Harford County waterfront land deal a worthy one [Editorial]

Harford County is poised to spend $3.47 million to buy just about 5 acres along the Susquehanna River at the northern end of Havre de Grace. This comes even as the city government is in the midst of conducting a transaction that will add a waterfront lot next to the Concord Point Lighthouse, long in private hands, to the network of parkland in Havre de Grace.

A bit much?

Hardly. Waterfront property is at a premium, and waterfront parkland isn't easy to come by.

On the whole, Havre de Grace has a substantial amount of waterfront parkland, and the proposed county deal, along with the city's lighthouse property deal, will add substantially to the total. Even without the two new deals, the city has a substantial tract of waterfront land at McLhinney Park at the northern end of town, from Tydings Park and the Yacht Basin across the Promenade and to the lighthouse on the south end, and, in the center at the foot of the Amtrak railroad bridge and the foot of Congress Avenue. This may sound like an argument against the new acquisitions, but there's an important caveat to pointing out that Havre de Grace has a lot of waterfront property, that being Havre de Grace is the location of an awful lot of the public waterfront in all of Harford County. Indeed, Havre de Grace is the location of some of the most readily accessible public property on the Chesapeake Bay north of Baltimore City.

The reason is simple: Aberdeen Proving Ground occupies almost all of the waterfront property in Harford County, and a fair amount in Baltimore County.

The bottom line is Havre de Grace has the distinction of being one of the few urban areas along the Chesapeake Bay's Western Shore where anyone can take in the beauty of the waterfront. It shares this distinction with Baltimore City, Annapolis, Chesapeake Beach-North Beach in Calvert County and Solomon's Island at the mouth of the Patuxent River.

There are other state and county parks where there is public access, but the lion's share of waterfront property on the Western Shore is not readily accessible to the general public.

Havre de Grace shares with a few other cities and towns in Maryland the notable distinction of being responsible for providing general access to Maryland's defining natural wonder, the Chesapeake Bay.

While the city already has responsibility for this unique stewardship at the head of the Chesapeake (and the mouth of the Susquehanna River), such a stewardship involves increasing the public's access when possible and practical.

It isn't every day that waterfront land in private ownership becomes available for public purchase. While the $3.47 million price tag for five acres may seem a bit high, it's worth remembering waterfront property comes at a premium regardless of who is buying it. Moreover, Harford County has spent upward of $3.5 million on any number of other projects and ended up with a lot less to show for it than a waterfront park.

While the purchase of county parkland in most areas simply results in a facility that is used primarily by people living nearby, the purchase of land for a waterfront park in Havre de Grace ends up being something that has appeal for most people in Harford County and beyond.

A deal like that is a wise use of public money.

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