ANNAPOLIS – The state’s inventory of potential excess public lands will be reviewed in public and will not lead to the wanton sale of parks and forests, Gov. Robert Ehrlich said in a public statement released Tuesday.
The statement was his first detailed explanation of his administration’s ongoing efforts to identify marketable property since a controversial real estate deal failed, bringing attention to the state’s plan of selling public lands to private hands.
“My political opponents claim this is a plan to turn park lands into condominiums,” the statement said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Our beautiful parks and public forests never were and never will be for sale.”
The property review, as well as the sale of state-owned vehicles (which included the $250,000 sale of the state yacht and the $470,000 sale of a state plane), was part of an effort to “restore fiscal discipline in Annapolis after years of ‘tax and spend’ government,” he said in the statement.
Last week, the Department of Natural Resources released its proposed list of excess parcels. The DNR reported that the list, which includes pieces of state parks and forests, contained less than 1 percent of the 430,000 acres reviewed in a 10-month study.
“We will initiate the public process to determine what property holds value for the people of Maryland, and what property siphons taxpayer dollars away from core government services,” said Ehrlich’s statement.
Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery, said the shift in focus to this inventory is a distraction from the failed sale of 836 acres of St. Mary’s County forest to developer Willard Hackerman.
“It’s hard to describe how disconnected from reality this piece is,” he said. He had decried the Hackerman sale as a secret, backroom deal, while other critics feared the developer was receiving the land at below market value and might not honor his pledge to keep the land preserved.
“Having Bob Ehrlich lecture us about good government,” said Franchot, “is like having Ron Artest lecture us about anger management.” (Professional basketball player Artest of the Indiana Pacers was suspended for the rest of the season after participating in a raucous brawl with fans and players Friday night.)
Last week, Franchot and Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, began drafting a constitutional amendment and bill to have state legislators vote on the sale of environmentally-sensitive properties.
“The primary purpose is to put a check and balance into process, because right now there is no check and balance,” said Franchot.
The governor, however, sees no need for the amendment, said Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman.
“There’s no need to make this process public, because it’s already public,” said Fawell, adding that such sales must pass two Democrats on the Board of Public Works before they’re final.
Frosh also said Ehrlich’s letter omitted any reference to the Hackerman deal.
“It’s a bit of revisionist history,” he said. “. . . If you read this statement, you would think that never happened.”
While he said the state needs to sell some land, “to sell the state’s environmental heritage to balance the budget is indescribably foolish.”
Ehrlich’s statement called some of his opponents on this issue “political opportunists” who would not weaken his promise of fiscal responsibility to Maryland citizens.