Officials to explore buying land near Jabez Branch

January 06, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Besieged by activists who want them to protect trout in the environmentally sensitive Jabez Branch, state and county officials will start talking to a local developer today about buying all or part of the land he owns next to the stream.

"We are considering a possible purchase," said Michael J. Nelson, deputy assistant secretary for public lands and forestry in the Department of Natural Resources.

Combined, the state and county could raise $1.2 million to buy the land or a conservation easement, which is probably less expensive.

Mr. Nelson will be among officials meeting privately in Annapolis with Tom Baldwin, president of the family-owned South Shore Development Co. The company wants to build 78 homes on the 141.68-acre Holladay Park tract it owns along the Jabez Branch in Gambrills.

The county wants to buy or obtain a conservation easement on 20 acres of Holladay Park. That would be part of a trade-off for an addition to the nearby county landfill.

The Jabez has become a rallying point among conservationists, who see the trout's survival as proof of society's ability to preserve an environmentally rich area.

The Jabez meanders through wooded ravines and feeds into the Severn River. It was the last stream in which brook trout were reproducing in the Maryland coastal plain. It was also the state's southernmost wild trout stream until runoff from highway construction and new housing developments killed its trout in the late 1980s.

Since then, the DNR has moved more than 300 wild brook trout into the Jabez. Last month, the biologists found 18 trout in the stream and said the best way to protect the fish was to save their habitat.

Mr. Nelson said today's meeting, which will be attended by Tom Andrews, Anne Arundel County's chief environmental officer, is "just the first step" to determine whether the owners are willing to negotiate.

"Frankly, my attitude is I don't like to see the government buy all the land and keep it off the tax rolls," said Mr. Baldwin, whose company has spent the last 40 years assembling the large tract. But he added, "We certainly aren't going to hold up the government. We'd negotiate in good faith."

In October, the Severn River Commission and the Severn River Association urged the state and county to pool their resources and buy as much of Holladay Park as possible.

A.L. "Red" Waldron, chairman of the Severn River Commission, was pleased about today's meeting. He said the DNR's biologists "feel there is something there worth protecting."

Robert C. Baldwin, who will be sworn in next week as a District 33 state delegate, is an officer in South Shore. Tom Baldwin said his brother has little to do with running South Shore and that his elected post should not matter in negotiations.

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