Neuman defends county's handling of former dairy farm

June 13, 2014|By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman is rejecting a county council candidate's call to halt the process to pick a new tenant for a government-owned farm in Gambrills.

Scott Hymes, a Democrat running for the council, asked Neuman to suspend the process so an outside investigation can be conducted into the county's handling of the former Naval Academy dairy farm. Hymes has alleged that the process hasn't been "transparent."

Neuman responded by defending the county's actions in determining if a new operator should take over the farm.

"My administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to involve the community in the process and find a mutually agreeable situation," Neuman said in a statement. "To suggest the process is not fair, legal or transparent is, at best, disingenuous."

The county government leases the former dairy farm on Route 175 in Gambrills from the Navy. For years, the county has subleased it to Edwin Fry and his family, who have farmed the land organically as Maryland Sunrise Farm. In recent months, Fry announced he needed to abandon some organic practices, a move that caused an outcry among neighbors and environmentalists.

The county offered Fry a short-term lease and initiated a process to seek a new tenant for the farm.

Hymes said he's gotten reports that potential tenants weren't given enough information at a site visit in April, and claimed he's had trouble getting information about the leasing process.

"I want it put on pause," he said. "I think we need a transparent process."

Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat who represents the area, said he's also been troubled by the dairy farm issues.

"The Neuman Administration's handling of the project at the dairy farm has been an abject failure," he said.

Mondee Doorandish of Crownsville said she considered making a bid to grow organic produce on the farm. But she said she was put off during the tour in April, and that she was unable to get key questions answered.

"The person who shows you the place sells you on it ... This was the absolute reverse for that. It was all about, 'Don't even try to come here because it will all be doom and gloom,'" she said. Doorandish decided not to submit a bid to lease the farm.

The county is scheduled to announce the decision on the next tenant later this month. The next lease would begin Jan. 1, 2015.

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