Shoreline savings

Our view : Efforts to conserve valuable waterfront require a boost

July 22, 2008

If the downturn in Maryland's real estate industry weren't bad enough, it has also had the effect of greatly diminishing the state's much-needed land conservation efforts. Program Open Space, which underwrites much of the state and local land purchases, is financed by a tax on real estate transfers. With properties changing hands less often - and at diminished values - the impact on open space has been dramatic.

In fiscal 2007, Maryland committed more than $278 million toward creating or expanding state and local parks and conservation areas, the most for the program since it was established in 1969. This year, the budget is closer to $57 million, a nearly 80 percent loss in funding.

What's particularly frustrating about this predicament is that the downturn would be an ideal time to pursue conservation projects. A seller's loss is a buyer's golden opportunity.

That's why the recent announcement by the Trust for Public Land that it intends to target thousands of acres of Chesapeake Bay and tributary shoreline for acquisition is such a welcome development. The national land conservation group has the resources to pursue opportunities now when they're available and bridge the gap until the state or local government is in a position to acquire a property or easement.

The value of river and shoreline conservation is clear enough. Such buffer zones help filter pollution from the Chesapeake, particularly from runoff and erosion, and setting aside land for no future development is even better than restricting what development is allowed to take place.

The Trust for Public Land is not the only nonprofit that's in a position to help. But it is important that such efforts be coordinated effectively so that the most valuable land is identified (where, for instance, development is imminent or particularly valuable ecosystems may be lost) and pursued.

Developers may resent such competition for waterfront land, but they, too, benefit when the health of the bay is preserved and the Land of Pleasant Living remains just that.

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