ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. ordered a temporary moratorium on land conservation purchases in Maryland until he details his new policy opposing noncritical land purchases.
“The era of secondary land purchases . . . is over,” Ehrlich said Wednesday at the Board of Public Works meeting. Ehrlich, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy Kopp make up the board.
Land conservation purchase requests have met increased scrutiny by the board this fall, with both Ehrlich and Schaefer openly criticizing purchases made under former Gov. Parris Glendening.
“This is a fundamentally different administration,” Ehrlich said, adding he’s the “new law in town.”
Glendening, who left office in January, made land conservation purchases a major priority of his administration.
“He bought so much useless land,” Schaefer said after the meeting.
Schaefer pointed to the budget deficit, which projections put at nearly $800 million, as a higher priority.
But even if the state had a $1 billion dollar surplus, the state shouldn’t buy unneeded land, Ehrlich said.
State Budget Secretary James C. “Chip” DiPaula is coordinating the new policy. He said he will meet soon with officials from the Department of Natural Resources and Agriculture, among others.
The new policy could be presented as soon as the next meeting, resulting in no delay of purchases, DiPaula said, but with Hurricane Isabel recovery taking priority, the new policy may take more time.
“If we want to take longer, we’ll take longer.”
The board agreed to four Worcester County land purchases Wednesday, the last items the board would consider, Ehrlich said, until his policy is released.
A broad framework that guides that state’s conservation purchases, with particular focus on the Chesapeake Bay, should be developed, Kopp said.
“The bay is the jewel in Maryland’s crown,” Kopp said.
Schaefer echoed this priority, saying: “Bay first.”
But not everyone agrees conservation priorities need to be changed.
“There are already programs that prioritize the land, so we are saving the most urgent first,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, an anti-sprawl coalition. Even if Program Open Space was fully funded, she said, Maryland could not meet the demand of citizens who don’t want to sell land to developers. Program Open Space is the land acquisition arm of the state Department of Natural Resources.
Capital News Service reporter Michael Duck contributed to this report.