A judge has ordered the Calvert Marine Museum to pay a homeowners association $10,001 for improperly removing a 10 million-year-old fossil whale skeleton from communally owned cliffs.
After more than eight hours of testimony over two days, Calvert Circuit Judge Warren Krug ordered the museum in Solomons to pay the community $1 for trespassing, and $10,000 for the value of the fossil.
But while it was a win for the Chesapeake Ranch Estates property owners' association, its president, John Eney, called the award "an insult," and the victory "hollow."
The group failed in its bid to recover as much as $457,000 it sought to help shore up the eroding cliffs where the fossil was excavated. And it will have to pay its legal expenses, which Eney has estimated at $140,000.
"Really, I'm disgusted," he said. "We're not giving up. We're going to consider an appeal, and we have other irons in the fire to resolve the entire problem, not just one section of the cliffs."
He said the verdict did establish the association's right to control access to the beaches and cliffs, a key goal.
Museum paleontologist Stephen Godfrey called the verdict "a huge emotional relief. ... You could say it's a win-win situation. We retain the skeleton and the ranch club was awarded an amount for the value of the skeleton," he said.
But he acknowledged both sides also lost financially. "There's no question about it. It could have been done differently. All that money could have been saved. It is truly tragic in that regard."
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