To accelerate the pace of farmland preservation in Carroll County, the commissioners agreed yesterday to direct state funds to the Liberty watershed, a sensitive environmental area facing development pressure.
"I think it's wonderful," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "It will ease tensions and improve the quality of the water in Liberty Reservoir."
The tensions Gouge referred to include strained relations with the governor over his Smart Growth initiatives and stalled negotiations with the city of Baltimore regarding an increase in water from the reservoir, the primary source of drinking water in South Carroll.
In recent years, Carroll County has also come under fire from environmentalists for building and expanding industrial sites in the Liberty watershed. The reservoir, owned by the city of Baltimore, lies within the county's most populous area, a region that has suffered water restrictions the past three summers.
County officials are trying to increase Carroll's daily draw of more than 3 million gallons of water from the reservoir to meet demand in the Freedom District, which includes Eldersburg and Sykesville. Negotiations with the city have stalled because of development concerns.
"This is an effort to preserve land in a fast-growing corridor of Carroll County," said Steven C. Horn, county planning director. "It will be complementary to and supportive of other land preservation efforts in Carroll and Baltimore counties."
Liberty Reservoir, a 43 billion-gallon lake, offers Baltimore City and Carroll high-quality and easily treatable water.
The new initiative, which would direct an undetermined amount of state Rural Legacy money to the watershed area, could also help mend Carroll County's strained relations with Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
The Carroll commissioners, all conservative Republicans, have found themselves at odds with the Democratic governor in recent months over land-use and water issues.
Glendening stunned the commissioners last month during his address at the Maryland Municipal League convention in Ocean City, when he singled out Carroll as the county that "consistently resists Smart Growth," his initiative to control sprawl.
The funding area established by the commissioners yesterday is the second to be designated for the state Rural Legacy grant program. Previous efforts were directed to the Little Pipe Creek watershed in northwest Carroll.
County planners are working to define the Liberty funding area's boundaries, but Horn said he expects it to fall between Routes 140 and 30 - a region bounded by Westminster, Finksburg, Hampstead and Manchester.
Carroll ranks among the highest nationally for agricultural preservation. The county has about 300,000 acres of farmland and has set a goal of preserving at least one-third of them by 2020.
Since the program's inception in 1998, Carroll County has been awarded nearly $4 million in state funds for rural legacy, the state's newest preservation initiative. It provides money to buy easements on farms and other rural areas so they are permanently protected from development.
Horn told the commissioners yesterday that Carroll is the only county in Maryland that has spent all of its first-year Rural Legacy money - about $1.5 million.