ANNAPOLIS — The purchase of a wooded parcel on the Eastern Shore has been delayed for at least two weeks after Comptroller Peter Franchot raised questions during a Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday.
The Department of Natural Resources requested approval to spend more than $3.4 million to buy a wooded 1,664-acre parcel along Route 13 in Somerset County using Program Open Space funds.
The three-member board voted unanimously, at the urging of Franchot, to delay approving the purchase. Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who was filling in for Gov. Larry Hogan, and Treasurer Nancy Kopp are the other members of the board.
“I support the goals of sustaining resource-based economic development and providing land-based activities and I love Program Open Space, but this strikes me as a red light example of mission creep, straying outside the goals of Program Open Space,” Franchot said.
“Is there any evidence that any of this land is subject ever in the next 100 years to development?” Franchot asked.
“Buying this property can lead to some odd situations, and one of them is here before us,” Franchot said.
Department officials said the land, which is contiguous to other protected parcels, would be used for hunting, fishing, hiking and sustainable logging.
“We actually look at it from a positive standpoint that the owner of this property was willing to continue to want to see the property in a conservation mindset and Program Open Space isn’t just about the threat of development,” said Emily Wilson, director of land acquisition and planning.
Wilson added that the state is paying less than the higher of two appraisals of the property.
Activities on the property will bring people to the area and help the economy, Wilson said, adding that the owner offered the property for sale.
“Why don’t you ask if anybody would like to buy it?” Franchot said of the property. “I love Somerset County, but it’s the most economically disadvantaged area in the state.”
“Where does it end?” Franchot asked. “Why wouldn’t any private owner of land that is unsellable, probably, not approach the state and say, ‘Gee, we have some nice forest here. In theory, people can look for birds in the forest. Please, could you write us a check for $3.44 million of taxpayers’ money so that we can get rid of this land?”
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