ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s ambitious new land preservation proposal aimed at preserving a network of environmentally sensitive areas will likely be cut by half over concerns about how program funding will be spent.
Earlier this year, the governor unveiled GreenPrint, a $145 million five- year addition to a growing list of state land acquisition programs aimed at preventing sprawl and preserving the environment.
Glendening asked for $40 million plus operating costs to fund the project in its first year. However, a Senate Budget and Taxation subcommittee voted Friday to only fund half of the $1.7 million operating budget, making cuts to the $40 million acquisitions budget likely.
Because of the lengthy land acquisition process, committee members worried the Department of Natural Resources would be unable to spend all the money in one year, said subcommittee member Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, D-Charles.
“The department has had problems spending the Rural Legacy money,” he said. “It’s because of the whole land acquisition process – it takes a long time.”
Rural Legacy is another statewide land acquisition program aimed at preserving rural areas from development.
The decision is in line with recommendations from the Department of Legislative Services.
Meanwhile, Glendening remains committed to securing funds for the program, said Press Secretary Michelle Byrnie.
“Once a piece of land is paved over . . . there’s no going back,” Byrnie said. “So there’s a sense of urgency.”
Environmentalists have hailed GreenPrint as a major step toward protecting the Chesapeake Bay from excess nutrients and sediment loads, which have been blamed for fish kills and declining crab and oyster harvests.
The program would not only protect land, but safeguard the state’s most environmentally critical areas, particularly those around waterways, they say.
“We think this is an extremely valuable program and we think it’s extremely important to fully fund this,” said Theresa Pierno, Chesapeake Bay Foundation spokeswoman.
Key legislators said the program will be effective even if the entire $40 million isn’t funded.
“Whether it’s $20 million or $40 million it’s still going to protect the environment,” said Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, House Appropriations Committee chairman.
Both Senate and House committees must approve the cuts before the full chambers vote on them.
Environmentalists fear cuts to the program would prevent Maryland from keeping the commitment it made with Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., under the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, which calls for protecting 20 percent of its land from development.
The Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Public Land Trust released a report earlier this year that said if the governments signed on to the agreement fail to increase land preservation spending by more than $500 million over the next 10 years they won’t reach 20 percent.
Maryland has been a leader in land preservation spending over the last decade. Between 1992 and 1999, the state spent $306 million on land preservation – more than the other Chesapeake Bay 2000 signers.
However, because of the high cost of land, it has only preserved 14.7 percent of its land – the smallest of the three states and Washington.
“The way we’re developing in this state at such a rapid pace, we need a program like this,” Pierno said.
Maryland has developed 16.14 percent of its total 6.3 million acres – one of the highest percentages in the country — and is developing at a rate of 34,560 acres a year, according to the Chesapeake Bay Commission.