The Sixes Bridge Impoundment and Saving the Monocacy River (part 2)

The idea of a monster Monocacy River dam at Sixes Bridge came from official Washington DC and landed in official Frederick County with complete official support.

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But as public awareness grew, in a trickle of newspaper articles, at barbershops and grocery store discussions, at farmers meetings and more, a fire was lit under our rural communities.

After folks saw maps that showed their homes and farms underwater, property that had been owned and productive for generations and numerous families, the reaction was swift. Questions began to be asked, concerns exposed, information flowed.

Newspapers began to carry the debate over the dam and its approvals and reverses over a fifteen year period.

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There were clearly many obvious and common sense issues with the entire project’s assumptions and even its self proclaimed purposes. Releasing impounded water to travel a river’s course during drought is an iffy proposition, even today, when we rely on these measures, we await the measurements to see if it actually worked. Drought stricken land and trees go into survival mode, they suck up every drop of water they can find, foresters describe tree along waterways as giant straws in dry times, out west trees have been removed from waterways to protect this water loss in places.

A few community leaders quickly emerged, chief among them Bob Fisher of Harney and Barry Lucey of Creagerstown, at a meeting around the time of the Army Corps of Engineers first public hearing on the Sixes Bridge Dam proposal, they gathered to discuss opposition. They formed a group called the Save the Monocacy Association.

Beyond public awareness efforts and working the issue with officials at every level, the association did several key things:

They offered an alternative engineering plan for multiple smaller impoundment ponds. hese ponds could release water throughout the watershed, augmenting the streams and river to increase supply to Washington.

They held a “Save the Monocacy” public picnic along the river to increase awareness and support. Hundreds of citizens had a chance to speak to public officials in opposition to the dam.

They arranged a bus tour for officials to see the areas of the county to be impacted by the dam. The group discovered that many had been unaware of the scope and impacts of the project, and how deep public opposition ran within the community.

They garnered the opposition of the Frederick County Farm Bureau and other groups, Sierra Club, Monocacy Canoe Club, and the Frederick Grange.

They packed a state Environmental Matters Committee hearing on the dam proposal.

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Save the Monocacy Association Chair Bob fisher debated the project on Baltimore television with an Army Corps of Engineers representative, thus raising the issue’s state profile

Our elected officials of the time mostly parroted the same claims of the dam’s need and urgency that they’d heard from the Army Corps. This continued in exactly the same manner and terms for nearly fifteen years before the project was finally defeated.

  • “Unless the Sixes Bridge project is started now, 1985 water demands will exceed
    the Potomac’s flow.” September 1969, Democratic Senator Joseph Tydings
  • “Without a doubt it is imperative that the planning and construction of the proposed
    Sixes Bridge Dam be a number one priority for the Frederick County area.” Frederick County Commissioner John Derr

The first champion of official opposition was Representative Goodloe Byron who attempted to withdraw funding for dam studies prior to construction allocations. His efforts failed in Congress.

Late in the debate, after years of support, Senator Matthias of Frederick County began to turn around and reconsider. He and Senator Beall sponsored amendments to stop funding of studies and to delay the study period.

Newspapers headlined that the dams were defeated. But a few months later, a Congressional subcommittee added the dam studies back into the appropriations.

The Save the Monocacy Association asked Matthias to kill the bill and appealed to the Governor to remove state support.

Frederick Farm Bureau President Barry Lucey wrote an opinion in the Frederick Post, June 28th, which laid out political opposition with humor, “I turned on my Barry Lucey Spiffi-matic man-of-decision maker…the reading was very clear, none of the three Commissioners will be returned to office.” Lucey noted that he had been promised that no more developers, bankers, real estate or development oriented people would be appointed to planning and zoning posts, but within two weeks one developer interest was placed on the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Frederick County Commissioners came out in opposition to the dam. The Save the Monocacy Association asked them to remove it from the county’s Master Plan.

Frederick County Planning Director Larry Johnson feared stopping the dam would open the same land up to intense development, and urged adoption of a county zoning ordinance he had drafted.

Citizens Win!

Even after the Federal government dropped the dam proposal, some still urged the state to look at building the dam itself. The dam would occasionally be discussed as local water supply was planned, but it was pretty clear the public tide that had stopped the Feds was permanent.

However, current water supply is assessed to be sufficient until 2040 throughout the region, and if future water impoundments are suggested, it would most likely come from the City of Frederick. Loudon County is planning using an abandoned quarry operation as a water storage, which is a difficult approach because of expanded treatment regimens that are needed for suspended solids in the water and various chemical residues, but it might be an expensive option for the area.

There is a further story that grows from this dam proposal, continued campaigns to protect the river, canoe trips by officials, and an effort begun to form a permanent advisory committee between Carroll and Frederick counties.

It also took years, first to work through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to create a state scenic river designation. Then to have the Monocacy River reviewed for the program and a river management plan written, then declare it a state scenic river.

A leader in the scenic river designation effort was Dr. Jim Gilford a Frederick County resident and a former Environmental Protection Agency official. He is also remembered by many as an outdoors columnist for many years at the Frederick News-Post.

That first Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan has stood for twenty-five years as a guiding document with many recommendations. It had a vision for river protection that has guided bicounty efforts prior to the current Federally mandated protective measures process.

Only one major recommendation of the Monocacy Scenic River Plan proved controversial and has not been realized, the creation of a five hundred foot buffer along the entire river, because it carried the suggestion that a public access trail would allow public right of way across private lands along the river.

However some natural protections are inherent in floodplain restrictions and stream buffer protections.

What is still missing is an extension of the protections to encompass existing conservation zones, forested buffers, and natural features that affect runoff and water quality, such as steep slopes and erodible soils. And some uses of impervious surfaces and building might be enhanced further. Overlay requirements would allow this protection with flexibility.

The science of environmental protection is much greater today, and the awareness of impacts and practices continues to improve to protect this vital natural and community resource.

Persons with an interest in the river and the watershed are encouraged to consider service on the Monocacy Scenic River Board and the one public advocacy partner that is missing is a single focused public non-profit group such as the Save the Monocacy Association.

Often our focus on waterways is a candle burning at both ends model, we treat the worst streams and protect the best quality streams, but citizens can lead the way in recognizing and enhancing their local waterways, the mid quality streams that get most human impacts.

To become more aware and connected to current issues in water quality improvements, citizens can subscribe to the regional Bay Journal newsletter or read it online at: http://www.bayjournal.com/


Read the first part of this two-part story here: The Sixes Bridge Impoundment and Saving the Monocacy River (part 1)

Proposed Sixes Bridge Impoundment on the Monocacy River (click on the image to open a larger version)

Proposed Sixes Bridge Impoundment on the Monocacy River (click on the image to open a larger version)