April 24, 2014

Natural Resources chief responds to column on Garrett County ‘neglect’

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By Joe Gill

Secretary, Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Deep Creek Lake (Photo by cseeman on Flickr Creative Commons)

Deep Creek Lake (Photo by cseeman on Flickr Creative Commons)

In his April 21 Maryland Reporter column, Barry Rascovar describes the O’Malley Administration’s policy toward Garrett County as one of “benign neglect.” The facts say otherwise.

Maryland is nicknamed America in Miniature for good reason. Our topography, our climate and even our culture are studies in diversity. And Garrett County – with its rich history, mountainous terrain, freshwater streams, vast forests, abundant wildlife and Deep Creek Lake – is an important part of what makes our State great. Under the leadership of Gov. Martin O’Malley, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other Maryland agencies are very proud of our exceptional working relationship with the County’s elected officials and citizens.

DNR has always worked closely with public and private partners to advance economic development and protect and enhance Garrett County’s stunning resource attractions. Supporting the $950 million forest products industry through dual certification of our Western Maryland forests, early and continued support of adventure sport opportunities, and managing our annual black bear hunt, are all evidence of this commitment. We are currently working with the county to develop a Watershed Management Plan for Deep Creek Lake – a comprehensive, best practices guide to ensure that one of Maryland’s most visited, revenue-generating sites remains the stellar attraction that it is.

Investments in county

Since 2009, DNR has directly invested more than $4.3 million in the county, funding waterway improvements, bridge repairs, access roads, trail construction and restoration, park improvements, and environmental studies of Deep Creek Lake. This is in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent each year on stream monitoring, fish stocking, park maintenance and staffing, conservation law enforcement, invasive species removal and more.

DNR’s fiscal year 2014 capital budget will fund improvements to recreation facilities on State Parks, public lands and other DNR managed properties, including eight projects in Garrett County. The County will further benefit from $1.2 million in natural resources development funding for State Park day-use and beach improvements – 25 percent of the funding allocated for the entire state. These investments will ensure that our state parks continue to be safe, enjoyable, and educational places for visitors – the same visitors who have a $650 million benefit on state and local economies each year.

Not hostile to business

The state’s investment in Garrett County doesn’t stop with DNR. Over the past 18 months, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development has provided $2.7 million in grants and loans to support the local economy through projects at McHenry Business Park, GCC Technologies, Adventure Sports International, Heritage Areas projects and more – contrary to Rascovar’s claim that the administration is hostile toward business development.

The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration has invested nearly $70 million in Garrett County since 2007. The agency currently has more than $10 million in projects underway, including: a US 219 bridge replacement over Cherry Creek, US 219 retaining wall beautification project near Deep Creek Lake, an intersection safety project in Grantsville and a 5-mile resurfacing project on I-68.

Through its water appropriation permit process, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) worked with stakeholders to craft a solution that balanced recreational, ecological and energy production interests. To further public health, environmental protection and economic growth, MDE has invested $8 million in grants and loans over the past seven years for wastewater treatment plants, stormwater management projects, drinking water projects and stream restorations.

Last year the state awarded Garrett County a $235,000 Digital Learning Innovation grant, which is designed to increase the use of technology to help students earn college credits and career certification while still in high school. The Maryland Department of Agriculture provides significant forest pest management services to protect the forest products industry.

Shale drilling study

Finally, with respect to Marcellus Shale drilling, DNR and MDE are working under the governor’s charge to determine whether and how natural gas production can be realized without unacceptable risk to public health, safety, our environment and our natural resources. Established by Executive Order, the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative instructed the agencies, in consultation with an advisory commission, to investigate and report back to the governor and the General Assembly.

As we work to complete our research, we are mindful of both the potential economic benefits of developing these energy reserves as well as the responsibility to protect our citizens and our environment. It is of paramount importance to us to get this issue right, and we remain committed to doing so – for the citizens of Garrett County and all Marylanders.

Under the O’Malley administration, Maryland’s state agencies have been – and continue to be – committed to the economic, environmental and social success of the citizens of Garrett County, and we look forward to continuing our work, in partnership with them.