State officials are wondering whether to gamble $1 million to ** try to save the remaining trout in Jabez Branch, when further restoration efforts may be needed.
The larger question is not only whether the Department of Natural Resources should buy all or some of the forested 141.68-acre Holladay Park, whose owners hope to build 78 homes, but also what should happen to the rest of the undeveloped land around the Jabez.
The shallow stream near Millersville was the state's southernmost wild native trout creek before runoff from highway construction and new houses killed the fish in the late 1980s.
DNR moved about 300 wild brook trout to the stream in 1991 and 1992.
A survey last winter found 10 survivors, but no young. Another 60 or so trout were brought in this year. Biologists hope they will find survivors and, more importantly, baby trout.
DNR's open space coffers have about $16.8 million for acquisition, and although the agency tentatively has its sights set on certain parcels statewide, the money could be reallocated, said H. Grant Dehart, director of the open space program at DNR.
An estimated $500,000 in state money could be matched by federal transportation money because the Jabez is by highways.
"We still have it under consideration. We have somewhat divided points of view on whether we should buy some parts or all of the property," he said.
The Department of Natural Resources is looking at what development may occur in the area around Gambrills and Millersville, how it would affect the sensitive stream, and what else might need to be done to keep the stream cold and pure enough for trout, Mr. Dehart said.
Development has brought the Jabez near the stress limit for trout, said DNR biologist Ken Yetman. The greatest threat to the cold-water fish comes from warm storm water channeled away from roads and houses.
On summer days, pavement can reach 135 degrees, warming the rain that hits it. Mr. Yetman's studies have shown that runoff from a summer storm can raise the temperature in the Jabez from about 61 degrees to about 74 degrees in less than an hour, and this can happen any number of times during a season.
"It is not a healthy situation," he said. "We have to find other ways of managing the runoff from surfaces."
One way is to buy some or all of Holladay Park and keep it forested, which is what the Severn River Commission, Severn River Association and some activists want to happen.
Mr. Dehart said the state can't afford the tab for the many wooded parcels around Jabez.
The area is crossed by Routes 3 and 32 and is a blend of undeveloped sites and pockets of development.
Zoning in much of the area is for one house per 5 acres. The zoning carries other building restrictions as well and is the county's most environmentally sensitive, said Anne Arundel County land use planner Rodney Banks.
DNR also is concerned about "being forced into a situation where the sediment, runoff and other regulations are insufficient to protect the land," Mr. Dehart said.
"Ideally, those sets of environmental regulations should protect the stream. We shouldn't have to buy [the land]."
County planners are looking into the adequacy of environmental safeguards for streams and creeks not covered by protections of the state's Critical Area Law, said Lisa Ritter, spokeswoman for the county's land use office.
"What do we do if it is not in the critical area, yet it is a stream bank or a watershed that should be protected," she said. County officials are reviewing existing measures for consistency as well.
But environmental activists say they feel the responsibility for protecting the Jabez should not be shifted entirely to the county, especially because DNR has pumped thousands of dollars worth of studies, staff work and trout into the stream.
"Is DNR prepared to write off Jabez? If not, then put your money where your mouth is," said Lina Vlavianos of Millersville.
The county also is not looking to buy Holladay Park or other property along the Jabez.
"Watershed protection, that is probably a task that is more for the state," said Jack Keene, chief of planning and construction for the county's Department of Recreation and Parks.
He said the county doesn't have the money to buy or obtain conservation easements on thousands of acres.
The county has earmarked this fiscal year's $2.5 million in Program Open Space dollars for projects such as building a playground at Highland Beach, and building two trails.
Two other state concerns are whether it is prudent to buy a small site that is separate from other state parks and whether the state should consider buying land after local zoning decisions inflate the price, Mr. Dehart said.
The lack of a decision is delaying county completion of permits needed to build the last section of the county's sole landfill, north of the Jabez near Millersville.
"I told Torrey [Brown, DNR secretary] I needed a decision sooner rather than later," said Tom Andrews, the county's chief environmental and land-use officer.
County officials would like to get a conservation easement on about 20 acres of forest at Holladay Park.
Thomas I. Baldwin, a principal of South Shore, which owns Holladay Park, said his company is preparing to submit sketch plans for the site to the county. State officials approached him a few months ago about buying approximately half the site, leaving him with 30 to 45 home sites.
As the development is proposed, houses would be at least 500 feet from the stream -- about 10 times what the law requires -- and the forested banks would be left alone.