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O'Malley: Md.'s commitment to open space remains strong [Letter]

In a recent Sun article calling on me, and Maryland's legislature to reaffirm our longstanding commitment to parks, playgrounds, trails and fields ("Marylanders need to speak up for open space," April 1), Dan Rodricks does a good job of spotlighting an important issue: funding open space preservation. But he misses the forest for the trees, so to speak, on a few key points.

First, he suggests that our commitment to preserving open spaces statewide may be flagging. The facts tell a different story.

Despite the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, the O'Malley-Brown administration has protected more than 150,000 acres of open space — larger than the total land area of Calvert County — and supported more than 1,300 local recreational projects, all while adopting new, effective policies to advance and improve our overall environmental protection efforts. Since 2009, we've used our GreenPrint evaluation system to score and select potential preservation projects objectively for the first time, based on their ecological value — something no other state does. Since establishing the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund in 2007, my administration has invested over $156 million operational funds and nearly $100 million capital funds in pollution control projects to accelerate our bay restoration efforts.

Additionally, our legislature committed to a first-of-its kind, no-net-loss-of-forest policy last year and recently voted to add over 20,000 acres to our Wildlands System forever guarding some of our most pristine natural areas.

Mr. Rodricks also describes a change in the funding for Program Open Space as "messing with it." The 45-year-old Program Open Space has served our state beautifully in balancing the pressures of development against the vital need for preservation by collecting a small fee on land transfers and using that revenue for environmental protection. Recently, we've used bond sales to ensure that despite the pressures of the economic downturn, we can continue to fully fund Program Open Space uninterrupted. My full commitment to Program Open Space has not changed, and every one of my budget proposals has reflected that.

Finally, Mr. Rodricks is correct to point out that the General Assembly is debating a $100 million cap on the Open Space fund. But their proposal would not end preservation efforts, it would direct revenues in excess of that cap to repair environmental damage caused by development (instead of preserving open spaces as intended). I personally believe the fund should not be capped and should remain in keeping with the sustainable smart-growth goals of the original law — preservation is smarter and cheaper than reactive repairs after the fact.

Maryland has a well-earned reputation as both an innovator and leader in land conservation. That progress has continued throughout the course of this administration, and because of our tough choices, Maryland is better positioned than ever before to preserve our natural treasures and pass them on to our children and grandchildren.

For more information on Maryland's ongoing commitment to preservation and conservation visit: greenprint.maryland.gov and dnr.state.md.us/land/pos.

Martin O'Malley, Annapolis

The writer, a Democrat, is Maryland governor.

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To respond to this letter, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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