Constellation Energy donates property to Arundel land trust

Contentious relationship has turned into dialogue

March 05, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Four years ago, when Pasadena residents first got wind of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s plans to truck anhydrous ammonia through the community, the news did not go over well.

Activists circulated petitions to stop the power company from bringing in the pressurized, pollution-controlling gas, which they worried was a health hazard. Tense meetings gave way to protests outside BGE's Brandon Shores plant, complete with children in gas masks.

But the company hunkered down with the community to hash out a compromise, and the dialogue worked so well that it continued long after the ammonia issue was resolved.

"It wasn't fun," said Brandon Shores General Manager John Strauch, "but I think we got a lot out of it in that we learned to work much better with the community."

Now, the community is getting something else out of the relationship: BGE's parent company, Constellation Energy Group, is donating prime waterfront property to a group that includes some of the activists who planned the gas mask protest.

Last month, the state Board of Public Works approved plans to put 94 acres at the headwaters of Nabbs Creek into a conservation easement for the North County Land Trust, an organization committed to preserving land in fast-developing northern Anne Arundel County.

The easement is the first time Constellation Energy has granted land to a trust, said Bonnie Johansen, the company's senior community and government relations specialist.

"We wanted somebody to be able to use it," Johansen said. "We wouldn't have wanted to disturb anything."

The land functions as a buffer around the Brandon Shores plant as well as an embankment protecting the waterway, and is home to mallards and herons. Though it is not zoned for development and Constellation had no plans to build on it, the easement guarantees that it will remain unspoiled in perpetuity.

The North County Land Trust, which holds the easement with the Maryland Environmental Trust, is in talks with Constellation about adding walking paths to the area. But any public access plans will have to ensure that wildlife habitats remain undisturbed.

The property abuts Chestnut Hill Cove, a townhouse community once home to William Donald Schaefer and his longtime companion, Hilda Mae Snoops. The comptroller still owns two homes there, but records indicate the community is no longer his primary residence.

Area activists and trust members praised Constellation for answering the call for preservation.

`Big change'

"I think there's been a big change in BGE and big steps toward becoming responsible corporate citizens," said Rebecca Kolberg, the trust's secretary.

But change has also come to the once-sleepy Pasadena peninsula, forcing activists to become more creative in preserving land.

Area residents founded the North County Land Trust four years ago so they could preserve a 115-acre property along Swan Creek that the Maryland Port Administration owns.

In the early 1990s, the port administration promised to preserve the area as wetlands. The idea went nowhere until 1999, when a developer proposing a 61,000-seat auto racetrack earmarked the Swan Creek site for a parking lot.

Residents were furious. After successfully fighting the racetrack, they again approached the port administration about preserving the land. Because the state-run Maryland Environmental Trust was barred by law from holding the easement of another state agency, port officials said they had no mechanism for preserving the property.

So the residents created the North County Land Trust, and the Swan Creek easement became official in 2002.

Strauch said the Swan Creek project proved that the nascent trust could handle a large-scale project. So when trust Treasurer Marcia Drenzyk told him and Johansen during one of their regular catch-up meetings that the group was looking for more land to preserve, the company thought about what it had to offer.

Kolberg said she never would have thought four years ago that the power plant would be preserving a wildlife habitat. But Drenzyk said she always believed the company and residents would mend fences.

Common ground

"It's not about picking sides," Drenzyk said. "If you talk to people enough, you can usually find something you have in common."

Now, when Drenzyk attends the quarterly meetings with Constellation, the talk turns to plant construction projects. The company trucks in urea-based pellets and makes ammonia at the plant - a method both sides consider safe. And instead of children in gas masks, there is a two-way conversation.

"We still irritate each other from time to time," Johansen said, "but it's the right kind of irritation."

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