Maryland: Largest unprotected forest purchased

The Board of Public Works approved Wednesday the $14.4 million purchase of one of the largest privately owned, ecologically sensitive forests left in Maryland — 4,769 acres on the lower Eastern Shore — after officials strongly defended the spending even though the state faces a budget deficit. “It doesn’t quite make sense from a fiscal standpoint,” Comptroller Peter Franchot said. State Treasurer Nancy Kopp also was “deeply troubled” by the process. Yet, Franchot and Kopp eventually approved the spending of $9.3 million in state open space money, along with $5.1 million in federal dollars, for the Foster property in Worcester County that will help protect the Nassawango Creek and Pocomoke River watersheds that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. These kinds of properties “should be at the top of the priority list” for acquisition of open space, Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin said. He said large contiguous tracts of forested land “may have the highest human health benefits,” improving air quality, reducing pollution and carbon emissions, and providing a habitat for many species, including migratory neo-tropical birds such as the Baltimore oriole. About 98 percent of the property is undeveloped forest, mostly hardwoods, which will continue to be logged as part of a sustainable forest program. But Franchot questioned how the state could justify the purchase in “financially troubled times.” He also wondered why state officials failed to negotiate a lower price in the face of the collapse of the real estate market, but they said regulations tied their hands. Kopp asked them to come up with a new process. Gov. Martin O’Malley and Griffin said the purchase was paid for out of open space dollars generated by the real estate transfer tax. Griffin added that despite all the talk about preserving the Bay, this was one of the few instances that state action would help reach that goal. “It’s part of our responsibility to citizens not yet born,” said O’Malley, who chairs the three-member board. He pointed to his oft-repeated campaign promise that “open space money should be used only for open space.” O’Malley repeatedly criticized the raiding of open space funds to balance the budget by Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich. But Senate GOP Leader Allan Kittleman, who attended the meeting, said it was a bad policy choice not to use open space funds rather than furlough state employees or cut essential programs. He said open space funds could always have been replenished, as had been done under Ehrlich.

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Comments (1)

TheGearHouseJanuary 9th, 2009 at 4:05 am

That would be a great addition for Maryland. I just hope they’d open it up as a state park for hiking and enjoyment!

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