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O’Malley likely to vote for land buy

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to vote tomorrow in favor of a $7.2 million land purchase, despite protests from Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.

"Aren't there open-space opportunities around the state that are a much better fit than this?" asked Mr. Franchot, who as a member of the state's Board of Public Works with Mr. O'Malley and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp will vote on the deal.

The state is expected to buy the 74-acre parcel at the northern tip of Kent Island from a holding company for Langenfelder Marine Inc.

Mr. Franchot questioned the property's value earlier this month when state officials said 12.5 acres of the property were under water and valued at $1 an acre, and that another 12 acres were used as an industrial dumping site and would take an estimated five years to clean.

The purchase is part of the state's Program Open Space, a conservation project that attempts to preserve land from development.

"The governor is still reviewing it," O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources said she expects the deal to be approved.

The land is owned by Atchafalaya Holdings LLP, which purchased it in 2002 for $1.75 million.

Jim Matters, president of Langenfelder Marine Inc., proposed the sale of the land shortly after his oyster-dredging contract with the state expired in December.

It was not clear whether private offers were made on the land. Neither Mr. Matters nor his attorney returned calls for comment yesterday.

The board deferred the vote earlier this month after an hourlong hearing — which played like a closed-door meeting in public view — exposed questions about the price of the land and its recreational value.

Mr. Franchot questioned the landowner about the 12 acres used as an industrial dumping site and said it is not the first place he would choose to go hiking.

The parcel along the shoreline is littered with old cranes, pipes and debris.

Recent land-preservation deals in Queen Anne's County were watched closely.

The public works board blocked development of a waterfront parcel in the Four Seasons neighborhood on Kent Island in May, but last month approved buying property that was once part of the Kudner Estate along the Wye River in Grasonville.

The board approved funding for the 271-acre Kudner property despite concerns about the price and whether Department of Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin had a conflict of interest.

The state worker who questioned the price the state paid was fired the day after his comments appeared in print.