Brewer Pond money approved State allots $1 million to save Severn River site from developers

September 03, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Greg Garland contributed to this article.

In the late 1980s, community and environmental groups were galvanized by the threat of development on a pristine stretch of Severn River waterfront, home to a blue heron mating ground and a huge source of Indian artifacts.

Yesterday, more than a decade later, those groups finally got what they wanted. The state Board of Public Works approved spending $1 million of Program Open Space funds to buy Brewer Pond. They were five months shy of losing the property to developers.

"It has been a long, hard battle," said Chris Swatta, vice president of the Severn River Land Trust, which has fought to preserve the property since the mid-1980s. "We lost a lot of the skirmishes, but we won the war."

The County Council will vote next week whether to muster an additional $165,000 in county funds needed to finalize the deal on the 50-acre tract. The council and County Executive John G. )) Gary have pledged their support.

For those who have pleaded for even small donations for Brewer Pond and the surrounding 700 acres known as the Green Cathedral, the decision is a major coup, especially after several developers said they were ready to snap up the property soon. Only five months remained on the land trust's option to buy the property from William M. Koenig.

"It is probably the greatest thing ever done on this watershed," said William Moulden, vice president of the Severn River Association. "It is a bona fide miracle."

The land trust, in conjunction with the Severn River Association, the Severn River Commission and several neighborhood groups, has survived a number of devastating setbacks over the years as several portions of the Green Cathedral slipped through their grasp.

Two years ago, a benefactor died before signing papers that would have given the land trust money to purchase one property. More recently, the Green Cathedral was left out when the state distributed $25 million from the Rural Legacy Program to counties.

But the county's presentation to the Rural Legacy Board in April saved the land in the end. Board members passed word to Program Open Space and Grant Dehart, the program's director.

"The Rural Legacy board did not believe when measured against others' presentations the Green Cathedral project was well enough focused to justify funding under Rural Legacy," Dehart said. "But we've had a long history of wanting to preserve this property. Now we can fund it under Program Open Space."

Brewer Pond, home to a variety of unusual plants and animals, is also one of the county's largest archaeological sites for Indian artifacts dating to the 1600s. This year, the county and local environmental groups paid for and built a barrier wall to prevent further erosion along the river, which threatened to breach the peninsula and contaminate the tidal pond on the other side with salt water.

The remote property, undisturbed by human encroachment, has been named on 11 preservation listings, used by Anne Arundel Community College groups and studied at length. The hardest part of the preservation effort was getting the state and county to recognize its importance and commit large sums of money -- and do it quickly, said Kathy Blaha, who serves on the land trust's board.

"We were very fortunate," said Ron Nelson, county land use and environment officer. "If we had missed this opportunity, it would have been a real shame."

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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