It was a war between citizen activists and activist government, between homeowners and landowners, between developers and nature. It was a war over water, but also a war over vision. It took place ten years ago. It's history, if only recent, but it's good history, exciting and informative history, and maybe, if people don't wake up, history that's about to repeat itself.

Piney Run Lake August 2011

Journey with us as we revisit the war for Piney Run Lake on its tenth anniversary and see what conclusions we can draw from the county's past about the county's present and future.

“If we cut ourselves off from the counties around us or the state of Maryland, we will be in big trouble. We’re not an island; we’re part of the state and we’re part of the region and we need to work together.”Julia Gouge

“I want to make sure there's no confusion, the three 'Es' have infected our master plan and have infected Maryland's planning doctrine. We believe the three ‘Es' are incompatible with our constitutional rights as outlined in the Fifth Amendment of life, liberty and property."Richard Rothschild

It’s been a decade since South Carroll went to war with County Commissioners Donald Dell and Robin Frazier and influential pro-development forces over the future of Piney Run Lake. The commissioners were determined to build a water treatment plant at the big lake near Eldersburg to supplement the county water supply, but South Carroll residents, rallying around Commissioner Julia Gouge and the Freedom Area’s Citizens Council (FACC), were equally determined to stop them.

Before it was over, Gouge would be vilified, hounded, and threatened with political annihilation; there would be an angry fire hall gathering where plain-clothes sheriff’s deputies and a human fish mixed with the crowd; and there would be a massive rally at the lake.

Ultimately Dell and Frazier would be voted out of office, finishing near bottom in the 2002 Republican primary, but not before wasting over a million dollars of taxpayer money, building a road to nowhere, and generating a tremendous amount of ill will.

If any good came of the fiasco, other than saving the lake and driving Dell and Frazier (at least temporarily) out of county politics, it was the transformation of the Sykesville-Eldersburg area from an ill-defined suburban enclave into a region with its own voice, sense of identity, and formidable political clout.

But, Frazier is back in the new five-commissioner system, representing District 1, and along with District 4 Commissioner Richard Rothschild, she’s unrepentantly spouting the developer line once again, only this time with a strange dose of anti-UN, anti-sustainability hysteria thrown in. And once again, it seems some on Carroll County’s Board of Commissioners may be determined to wage war with the state of Maryland and drag the rest of us along for the ride.

So let’s celebrate the tenth anniversary of the saving of Piney Run Lake with a little trip through recent history and a look at how that history reflects on what’s happening in Carroll County today.

Water and Money

Piney Run is one of the county’s most popular recreational areas, and in 2001 drew 100,000 visitors a year and as many as 500 a day on early summer weekends. Most saw it as a source of fun and beauty. Others saw it as a potential source of water. At the time, we had a serious water problem. Our main water source was, and still is, Liberty Reservoir, which is owned by the city of Baltimore. Most summers, there were water restrictions of some sort; odd-numbered houses could water one day, even houses the next, or worse, depending on the situation, to the point where on occasion, people were reduced to watering flowers with bath water.

But it was not necessarily the result of insufficient rainfall. The existing Freedom Water Treatment Plant in South Carroll was more than 30 years old and on its last legs, and rampant unplanned development had seriously taxed the system. There was too little supply, too much demand, and demand was growing. In other words, we needed more water.

There were three possible solutions. Build a plant with more capacity than the existing system at Liberty Reservoir (which is what eventually happened and why we no longer have water restrictions), supplement the water from Liberty with wells and other viable, less-expensive water sources, or build a new plant at Piney Run Lake to supplement Liberty. Dell and Frazier chose the lake. And with fierce support from the pro-development community, particularly a group called the Carroll County Landowners Association, they stuck with their decision to the bitter end. (Publisher's Note: Commissioner Robin Frazier did not respond to our request to answer questions for this article.)

Founded and run by Ed Primoff, an aggressively pro-development landowner with his own airport and money to burn, the Carroll County Landowners Association was primarily focused on the rights of farmers to sell their land to developers. They viewed the lake as a route around state restrictions standing in the way of more development. Remove the restrictions, sell more land, make more money. Of course, Dell and Frazier couldn’t put it that way. Among their arguments were that the county already owned the lake, that the cost of buying water from Baltimore would continue to rise, that a new plant provided backup in the case of shortages, and that in the end the plant would pay for itself. All with minimal risk to the lake.

But most residents weren’t buying it. Ross Dangel, a former long-time member of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, and a leader in the fight against the Piney Run plant, puts it this way.

“They picked Piney Run because they didn't want to abide by development restrictions, plain and simple. Developers were salivating for an end run around state environmental guidelines.”

Rally by the Lake — “The citizenry of the Freedom Area has spoken”

In some ways it’s more complicated than that, but in others it’s quite simple. People with money on their minds were willing to risk the health of the lake. Others set out to stop them. A bloody battle ensued, with several dramatic confrontations, including a huge “Save the Lake” rally on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May.

Two thousand people of all ages showed up. Families brought blankets and picnics and homemade signs. The Freedom Area Citizens Council (FACC) gave out Frisbees and beach balls. There were crafts, music, games for the kids, a magician. And FACC Chairman Mike Naused led 250 marchers, including many children, around Piney Run, chanting, “Save the lake.”

Collection of

Dangel, who still gets “all teary eyed” remembering, spoke first, and he says, as he revved up the huge crowd, “It reminded me of a rock concert.”

And the star was Commissioner Julia Gouge. Dangel says, “She was terrific. She was so strong. She permanently endeared herself to the citizens of our district that day as someone who defends the little guy and fights for what’s right.”

While Dell and Frazier were conspicuous that afternoon by their absence, Ed Primoff was conspicuous by his presence, snapping pictures, following Gouge everywhere with his camera.

Gouge says, “When I got up to speak, he got right in front of me and started taking pictures, trying to throw me off, so I just looked above his head.”

The Banner, the quarterly publication of the FACC, declared the rally a “huge success.”

By the time it was over, another 760 people had signed a petition opposing the plant, bringing the number of signatures to 3000 plus. Banner editor, Mike Naused, wrote: “The citizenry of the Freedom Area…has spoken loud and clear: We do not want a water treatment plant at Piney Run! A community has come together here in South Carroll.”

The rally united more people behind the cause, generated good press and tremendous awareness, but it’s unlikely it affected the thinking of Primoff, Frazier, Dell, and the many others who were determined to build the plant. They would alter their tactics, but they would not change their minds.

Defining Moments, Bitter Memories — “Fresh water clams dead in the mud”

Ross Dangel isn’t the only resident with emotional recollections of that day and the long battle to save the lake. Many others still hold the memory of that time, and the lake itself, dear to their hearts. But some don’t like to talk about it – too many painful memories and a nagging fear someone might try again.

Dot Sumey and her husband, Merrill, have a beautiful view of the lake from the deck of their home near Sykesville. A long-time volunteer at Piney Run Park, Dot is a former president of the Piney Run Recreation and Conservation Council. She has a thick manila folder of articles, editorials, letters to the editor, flyers, and pamphlets that document the poisonous politics and bitterness that characterized the battle. She’s uneasy about reopening old wounds, but still quietly savors the pride of knowing she was on the right side.

When they first heard talk of the treatment plant, she and Merrill were immediately alarmed. They knew firsthand what happened when the water level went down. They still have pictures of the lake during the severe droughts in the late 1980s.

Merrill says, “There were times the lake was only about a third full. It would be a mud puddle. There were fresh water clams just dead in the mud.”

Other photos show the effects of lowering the water level to build bulkheads.

A depleted Piney Run Lake circa 1999. Photos courtesy of Dot and Merrill Sumey.

“With a drop of just 5 feet, the boat launching ramps were entirely out of the water,” Dot says. “Many of the smaller coves and the wildlife management area were completely dry."

She continues, "When plans for the water treatment plant were first announced, the commissioners didn’t even have a meeting for public input. It was definitely coming from Dell and Frazier that it was a done deal and there was nothing we could do. But people started taking a stand. It just kind of snowballed as more and more people found out. People were just not going to let it happen. It’s almost like the whole area spoke out.”

Two Heads Nodding in Agreement — “We didn’t ask you people to come here.”

But was anyone listening? The Carroll County Times didn’t think so. They wrote: “Had Dell and Frazier embarked on their campaign to generate support prior to voting on Piney Run, and had they addressed legitimate citizens’ concerns in an open, public environment, much of the dissension and discontent evidenced today could have been diffused or even avoided outright.”

As the Times pointed out, Dell and Frazier had steadfastly refused to hold public meetings. Dell had already earned a black mark in South Carroll earlier when, facing criticism during a community meeting, he’d snapped at residents, “We didn’t ask you people to come here.”

In similar fashion, he brushed aside holding public meetings over the treatment project. “I don’t see any point in it. The more comments I hear, the less I’m interested in a meeting just to get beat up some more.”

'Save the Lake' rally sign

In lieu of meetings, the commissioners released a brochure, a fact Baltimore Sun reporter, Mike Burns roundly ridiculed. Speaking of Dell and Frazier, he wrote: “They have magnanimously taken steps to share…with the public through an information-packed brochure soon to be available at a few carefully selected locations. That thoughtfully saves Carroll County citizens from the inconvenience of attending a public hearing and, indeed, from the chore of thinking up any embarrassing questions that might be posed to the county commissioners and their staff.

“As for any possible procedural requirements and niceties, we are informed by Commissioners Dell and Frazier that they do not apply. Two heads nodding in agreement are all that count in the tri-cornered county commissioner system of government.”

So they released a brochure to inform the public.

Meanwhile, Dell said, “We are listening to our consultants and experts. The people of South Carroll are not the experts.”

At least they were listening to the consultants and experts who agreed with them. Around this time a water resource specialist on the county staff was fired, and the environmental services department was eliminated by Frazier and Dell. Eventually, as pressure mounted, they relented to meeting their constituents, but insisted on calling the meetings “informational” – in other words, they would tell South Carroll why a treatment plant at Piney Run was a great idea.

Fire in the Hall — “We’re not planning to kill you”

The “dissension and discontent” the Carroll County Times pointed to was in full view during a late July meeting at the Sykesville-Freedom Fire Hall. Emotions ran high. Two sheriff’s deputies in plain clothes merged with the crowd. It was standing room only.

As Gouge walked toward the hall, Primoff and a contingent of allies greeted her with angry shouts and signs. “Down with Julia Gouge.”

She remembers one who “was all wild-eyed. He had a sign that said 'Julia Gouge votes with Parris Glendening' (the current governor).

“I stopped for a minute and looked at them and the wild-eyed one said, ‘We will destroy you!’ I said, ‘Is that a threat?’ He said, ‘No, that’s a promise.’ ”

Dangel remembers it vividly. “I was walking beside Julia through all these people waving signs and shouting, and a guy just jumped out of the crowd. He was a member of the county Republican Central Committee. His eyes were crazy and red like someone on cocaine. He got two inches from her face, wagging his finger, and accusing her of all kinds of horrible things. It was a chilling moment. She was very shaken.”

Over 400 people packed the hall, most adamantly opposed to the plant. One wore a huge fish costume with Pfiesteria sores. (Pfiesteria in fish was a big issue at the time.) Others wore their "Save the Lake" rally shirts. Frazier took the podium to boos and with an air Gouge describes as one of divine guidance.

“Robin went through all this stuff about how she had been praying and had finally come to her decision. People had questions, but she said, `I don’t think you understand: I’m in charge. I was elected to make decisions.’ People were irate.”

Dangel says, “Dell and Frazier basically told us we’re a bunch of idiots.”

Another participant, Brian Green of Eldersburg, wrote to the Carroll County Times: “I was informed by Commissioner Frazier…that after much prayer and thought she had realized several truisms. Two plus two equals four and the water treatment facility at Piney Run must be built. Anyone who dares to disagree with her is either misinformed or incapable of understanding logical truisms.

“This arrogance is insulting to those of us who care about the future of our county. She is the almighty knower of all things who decides what is right and wrong, notwithstanding the desires of her constituents.”

While Frazier was largely scorned and despised, Gouge received a warm reception. But afterward: “The wild-eyed one walked up to me, and said ‘Commissioner, I just want you to know we’re not planning to kill you, but we will destroy you politically. You will never hold office in this county again.’ ”

Piney Run Lake, Sykesville MD

Gouge Targeted — “We’re two votes, you’re one”

Despite the threat, Gouge would win two more elections, but during the battle of Piney Run, she often found herself in a lonely and precarious place. She received threatening anonymous letters, and life at the county office building gradually became a nightmare, as her fellow commissioners more or less gave their friends in the development community run of the place – particularly Primoff and land attorney Chuck Holman, who also happened to be Dell’s personal attorney.

Gouge says sensitive files would vanish from department heads’ desks, only to reappear several weeks later, and that one commissioner was caught snooping through files in the middle of the night. It finally reached the point that whenever she raised any kind of questions or objections, Frazier would curtly remind her, “We’re two votes; you’re one.”

And the two had powerful financial and political backing. Primoff held benefits and fundraisers in their honor, his association had a list with thousands of names, and many felt that Frazier and Dell were all too willing to do his bidding.

Gouge says, “The night of the 1998 elections (when Dell and Frazier were elected) several of my campaign people heard Ed Primoff say ‘I’ll run Carroll County from my living room.’ ”

A Done Deal Undone — “Whose voices are they listening to?”

As opponents piled on with calls, at community meetings, in letters to editors and newspaper columns, Dell and Frazier dug in their heels. They appeared impervious to criticism and defiantly resistant to it.

The Carroll County Times took note in August:

“The only constant…has been Frazier’s and Dell’s teaming up to make decisions without any public input. And since, on many occasions, they have not listened to the voice of the people, people should be wondering just whose voices these commissioners are listening to.”

Whoever’s voices they were listening to, in the end it was not Julia Gouge, the FACC, the Carroll County Times, the man in the fish suit, or the countless angry citizens of South Carroll who brought the plans of Dell and Frazier crashing down. It was their arrogance, incompetence, and their willingness to pick fights with powerful forces outside the county.

Turning to the lake had not been their original plan. First they tried to alter the Regional Watershed Protection Agreement that Carroll County had been endorsing since 1979 and last signed in 1996. The watershed is basically just the area that feeds water into the reservoir. To protect the drinking water of 2 million homes, the agreement said Carroll County would not build in the watershed.

The language and terms of the agreement hadn’t changed over the years, but Dell and Frazier decided to change it. Their reason? They wanted to rezone 390 acres in the watershed to commercial and industrial use. The agreement prevented that. But both Baltimore City and Baltimore County rejected their amendments. Furthermore, Baltimore City, which owns the reservoir and the water in it, would not permit an expansion of the Liberty Reservoir water treatment plant, unless Carroll County signed the original, un-amended agreement.

And as we mentioned earlier, this happened when South Carroll had suffered through several summers of drought, Liberty Reservoir was precariously low, outdoor water use restrictions were in place, and new developments continued to come on line.

Plan B — “a drought ravaged lake”

When plan A failed, they turned to plan B. They would build a $14 million water treatment plant at Piney Run Lake. No environmental restrictions. Less reliance on Baltimore. And with abundant water, potentially unfettered development. It seemed like a great idea.

Depleted Piney Run Lake in Carroll County, MD ca. 1999

And since the lake was originally created to serve as an additional public water supply, this wasn’t all that farfetched. When Maryland authorized construction of the lake in 1967, the primary purposes were to control flood damage, reduce sediment flowing into the Patapsco River and Baltimore Harbor, provide recreational opportunities, and meet water needs in the area.

In 1973, a $2.7 million contract was awarded for building the lake. In 1975, the lake reached its full level for the first time. In 1988, the county obtained a water appropriation and use permit, and again, in 1996, the county obtained a permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment to draw a daily average of 3 million gallons of water from the lake.

So, in theory, it could be done. But the county had never obtained the additional environmental permits required for regulating and monitoring the downstream water from Piney Run. And a 1989 study commissioned by the county, referred to as the Greenhorne and O’Mara report, warned that withdrawing 3 million gallons of water per day from the lake would likely cause environmental degradation and limit boating, fishing, and similar recreational activities.

A letter to the Carroll County Times referenced the Greenhorn and O’Mara report as describing “a drought-ravaged lake, one-half its current size…no boating because the docks are sitting in mud flats 50 to 100 yards from any water. Generations of fish and submerged aquatic vegetation…destroyed.”

In a September 2001 article for the Sun, entitled “Nature in the Balance,” Mary Gail Hare quoted several biologists and water quality experts about the “serious ecological damage” the lake would suffer due to the rising and falling water levels if used as a drinking water source.

Aside from permitting and environmental concerns, there were practical objections. Why endanger the 2-billion-gallon Piney Run Lake, which averages a depth of 10 feet, when the nearby 45-billion-gallon Liberty Reservoir was available at a fraction of the cost and none of the risk, and there were wells on the Springfield Hospital grounds and other locations that could supplement it until the plant was expanded?

A view of Piney Run Lake, Summer 2011

But not only had Dell and Frazier refused to heed the crescendo of objections and criticism; they’d simply not done their homework. They never even bothered to analyze the water quality to determine its suitability as a public supply, and as it turned out, during the nearly three decades since the lake was built, residential construction around it did not concur with guidelines for a reservoir.

Dangel says, “They let people build right up to it. You got people mowing and fertilizing their lawns and building their septic systems right against the tributary and the lake. The water quality was already on the endangered list since 1989 with green and blue algae and farm nutrient and waste runoff. That’s why we’re not allowed to swim in it. And now they expected us to drink it?”

There was more. Another Sun article quoted state officials as saying the required water quality and environmental impact studies could take 10 years. They also pointed out that a permit was required from the Maryland Department of the Environment, and that the permitting process required another round of public hearings.

And that’s how Dell’s and Frazier’s well-laid plans came tumbling down, but only after they’d spent $477,550 commissioning a design for the ill-fated plant and another $450,000 to pave a county road to provide access to the treatment plant that never was.

To the surprise of almost no one but the two commissioners, the Maryland Department of the Environment notified the Carroll County Board of Commissioners in a letter that they would not issue a permit for the plant. What Dell had publicly called “a done deal” was, in one fell swoop, effectively undone.

But, the Sun reported: “That news has not deterred two Carroll Commissioners supporting the…project, Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, who accused the state of practicing partisan politics. Frazier called the letter political rhetoric and said it perpetuates Carroll’s squabbles with Gov. Parris N. Glendening over growth issues in Carroll.”

So, despite the opposition and the ruling from the state, like headless chickens that don't know they're dead, the commissioners plunged forward with their plans, till finally the blunt force of an election laid them cold.

Nonpartisan 'Get out the vote' sign, that grew out of the lake rally movement, to activate people

At War with the State — “thumb your nose at Annapolis”

In a press conference at the height of the controversy, Julia Gouge warned her fellow commissioners: “If we cut ourselves off from the counties around us or the state of Maryland, we will be in big trouble. We’re not an island; we’re part of the state and we’re part of the region and we need to work together.”

Jonathan Herman, mayor of Sykesville at the time, agrees with Gouge. When the county requested an easement to run a pipe for the plant across town property, Sykesville’s Town Council refused the easement.

“Opposing the plant was a no-brainer,” Herman says. “We had a working relationship with the state on Warfield, and we knew it was better to work with the state than against it.”

Herman believes the current commissioners would do well to heed Gouge’s advice from ten years ago. Referring to actions of the current board, Herman says, “History’s just repeating itself. The whole idea, then and now, is thumb your nose at Annapolis. But that’s foolhardy. It always ends up hurting the county, and there’s never been an example of doing it successfully.”

But some believe the current board of commissioners is intent on doing precisely that, thumbing their noses at Annapolis, and dividing the county from the rest of the state.

On Thursday, July 29, at Carroll Community College, state planners presented PlanMaryland, a statewide plan for managing growth. Just as Frazier and Dell were conspicuously absent from the rally at the lake, all five of our current commissioners were absent from the PlanMaryland gathering. While some, including the Carroll County Times, insisted this was an intentional and unwise snub, Commission President Doug Howard of District Five, which includes the Freedom Area, insists the Board has every intention of addressing the plan with the state in an intelligent and respectful manner.

In a press release issued immediately before the event, he wrote: “There has been an effort by some to suggest that this Board of Commissioners is not engaging adequately in the Plan Maryland process. This is simply not the case. Recognizing that the Plan Maryland initiative could have far reaching implications for Carroll County, the Board is both concerned and engaged.”

And indeed, the commissioners will host a public forum on Plan Maryland on August 29th at Carroll Community College with the Maryland Department of Planning.

None of which is to say Howard welcomes the plan. But, although he fears the plan may give the state too much authority to interfere in the local planning process, he says the Board is not against planning and fully intends to work with the state to do what’s best for the county.

But do the other Commissioners agree with Howard’s cautiously reasonable stance?

Piney Run Lake in Carroll County, MD

Agenda 21 — "Coming to a neighborhood near you"

Rothschild and Bartlett clearly have their own agenda. And that agenda is strongly influenced by Rothschild’s fixation on something called UN Agenda 21. In an article in American Thinker titled “UN Agenda 21: Coming to a Neighborhood near You,” Rothschild and co-writer Scott Strzelczyk refer to Agenda 21 as a "sustainability agenda which is arguably an amalgamation of socialism and extreme environmentalism brushed with anti-American, anti-capitalist overtones.”

Rothschild travels the country speaking about the threat of Agenda 21. And locally, many have latched on to the notion that any discussion of planning is somehow linked to the UN, socialism, foreign entities, and an assault on the Constitution.

This behavior was on wide display at the PlanMaryland meeting in Westminster. When the floor opened for questions, person after person read long statements railing against communism, feudalism, the current administration, big government, and a perceived assault on our right to hold and control our own property.

At one point, Michelle Jefferson of We the People Carroll County pressed Secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning, Rich Hall, to abandon the plan if she could prove foreign entities were behind it, saying: “If I can provide proof to you, at a later date, that this is connected wholly to Agenda 21 would you go on record tonight and say that you would abandon this plan, if in fact this is tied to Agenda 21 and foreign interests?”

Hall, who remained admirably composed throughout, answered, “Well, we're not going to abandon this plan. We're doing this plan.”

Jefferson persisted, “Well, I'm asking you, would you be willing to back off of the plan if we can prove to you that it is nothing but Agenda 21?”

To which Hall responded, “You can't prove that to me because my boss, the governor, and I are the ones who decided to do it, not the UN. I've never spoken to the UN before.”

In the Carroll County Times after the event, Tom Harbold wrote: “I am, frankly, growing a little bit weary of having my intelligence insulted by people who hear the sound of black helicopters flying overhead at the merest hint of sustainability, environmental concern or anything that might in the slightest way hinder their ability to use their property however they wish – which, in practice, often means selling it to the highest bidder to build subdivisions or strip malls on it.

“Let me assure one and all, the UN is not coming for us. Even if it wanted to, it has no standing army, and even if it did, it would be no remote match for the United States Armed Forces…. Let's be at least slightly realistic here, please, if we’re to have a discussion at all. Such fear-mongering would be silly if it were not so despicable.

“Whether for reasons of veiled self-interest or, even more frighteningly, as a result of true belief, there seem to be those in this county who are so fearful of socialism that they are ignorant or dismissive of social responsibility.”

Which brings us to the County Master Plan, which the Board of Commissioners rejected back in January, 2011, so that they could change it.

As the Carroll County Times wrote on May 15: “The major change to the master plan is taking out references to smart growth, a concept that Rothschild says promotes urbanization and high-density development. During Thursday's meeting, Rothschild also took issue with sustainability and Agenda 21, a United Nations planning document.

“The rejected master plan, Rothschild said, focuses on the three 'Es' — environment, economic development and social equity — which he maintains are all concepts in Agenda 21. Rothschild said the master plan, Agenda 21 mentality and Maryland Sustainable Communities Act of 2010 are all connected because of initiatives that he says can be seen in each.”

The paper also quotes Rothschild as saying: “I want to make sure there's no confusion, the three ‘Es' have infected our master plan and have infected Maryland's planning doctrine. We believe the three ‘Es' are incompatible with our constitutional rights as outlined in the Fifth Amendment [sic] of life, liberty and property.”

When tasked with making recommendations for improving the plan, Rothschild and Frazier gave it the full treatment, releasing a PowerPoint presentation that turned into an anti-Agenda 21 screed dedicated to proving that the concept of smart growth is actually a dangerous euphemism for darker things.

Rothschild and Frazier use color and Soviet imagery to associate sustainability with communism.

On his blog under the heading "Is this how you curb government intrusion?" two-term former Commissioner Dean Minnich commented: “…the tenor of the slide presentation presented by Rothschild and Frazier ignores the intent of Maryland law, which is that an independent board of citizens…draw up a master plan for growth and land use.

“In other words, the people, as represented by those on the planning commission, not the politicians, make the recommendations. The commissioners can only approve or disapprove the plan. If they disapprove of the people’s plan, they have to send it back to the planning commission for review and possible revision and resubmission for approval.”

But Frazier and Rothschild ignored all that and issued a political manifesto instead, prompting the Carroll County Times to write:

"Commissioners Richard Rothschild and Robin Bartlett Frazier have put together their own personal blueprint for what should, and what should not be included, and they did so with no public input. It sort of goes against basic reasoning to reject a plan, propose your own differing version and then suggest that you support a public process to decide what goes in to the plan.

"Even in the best of circumstances it would be extremely difficult for the board to avoid complaints from people who will ultimately feel that their ideas were not listened to. A master plan is a fairly comprehensive document, and there is no way that everyone will be totally satisfied. Saying they support an open process is a positive step for the board of commissioners, but they are already setting themselves up for failure by stating what they think the plan should include.

"The commissioners have provided some insights as to the direction the plan should take. Now they should step back and let the Planning and Zoning Commission, with input from the public, come up with a plan."

Lessons and Warnings — “I was elected to represent the people of Carroll County.”

The Piney Run story includes valuable lessons. One is that in South Carroll, at least, regular people can organize opposition to a governmental assault on the environment, but only when well-educated and well-provoked. And when you don’t tell people what you’re doing, you will provoke them.

Whether there was any merit in the plan to use Piney Run for water, whether it could have been done without lowering water levels and harming life in the lake, became secondary to the fact that Frazier and Dell had so angered and alienated the people of South Carroll that it was impossible to get anyone to listen or take them seriously. So, rather than common citizens, their only backers seemed to be the development community and very angry people like the red-eyed man who accosted Julia Gouge.

Another lesson is that if you’re going to make enemies of a large portion of your constituency, you shouldn’t simultaneously pick fights with the state. In fact, it’s in the best interests of the county to cooperate with the state. That doesn’t mean getting pushed around. It doesn’t mean being silently complicit in harming local interests. It doesn’t mean taking away property rights or ceding authority to the United Nations. It means working sensibly within the system.

Doug Howard says that’s what they intend to do. District 2 Commissioner, Haven Shoemaker, while voting against a measure to remove sprinkler requirements in new homes, said, “I wasn't elected to represent the residential development community; I was elected to represent the people of Carroll County.” After viewing the Frazier/Rothschild Master Plan PowerPoint, District 3 Commissioner Dave Roush asked them to excise the Agenda 21 references, pointing out that they had nothing to do with the plan.

The lake is safe. Common sense may prevail. But clearly people of the sort who might have destroyed Piney Run are back in power.

A view of Piney Run, summer 2011

In a separate presentation, Rothschild declares, “Carroll County citizens are a different breed.” He then describes that breed with a series of statements telling us precisely who we are. Under a slide titled “Are We Different?” he says, “We are farms and farmers.”

That would be a surprise to most of the 30,000 plus in the Freedom area. Rothschild may somehow consider himself a farmer, but we are not farmers, although many of us live in houses built on farmland.

We’re middle class, suburban people from all over the state and the country. Most of us are well-educated and professional. Our boys and girls play soccer by the hundreds on inadequate fields. We root for the Ravens and Redskins and Steelers and Eagles. We walk our kids to the bus stop and send them off, in some cases, to temporary classrooms. We cook out in yards, jog through our streets, swim in our pools, and get our food from Safeway and Martins. If we grow anything at all, it’s in raised beds or small tomato patches on our quarter-acre backyard lots.

In that same presentation, Rothschild says, “We don’t need Annapolis telling us how to live. We should be giving them advice.”

Maybe. But this seems awfully close to the attitude that started a war ten years ago when two commissioners, nodding in agreement, decided they were smarter than the state and the people of South Carroll, and tried to turn a beautiful lake into a water treatment plant.

Here in the area called Freedom, we don’t fear the UN. We fear overreaching politicians telling us who we are, how we think, and what we need.