- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Maryland plans to preserve nearly 25,000 acres of land under a proposal by outgoing Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration, a $22 million deal coming in the last month of the governor's term that some lawmakers say the state can't afford.
The plan would be Maryland's second-largest conservation project, protecting forest and wetlands on the Eastern Shore and in Southern Maryland from development. State officials say it also creates $28 million each year from limited logging on most of the land.
The purchase would cap Mr. Glendening's extensive environmental record, a key part of the governor's agenda during his eight years in office.
But it first must be approved by the Board of Public Works, a three-member panel that includes the Democratic governor and his frequent critic, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. The board will consider the proposal at its Dec. 18 meeting.
Some influential lawmakers have questioned whether Maryland can spend $22 million while facing a $1.2 billion deficit next year.
Senate Budget and Tax Committee Chairman Barbara Hoffman and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, both Democrats, sent a joint letter to state budget planners warning against the purchase.
Mrs. Hoffman said yesterday the governor should wait until the General Assembly session in January to allow legislative review of the plan.
"The governor's legacy will be preservation; he's already done that," she said. "It's irresponsible to attempt to make a purchase this large at this time of year considering the budget crisis we are in."
Under the deal, the Arlington-based Conservation Fund will buy the land from the Glatfelter Pulp Wood Co. The Conservation Fund then will sell the land to the state. The parcels are spread throughout seven counties, with the largest acreage in Somerset and Worcester.
Maryland would buy about 3,700 acres outright, land that would remain untouched. It would secure the development rights to the remaining 21,000 acres, a cheaper approach that allows for some logging on the land but prevents development. That land would be owned by the timber company Forestland Group of Chapel Hill, N.C.
"We have a chance to protect virtually 25,000 acres of Maryland's green infrastructure as well as the region's economic output," said Michael Nelson, assistant secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources. "It's a high return on our investment from both an ecological and economic standpoint."
Mr. Nelson said the state had been working on the proposal for nearly two years, but was bound by a confidentiality agreement for most of that time. Much of the land borders the 58,000 acres Maryland bought on the Eastern Shore from Chesapeake Forest Products Co. in 1999, the state's largest land purchase.
The plan is about "95 percent" complete, Mr. Nelson said. Funding would come from the state's Project Open Space and Greenprint program, both of which Mr. Nelson said should be able to cover most of the cost.
Glatfelter wants to finish the deal by the end of the month to fit it into its fiscal year, Mr. Nelson said. He said speculation that the administration is trying rush the purchase before Mr. Glendening leaves office is untrue.
The governor may had a hard time selling that to fellow members of the Board of Public Works.
Schaefer spokesman Michael Golden said the comptroller doesn't think the budget problems allow for large land deals. Mr. Golden said the governor has tried to push several land expenditures in his last year in office, calling the most recent proposal "the grandaddy of them all."
"I would be surprised if he did vote for this," Mr. Golden said of Mr. Schaefer.
The third board member, state Treasurer Nancy Kopp, was out of the country and couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.
David Sutherland, senior vice president of the Conservation Fund, said keeping the land open for some logging is critical to the Eastern Shore, where forestry is the second-largest industry.
"We have total respect for the legislature and Board of Public Works concerns about the budget issues," he said. "But this project has tremendous merits beyond just the conservation side of the equation. It's about jobs."

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