Two weeks ago the Howard County Soil Conservation District put all county development plans on hold when they determined they could no longer financially support the review of sediment and erosion control plans. They claimed to have suddenly run out of money to perform this task. This so called “independent agency” receives over a half million dollars a year from the county for this work. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, the county also furnishes the district with “two vehicles, gasoline, repairs, telephone and computer support, and administrative services for purchasing, office supplies, plus benefits for five employees at the Woodbine office. Just how independent does that make them?
The thing is, the sediment control and erosion reviews could easily be performed instead by the county and that is exactly what Ken Ulman thinks should be done. Earlier this year he attempted to shift this work to the Planning and Zoning department where it logically belongs. He withdrew this plan in the face of political heat generated by Robert Ensor, the soil district manager. Robert wrapped himself in the self righteous cloak of defender of the earth to keep this bounty from the county. He insists that the county needs an “independent agency” to basically oversee sediment fences at construction sites.
“That bill failed amid claims by Ensor that it represented a power grab that would threaten the independence of his agency. Ensor won that round, but in April Ulman cut the funds for the two reviewers from his proposed budget at the district's request, said budget director Raymond S. Wacks. Ensor said the agency would charge its own fees to builders to raise money for the two workers, though Wacks argued it would be very expensive to provide the same benefits the county offers and there was no guarantee there would be enough work to generate adequate fees for two salaries.”
The Soil Conservation District is a throwback to the Great Depression. It was created back at a time when most Maryland counties were dominated by agriculture “to advise farmers on how to avoid the kind of erosion that helped create huge dust storms in the 1930"s.”
It isn't about the environment. Its about the money.