Commissioners Must Step Up: The Lake Lowdown, Issue 6

Commissioners Must Step Up

In the early stages of research on issues involving Deep Creek Lake, one thing is already becoming crystal clear – It is going to take a cohesive, cooperative effort by many parties in order to adequately address the problems at the lake, particularly those having to do with lake water levels, the slow-but-sure filling of coves with sediment, and the invasion of certain plant species. The players in this include, first and foremost, state and county government, along with the DCL Property Owners Association (POA), the Friends of Deep Creek Lake, the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, and various business owners, both on the lake and affected by the lake (e.g., whitewater rafting companies in Friendsville). Because there are so many players and aspects to the situation, certainly more than one or two columns will be required to cover them, and time and effort will be needed to compile the information before certain opinions can take shape.

However, there is no question that the county commissioners are going to have to step up to the plate in many ways. After all, as noted last week, a huge portion – by far the largest portion – of the county budget is supported by the real estate taxes paid by lake property owners. Thus, inaction – or wrong action – by the commissioners in matters involving the lake is clearly akin to “biting the hand that feeds you.”

To date, there is little evidence that the current commissioners, and many before them, have stepped up concerning the lake, and in fact, just this week the commissioners took a step backward.

After making the shortsighted (okay, wrong) decision recently to amend the lake watershed zoning ordinance to allow a specific lake-front business owner to rent jet skis without offering any other services associated with a marina, the commissioners this week turned down a request by the POA to take six months to re-examine, and possibly delete or modify, the amendment; and to impose a moratorium on issuing any additional permits for uses based on the amendment until the six-month study is completed.

In response, commission chairman Jim Raley said that an evaluation of potential impacts of the amendment is already under way by the DNR’s lake management office, and that the POA would receive a copy of that report. Further, the suggestion for a six-month moratorium on issuing additional permits was summarily rejected.

This is not the kind of cooperation that is going to be needed as efforts go forward to address problems at the lake, and there are a number of other ways in which county elected officials must get involved that will be delineated later.

As a footnote, it was suggested by more than one that describing DCL as a “sick lake” in last week’s editorial was “inaccurate” or “too strong.” In a spirit of cooperation, the writer retracts that description and suggests that a better one might be that there are areas of the lake that are “unhealthy” and need treated ASAP.

Stay tuned.

Letters to the Editor

—–Thank you very much for your interest in the status and future of Deep Creek Lake. It is hard to believe that the county and state governments have shown such little interest in maintaining such a vital resource.

I have one suggestion, which I am sure will never be adopted: Take all the money that Garrett County residents have had to put into the Save the Bay fund as part of their sewage bill, and put it into a Save the Lake fund. And then actually use it to address the problems. After all, nearly every Garrett County resident benefits in some way from the lake, and none of them benefit from the bay.

Bill Henry, Glenwood and Swanton


—-In response to last week’s editorial and Ms. Donna Hansen’s letter, please consider some history and view from the shore of a drought-stricken river’s edge.

Without your mention of lake water level, these conversations inevitably end up pitting one Deep Creek Lake stakeholder against another, each arguing who deserves the resource more than another. Also keep in mind that this year’s drought has cut scheduled dam releases back on the Youghiogheny River, causing business hardship in Friendsville equal to DCL hardship.

The 1984 state of Maryland water appropriations permit mandates an equitable plan for water and resource management at DCL. The permit includes conditions to balance the following suite of resource and recreational concerns: 1) reservoir operations to make lake-based recreational opportunities more dependable and extend further into autumn, and to protect lake fisheries; 2) operation of the project to increase the number and dependability of whitewater boating opportunities; 3) mitigation of a long-standing DO problem in project discharges; 4) maintenance of a continuous minimum flow in the river to increase trout habitat; and 5) timing of generation during summer to maintain coldwater habitat for trout on a year-round basis.

At the inception of the `94 permit, lake interests enjoyed an additional 2 feet of lake water level annually, to the loss of whitewater release days. Since `94, the town of Friendsville has been building its infrastructure, existing businesses have become more dependent on whitewater visitors, and new businesses have been popping up. Our town is growing and becoming more dependent on the stability of the permit.

The permit provides a level playing field for businesses using lake water. Friendsville doesn’t want more dam releases than the few we have. Friendsville agreed to the wordage of the permit and plans to live by them, good or bad, as seen this year. I submit that Deep Creek Lake interests should live up to the same and be thankful for all of the extra lake water level they got back in `94.

While I empathize with Ms. Hansen and other lake interests over the value lost to water vegetation and geese droppings, I am not fond of the idea that Deep Creek Lake must continuously expand to the detriment of others. Perhaps investment in Maryland’s rugged outdoor sport capital Friendsville would benefit the county well over time, giving the county an attractive, diverse, outdoor recreation reputation.

Jess Whittemore,  Friendsville

—-Congratulations on your August 30 editorial. Finally, a voice of reason in the prolonged babble of those whose interests tend to be to their own, be they lake dwellers, lake users, Youghiogheny River users, those involved with real estate, state employees, and those who just don’t care. This editorial should be a wake-up call to all Garrett County citizens, full and parttime.

The Deep Creek Watershed spans a wide and irregular area from the outlet of the Youghiogheny River at the West Virginia border, up to just south of Grantsville, east to the west side of New Germany State Park, and south to just north of the town of Deer Park. That’s a large area, where real estate taxes are collected, where many county businesses and residents live year-round, and where the lake and its users have a major impact on the county.

Too long those with interests in the future of the DCL watershed have heard only the fractured and fractious voices of organizations representing special interests. It is time to re-examine the 2001 plan. A cursory reading will show that minimal progress toward the plan’s goals has been made over the past decade. The lack of progress could have been predicted 11 years ago just on the basis of the absence of every single government agency responsible for the lake and watershed. Responsibility was carved up among Garrett County, the Maryland Department of the Environment, and several divisions of the Department of Natural Resources and its subsidiary, the DCL Policy Review Board.

In short, to quote Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.” The Lake Recreation and Land Use Plan is a good place to start, but it needs to be replaced by a watershed management plan that includes both an analysis of what the current major problems are and what measures are needed to address them. Garrett County citizens would best look to themselves and their elected local officials for leadership and guidance. Those with piecemeal responsibility have had a decade of opportunity that has been mostly lost, so let’s move on.

All citizens should look forward to future editorials in The Republican and trust that they will be enlightened and alarmed, for they have the most to lose should the DCL watershed in its entirety be irreparably damaged.

Kenneth D. Fisher,  McHenry

—–We would like to invite any parents or grandparents down to our cove to let their children or grandchildren swim and play at our docks. Our cove is so full of sediment and vegetation, it is impossible for our children and grandchildren to swim or play in this area. Right now our boats have less than 1 foot of water under them! Our neighbors already had taken boats out and are pulling the docks in.

We all pay top taxes for our property, which is only used basically up to the middle of August for boats. We never swim off the dock. Because of all the sediment at the bottom, you sink up to your knees. The little rain we have had this summer has made things particularly bad, but it’s bad at our cove every year.

Please come visit our cove by boat.

Patty Hileman

—–The drought has made 2012 a difficult year for water sportsmen of all kinds. The level at Deep Creek Lake has fallen earlier than usual, making life difficult for people on backwater lots. Downstream of the lake, many whitewater releases on the Upper Youghiogheny River have been canceled, disappointing kayakers and making life hard for area outfitters. In hot, dry summers like this, the trout in the river always depend on temperature enhancement releases, and the fishing suffers regardless. That’s no surprise in a dry year. The good news is that the lake’s management plan to conserve water is working. Everyone may share the pain, but no one suffers a catastrophic loss.

The upper Youghiogheny River is a unique resource that provides some of the best kayaking, rafting, and fishing in the region. It is a big part of the reason that Garrett County has become famous for providing access to a broad range of outdoor activities. This diversity keeps the area’s tourist economy strong. Many whitewater paddlers and fishermen own real estate in the area and some live in the county full time.

American Whitewater fully supports the current management plan which allocates water fairly between lake users, fishermen, and whitewater paddlers. Hard times are easier to bear when there is fairness in how scarce resources are distributed.

Sincerely, Charlie Walbridge, Board Member, American Whitewater, Bruceton Mills, W.Va.


—–As a property owner for 30 years, I have noticed the gradual deterioration of our beautiful lake. It seems that none of our elected officials have taken a real interest in preserving Deep Creek, to the detriment of business and property owners. We have watched our taxes increase with no real benefit to our lake or watershed.

I want to thank you for your recent editorial about our now very serious problem. I only hope that this will help serve as a wake-up call to our state and local officials who do have the authority to create some positive things to occur to improve the quality of Deep Creek Lake.

Greg Harbaugh, Swanton


                        Don Sincell, The Republican Newspaper

Permission to reprint provided The Republican Newspaper

Produced by Friends of Deep Creek Lake, September 2012

© Friends of Deep Creek Lake 2012, All Rights Reserved