Journalist @baltimoresun writer artist runner #amwriting Chaplain PIO #partylikeajournalist

Journalist @baltimoresun writer artist runner #amwriting Chaplain PIO #partylikeajournalist
Journalist @baltimoresun writer artist runner #amwriting Md Troopers Assoc #20 & Westminster Md Fire Dept Chaplain PIO #partylikeajournalist

Thursday, March 08, 2007

20070307 A sordid saga of communists, reservoirs, congressman, and pumpkins

A sordid saga of communists, reservoirs, congressman, and pumpkins

UPDATE: This post was included in the Maryland Blogger Alliance 2nd Blog Carnival. The 2nd Blog Carnival was hosted by “Pillage Idiot” on March 11, 2007. Click here to find it.

Contrary to what is being circulated, the Union Mills reservoir project in Carroll County will add another layer of protection to the site of the “pumpkin papers,” and this national treasure is not threatened.

March 7th, 2007

If you followed the Carroll County section of the Baltimore Examiner web site on Wednesday March 7th, 2007 you will have witnessed not one, not two, but three articles about the old Whittaker Chambers “pumpkin patch” farm just north of Westminster, in Carroll County Maryland.

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 Carroll County with Carroll County and Baltimore actors.

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 Carroll County officials as one could get.

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 Hollywood movie. All we would need is a Hollywood-type like Cher or Jane Fonda and the plot would be complete.

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 Carroll County these days, Kelsey Volkmann, and when I read the article I instantly had beaucoup heartburn. Ms. Volkmann has developed a great reputation among public officials for working hard and getting it right. She won’t pull any punches but for those of us who keenly follow the issues she consistently runs her articles “straight down the middle.”

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 Carroll County, known as Pipe Creek Farm. All steps must be taken to preserve the integrity of this property, having served as the home of a great patriot and noted author, Whittaker Chambers.”

So far – so good. From what I am aware of the attitude of Carroll County officials, they are also interested in “preserve(ing) the integrity of this property.”

So what is the problem?

It’s in the next paragraph:

“We understand that the Carroll County Commissioners are considering a water plan that includes the creation of a Union Mills reservoir which, if completed, would destroy a significant portion of this national treasure…”

The letter is signed by Members of Congress: Ros-Lehtine, Bartlett, Gilchrest, Mario Diaz-Balart, Wolf, Wilson, King, Bordallo (from Guam,) Feeney, Boozman, McCotter and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

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 Westminster first proposed the reservoir.

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 Westminster to build another reservoir, this one to be located on Big Pipe Creek in Union Mills.

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.

The Carroll County officials in a decision making role in this matter are keenly – personally interested in preserving the integrity of the site of the “pumpkin papers” – so it simply baffling as to how this matter got all wound around the axles of misinformation.

Why didn’t the gang of twelve Congressmen contact Carroll County officials before they sent the letter? Every member of Congress who did contact Carroll County officials did NOT send a letter.

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, Carroll County has no intention of negatively impacting the field identified as the location of the famed “pumpkin patch” and has designed the reservoir in a way that minimizes impacts on the balance of the farm. Indeed, the impact anticipated by the planned reservoir… is limited to the northeastern edge of the farm where the Pipe Creek stream crosses the property.

The Pipe Creek farm is already protected from future residential development by easement sold to the Maryland Agricultural land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) in 2001. 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…”

On a final note, the Union Mills reservoir was needed and should’ve been built in the 1970s. The need for water in Carroll County has been a basic health, safety, and welfare concern for public officials in Carroll County since the terrible drought of 2002. To not go forward with the Union Mills reservoir would be an abrogation of one of the basic responsibilities of elected officials to Carroll County’s citizens. NIMBYism and misinformation cannot prevail.

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 is real. We also believe that protecting and preserving nationally recognized sites of historic significance and irreplaceable farmland is equally important to our local, state and national well being. Our reservoir concept, with minimal impact to the Pipe Creek Farm, satisfies both of these fundamental principles of government: protecting our past while planning for our future.”


[1] 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…”

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