Those outside of WCD claim vested interest
Often criticized, proponents defend their stake
The process for the county’s approval of the zoning texting amendment adding the Watershed Conservation District into the county code has become contentious on multiple occa- sions.
Since the beginning of the year, people who are both for and against the district have repeatedly testified before both the county’s planning commission. Most recently, the county commissioners used a town hall format to state their posi- tion on the district, which is located in the western portion of the county, mostly around the Mattawoman Creek watershed.
But many who are against the district have commented on its supporters not being directly from Charles County.
“Why would you count people who don’t live in the county? They can’t make this decision for us,” Bill Dotson, the chairman of the Charles County Republican Central Committee, said after last week’s town hall meeting.
People who do not live in the area, Dotson said, should not
be able to help the county’s citizens choose what happens to their land. There are people coming from areas in Prince George’s County and Balti- more, he said, supporting the conservation district but they have no real equity in the sur- rounding community.
“This is about property rights,” Dotson said.
But Steve Kaii-Zeigler, the di- rector of the county’s Planning and Growth Management Department, said the county does not have a residency requirement when it comes to commenting on the county’s public processes, but they do take that into consideration.
Anyone may comment, he said, but planning staff will consider where the person who is commenting resides when creating a staff report for the Charles County Board of Commissioners.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said the county is “looking for people who live here” to comment on the issues revolv- ing around the district.
There are a lot of comments on both sides of the issue, Robinson said, but those from people who do not live in the area are “pretty much dismissed” by the commissioners.
“We can’t help who we get comments from, but we can decide who we feel the comments are appropriate from,” Robinson said.
The record is closed at this point, Kaii-Zeigler said, but the county has more than 1,400 pieces of individual testimony on the record with “about 98 percent” of it coming from Charles County residents.
“Many of the people, I recognize you. I can tell you that we are compiling, at the staff level, all of that information and it will be included in board docs,” he said.
Bonnie Bick, a member of the Sierra Club who currently lives in Oxon Hill, is often ref- erenced as someone who does not live in Charles County but has consistently commented on the district’s process and the comprehensive plan.
Bick said she is aware of the comments made about her and others in support of the district, but said she and many others do have a vest- ed interest in what happens with the Mattawoman Creek watershed and Charles County — despite what others are saying.
“I have worked in this county for 25 years, fighting for forests, watersheds and the environment,” Bick said. “I am a concerned citizen. I have an interest.”
Bick said her family does own property in Charles County and it would be within the Watershed Conservation District. But even if she did not, she said, she would still fight to preserve the Matta- woman because of its effect on the surrounding wetlands and the Chesapeake Bay.
Jim Long, president of the Mattawoman Watershed Society, lives in Accokeek — most of which lies in Prince George’s County, but has a ZIP code that falls within Charles.
Despite the criticism against him and others who have come from different areas to push for the Watershed Conservation District, Long maintains he is a resident of Charles County and does have an interest in what the district could bring.
Long said people who attack messengers in support of the conservation effort are just “trying to change the topic.”
“I always make sure I testify explaining that I am a Charles County resident from Ac- cokeek,” he said. “It’s like a lot of ZIP codes. They don’t nec- essarily follow county boundaries. They’re just trying discredit the messenger.”
And because the Mattawoman’s impact spreads to streams throughout the state, Long said, there will be people with vested interests who do not live in Charles County. And they may come down to comment from time to time, he said.
However, Bick said, “a majority of people testifying for the district live in Charles County.”
Long said many people come down to the county for tourist attractions like the fisheries, the Indian Head Rail Trail and other amenities that will be positively affected by the Watershed Conservation District. There are people outside of the county who care that those things could be “paved over” and no longer leave nature accessible in the area.
“You could go on and on about things, the positives,” Long said. “There’s a widespread interest.” to