What really motivates the CPWC?

June 15, 2003|By Tom Firey

According to public-choice theory, many political actions are motivated by personal desires and incentives rather than a sincere interest in the public good. Public-choice theory is useful when observing the Citizens for the Protection of Washington County, because the group's actions (and inactions) often seem at odds with its announced principles. Could they be motivated by a hidden agenda?

Consider the following:

  • Group members claim to worry about Washington County's groundwater. In a letter to The Herald-Mail published last Jan. 16, CPWC treasurer Henryetta Livelsberger stressed the need to "protect the wells of rural residents and agricultural enterprises," and demanded to know what "the county test wells indicate regarding the level of ground water." Yet when U.S. Geological Survey analyst Eric Greene offered to do a water budget analysis for the county, the CPWC was strangely silent and the County Commissioners declined Greene's offer. Is the CPWC really concerned about groundwater?

  • The group professes to want to "protect John Q rural resident' from organized land pirates," as Livelsberger said in a Herald-Mail article last Oct. 18. Yet the CPWC has pushed for a radical rewriting of the county's land-use regulations that will decrease rural residents' property values by nearly a third. That, in turn, will negatively affect their planning for their financial futures. Does the CPWC really object to land piracy?

  • The group condemns developers for "tak[ing] ownership of our rural lands," as CPWC board member Kurt Redenbo wrote in a letter The Herald-Mail published last June 16. But developers must purchase the land they develop, while the CPWC advocates the county's de facto uncompensated seizure of control over more than 80 percent of Washington County. Does the CPWC really oppose the taking of rural lands?

  • Group members claim they care about farmers and want to improve the economic viability of local agriculture. Yet CPWC Webmaster Joe Lane, in a Jan. 12 letter to The Herald-Mail scoffed at the notion that farmers and other rural landowners should be compensated for the downzoning, even though the price of their land will fall by about a third as a result. That loss will financially harm current farmers and be a worrisome harbinger for young people interested in entering agriculture. Is the CPWC really concerned about local farmers and the future of agriculture in Washington County?

  • Group members have made several claims about the economic effects of the policies they support. In a May 13 Herald-Mail article, Livelsberger asserted that the county's building moratorium, implemented late last year, has had nothing to do with the sharp rise in house prices over the past several months. Last summer, Lane claimed in an op-ed that farmers won't lose any land value from downzoning because of "the law of supply and demand." Those claims conflict with economic realities and common sense. Does the CPWC really understand (or care about) the economic effects of what they propose?

Given those contradictions, what could the CPWC's true intentions be? Does Lane own land in the county's development zone? Is Redenbo speculating on later rezoning of farmland that he can buy cheap? Does Livelsberger own stock in Dan Ryan or Pulte?


Seriously, CPWC members probably have no motivations other than the obvious one: They want the county to look the way they prefer, but they don't want to shoulder the cost. Instead they, and county officials, want to force the $100 million-plus cost on local farmers and other rural landholders - people the CPWC and county leaders believe are too weary and politically weak to fight back.

It's unfortunate the CPWC doesn't seem to care about fairness and the well-being of the rural people of Washington County. Regardless of the group's motivations, the policies advocated by the CPWC will harm farmers and diminish the quality of life for Washington County's rural residents. If the group were to support compensating farmers and other rural landholders in exchange for the downzoning land grab, they truly would be acting like citizens who want to protect Washington County.

Thomas A. Firey is a former Washington County resident whose family still operates a dairy farm near Clear Spring. He can be contacted by e-mail at

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