will be too high.

"If they foul the streams, they will lose far more than they gain," Murphy said. "Carroll would lose its character as a place with environmental balance, with streams and agriculture in the same valley."

Murphy has written to state and county officials, urging them to reconsider.

"If you urbanize the watershed, it will be too late to turn back. It will be already gone," he said. "Once you have made industrial land, it does not revert to forest or farm. We should be pushing for the highest and best use for all the citizens of the state."

John Koenigsmark often drives from his Lutherville home to fish in Morgan Run. He donned hip boots last week and waded into the stream, expecting to lure a trout onto his line.

"Even the drought has not kept the trout away," he said. "There is so little of this kind of opportunity. Why do they have to keep encroaching on these areas? Where does it stop? This stream has a fair number of springs coming into it. Development is taking up the aquifer. I know there's going to be development, but when you have an environment like this, you should protect it."

Pub Date: 9/26/99

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