Those out­side of WCD claim vested in­ter­est

Of­ten crit­i­cized, pro­po­nents de­fend their stake

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

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

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