Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. defended yesterday his decision to use part of the fallen Wye Oak tree to make a desk for his office, despite opposition from some Wye Mills residents.
At a State House news conference announcing the plan for the $25,000 desk, Ehrlich denied that he was going against the wishes of a committee established to decide the fate of the tree.
The Sun reported yesterday that the committee had decided it did not want any part of the historic tree to be used as a desk for the governor.
The governor's staff handed out a July 29 summary report from the Wye Oak Advisory Committee that said the limbs from the tree should "be commissioned for special pieces of furniture to be used in perpetuity in the State House, such as a governor's desk, bill signing table or governor's podium."
"The committee felt there could be no more fitting use for the wood than a legacy desk for the governor," state archivist Edward C. Papenfuse, coordinator of the project, said at yesterday's announcement.
But state Department of Natural Resources officials later conceded that the committee that issued the July report reconvened in the fall - with additional members - after some Wye Mills residents expressed unhappiness with the initial recommendations.
Some committee members said that during the second round of meetings a majority requested that no part of the tree end up in the hands of elected officials. Instead, they wanted the wood made available to the public.
"The governor's desk was completely eliminated. It was turned down by the committee," said H.M. Dick Orrell, a Wye Mills resident who served on the committee. Orrell has begun a campaign to try to stop the project.
Sen. Richard F. Colburn, an Eastern Shore Republican who also served on the committee, agreed that many members did not want the 460-year-old tree - which was knocked down by a storm in June - used to build a desk for the governor.
Colburn said that was partly because some members did not trust former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who was in office at the time.
Mike Slattery, an assistant secretary at Department of Natural Resources, said only the July report endorsing the idea of the desk made it to the governor.
"As far as we are concerned, we do not have any final documentation that supersedes the report" in July, Slattery said.
The State Archivist's Office revealed documents yesterday showing that as late as November the committee was still embracing the idea of using some of the tree to build memorabilia for the State House.
The 96-foot tall Wye Oak was widely considered to be the largest white oak tree in the United States. The 30-ton bole of the tree and several limbs have been preserved.
DNR officials are trying to decide what to do with those large pieces. Many Wye Mills residents want them placed in a museum that would be built where the tree stood.
Papenfuse approached Ehrlich this year and recommended using leftover smaller limbs to make the desk, which would be paid for with private funds.
Ehrlich - apparently not knowing there was any opposition to the project - approved.
Yesterday, Papenfuse said the desk would be an appropriate way to commemorate the fallen tree.
"It is an inspirational idea," Papenfuse said. "The governor is going to pass this desk on to successive governors."