LAST WEEK'S agreement for the state to acquire a popular Western Maryland landmark, Deep Creek Lake, is indeed a "momentous first step" toward preserving a state treasure, as Gov. Parris N. Glendening put it.
The fate of the 3,900-acre man-made lake and shoreline in Garrett County had been in doubt since owner GPU Inc. put the property and its hydroelectric dam up for sale in February as part of a plan to cut the company's power-generation facilities.
The state rescue comes after efforts by Garrett County officials, lake property owners and an independent hydroelectric power producer to form a consortium that would bid for the property.
The group soon deferred to the state, and GPU agreed this monthto give Maryland exclusive negotiating rights to buy the recreational jewel that attracts more than a half-million visitors a year.
The state will pay fair market value for the lake and 65 miles of shoreline buffer lands. That amount is yet to be determined. The generator-dam will be sold separately, GPU agreed.
The 70-year-old story of Deep Creek Lake is a tribute to private stewardship of a valuable natural resource, which so many tourists came to think of as a publicly owned recreation site.
GPU was not unique among utilities in developing public recreation amenities at its hydroelectric facilities. But the company kept a low profile. This approach encouraged an expansion of tourism and, with it, a surge in needed revenues for Garrett County. Deep Creek yields half the county's tax base.
That's why the utility company's plan to package the dam and the lake for sale to the highest bidder spurred fears of limited public access, overdevelopment and higher boat-docking fees. While the state owns the water in the lake, the utility owns the bottomland and shoreline buffer and pays the state to manage the lake.
Conclusion of the sale will depend on the good faith of both parties, and an objective valuation of the property. The state must not falter, and GPU must commit to a fair price if Deep Creek Lake is to remain a shining recreational resource in Western Maryland.
Pub date: 6/10/98