March 7, 2011
To: Board of Garrett Count Commissioners – Oakland, MD 21550
RE: County Ridgeline Protection
Dear Messers Raley, Crawford, and Gatto:
Consider these words from the county’s Development Plan. County Government should:
- encourage patterns of compatible land uses that provide for variety while respecting each site’s important natural features;
- “protect rural areas, preserving open space, retaining the rural character of the countryside; and
- guard against development destructive to scenic views “by orienting uses to enhance natural views, matching the scale and character of any buildings and other uses with the scale and character of the site and surrounding environs, avoiding placing buildings on cleared ridgelines and minimizing the height of proposed structures, especially on ridgelines and in very visible locations.”
And consider these words from the Heritage Plan, which promotes “the entire county as a single identity known as the state’s Western Maryland Frontier Heritage Area”:
This Plan identifies “specific natural…resources worthy of protection, such as the state forests, the entire Backbone Mountain range, Eagle Rock,” and, more generally, the county’s “rugged topography” as a “significant feature when compared to other parts of Maryland, as well as specified “scenic routes,” which the county should preserve by minimizing the size and number of commercial signs, maintaining adequate building setbacks, …[softening] incompatible development, and working with adjacent property owners.” Perhaps it’s worth noting that real mountains—elevations above 2000 feet—are one of Maryland’s rarest resources, for they constitute less than one-tenth of one percent of the state’s total land area. They also harbor some of the state’s most threatened wildlife.
Now consider the words of our state’s motto, the only one in Italian: Fatti Maschii; Parole Femine—literally, manly deeds, womanly words—but, in its modern translation, strong deeds that stem from straight talk. In Garrett County, this means—TALK IS CHEAP. Words, even good and gentle words, mean little if they aren’t accompanied my right and meaningful actions.
Thank you for—at long last—beginning to address the hypocrisy that exists between the gentle words of our Development and Heritage plans and recent dastardly deeds, done dirt cheap—incompatible development encouraged by county government completely at odds with its charge.
Hear the words of Harry Caudill, written more than forty years ago in his book, Appalachian Wilderness: “The hill people have a strange relationship to their land. They have prostituted the land they love. Their relationship to their hills has been much like that of a man who sells his wife into prostitution: adoring her while pocketing her tawdry earnings. Industry has always treated the mountains with extreme contempt….”
All laws, all ordinances, express a community’s values, preserving what people hold dear. It’s too late to salvage the southern end of the county—but not to preserve the remainder. Let’s recount some of the reasons, beyond what I’ve stated already, why ridgetop protection is so important and consistent with our basic values:
- The Alleghenies are older than the Atlantic Ocean, formed in violence 220 million years ago and, for much of that time, were taller than the Himalayas. The relatively accessible slopes of our mountains today give powerful testimony about the effects of 200 million years of erosion.
- Their antiquity is what endures—and what defines the county’s character; our lakes and farms are of very recent vintage, and Deep Creek Lake seeks always to return to what it once was—a series of meandering streams.
- The ridges symbolize our heritage, to be sure, but they also are the reason many people choose to live here—and not elsewhere. This choice has rippling economic consequences for the services necessary to maintain quality of life—and implies strong stewardship responsibilities.
An enforceable ridgeline protection measure would clarify what we value, setting rules for doing business—developers would know beforehand what they couldn’t do. Which is very good business. It’s not that development can’t take place but rather that any development must be compatible with the look and feel of the mountains; it must not radically alter how they appear, as is now the case along the entirety of Backbone Mountain, with moving structures rising higher above the ridgelines than the mountains reach above the valley floor, taking away the view of the mountain itself.
This blight will remain for a century, perhaps more, in sight of our posterity, requiring children here to grow up in full view of what ignorance, greed, and a far too casual distain for civility can achieve. These wind projects will long be a source of humiliation for this region, and their existence should make every decent adult deeply ashamed. They embody the worst aspects of an exploitative Appalachian culture that maintains we must accept, endure, do business with such awfulness.
With your leadership, I trust that our practices will be at one with our values, that your words will match your deeds, that ridgetop protection will not only acknowledge the importance, if not the sacredness, of our mountains—but will also thwart those who would defile them.
Jon Boone – Oakland, MD