Ownership of 1 acre still under a cloud

December 28, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

It's just an acre of land on the Little Patuxent River, turned into a vacation haven for the down and out last summer by a group of squatters. But no one seems to know who owns it, which is important if you want to try to keep the group from returning in the spring.

County Councilman David G. Boschert, for example, figures putting up guard rails to block the entrance will help. But his attempt to find out who owns the land has led him into a quagmire of government agencies and attorneys who have spent two months poring over deeds and tax maps fruitlessly.

Several times, officials thought they had found the owner but learned they were wrong.

Now, Mr. Boschert thinks he has proven the land belongs to the U.S. Army. But military engineers in Baltimore say the proof is not conclusive.

"The Baltimore District Army Corps of Engineers are searching their files," said Don McClow, a spokesman for Fort Meade, who assured reporters back in November that the post was not the owner. "They are looking at old maps. They are going through the morgue."

The small, dirt plot is near a bridge that carries Piney Orchard Parkway over the Little Patuxent, opposite the Amtrak tracks that form the eastern border of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

The location may be the source of some of the confusion. Fort Meade deeded 7,600 surplus acres to the research center in 1991. Several years before that, the base gave land and an old water treatment plant, located just to the north of the squatter village, to Piney Orchard, a neighboring subdivision.

When the land issue surfaced in October, officials suspected that the parcel may be owned either by Piney Orchard or the research center. Now it appears the land may have been forgotten when Fort Meade was getting rid of its surplus.

"Maybe when Fort Meade was looking to dump some of its land on the other side of the railroad tracks, officials just didn't get it all done," said John Stasko, the refuge manager for the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

He said the deeds with the Army clearly show the research center's boundaries end at the tracks.

He said a meeting just a few weeks ago involving the U.S. Park Police, Military Police officers from Fort Meade and Anne Arundel County police, ended with most representatives feeling they lacked jurisdiction over the property.

Officials said they believe Fort Meade owns the land because the Army granted rights of way in 1990 to allow the widening of Piney Orchard Parkway on the post's property, Mr. Stasko said.

Mr. Boschert, who wanted the Military Police to clear the squatters off the land two months ago, said he is satisfied he has found the legal property owner.

"We have determined the Army is the owner," he said. "I am now going to work with the MPs and the county to get guardrails up."

But Linda Greene, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said it may take officials weeks to determine the actual owner. "We're still not sure," she said. "We want to be absolutely certain."

County police have said they are worried about crime or even criminals who may try to hide from authorities by blending into the group on the river bank.

he camp is run by Doug Woods, a 50-year-old bricklayer who quotes passages from the Bible and lives nearby, and a 41-year-old man who identified himself only as "Kid." They said that as many as 100 people, many of them teens, use the camp each summer night, swimming in the river and cooking out.

Mr. Boschert said he hopes the Army Corps of Engineers reaches a decision soon, "so we don't have a repeat of this next year."

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