Cleanwater Linganore: Many and growing concerns about the watershed and water quality

In late 2013, the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners’ (BOCC) decision to substantially weaken the county stream buffer ordinance brought together residents of the Lake Linganore watershed to form a new organization called Cleanwater Linganore.

For many years, Lake Linganore residents had been working to find ways to stem the flow of sediment, bacteria and algae nutrients into Lake Linganore and its tributaries. During that time, Lake Linganore has lost approximately 23% of its storage capacity due to sedimentation. The lake also frequently suffers from excessive E. Coli bacteria, and regularly needs to be treated for algae blooms to reduce the threat to drinking water in the City of Frederick.

In 2008, area residents were optimistic about the beneficial long term effects of the strong new county stream buffer ordinance, which included special protections for the Lake Linganore watershed. It was designed to reduce the volume of sediment and pollution run-off by protecting a natural, vegetated buffer along the tributaries and steep slopes of the increasingly threatened lake.

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Unfortunately, in an October 31, 2013 decision, the county commissioners weakened the ordinance, arbitrarily shrinking the stream buffer width, and allowing significant construction inside the buffer zone. The commissioners also removed the special protections for the Lake Linganore watershed, directly undermined hard fought progress. The decision was clearly contrary to county goals and good practices, and will inevitably lead to increased storm water runoff and erosion, additional sedimentation, higher levels of pollutants, and more algae problems. The change also works in opposition to the contemporaneous decision to have Frederick residents participate in funding Lake Linganore dredging. On the one hand, the commissioners’ action will lead to increased lake siltation, while on the other hand, the commissioners have asked county residents to chip in to pay for removing the sediments.

The BOCC decision galvanized the Cleanwater Linganore membership and led the organization to begin examining other BOCC decisions which may adversely affect current and future environmental, social and economic conditions, and overall quality of life in the Linganore watershed.

A current priority of Cleanwater Linganore is the dramatic land use changes that the current county commissioners have made to the 2010 Frederick County Comprehensive Plan, especially in the Linganore/New Market area. Cleanwater Linganore supports adherence to the Smart Growth principles expressed in county and state planning documents. It is notable that numerous statements from Maryland state agencies have suggested that the county’s recent land use decisions are not in the best long-term interest of water quality, the environment and county residents.

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For example, the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) repeatedly questioned the significant BOCC-approved land use changes, stating in 2012: “….it remains unclear to MDP what conditions have changed in Frederick County over the past two years to warrant proposing such a dramatic shift in policy…” Furthermore, MDP stated that the new comprehensive plan “…lacks the proper analysis necessary to evaluate the affects that the up-zoning will have on existing infrastructure. These changes will ultimately result in increased costs for roads, schools and other facilities….”

These and other MDP statements heightened Cleanwater Linganore membership’s concern about the potential long term environmental toll if growth is not managed in a responsible and comprehensive manner, as well as concerns about a growing tax burden, to cover the immense costs of the infrastructure and services it will take to meet the needs of poorly planned development (e.g., according to American Farmland Trust, residential developments cost the county $1.14 but farms cost only $0.50 for every tax dollar raised).

The organization points to MDP’s message to the county that the rezoning of large tracts of farm and forest in New Market area from Agriculture land to residential development “…would produce unwanted low density sprawl….”

In 2012, the Maryland Department of Planning requested that the county carefully “…assess the impacts of the proposed land use changes in relation to Smart Growth practices and policies…” Cleanwater Linganore interprets MDP’s letter as suggesting the county’s land use changes do not adhere to key Smart Growth tenets (e.g., growth occurring in areas of existing population and business centers with roads, schools, water /sewer and other infrastructure to accommodate the population increase in and orderly and efficient manner while conserving agricultural and scenic areas).

Cleanwater Linganore membership believes the discussion of county land use changes should be about more than dollars and cents. There are critical quality of life issues to be considered as well. The Linganore watershed’s agricultural landscapes are significant features of Frederick County, and Maryland, and, as part of our “green infrastructure, provide valuable services at low cost. Combined with other unique and valuable natural resources, such as the Monocacy River and Catoctin Mountains, these landscapes add appreciably to Frederick’s special and desirable character. Based on the experiences of the Cleanwater Linganore members and their families, these bring real value to living in Frederick County. Cleanwater Linganore believes that irreversible decisions that would eliminate historically farmed and forested lands forever should not be taken lightly.

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Cleanwater Linganore also has its eye on other issues stemming from BOCC changes to the 2010 Comprehensive Plan, such as how the recent and proposed changes will affect traffic congestion and safety in the area (e.g., especially for the many Lake Linganore residents who commute to work). The land use changes are projected to bring in at least 5,654 new homes north of New Market (not including the planned Delaplaine development on the northeast side of New Market). And that total is above and beyond the 2,600 new homes south of New Market (Lansdale and the still controversial Monrovia Town Center). According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Trip Generation Manual, this means that there would be almost 79,000 more car trips on the area roads, every weekday.

With a large number of existing and future residents commuting to jobs in the DC and Baltimore metropolitan areas, Cleanwater Linganore takes seriously the concerns raised by others (such as RALE, the Residents Against Landsdale Expansion) that roads like Route 75 will not be able to accommodate the new traffic, generating traffic jams and longer commutes. Cleanwater Linganore membership tends to agree with those that say the “build the congestion problem and the Maryland State Highway Administration will come” approach is not consistent with “orderly and efficient” planning.

Clearly, there is no longer a single Linganore watershed focus, like the harmful decision to weaken riparian buffers that first brought Cleanwater Linganore together. While the young organization is still evaluating and prioritizing the many watershed issues we face, we are committed to engaging the public and encouraging productive dialogue about decisions that will likely affect the quality of life of existing and new watershed residents well into the future.


More Information

Cleanwater Linganore on the web:
http://www.cleanwater-linganore.org/

Cleanwater Linganore on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/cwlinganore

Cleanwater Linganore on Twitter
https://twitter.com/CWLinganore

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