In an attempt to make the proposed Patapsco Heritage Greenway more palatable to a wider number of people, the new chairman of the planning committee pledged yesterday to work more closely with environmentalists and residents concerned about Patapsco Valley State Park.
"I do want to form an environmental committee immediately," said John Slater, president of Slater Associates, a Columbia-based landscape architect firm. "I think it's critical."
Slater, the chairman, spoke to a group of about 70 people who attended the committee's meeting yesterday in Oella. He succeeds Charles Wagandt, an Oella developer and preservationist who announced at the meeting that he was stepping down.
In resigning, Wagandt alluded to rumors he would stand to gain financially from the project.
"Hopefully we can get some better press when I'm out of the way because there's an exciting story to tell here," he said. "There's a vision here, and we haven't conveyed it."
Planners are talking with residents of Baltimore and Howard counties to determine the size and scope of a greenway plan. Proposals have included a network of trails, parking garages, concession stands, tours of residential communities and visitor centers in the Patapsco River Valley.
Slater said that in the "very, very near future" he plans to address the concerns of the Maryland Conservation Council, a coalition of environmental groups that opposes the project.
This week, the group sent a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening in which it charged that the project would harm the environment and demanded that he halt any future funding.
Marcia McLaughlin, deputy director of planning and zoning for Howard County and member of the planning committee, said -- at the suggestion of an audience member -- that she would help find an environmentalist to serve on the planning committee.
Slater challenged the widely held notion that the greenway committee has acted in private since it was founded about four years ago.
"The door was always open," he said. "It's just phenomenal to me that this was conceived as some private gang that was sneaking around doing terrible things to the valley."
Mildred F. Kriemelmeyer, president of the Conservation Council, said she does not believe the committee acted like a public group. She said her group's members across the state hadn't heard of a greenway effort until early last fall.
"[Council members] swore they had never heard of anything before then, and these are people who know what's going on," Kriemelmeyer said.
Patapsco Heritage Greenway supporters and opponents claim to be environmentalists who care about the park.
"Our concern is for the natural assets of Maryland," Kriemelmeyer said. "We've been working for 30 years to conserve Maryland's natural assets. That's our goal, and that's what we're doing here."
Said Slater: "We're friends of the park. We're friends of the valley."
Pub Date: 1/22/99