garrett realtors worried about fracking
April 2, 2014
The Garrett County Board of Realtors has waded into the fracking frenzy, pressing for sufficient local protections to be in place before drilling starts in Western Maryland.
The group, which represents individual Realtors as well as nine realty companies in the state’s most exposed county if fracking were permitted, says it is concerned about declining property values near fracking wells and gas infrastructure.
“We are not in favor of, nor are we against, fracking. Our main objective is preserving property values and property rights,” said Larry Smith, president of the county Board of Realtors. “We are merely asking that local government look at what’s being proposed by [the Maryland Department of the Environment] and — if there are any gaps or holes — that local government further regulate where MDE leaves off.”
This letter marks the first time a local business organization has said that local government needs to play a stronger role. The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce and the Farm Bureau, in contrast, have lobbied repeatedly in support of fracking for gas.
The Board of Realtors members “feel that promotion of shale gas development needs to also accompany a local commitment to regulation. … [T]hey are inherently linked,” said Paul Durham, government affairs director for the county Board of Realtors. “So far, we haven’t seen that local commitment. … We are calling on our county to start the processes to put the local regulatory framework together so, when drilling occurs, it’s in place.” Putting regulations in place could take a year or more, he said, so local officials should “start the process.”
Durham said the board members have been monitoring government committees studying fracking at the national, state and local levels. They also reviewed numerous academic studies that found a “stigma” associated with properties near fracking wells. One study, led by Ron Throupe at the University of Denver and published in the Journal of Real Estate Literature, showed a 5 to 15 percent decline in “bid values” depending on “the petroleum-friendliness of the venue and proximity to the drilling site.” (A bid value is the amount respondents in a survey would bid on a hypothetical property at a specified distance from a fracking site; it takes into account respondents who say they would not consider bidding on the property. Respondents in Texas were more “petroleum friendly” than those in Florida, the two states used in the survey.)
Over several months, the Realtors’ board of directors studied the issue, got feedback from its members and its government affairs committee and decided to write the letter.
The letter, dated March 17 and addressed to Michael W. Koch, executive director of the county’s Department of Planning and Community Development, said the board is worried about local “regulatory gaps” that could harm “vistas and tourism” as well as local roads, small towns and communities. “We have learned that our community should not expect the state to regulate all of these impacts associated with gas development,” Smith wrote. “Our local officials have been actively promoting shale gas development in Garrett County for a number of years. However, there has been a reluctance to couple that promotional effort with the important local regulatory planning that is needed to properly manage the negative effects of this issue.”
The board, according to the letter, adopted this position: “Garrett County government and our elected representatives should not promote or endorse shale gas development, nor should it occur, until the effects of shale gas development are evaluated and an effective local government regulatory framework is put in place to protect the rights of property owners and the investments they have made.”
A loss of property values, the letter said, would be significant in Garrett where “local services and the county budget depend on a stable property tax base.”
The board’s letter notes that Garrett lacks countywide zoning that might help fill the gaps in regulation and that a 2011 Economic Strategic Development Plan called for “responsible” development of gas drilling along with phased-in zoning. (Garrett has zoning only in the Deep Creek watershed and the towns of Friendsville, Oakland, Accident, Mountain Lake Park, Grantsville, and Loch Lynn Heights. In 2011, Mountain Lake Park passed a ban on fracking.) The letter urges that Garrett County “immediately engage” its departments “to initiate the processes needed to move forward in this area.”
James M. Raley, a county commissioner and member of the state’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission, said that he would be meeting with the Board of Realtors this week to discuss the letter and that he wants to see documentation about effects on property values. As far as regulatory gaps, he said, “I feel I’ve been working on the gaps with our local [Shale Gas Advisory] Committee.” Although “not a big fan” of countywide zoning, he said, “local gaps are going to have to be handled at the local level.” The county, for example, will have to deal with road damage, emergency preparedness and trucks hauling hazardous materials.
Eric Robison, a member of the executive committee of the county’s Shale Gas Advisory Committee and president of Citizen Shale, said he’s concerned that the gaps won’t be apparent until the state develops regulations. “I feel it’s very important that we look at this. Any issues or impacts that arise [from fracking] should not be borne by the taxpayer, [and] we as a county should be looking to offer the best protections for our tax base and taxpayers,” said Robison, who is also a candidate for county commissioner in District 1. He said that only a countywide zoning plan would be “fair and equitable to everyone.”