Baltimore City and Baltimore County have reiterated their refusals to compromise on changes to the Reservoir Watershed Protection Agreement, prompting Commissioner Donald I. Dell to say he will negotiate with elected officials only.
Dell wants the agreement reworded to allow Carroll County leeway for industrial development near Liberty Reservoir. He is trying to schedule a session with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, and he met recently with Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who referred the commissioner to his environmental staff.
Dell said Friday that he is not interested in meeting with administrators.
"Staffs' minds are made up," Dell said. "Why fool around with them, batting us back and forth? We need to meet with elected officials."
If comments earlier last week at a Finksburg community meeting are any indication, Dell's assessment of the mindset is correct.
"Zoning is the most important tool we have to protect the watershed," said Donald C. Outen, chief of policy, planning, research and development in the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management. "We are not telling anyone else what to do, but we are not interested in changing the agreement. Protective zoning is in place for our residents."
Kurt Kocher, spokesman for the city Department of Public Works, said Baltimore also refuses to compromise on the language in the agreement.
"We are glad Outen reiterated our concerns," Kocher said. "We have an agreement in place that has been acceptable to reasonable people for a long time. We have made it clear what is expected. We are protecting our resources."
Outen added, "It is not us who don't want to bend."
Carroll has not responded to an offer made by Baltimore County, Outen said.
A fixed amount of land in the watershed is zoned for residential development. Carroll could change the zoning in those areas to industrial.
"If Carroll County wants to trade in residentially zoned land for industrially zoned land, it would not be in violation of the agreement," he said. "We have offered; there has been no response."
Dell said Friday that he was unaware of the offer. His staff might have rejected it as impractical, he said.
"Residential rights to development belong to private landowners," Dell said. "How could we make that work? It is not like the county owns those rights. We are talking about private property."
Carroll, the only metropolitan county that has not endorsed the longstanding agreement with Baltimore, has asked for deletions and changes in the pact's language.
Dell, with support from Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, would delete "Carroll" from a passage that says, "In Baltimore and Carroll counties, conservation and agricultural zoning of the reservoir watershed should be maintained and not reduced."
Another stipulation would be rewritten to "Carroll County will protect the reservoir watershed by ensuring strict compliance with all federal and state environmental laws and regulations and actively encouraging voluntary implementation of environmentally friendly land use practices by property owners in those watersheds."
Liberty Reservoir, a 45 billion-gallon lake that forms Carroll's southern border with Baltimore County, supplies drinking water to 1.8 million people, including nearly 20,000 in Sykesville and Eldersburg.
Baltimore City owns the reservoir and land immediately surrounding it.
"We are not stopping development; but we are not opening the door to inappropriate development near the watershed," Outen said. Dell and Frazier expect to create industrial parcels on 580 acres in the Liberty watershed.
"We don't want new sources of possible pollutants," said Jack Anderson, Baltimore Metropolitan Council's coordinator for watershed protection. "We are in a continual struggle to reduce pollutants."
Last week, Anderson, Outen and Catherine M. Rappe, former chief of Carroll's now-defunct water resources bureau, participated in a panel discussing watershed issues. The panel was organized by the Finksburg Planning Area Council.
With one of the lowest industrial bases in the state, Carroll hopes to boost economic development with land to attract it.
"They have to zoom up industry to catch up with residential development," Laura O'Callaghan of Finksburg said during the discussion. "If they continue to allow unlimited residential growth, the county will never catch up."
"Carroll County is not asking for the moon," Jim Scalion of Finksburg said during the discussion. "Nobody in their right mind would pollute water. Why is there no flexibility?"
Outen answered: "Development creates problems for water quality. All the counties are under requirements to reduce pollutants. Are we in an era of encouraging urban development in the watersheds?"
Rappe developed a water resources protection ordinance that was shelved by a previous board of commissioners, which included Dell.
"There is no real broad commitment to water protection on a consistent basis in Carroll," said Rappe, whose job was eliminated in the commissioners' reorganization of government last year. "It is not a real strong intent to work out differences by dropping words from the agreement."
Anderson said he will continue to work for common ground, but he knows "it will take some strong talking."