Garrett wants some say in running Deep Creek

County seeks to advise state as new owner

April 01, 1999|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

DEEP CREEK LAKE -- What is so appealing to many people about this 3,900-acre body of water in Western Maryland is not just what can be found along its shores, but what cannot be found.

No golden arches tower above Garrett County's Deep Creek Lake, no giant plastic pirates wave to tourists to play a round of miniature golf or sip a margarita. None of Ocean City is here.

The area is as pristine as an area that attracts a half-million visitors each year can be.

Now that the state has bought the lake, people in Garrett County are maneuvering for the power to ward off development.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced Tuesday that the state would pay $7.8 million for the lake to ensure that Western Maryland's most popular tourist attraction is not taken over by developers. When the Board of Public Works ratifies the deal, the lake will change hands from the New Jersey-based utility GPU Inc. to the state of Maryland.

"We want to assure that there's meaningful local input to the management of the lake," said Monty Pagenhardt, Garrett County administrator. "What we'd like to have is some board that actually has some decision-making authority."

Garrett County officials have been pushing for such a board for more than a year, since the state announced its intentions to purchase the lake. The resort, with its motels, vacation homes and restaurants, makes up about half the county's tax base.

Locals had feared that if GPU sold the lake to a private developer, docking fees could increase and public access could be cut off. They are still concerned that once Glendening is out of office, future administrations might look more favorably on commercializing the area. A governing board for the lake weighted with Garrett County members could help prevent that, but the makeup of the board has been in dispute.

"I think we can sit down over the summer and work out many of those technicalities," said state Del. George C. Edwards, a Garrett County Republican, after the governor's announcement of the purchase.

Negotiations have continued between the state's Department of Natural Resources and the county. Ernest Gregg, chairman of the county commissioners, said yesterday that negotiations appear likely to grant the state governing power over the lake.

"We haven't gotten everything we wanted, but we're coming very close," he said. "Nothing's finalized, but we're working toward that end."

As negotiations stand, he said, the board will most likely be advisory with no real decision-making power. It is also likely to have nine members -- with fewer than five of them from Garrett County.

The county has been assured that it will get to keep 25 cents of every dollar the resort generates for the state. And, Gregg said, docking fees for residents will not increase, a major concern among residents and business owners here.

"We're just glad it didn't go to some private individual," said Ken Sisler, co-owner of Bill's Marine Service, which overlooks the lake. "I feel more relaxed as a businessman now that the state has it, but I still think the county should control it. It just figures someone here would know more about what's going on than somebody sitting in an office in Baltimore or Annapolis."

John Surrick, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, said the state has always consulted with local residents and leaders wherever it manages.

That consulting, he said, will not change.

"We're going to continue to work with them to develop a local role in the management of the lake," he said. "We're not concerned about our ability to manage to the best benefit of the natural resources. That's what we've always done, that's what people want us to do and that's what we'll continue to do."

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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