Congress' negotiators cut funding for Mathias farm

October 15, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Congressional budget makers refused yesterday to appropriate the $5 million needed to complete federal acquisition of a Civil War battlefield property near Frederick that is owned by the family of former Maryland Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr.

Citing budget constraints, negotiators for the House and Senate, who are trying to finalize the Interior Department budget, agreed to spend $2 million.

Later, some of them said they expect to be asked next year to come up with the final $3 million.

The Mathias family, saying that it has to sell the property to pay inheritance taxes and that it has had offers from developers, gave the National Park Service until the end of 1994 to buy the land at an appraised price of $12 million. Congress appropriated $7.1 million last year to buy 220 acres. That purchase was completed two months ago.

This year, the Clinton administration asked for another $5 million to buy the remaining 74 acres -- considered the most valuable part of the farm. In July, the House stripped the money from the budget, but the Senate restored it last month.

With Republicans complaining about paying $67,000 an acre, the House-Senate conference committee settled on $2 million. Sen. Harry M. Reid, a Nevada Democrat who was chairing the meeting when the decision was made, indicated that the lawmakers would not have agreed to any of the money had the purchase not been a "high priority" with Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland.

Sen. Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, seemed incredulous at the price. Later, he said, "$67,000 an acre is obscene."

Rep. Ralph Regula, an Ohio Republican, said, "We can't buy every acre that a soldier ever walked on."

The property, known as the Best Farm, is part of the 1,648-acre Monocacy Battlefield.

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