Way Down Yonder On the Monocacy…A Tale of Two Counties

Way down yonder on the Monocacy, there are two counties who border the river.  Carroll County to the east and Frederick County to the west.    The Monocacy River stretches from the watershed along the Mason Dixon line to where it meets the Potomac River. This is the story of the Monocacy River Plan and its impacts and implications on Frederick County.

The back story to our tale starts in the Scenic and Wild Rivers Act passed in the Maryland Legislature in 1968.  The purpose of the act was to preserve and protect the natural values of these rivers, enhance water quality and fulfill vital conservation purposes by wise use of resources.  The act calls for counties who have a scenic or wild rivers to have a plan to ensure the river is maintained and submit to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources the agreed plan.  The act is not a land acquisition program as stated on the DNR website.  DNR or local communities can, however, choose to utilize Open Space Acquisition funding for lands designated as scenic or wild.  The current plan in place was enacted in 1990 by both counties and has until 2016 been the working plan for the Monocacy.

In 2016 the day after the Presidential election, however, Frederick decided a new revised plan was needed and the desire by Frederick county to update the current plan was placed into motion.  Since 2016, there have been several drafts of the Monocacy River Plan.  The first draft drew quick criticism from landowners as the plan included taking 8000 acres from legal landowners.  You might be thinking of acquisition thru eminent domain, but Frederick county opted to instead create a regulatory zone along the river.  Frederick county wanted to designate that up to 100 feet of river frontage would instead be taken back by Frederick county thru death by 1000 papercuts in government overreach, unending restrictions and bureaucracy.  Landowners quickly organized,  started petitions and visits to county meetings regarding the river plan.    

County landowners investigated the plans by our county government and were shocked that the county would make such a claim to the land.  The Monocacy is already governed thru FEMA floodplain guidelines, Chesapeake Bay regulations, and Clean Water Act regulations. In fact, studies show the Monocacy is has grown healthier in the last 16 years.  Current data also shows a 50 to 60-foot buffer is more than efficient to manage river quality and beyond that, there is no scientific benefit to taking the land.  Landowners were then left to wonder why would our county have the desire to take legally owned and in most cases currently farmed land.  It stands to reason that the best steward to the land would be the property owner who farms or takes hay from the land to feed his animals.

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Over the course of 2017, a new Monocacy River plan was developed.  That is until the county planning and zoning needed to make the final revisions to the plan for the county council to review and vote on.  While no outage was reported in Microsoft software or any other word processing software there must have been one as the revisions took weeks to complete instead of the simple map updates that should have taken hours.  Luckily, the county council had one last meeting before the new county council took office to complete the river plan, but in yet another plot twist to our tale, the county attorney deemed this could not be voted on as this was now somehow new legislation and could not be voted on in a lame-duck session.  The county attorney who is hired and at the service of our county executive.  

Next week a new Democrat controlled county council will yet again take up the river plan.  Will they do the right thing and pass an already revised plan, already approved by Carroll county or will they throw caution to the wind and decide they know best and need to make more changes.  Changes that could take the regulatory zone in a specific carve-out for recreational uses the property owner has no control or relief from.  Recreational uses that would take away viable farmland, create ease way issues for property owners and destroy the property owners right to privacy.  In a 2017 article, the Frederick News-Post showed a current market value of $6530 per acre of cropland in Frederick.  The national average is $4090 per acre of cropland.  As most acreage near the river is either farmed or pasture, the value of an acre of pasture in Frederick is $6100 compared to the national average of $1350 per acre.

Crop/Commodity Bushels Per Acre Market Price per Bushel Value of Crop Per 800 Acres
Corn 176.6 3.7325 $                                   527,327.60
Winter Wheat 92 5.1 $                                   375,360.00
Soybeans 49.1 8.744 $                                   343,464.32
Hay 100 sq bales 4.25 per Bale $                                   340,000.00


*values found on USDA.gov, Macrotrends and Cropwatch

The Frederick County Council will meet again to discuss the Monocacy River Plan next week.  Property owners along the river need our support to pass the already revised plan which Carroll county has already passed in December.  The current revised plan also has the support of the Frederick Farm Bureau and the Frederick County Realtors Association.  If a county can now simply take property thru regulatory death of 1000 papercuts all our property rights are at stake.

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