Carroll County will proceed with an environmental assessment of several streams in the Liberty Reservoir watershed, using a $40,000 state grant to complete the work. The decision occurs a month after Commissioner Donald I. Dell called the study overkill and said that he was considering returning the money.
He reiterated those comments in his state of the county address to the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 17.
Had Carroll returned the grant, the state probably would have awarded it to another jurisdiction. Baltimore County had learned of Dell's reluctance and asked the state for the money, said James E. Slater Jr., Carroll's environmental compliance specialist.
Dell said yesterday that he was not satisfied the study was necessary, but made a motion "to accept the darn grant," which was unanimously approved. He refused to comment further.
County staff argued vigorously the merits of the grant, which expires Dec. 31, and will begin the work immediately.
"We can assess the condition of the watershed near and away from the streams and prepare proper restoration projects," Slater said. "There is a lot of storm water in the watershed that is unmanaged. This is water going straight into inlets and it could cause problems over time."
The watershed covers about half of Carroll County and five of its planned growth areas. It includes streams that feed Liberty Reservoir, a source of drinking water for about 2 million people in the metropolitan area.
"We can't possibly do the entire watershed. That's not physically possible," said Tom Devilbiss, Carroll's hydrogeologist. "We can look at select areas and get a handle on what's going on."
The county will focus on Snowden's Run in Eldersburg and Middle Run in Gamber and, if time allows, Roaring Run in Finksburg. All three streams contribute significantly to the water supply, Slater said.
Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge and Robin Bartlett Frazier said they could see the advantages of the study.
"This is a good thing," Frazier said. "It helps us identify projects."
Gouge added, "We will have to do these studies anyway to fulfill federal [clean water] requirements. This study will help us know what is upstream, and it begins to identify [problems]. We could find we are doing everything correctly, and there could be more grant money available to us because we used this one."
But Dell cautioned, "We had a similar situation and found bog turtles and look at that mess."
An environmental study of the proposed Hampstead bypass several years ago discovered the route would disrupt the habitat of bog turtles, an endangered species. The project was delayed years while the state redesigned the route to protect the turtles.
The grant from the state Department of Natural Resources will pay a one-year salary for a contractual employee who will coordinate the findings.
"I am concerned that we are hiring a person who will have to find something wrong to justify his job," Dell said. "These streams have been here for thousands of years and we are already doing a lot. This is a bureaucratic mandate. We are correcting things today that we did 20 years ago and have now found are wrong."
The watershed assessment will look for erosion, silt in streambeds and habitat to evaluate water conditions. The county has aerial maps of the streams, but little hard data. "Seeing the conditions with our own eyes will be more beneficial and more detailed," Slater said.
Devilbiss called the effort "an excellent tool to focus where we should direct our resources. Often we can fix the source and then let Mother Nature heal herself. We can also identify what is already being done."
Liberty Watershed is a high restoration priority for the state, and the study will be done regardless of Carroll's participation, Devilbiss said.
"We should get a jump start here and have control ourselves," he said. "This will give us priority in future funding applications."
The county will detail study results for the state and could become eligible for future grants to finance restoration efforts, such as tree plantings and purchase of permanent open spaces.
The county planning department will send letters to about 100 landowners whose properties adjoin the streams asking for permission to walk along the shorelines. Any blatant violations, such as oil spills, would have to be reported immediately to the state.