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Charles County commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) and her husband, Ed, are facing a $50 fine after illegally clearing trees from two to three acres of their Port Tobacco property in early January.

County inspectors visited the property March 2, the day after an anonymous call alerted authorities to the cutting, said Frank Ward, chief of codes, permits and inspection services for county government.

The tree clearing required a sediment erosion control plan permit and a timber harvest plan permit because the land is within the “critical area,” a 1,000-foot radius around tidal waters and wetlands imposed in Maryland to protect water quality.

Ward met with Ed Kelly on March 9, and the Kellys are working on a plan to reverse the damage, possibly involving replanting trees, either in the cleared area or elsewhere in the watershed, said Ward and the Kellys.

“One of the things I’m planning to do this week is follow up with him: Where we are on that plan? He said he was going to hire a company to do that plan. He had hired a contractor to do that work and the contractor didn’t realize the property was in the critical area,” Ward said.

The project started when last year’s heavy rain damaged a centuries-old road on the property, Ed Kelly said Tuesday. He hired a Port Tobacco timber contractor to clear trees along the road and install anti-erosion measures.

Ed Kelly also asked the contractor to remove “specimen trees” suitable for timber, although none eventually was found, and to clear land to give the Kellys a better view of the Potomac River, he said.

“When I met with the county, they said, ‘It’s in the critical area.’ I said, ‘That’s impossible. We’re well beyond 1,000 feet from any water. The area couldn’t possibly be in the critical area,’” Ed Kelly said. “I was shocked that that was the case and asked my contractor. He said he knew nothing about it.”

Both Kellys said the contractor had decided, erroneously, that the land was not in the critical area, and they relied on his judgment. She has contacted the Charles County Ethics Commission and informed it of the situation.

“We try our very best to follow the rules. Visually, based on what the contractor told us, we had no reason to believe there was a problem,” Candice Quinn Kelly said.

The contractor could not be reached for comment.

Candice Quinn Kelly noted that the clearing affected less than three acres of an 85-acre parcel containing Chandler’s Hope, a historic house dating back to the 17th century and listed in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties.

emitrano@somdnews.com