Frederick County Delegation Hears From The Public

They held their hearing on Saturday morning.

Frederick, Md (KM) A number of issues, ranging from fracking, the downtown Frederick hotel and conference center, and letting barbershops serve alcohol to their customers, came before the Frederick County Legislative Delegation on Saturday morning. Lawmakers in Annapolis held their hearing on the County’s 2017 Legislative Package.

One item in the legislative “wish list” is a position statement in favor of keeping Maryland’s current ban on hydraulic fracturing in place. A number of citizens testified in favor of that ban. “Petroleum companies can talk about how safe what they’re doing is. But we all know that accidents happen and even the safest procedures are subject to human error. Once water is contaminated, there’s no turning back,” said Karen Russell from Knoxville, who has formed a climate change working group.

That comment was echoed by Mike Manos. “Water quality should take precedence over any kind of financial gain that might be perceived,” he said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of drilling down deep underground, and using water and chemicals to extract natural gas. Opponents say it has contaminated groundwater. The industry says the contaminated groundwater is not caused by hydraulic fracturing.

The locations in Maryland where fracking could occur is in Allegheny and Garrett Counties. But Frederick County has two shale deposits underground which have not been assessed by the government or industry.

The state currently has a prohibition on hydraulic fracturing which is set to expire in October, 2017.

Legislators from Allegheny and Garrett Counties want to bring fracking to their communities because they believe it will create jobs in an economically depressed area.

The other issue that generated some discussion was the proposed downtown Frederick hotel and conference center. The facility  is planned for the former News-Post building on East Patrick Street. Plamondon Hospitality Partners has won the bid to build the hotel. It’s expected to cost $84-million with Plamondon taking on $53-million of that amount.
Opponents say they don’t like taxpayers taking on this project, calling it “corporate welfare.” “Everyone we know thinks that boutique hotels in the downtown would be great. But instead of supporting the creative plans of small business entrepreneurs, the city and some county elected officials have been pandering to the special interest of Frederick’s business community who feel entitled to millions of our tax dollars to benefit just a few. Do you really think Marriott should get our hard-earned money,” said Jane Weir of Middletown, a long time opponent of this project. “It’s not good for the other hotels or events venues, especially the ones which pay their own way without being given corporate welfare or millions from the tourism dollars to pay off their mortgages.”

A memorandum of understanding which outlines the responsibilities of all parties for the construction and management of this hotel and conference was approved by the Frederick Board of Aldermen and the County Council. But the Maryland Stadium Authority, one of the partners, voted not to sign it, and the Maryland Economic Development Corporation, which is supposed to own the conference center,  tabled the MOU.

The Delegation also heard a presentation from the Frederick County Liquor Board. Panel member Jesse Pippy said the  Liquor Board is requesting a bill to allow barbershops to sell beer and wine to customers as they are getting their hair cut. He said it goes along with a similar law approved last year that allows beauty salons the right to sell alcohol to their customers. “Apparently, barbershops are also giving their guests alcohol without a license,” said Pippy. “So we thought as a Board to incorporate the barbershop into that previous legislation would make sense.”

But Delegate Bill Folden, whose a law enforcement officer, raised a concern. “It appears that because they’re already doing it, we’re like ‘let’s give them a license and make it happen,'” he said. “It just seems like we’re enabling a certain mentality instead of holding them accountable.”

Folden said he’s worried a patron at a barbershop would consume a few beers while getting his hair cut, and then get behind the wheel of a car and get into a crash.  Pippy said licensing these barbershop would allow liquor inspectors to visit the site to make sure they’re complying with the law.

The Liquor Board is also requesting laws to allow cigar shops to obtain licenses to sell beer, wine and liquor, and to allow sales of alcoholic beverages on Sunday to begin at 10:00 AM instead of the current 11:00 AM.

The Delegation also heard from Kevin Attick, the Executive Director of the Brewers Association of Maryland. He says the organization wants the 500-barrel limit removed for breweries which sell their own products directly to the public.

Prior to the meeting, Delegate Kathy Afzali was chosen to serve another term as Delegation Chair. Delegate Folden was picked as Vice Chair.

The General Assembly will gavel into session on January 11th, 2017.

By Kevin McManus