Environmentalists continue fight for Arundel wetlands

State asked to stop farming on Franklin Point

July 19, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Now that they have saved the marshy fields of Franklin Point from bulldozers and an influx of newcomers, south county environmental activists are fighting to defend the area from what they see as another threat -- farming.

South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD) prevailed after a 12-year battle against Washington developer Dominic F. Antonelli, who had proposed building 152 luxury houses amid the lush green wetlands and pines of the Shadyside Peninsula property. Instead, Antonelli sold his land, some of the last remaining undeveloped property on the peninsula, to the state for $5.8 million in February.

Anne Arundel County is expected to reimburse the state half the money paid for the land.

SACReD went back into action over Franklin Point this month, asking the state Natural Resources Department and County Department of Recreation and Parks to stop all farming on the tract.

Corn and soybeans have been cultivated on 74 of the 477 acres since about 1972, but the activists say that must be halted to restore wetlands and to contain contamination of the Chesapeake Bay.

In a letter Wednesday to the state and county environmental agencies, SACReD lawyer Paul Roche wrote: "We would like the state or the county to just tell the farmer that it is no longer Mr. Antonelli's property and the state is no longer going to give him permission to farm there."

The farmer, Eddie Toney, 39, of Lothian has worked the Franklin Point land for 27 years as one of about 25 farms he, his brother and father work. He said he uses herbicides, not pesticides, and believes Franklin Point has plenty of space for everyone.

"I am not out to fight anyone for anything," he said. "But farmers have such a small voice these days."

SACReD, Roche said, wants to see farming stopped by this fall so that volunteers can plant indigenous wetland plants to keep the land from being eaten away by the bay.

Brian Woodward, chief of natural and cultural resources in the county Department of Recreation and Parks, said officials might agree with SACReD that wetlands are the best use of the property.

But farming is not an "inappropriate activity," he said. "In the short term, I'm inclined to let the farmer continue to farm."

Toney would not elaborate on his leasing arrangement for the land. He said sometimes over the years he has paid rent or done maintenance work and cleaning chores for the right to farm.

He didn't deal directly with Antonelli. He blames developers who have voraciously bought land for houses as the ones hurting farming.

Antonelli's sale to the state ended a contentious battle between him and SACReD over his Baldwin's Choice project that peaked when he sued the group for libel. In a $50.2 million action, he accused members of going too far by writing letters to politicians questioning whether he was involved in "sweetheart" land deals.

Antonelli lost his suit, and SACReD kept fighting until the state stepped in. Money for the purchase came from Project Open Space, a program that has spent millions to save more than 140,000 acres from development.

Mike Shay, a SACReD member, sighs at the thought of another drawn-out conflict over Franklin Point. He said he knows he could round up dozens of community residents to help do the planting that would re-create wetlands.

"Our main concern is long-term wetlands restoration," he said. "And with the state's permission, I think it will be easy to do."

(Sun staff writer Kris Antonelli is no relation to Dominic F. Antonelli.)

Pub Date: 7/19/99

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