Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News
OAKLAND — A majority of requests and discussion during the annual prelegislative meeting on Saturday at Garrett College centered around issues at Deep Creek Lake.
Resident Ralph Schmidt asked why the state of Maryland wasn’t allocating funds to preserve the lake.
The Board of Garrett County Commissioners and the Deep Creek Lake Policy and Review Board are looking into the issue of funds to preserve the lake, said Delegate Wendell Beitzel. Beitzel said the commission has provided $95,000 for Phase II of the sediment plan.
“I think it’s pretty clear they (commissioners) are hearing what people are saying and are concerned about the future of Deep Creek Lake,” said Beitzel, who noted that he and Edwards would continue to work with the commissioners and the Department of Natural Resources to address lake issues.
Sen. George Edwards said the Waterway Improvement Fund could be utilized for certain things at the lake.
“The department will tell you that they don’t have much money in there but they will get several millions of dollars,” said Edwards. “They are the ones that set the priority on where that money is spent.”
The fund provides money for dredging channels that are critical to heavy commercial boat traffic, of which there is none in the lake, said Barbara Beelar, executive director of Friends of Deep Creek Lake. Beelar questioned whether the fund excluded funding for the lake and suggested looking into obtaining other watershed restoration funds.
“I sort of sense it might,” said Beelar. “If in fact Deep Creek Lake is excluded, then we would rely on you for the best avenue,” said Beelar, who suggested an ammendment or something similar to the flush tax. “We really need you to help put Deep Creek Lake back on the agenda.”
Dock fees that are collected from property owners go to the Department of Natural Resources, which are primarly used for to manage the recreational needs of the lake, according to Beitzel.
“Garrett County gets 25 percent of those dock fees. That was part of the deal when the county approved the purchase of Deep Creek Lake,” said Beitzel. “Unfortunately, Gov. (Martin) O’Malley’s budget has been seeking to take those fees away from the county. We have been fighting vigorously and fortunately we were able to hold those fees.”
Beitzel said dock fees could be raised.
“Most of the dock fees that we collect go to maintain the office of Deep Creek Lake management at the state park,” he said. “There is indication that the fees that are currently being paid are not adequate to continue to pay the total expense of that office and there has been some discussion of a need to raise those fees in the future.”
The Friends of Deep Creek Lake is circulating a petition with more than 1,300 signatures asking the state to provide funds for the preservation of the lake and surrounding watershed, according to Beelar.
“We anticipate by the opening of the General Assembly (in January) we may have 2,000,” said Beelar. “Over 35 percent of those signatures are from Garrett County residents. It isn’t just lake people wanting money.”
Bob Hoffman, representing the Deep Creek Lake Property Owner’s Association requested three changes to legislative statutes pertaining to the Policy and Review Board. Hoffman suggested that the Maryland Department of Environment have a seat on board, that the board have the authority to advise the secretary of MDE on lake related matters and noted that it should be codified in the statute that the DNR provides administrative assistance to the board. Beitzel suggested that Hoffman put those issues in writing. Edwards introduced the previous legislation that put the board in place to ensure local control of the lake and to provide a check and balance, said Beitzel. Both Edwards and Beitzel sit on the board.
Beitzel suggested that the residents should travel to Annapolis to attend committee meetings to voice their concerns or to show their support of any of bills that will be addressed during the legislative session.
“Quite frankly, I think a lot of issues that we are dealing with here in the county with funding for Deep Creek Lake, with drilling and with anything we deal with legislation we are really outgunned,” said Beitzel. “We do appreciate the support when people come down.”
Contact Elaine Blaisdell at firstname.lastname@example.org.