Politics muddies plan for wetland

Senator said to link Jug Bay funding to defeat of Safeway

Miller denies report

March 14, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

On its face, a Safeway supermarket planned for southern Anne Arundel County has nothing to do with a long-standing goal of vastly expanding the 620-acre Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary several miles to the west.

But an ominous-sounding comment attributed to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has alarmed advocates of the preservation effort, including County Executive Janet S. Owens.

"Jug Bay is going down," Miller reportedly muttered Friday as he walked past county Planning Director Denis Canavan.

That's what Canavan said he heard after testifying against Miller's bill to block the Deale Safeway. The apparent implication: Back down on Safeway, or forget about $3.3 million from the state to help buy about 500 acres in southwest Anne Arundel that are teeming with plant and animal life.

"That would be a tragedy," Owens said later, calling the mostly wooded parcel a critical piece of the Patuxent River Greenway.

Miller denies making the comment. He said he may have told Canavan the Safeway bill is "consistent with Jug Bay," although others who were standing nearby privately back up Canavan.

Miller, while insisting he supports expanding the county-owned Jug Bay sanctuary, questions the wisdom of buying the land - with its two miles of Patuxent shoreline - as long as the county stands by its approval of the 77,000-square-foot Safeway plaza.

"If you're for Jug Bay, you should be for downsizing this strip mall," he said during an interview. "We should not be spending [millions of dollars] to preserve wetlands between the Patuxent River and bay, because that is not what the [Owens] administration is saying they're all about. You're either fish or fowl, and you can't be both."

Mindful of the Senate president's influence in the General Assembly, some Anne Arundel state legislators expressed concern.

"From all I've heard, he is very serious about this [Safeway] bill and there are a lot of things in Anne Arundel County he could put in jeopardy if he didn't get his bill," said Del. Virginia P. Clagett, a West River Democrat.

But, she added: "I am sure Mike Miller cares as much as I do about saving Jug Bay and adding to it."

The county has been working with the state Department of Natural Resources on a plan to buy the so-called Jacoby property. County spokesman John A. Morris said officials are looking to bypass established funding routes such as Program Open Space or Rural Legacy.

Aside from its ecological value, the site has a connection to early U.S. history. During the War of 1812, American naval commander Joshua Barney purposely scuttled his flotilla there to prevent British forces from commandeering the ships.

Of the estimated $5 million purchase price, the state would contribute $3.3 million and the county $1.7 million. Morris said the state's share would be in the new state budget.

Raquel A. Guillory, a spokeswoman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said that the governor and natural resources officials are looking at properties in that area - across the Patuxent from land Glendening helped save as Prince George's County executive.

Meanwhile, the property owner wants to see the land preserved as a park and calls $5 million a fair price. "We haven't seen anything in writing, but that seems to be a reasonable figure," said Jack Gease of Atlanta-based Jacoby Development Inc. Jacoby plans to keep about 50 acres along Route 4.

If the preservation deal falls through, Gease said, Jacoby will move ahead with plans to build an assisted-living facility, assuming the county granted a special exception.

The property was once owned by Genstar Stone Products Co., which sold the land to Jacoby after it could not get approval to operate a sand and gravel mine. Jacoby tried and failed to win a zoning change that would allow construction of a shopping center.

Bob Burdon, president of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes that if Miller made the comment, it was "in the heat of battle."

"I've always found Mike to be a real gentleman and a straight shooter," he said.

Doug Kuzmiak, president of the Friends of Jug Bay, said Miller mentioned the Safeway to him, but not in a negative context. "His exact words were something like, `We'll see what we can do about Jug Bay and the Safeway thing in the process.'"

Miller said during an interview, "I'm going to do everything I can to make sure all of these areas are preserved."

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