A sordid saga of communists, reservoirs, congressman, and pumpkins
Contrary to what is being circulated, the Union Mills reservoir project in
March 7th, 2007
If you followed the
You remember Mr. Chambers. According to the first of the three intrepid articles, which appeared on the web site at 3 AM, “Reservoir threatens ex-spy Chambers’ farm:”
“he is the “Soviet spy who defected to become a critic of communism, stored U.S. State Department documents in carved-out pumpkins that he gave to then-Rep. Richard Nixon in 1948. The documents incriminated another spy, Alger Hiss.
“Chambers, a former Time magazine managing editor, claimed Hiss was a member of the Communist Party and Soviet spy. Hiss, a Baltimore City College High School and Johns Hopkins University graduate, was later convicted of perjury in connection with the same allegation in 1950.”
So far we are in great shape. The national, if not international story of intrigue, spies, and the beginnings of the cold war all took place in
But it with the next paragraph that the wheels of the story quickly fell off:
“This is a man who single-handedly stood up to state authority and the [county] is now attempting” to take his land, said John Chambers, Whittaker’s son, who now owns the land.
“Commissioners recently voted to send their triennial update of the county’s water and sewerage plan — which calls for a reservoir in Union Mills and possibly on Chambers’ Pipe Creek farm — to the state.”
Juxtapose those two paragraphs with the first paragraph and you have the makings of misinformation that seems to continue to grow legs and is about as far from the position of
The first paragraph reads:
“Carroll County - He railed against government invasion of residents’ private lives, but now the government could seize the farm where espionage secrets he hid once were kept.”
Almost 60 years later and intrigue and conspiracy continue to abound. Sounds like the stuff of a
Only one problem; Carroll County is not trying to take the farm. (See footnote.)
Okay, let’s back it up a bit here. In the interest of objectivity, the article was written by one of my favorite journalists covering
But, the casual reader and the person seriously interested in this aspect of our national history could read this story and walk away with the impression that the pumpkin patch will cease to exist as a result of the reservoir project and this is totally not true.
To make matters worse, the Associated Press picked up the story and gave it legs. By 2:02 PM that afternoon, the AP story ran with the alarming – and totally inaccurate headline, “Farm where Chambers turned over 'pumpkin papers' may be seized.” (Again – see footnote.)
By 3:35 PM the AP had to walk its story back and it posted an article titled, “County wants part of same farm that was home to "pumpkin papers".”
It was a very long day for many folks.
Ay caramba. Where to begin?
As far as I - and many others I talked with on Wednesday, Ms. Volkmann got “had.” It will happen to the best of us and at some time or another it will happen to all of us. Someone peed on her leg and told her that it was raining.
In the internet age, where news is twenty-four seven, there is an epidemic of misinformation getting legs and if it is repeated often enough “it becomes true.”
And she is not the only person to have been “had.”. She’s in good company - with ah, count them, twelve members of Congress who wrote to the Carroll County Board of Commissioners on January 12th, 2007.
They wrote, in part;
“We are writing to express our support for continued preservation of an important National Historic Landmark located within
So far – so good. From what I am aware of the attitude of
So what is the problem?
It’s in the next paragraph:
“We understand that the
The letter is signed by Members of Congress: Ros-Lehtine,
Well, it is true that the Commissioners are considering the creation of a Union Mills Reservoir. As has been considered since the mid 1970s when the City of
As I wrote on February 28th, 2007 in my Westminster Eagle column titled, “Recalling when B's Coffee Shoppe was all abuzz:”
In line with expanding the city's water supplies, in the mid-1970s, plans were made for
When the $5 million dollar reservoir was presented to the public, the public rose up in arms saying the city did not need the water and that the project was a waste of ratepayer money.
By September 1976, the project was shelved.
History, of course, has proven that the council was correct in pursuing the project and we would be in a lot different position today if it had been allowed to go forward.
However, fast forwarding to today, the waters of the proposed reservoir will hardly come within a mile of the present day unmarked location of the “pumpkin patch” which now rests in an otherwise nondescript field.
Why didn’t the gang of twelve Congressmen contact
Unfortunately another one of the Congressman who has been “had” in this saga was Congressman Roscoe Bartlett who wrote the Carroll County Board of Commissioners on January 3rd, 2007.
Congressman Bartlett wrote in part:
“It is my hope that the Commissioners of Carroll County will value, even treasure, this very special farm, that you will do all in your power to keep it whole, and protect its integrity for this and future generations to study and know.”
And here lies the really bizarre part of the story. Contrary to what is being circulated, the Union Mills reservoir project will add another layer of historic protection to the site of the “pumpkin papers,” which is already in agricultural preservation - - and preserve the site in perpetuity.
This is a good thing. The county has no interest in "seizing" the property.
Quite the contrary, the county wants a watershed protection easement which will concurrently give the site addition historic protection.
I attended what appears to be the genesis of the misinformation; the December 14th, 2006 “Public Hearing ~ Carroll County Water & Sewerage Master Plan.”
The public hearing was poorly attended except for a couple of gentleman who politely and eloquently expressed concern for their property which seemed to be involved in the proposed reservoir. Anyone can understand that. However assurances were made by county officials that they were sensitive to the concerns of the citizens.
Somehow, from there the alarm was quickly spread that the county was about to begin “seizing” land for the project and that has not been the practice and policy of past commissioners and there seems to be no indication by the present Carroll County Board of Commissioners to go in that direction.
In a December 15th, 2007 Carroll County Times article by Marjorie Censer, she wrote, “The county has long anticipated building a reservoir at the Union Mills site, north of Westminster, said Steve Horn, the county's planning director, and it already owns about two-thirds of the almost 2,200 acres needed... The Union Mills reservoir itself would be about 325 acres, but the additional land around the reservoir would protect the water quality, Horn said.”
The translation is that the acreage above and beyond the 325 acres of “lake” to be created is for the purposes of watershed protection – and this land is to be preserved in perpetuity.
Further translation – the watershed protection will add an additional layer of protection for the historic site, which again, is almost a mile from the waterline.
In a response to Congressman Bartlett’s January 3rd, 2007 letter, which he penned in addition to the gang of twelve Congressmen’s January 12, 2007 letter - - the Carroll County Board of Commissioners wrote on January 18th, 2007:
“With regard to the Pipe Creek Farm specifically,
The Pipe Creek farm is already protected from future residential development by easement sold to the
On a final note, the Union Mills reservoir was needed and should’ve been built in the 1970s. The need for water in
In their January 18th, 2007 letter, the Carroll County Board of commissioners wrote, “The need for a surface water supply for communities in northern
 Carroll County Board of Commissioners wrote on January 18th, 2007: “…Carroll County has no interest in acquiring Pipe Creek Farm land for the purpose of constructing the reservoir beyond… the ‘normal pool level.’ We estimate this direct impact on the Pipe Creek farm to equal roughly 15.5 acres. The balance of the farm, approximately 346.5 acres, remains undisturbed and under the full control and ownership of its present owner…”