Wild turkeys have returned to a 35-acre parcel of land near Laurel. Killdeer, hawks, eagles, ducks, snakes, frogs and dragonflies keep them company. They all have found a home on this former Army firing range thanks to a joint effort by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The addition to the Patuxent River Wildlife Research Center represents a marriage of needs between the utility company and the government. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the property as part of military base reductions at Fort George G. Meade, but the government lacked the money to develop the wildlife refuge.
Then came BGE, which needed to compensate for about 14 acres of wetlands and trees it wanted to destroy in order to build a 19-mile power line through western Anne Arundel and eastern Howard County. Between December 1993 and last summer, the utility company spent $2.5 million to clear mortars from the range and create the wildlife habitat.
The refuge now includes a 3.3-acre pond with nesting islands for geese, 13.3 acres of low-lying forested wetlands and a 6.5-acre forest. A former control tower for the firing range has been turned into a observation deck for viewing the wildlife. And in addition to being an attraction for the public, the sanctuary also will be a research center for environmentalists studying soils, small animals and plant reproduction.
BGE is rightly proud of the refuge it has created, calling it one of the best things the company has ever done. But officials concede that the project might never have been built without the federal regulations that required the utility to compensate for the land taken to build the power line. Those regulations, which are part of the Clean Water Act, are among the laws the U.S. Congress is now reconsidering.
It would be naive to assert that such laws designed to protect the environment don't burden corporations. And it would be foolish not to think that BGE will recoup at least some of its $2.5 million by charging higher rates to customers. Yet because of the Clean Water Act and similar laws in the state, a barren slice of a military base now teems with wildlife that all can see and admire.
It's a fair bargain.