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Groups vie for funds to save land; Balto. County applies for 4 grants through Rural Legacy program; $25 million available


Maryland counties once again are vying for millions of dollars in state money under a nationally recognized program to preserve precious farmland and open space -- even though most of the $29 million awarded last year under that program remains unspent.

State officials said they expect to receive applications today from the 14 land preservation groups that won money last year under the 2-year-old Rural Legacy program and from about eight new groups -- all seeking a share of $25 million available this year.

Leading the clamor for money is Baltimore County, which is seeking $16 million to preserve property in four areas of the county. Anne Arundel, Harford and Carroll counties each were expected to submit one application. Late last week, Howard County was debating whether to submit one or two requests.

One piece of property has been saved with last year's Rural Legacy funds -- a 700-acre farm in Queen Anne's County that was purchased with the help of a $400,000 Rural Legacy grant.

State and local officials say the program has taken longer to get started than expected because of complicated legal agreements among the state, county and local preservation groups.

"People didn't realize how much it was going to take to get the i's dotted and the t's crossed," said Jack Dillon, director of Valleys Planning Council, which sponsored a proposal that won a Rural Legacy grant last year.

Said Grant DeHart, Program Open Space director: "As a new program, there is a lot of learning we all are going through."

The Rural Legacy Program is part of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth Initiative, which has drawn national attention as states look for ways to curb sprawl.

The program is designed to preserve blocks of land with historic, environmental and agricultural significance that might otherwise not be saved by the state's existing land preservation programs.

The counties that received grants last year have 18 months to spend the money after they sign agreements with the state accepting the grants. Many of the localities signed those documents in the past few weeks.

The counties are taking applications from property owners interested in selling their development rights or selling their land outright to the program. In most cases, local boards will review those applications and choose which properties to accept.

"We are very close to getting commitments," said George G. Perdikakis, director of Baltimore County's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management.

Baltimore County received two Rural Legacy grants last year.

The county's Coastal Rural Legacy area received $1.5 million to preserve property along the Chesapeake Bay. That area also received $1.6 million in Project Open Space money and $2 million in local funds.

The county has enlisted the help of the Trust for Public Land, a national environmental organization, to negotiate with property owners in that area. The county is eager to acquire a 686-acre tract that is part of a small airfield.

This year, Baltimore County is seeking another $4 million for the Coastal Rural Legacy area.

On the other side of the county, preservationists are asking this year for $5 million to help preserve land along the Piney Run stream. The proposal received $3 million from the state last year to purchase land or development rights along the Piney Run.

The county also has resubmitted an application to preserve land in Long Green Valley. Although that application won high marks from the Rural Legacy Advisory Committee last year, it apparently wasn't chosen because of the state's decision to award no more than two Rural Legacy grants per county.

Cathy Ebert, president of Long Green Valley Conservancy, said the group will make a stronger argument for funding this year because it has won a number of preservation grants from government and private agencies.

"We feel very optimistic. We feel like we're presenting an even stronger proposal," she said.

Another Baltimore County proposal is for an area along Gunpowder Falls.

Last year, residents in that area teamed with preservationists across the border in Harford County to seek $23 million for a 75,000-acre swath. This year, the proposal seeks $4 million to help protect 5,333 acres solely within Baltimore County.

"This area has outstanding scenic qualities and historic qualities," said Deborah Bowers, the proposal's writer.

The county also is planning to put up money to match the Rural Legacy grants, but has not decided how much, Perdikakis said.

Carroll County is seeking $5 million to add to its $1.5 million award last year to preserve land along Little Pipe Creek near Westminster. It plans to offer $1 million to match the state funds.

Anne Arundel is seeking $2.2 million to buy development rights on 550 acres of farmland and woodland in the southern portion of the county. The land would be part of a Rural Legacy area of more than 9,000 acres.

Harford County planned to submit a new area for preservation -- 15,000 acres near Lower Deer Creek between Palmer State Park and the Susquehanna River.

About half of the land in this Rural Legacy area is in park and agricultural preservation programs. As a step toward preserving the rest, the county is seeking $5 million to preserve 1,800 acres within the area, said county planner Stoney Fraley.

The awards are scheduled to be announced in August.

Pub Date: 2/01/99

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