Calming troubled waters

Deep Creek Lake: State deal to buy utility's property protects public access, landowner rights.

February 21, 2000

TYPICALLY, the government buys open space land from private landowners and sets it aside for common use.

But at Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County, the state of Maryland is buying up 600 acres around the lake and reselling it to private individuals, at cost, for their personal use.

The unusual arrangement is part of the complicated, protracted negotiations for Maryland to acquire the lake and surrounding lands from GPU, Inc., the utilities firm whose predecessor constructed the lake and hydroelectric dam in 1925.

The final $17.6 million deal protects both public access to Western Maryland's premier tourist attraction and the property rights of some 2,500 people who own small parcels around the 3,700-acre lake. The state will buy the lake itself and some 1,000 acres of shoreline buffer for public use.

Another 600 acres will be bought and resold to neighboring landholders.

The goal was to prevent development around Deep Creek Lake, which could have occurred if that acreage were sold by GPU to a private developer.

Lake property owners must forsake development on parcels acquired from the state; they retain access to the lake.

It's a reasonable solution to a thorny ownership problem that has dogged the negotiations with New Jersey-based GPU since early 1998, when the company decided to sell off all its non-utility holdings.

A new public policy body with decision-making authority will oversee the state's lake and environs.

The deal also limits the loss of more taxpaying private land to state ownership, a longtime sensitive issue for Western Maryland counties, while assuring access to the popular recreation facility for residents and vacationers alike.

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