City Solicitor Andre Davis strenuously defended Baltimore attorneys Wednesday against activists’ accusations that they had cut a deal with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. over the franchise value of a natural gas pipeline through the city’s Leakin Park.
Davis objected to comments critical of city attorneys’ handling of negotiations with BGE to establish the franchise value of a natural gas pipeline through the city’s Leakin Park. The Board of Estimates reviewed legislation granting a franchise on Wednesday morning at City Hall and voted to put the decision in the hands of city lawmakers.
“Any suggestion that a corporate citizen of the city, state or nation gets special treatment from lawyers representing this city must be rejected,” Davis said.
The nonprofit Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park Inc. filed a lawsuit against the city and BGE in Baltimore City Circuit Court on April 11. The lawsuit aims to stop Baltimore and BGE from consummating a pact charging $1.4 million for franchise rights to a 2.2-mile stretch of forest in the park, where BGE intends to build a 26-inch natural gas pipeline.
Jack Lattimore, a Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park board member, protested the proposal before the board. He reiterated the group’s complaints that were included in the lawsuit, which argues the proposed franchise agreement violates the city charter by failing to recuperate “the largest amount (the city) is able to retain.”
Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park contends the city’s Department of Recreation & Parks previously valued the land at $14 million, refused to obtain an independent appraisal, refused to work with the group to establish a just compensation for the land and claims BGE already destroyed 19 acres of parkland without the city’s permission.
Lattimore told board members he did not possess documentation that the Department of Recreation & Parks valued the land at $14 million, and a representative from the department denied the agency had ever valued the land at that price.
Victor Tervala, Baltimore’s chief solicitor, denied the land was worth $14 million. Tervala said the city was charging BGE roughly $4.5 million for the park franchise — 450 times the $10,000 it charged in 1979 under a previous franchise agreement.
“The idea this was a sweetheart deal for BGE is ridiculous,” Tervala said.
Lattimore continued to criticize the city, saying the negotiations over the parkland looked more like a “deal” than a negotiation, but Davis cut him off.
Acknowledging that Mayor Catherine Pugh’s ongoing legal woes had put city matters under a microscope, Davis defended the “excellence, integrity and transparency” of city lawyers.
“Frankly it’s offensive” to suggest city attorneys do not live up to those standards, Davis said.
“We’ll see them in court,” he said of the Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park.