County Executive Robert R. Neall has made an 11th-hour bid to turn surplus land at Fort Meade into a regional park.
Neall told a Fort Meade advisory group Monday night that he has asked the Department ofDefense to give the county 470 heavily wooded acres on the west sideof the military base.
"With the growing population of West County, I think a regional park would be the best use of that 470 acres," Neall told the 22-member Fort Meade Coordinating Council. The county could not afford topurchase a similar park site, he said, particularly after state lawmakersslashed park acquisition money to balance the state budget last spring.
The decision, which Neall said he made Monday afternoon, pits the county against the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, which already will receive 7,600 surplus acres Oct. 1. U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., has a bill before Congress that would give the additional 470 acres to the Patuxent center. Sarbanes' bill goes before a Defense Appropriations subcommittee next week and could reach the full Senate before the end of September.
Sarbanes spokesman Bruce Frame said the senator expects the bill to pass with the support of Maryland's congressional delegation. The lawmakers will consider Neall's proposal, but, Frame said, "It is fairly late in the game to switch at this point."
Switching plans now could delay the transfer and may require the Army to complete a new environmental-impact study, Frame said. "Idon't think the community wants to see this delayed. I don't think the Army does, either."
Directed by Congress two years ago to consolidate its bases, the Army plans to close 9,000 acres at Fort Meade. Lawmakers approved the transfer of 7,600 acres to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, operated by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The transfer will be completed Oct. 1.
The remaining 1,400 acres is divided between Tipton Army Airfield, landfills, a sewage pumping station and 470 acres of forest and wetlands.
Last spring, the coordinating council -- appointed by former County Executive O. James Lighthizer and U.S. Representative Tom McMillen, D-4th -- said they did not want the remaining woodlands developed commercially and recommended turning it over to Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.
Although Frame said the coordinating council already has studied and rejected a plan to turn the land into a park, he added, "Nothing is impossibleat this point. We haven't seen (Neall's specific) proposal yet."
Neall said he believes a regional park will win out. It would preserve the open space and create a needed recreational area, he said.
"I think the (park) idea has a lot of community support, so I don't think there will be any political obstacles," Neall said. "You have to remember, if it goes to the wildlife center, they're going to put fences around it, and that's not exactly user-friendly."
County Councilman David Boschert, D-Crownsville, said he has long sought a West County regional park to serve Odenton as well as three large subdivisions under construction that are adding more than 10,000 new homes.
"I'll say I was pleasantly surprised," Boschert said. "When the county executive is considering something, you always hold your breath until you hear the words. I'll say he chose wisely."
Pat Wellford, president of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association, also applauded Neall's request as a "timely decision."
"We don't have a park in Odenton. And with them developing everything around us, there really isn't any other land left," Wellford said.
Neall previously had considered developing the property commercially to subsidize a county-operated airport at the adjacent 400-acre Tipton Airfield. He rejected that plan in June, citing community opposition.
Monday night, Neall said he now wants to see a county-appointed airport authority operating Tipton as a small, self-supporting airfield.
If the countydoes acquire Tipton, it would not subsidize the airport operation with county taxes, Neall said.