State to protect sensitive stream


Better late than never, conservationists are saying of last week's news that the state will purchase 100 acres around an environmentally sensitive trout stream in Gambrills.

The state Department of Natural Resources had pledged two years ago to acquire property along the Jabez Branch to protect the last-of-its-kind stream from the damaging effects of development.

DNR Assistant Secretary MiKe Nelson renewed that pledge Thursday before the Severn River Commission.

Apologizing for the delay, Nelson said the Department of General Services -- the state purchasing agency -- became mired in a web of property deeds that made ownership unclear. The project was put on a back burner.

'We're going to create a sense of urgency about Jabez Branch,' he told members of the Severn River Commission, a government- appointed advisory body.

Nelson said the DNR would target a 100-acre parcel known as Holladay Park Estates. Eventually, he said, his agency would like to acquire land along the length of the Jabez in an attempt to create a continuous greenway to the 1,450-acre Severn Run.

DNR agrees to buy land along Jabez

Natural Environmental Area at the headwaters of the Severn River.

The county Department of Parks and Recreation also is in the process of acquiring three acres along the dabez in Holladay Park Estates, said Jack Keene, chief of planning for the Parks Department. Manresa, a Jesuit-operated retreat outside Annapolis, has offered to exchange the property for three county-owned acres along the B & A Trail that runs adjacent to the retreat, Keene said.

Although shallow and narrow, the Jabez is the last cold-water trout stream in the coastal plain from Southern Maryland to Harford County.

"Mike Nelson confirmed what we already suspected,' said commission member Lina Vlavianos, "that General Services has been dragging their feet. They are on notice now to proceed and we will stay on top of it."

Nelson's pledge comes a week after the DNR took control of the 312-acre Whitney Landing Farm in Millersville, barring development on the farm's pristine woods and meadows, which drain into the Severn. Anne Arundel County may use 15 to 20 acres for ball fields and playgrounds.

The state Board of Public Works transferred Whitney Landing Nov. 28 from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which acquired the property in the 1950s when it built Crownsville Hospital Center. Use of the property has been debated for years: at one point, it was targeted for sludge disposal.

Nelson and Joe McCanm director of county parks and recreation, were invited to the Severn River Commission to explain Program Open Space, a park acquisition program financed through real estate transfer taxes. The county's use of POS money came under fire after it spent $800,000 purclnasmg land for an Odenton ice rink.

Commission members, were concerned that the county was using POS money on projects like ice rinks rather than acquiring open spaces, particularly around the Jabez.

But Nelson and McCann agreed the county used the money appropriately, ending the controversy.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the acquisition at Holladay Park by the county," said Vlavianos, a more vocal critic. If the county had not pursued those three acres. I think we would have been a little more aggressive.

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