Panel's chief unfazed by task

Valentine seeking consensus on plan for greenway

Patapsco Valley

February 24, 2000|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

The new chairman of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway Committee doesn't seem daunted by the task before him.

Kit Valentine, 58, a Vietnam veteran and retired Army lieutenant colonel, has seen worse things in his life than a controversy over the future of a river valley.

Never mind that an Ellicott City activist recently accused the Patapsco Heritage Greenway Committee of misuse of public funds and has demanded an investigation.

Never mind that environmentalists have opposed the greenway, arguing that it would bring too many tourists to Patapsco Valley State Park.

Never mind that the continuing dispute could make it hard for the group to achieve its goal of turning the Patapsco Valley into a certified heritage area that would attract state aid in the form of tax credits, matching grants, loans, technical assistance and revenue bonds.

Valentine, who assumed the post several weeks ago, doesn't appear fazed. Unlike his predecessor, the fiery John Slater, a Columbia landscape architect, Valentine keeps calm and philosophical in the face of allegations against the Patapsco Heritage Greenway. He shrugs, acknowledges the fears of opponents and talks about his plans to make the valley a better place.

Slater was chairman of the committee for a year. He took over when the first chairman, Charles Wagandt, stepped down amid allegations that he would gain financially from the greenway because he owns property in the Patapsco Valley.

Valentine has also committed to a one-year term.

Unlike Wagandt, Valentine doesn't own property in the Patapsco Valley and does not appear vulnerable to allegations that he could stand to benefit financially from the greenway.

"I own this house right here," he said, sitting in the living room of his Catonsville home. "I own no other property in the valley. I don't stand to gain."

Rooted in the area

Nor is it likely anyone would say Valentine is an outsider coming in to change the valley. He graduated from Catonsville High School in 1959 and did his Eagle Scout project in Patapsco Valley State Park.

Valentine's biggest priority is making peace with environmentalists in the valley, he said.

He has an environmental background, with a bachelor's degree in forestry and forest conservation from the University of Montana and a master's in environmental engineering from the University of Maryland. He was employed by the Army Corps of Engineers for 13 years, working mostly in land-use planning.

In the mid-1970s, Valentine was one of many citizens who opposed a planned four-lane highway through the valley and helped persuade the Department of Natural Resources to expand the park.

Valentine is hoping he can use his expertise to draw people together.

"To the extent we keep fighting amongst ourselves, I think we've got a big problem," he said. He said he would rather see groups working together to improve the environment in the valley.

Those who oppose the greenway say it makes little difference to them who the chairman is.

"Mr. Valentine has indicated that he wants to take the organization in a new direction and has asked the community organizations and the environmental organizations to let bygones be bygones and start fresh," said Lee Walker Oxenham, a community activist who has asked county government officials, on two occasions, to investigate possible misuse of public funds.

Sang W. Oh, County Executive James N. Robey's executive assistant, said the county is looking into Oxenham's second allegation of possible misuse of funds, which includes $25,000 from the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning to the greenway committee for services.

No misuse of funds seen

The first investigation involved $20,000 from the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks to the greenway panel. Oh said the investigation raised personnel issues -- which he would not comment on -- but showed no misuse of funds.

"Based on what's been revealed to us at this point, there is nothing to support possible fraudulent use of money," he said.

Oxenham still has suspicions about the group.

"If this group truly wants to start fresh, they should return the taxpayers' money and begin the application process from the starting point," she said.

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