New federal funding may help the black Charles County community of Woodland Village get an adequate water system, but its problems with local government services do not appear nearer a resolution.
The 40-year-old village, with a population of 600, is served by an antiquated water system that does not function adequately. Village officials have sought aid from the surrounding town of Indian Head and from the county to repair it, without success.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development came to the rescue last week with a $298,400 grant, and Maryland's civil rights office is investigating villagers' charges of racial discrimination against Woodland Village by the largely white town.
Francis J. Simmons, president of the Woodland Village Civic Association, said that his village's isolation from the surrounding community and an apparent unwillingness of local governments to provide service continues.
"Nothing has changed," Simmons said. "We've been paying taxes for 40 years, and none of it's been coming back into the community here. The county hasn't done anything for us all that time, and they still won't."
In recent years, Woodland Village residents have asked that Indian Head annex their community and operate the water system, which had been left in their hands when a developer abandoned the project in 1981. Town officials rejected that proposal in June.
Other services were lacking, village officials contend. County housing inspectors, animal control wardens, police patrols and state road maintenance crews rarely came into the small community, tucked back between railroad tracks and a swamp at the mouth of the Mattawoman Creek, Simmons said.
"They left us blacks back here to survive on our own," Simmons said. "They wanted us to break off like a concrete island, float down the creek and out of Charles County. But we started a fight that was strong."
It was only through the intervention of the federal government, after HUD and the Environmental Protection Agency begna investigations of discrimination charges in 1981, that local officials began to respond, Simmons insists. The state Human Relations Commission also has completed an investigation, he said, but has not yet released a report.
The most recent action in the federal investigations came Monday when EPA officials sent a telegram to Indian Head directing town officials to start a survey immediately to determine the condition of Woodland Village's sewer lines. The sewer connections are part of a system that Indian Head operates, but the town has refused to maintain the lines in the black community, which town officials have pointed out is not part of Indian Head.
EPA has told Indian Head that half of another $633,000 grant it approved to revamp the town's sewer system would be witheld if the town goes forward with the project while the Woodland Village connections are in disrepair.
EPA will supply 87.5 percent of the money for the survey and 87.5 percent of the cost of replacing defective pipes in Woodland Village, said Indian Head Mayor Roy L. Budd. While the amount of any repairs awaits the results of the 30-day survey, town officials have refused to pay the local share for the survey. Instead Charles County volunteered to pay the $300 fee.
"We can't afford it," Budd said, "We don't have any money in our budget to waste."
EPA representatives also have stipulated that, no matter whether Woodland Village's lines are in good shape or must be replaced, Indian Head must enter into a permanent agreement to maintain the lines if town officials expect to receive the other half of their sewerage system grant.
Town Manager Max E. Bowen, who leads the opposition to letting Woodland Village become part of the town that surrounds it, did not return a reporter's calls to discuss the case.
HUD investigators found that "substantial services have been denied" to Woodland Village because of race, a report stated. County officials agreed last year to apply for a HUD grant for a new water system at Woodland Village, but that request was not funded by HUD's state office.
Instead, Benedict, also a predominantly white Charles County community, was given funds for a water project. When that happened, Simmons contacted lawyers at the Washington firm of Hogan & Hartson, who agreed to handle the case at no charge.
When county and state officials sat down with investigators and village lawyers to work out a HUD-fostered agreement to help the community, however, Joseph Ely, Indian Head town attorney, refused to sign it.
In asking for annexation, Woodland Villagers delcared that they are willing to shoulder municipal taxes and pay their share for sewer repairs and maintenance. But town officials rejected Woodland's annexation, saying that they feared their town would be burdened with a cost that it could not afford.
But Indian Head's officials counted Woodland Village residents as their own when they applied for another grant for a $278,000 water project, Budd acknowledged. They were granted funds for the project and, although lines came within 20 feet of a connection to Woodland Village's system, the town never made the hook-up. Budd said that town officials simply had used village residents "for a head count--that's done all over the country."
Even with investigations under way, Simmons claims, local governments have "taken reprisals against us" in responding to complaints raised in the investigations.
State road crews came in last year to repave the potholed, rippled asphalt, he said, but they did a substandard tar-and-gravel job that left clouds of dust with every passing vehicle "and gave us more sickness in six months than we had in 12 years." After complaints, the state resurfaced the streets with standard materials, Simmons said.
The county increased police patrols and other services for a time, but then left Woodland Village off the county map.
After Indian Head's fire chief declared Woodland Village's hydrants a fire hazard, Bowen sent in a crew from the town to service them. Simmons said they stripped the bolts on the hydrants by using standard pipe wrenches. After the crew returned to town, Bowen sent a letter telling the county that some of the hydrants were inoperative, and that county officials should respond immediately.
Simmons charged that problems continue because the county remains reluctant to help the community. The County Sheriff's Department maintains insufficient patrols, he said, and people come to Woodland Village to race their cars, release unwanted animals, and dump garbage in the streets.
"They want us to live like this so they can bring other people back here and say, 'This is the black community; this is how the black man lives.' They want us to become a ghetto," Simmons said. "They educate their children by showing them this. Now, what do you think the children grow up to believe?"
Sheriff's department Capt. Ross Pitrelli said the department "has been responsive," but added: "We can't patrol 24 hours. Most of the problems aren't police problems. They are community problems, and the community has to band together and look out for these things."
James Redmond, county zoning and planning director, said his department responds to complaints of zoning violations at Woodland Village.
Budd said he was "really happy that they got the grant" for a water works at Woodland Village, and would be willing to annex the village into Indian Head. But Simmons noted that the town had rejected the the village's earlier request for annexation, and said that Woodland Village is not likely to apply again.