Vol. 10, No. 10

March 7 - March 13, 2002

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Rescue at Bay Ridge: The Right Way To Save The Bay

When Maryland’s Board of Public Works convened in Annapolis last week, one of its pending decisions was more important than at least one of its members understood.

Residents of Bay Ridge, near Annapolis, had assembled an extraordinarily complex plan to purchase over 110 acres of Bayfront forest land that also fronts Blackwalnut Creek and Lake Ogleton.

Developers had their sights on the land, which always is the case with rare tracts along the Bay. It is the sort of land that in the minds of entrepreneurs carves up smartly for more of the developments that we see rising near the waterfront on virtually every road near the Bay or its tributaries. Gazing down from an airplane, you see the jagged clear-cuts making way for mansionettes as if they were scars on the scalp of an accident victim.

But this is choice land, and a lot of it, enough to squeeze in more than 300 homes. The drive to save it — which amounted to a competition with developers — involved adroit financial maneuvering that would require help from the Board of Public Works. The $4.1 million deal to buy the land includes a $300,000 loan from the Maryland Environmental Trust to the Bay Ridge Civic Association and a $140,000 contribution from the county.

The biggest obligation rests with the people with the most at stake, the residents of Bay Ridge and nearby surroundings. The locals have stepped up to the table to contribute more than $1 million cash plus the indebtedness from a bank loan that will be paid back by special assessments in the coming years.

The Bay Ridge community tax district is the first in the state to tax itself to keep land out of development.

As Del. Dick D’Amato said in making the case to invest newly scarce Open Space funds in the purchase, “Bay Ridge serves as a model, showing other taxing districts that if they put up a substantial effort, the state will come in and help them.”

In this case, the needed help was a $450,000 share from the state, a piece of business on the agenda when the three-member Board of Public Works met last week.

Declaring his support for the plan at the meeting, Gov. Parris Glendening referred not just to the aesthetic value of preserving land but to the benefits to water quality and wildlife. Indeed, proponents have counted nearly three dozen species of wildlife on the parcel, many of which would be driven away by bulldozers.

On her first vote on the Public Works Board, new State Treasurer Nancy Kopp agreed with the governor. But, as is often the case, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer broke ranks. While abstaining from the vote, Schaefer said such a purchase of land was inappropriate during a time of state belt tightening.

Fortunately, Schaefer was in the minority, and the Board approved the state’s share in this vital preservation drive. It was the proper thing to do, especially considering the debt and the responsibility that the local communities have assumed in this worthy endeavor.

This is no government hand-out. Rather, it is a wise investment to save an irretrievable resource that will benefit not just Bay Ridge locals but the entire region.

Had Schaefer’s late predecessor, Louis Goldstein, been around, he surely would have voted differently while offering one of the bits of sage advice for which he was known: “God isn’t making any more land.”

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly