Black Marsh preservationists say DNR is trying to hide controversy over park BALTIMORE COUNTY

December 17, 1992|By Patrick Gilbert and Glenn Small | Patrick Gilbert and Glenn Small,Staff Writers

An article in the Dec. 17 edition of The Sun incorrectly implied that negotiations to scale back plans for development near the ++ Black Marsh in the North Point State Park occurred after a community advisory committee approved a draft plan for the park in October. The negotiations occurred during a two-year period before October.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Preservationists concerned about state plans to place recreational facilities next to Black Marsh asked a state official yesterday why buildings planned for North Point State Park couldn't be put closer to North Point Road and away from the environmentally unique and sensitive marsh.

John Wilson, project manager for the proposed development of the park, told those attending the informal, two-hour hearing at Sparrows Point High School that the state believes "an important educational aspect of this park is to give people more access to the marsh."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The marsh lies along the Chesapeake Bay southeast of Edgemere in southeastern Baltimore County.

Polly Wirth, an officer in the Coalition to Preserve Black Marsh Inc., complained outside the hearing that the coalition and other citizens were given only six days' notice about the hearing. She also criticized the state for holding the hearings during the holiday season.

The state's handling of the hearing process has disturbed and disappointed those opposed to the park's development. Coalition members and others have said the informal, informational meetings have had little influence because the state Department of Natural Resources already has decided what to do.

"DNR just wants to sweep any controversy under the rug," said coalition member Lynn Jordan. "They don't want to seriously consider anything more we have to say at this hearing."

Not so, said Mike O'Brien, DNR spokesman.

"If the plan was etched in stone, why would we bother to hold the meeting?" he said. "We absolutely will consider any comments we get from the public."

Instead of informal meetings like yesterday's, which began with Mr. Wilson casually talking with two women seated at a table, opponents wanted a formal public hearing where citizens could present comments and evidence to rebut certain provisions of the draft plan.

Mr. O'Brien said the DNR is not under any legal obligation to hold a formal public meeting, "so the format of the meeting we choose is up to us." He said the informal setting gives citizens more time to speak and to be informed. Speakers at regular public hearings are limited to two minutes, he said.

"We've had these kinds of informal public informational meetings numerous times in the past months at the North Point Library and at different community associations," he said. "This is just the last public meeting before a final plan is approved."

Development of North Point State Park has been in the planning stage for three years.

Plans include a paved parking lot, boat tie-ups, a wading beach, nature trails, pavilion and buildings for environmental education on a 25-acre site now part of the park. The park is currently used for nature walks and bird watching.

In October, a citizens' advisory committee appointed by the DNR unanimously approved a draft of the plan. Later negotiations between DNR, citizen groups and conservationists, resulted in the plan being scaled back from the original design, which had included an amphitheater, marina and public golf course.

Opponents say any heavy use of the land would hurt the marsh.

Citizens have until Jan. 15, 1993, to submit written comments on the plan. After further review, it will go to Dr. Torrey C. Brown, state secretary of natural resources, for approval.

The coalition also has filed a suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court challenging the state Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission's decision approving the park's development. A hearing on the suit is scheduled in February.

Yesterday, Mr. Wilson said there is no guarantee the state will fund the project. The state's proposed budget for fiscal year 1994 doesn't contain any money for the new park, he said. However, the legislature has approved $150,000 worth of bonds to restore an old trolley depot that would become a park pavilion. Mr. Wilson said the bonds have not yet been offered for sale.

In 1987, the state bought the 1,310-acre tract that includes the marsh and surrounding land from Bethlehem Steel Corp. for more than $5 million.

The marsh and its adjoining woodlands cover about 660 acres. The state designated the area as a "wildland," which means that cars and trucks are prohibited. Additional buildings and roads also could not be built on the land.

Some conservationists say the land should be left alone. Such a "natural park" does not exist in Maryland's coastal areas, they say.

"I think it should be stressed that there will be no development of any kind in the marsh itself," said Mr. O'Brien. He said the focus of the park will be environmental education.

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