An early stumble in Harford Tydings estate: Executive-elect Harkins' hesitancy about preservation site raises red flag.

December 03, 1998

JAMES M. HARKINS won the heated executive's race in Harford County after promising voters he was the best choice to control growth.

So why was Mr. Harkins seeking to delay the state Board of Public Works' approval of a grant to help Harford buy the former Tydings Farm for open space and recreational use? Eileen R. Rehrmann, Harford's outgoing executive, moved swiftly to seal the deal, which has been planned for years with help from farmers, historians and business people. The county and state will split the $3 million purchase price.

The county executive-elect said he had concerns about contamination on the land. He also wanted a chance to review the sale, he said, because it might obligate money he would want to put toward other priorities.

A phone call to the state Department of Natural Resources would have revealed that a few gasoline tanks are buried at Oakington, as is often the case on farms. They'll be routinely removed, as they were when the county bought an adjacent farm, Swan Harbor, from Johns Hopkins University.

Mr. Harkins' reluctance was peculiar. Michael Nelson, DNR's director of land and water conservation, fairly gushes about the purchase as a rare opportunity in a suburban area. Harford's goal is to buy much of the Oakington Peninsula. It is getting state support in line with the General Assembly's long-stated intention to improve access to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. That's something in short supply for Harford citizens since much of the county shoreline, from Edgewood to Aberdeen, belongs to the U.S. Army.

Mr. Harkins shouldn't have trouble grasping the need to preserve precious open spaces. But if he needs inspiration, he can stand on Oakington's grassy slopes and watch late-autumn light dance on the water -- as enchanting now as when U.S. Sen. Millard Tydings purchased the land in 1935.

Pub Date: 12/03/98

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