Cut grass upsets group; County mowed fragile portion of Franklin Point; Damage not yet known; Activists ask state for interim plan to protect wetlands; South County


Angry that Anne Arundel County has mowed some of the grass at Franklin Point, a group of south county environmental activists is asking the state for an interim plan to protect the fragile wetland area.

South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development, known as SACReD, is sending a letter this week to the state Department of Natural Resources and County Executive Janet S. Owens to request a temporary plan for wetland restoration, public access and erosion prevention at the 477-acre site on Shady Side Peninsula, said Michael Shay, a founding member of the organization.

Shay discovered that part of the land had been mowed Oct. 24 and contacted the county in fear that the mowing would disrupt the environmental recovery of the site.

"They mowed right up to the water," Shay said. "They mowed some of the most sensitive land over there."

The land, some of the last undeveloped property on the peninsula, was sold to the state for $5.8 million in February.

Since then, the 340-member organization has worked with the state to ensure the land is protected from development and that farming is prohibited.

The state Department of Natural Resources is in charge of the land, but the county is its caretaker during the transition from state to county ownership, said Richard McIntire, a department spokesman.

Within weeks, McIntire said the department, along with the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission, will assess the property for damage.

"The area that was mowed lies in the critical area, but it hasn't been determined if there was damage," McIntire said.

The critical area is land within 1,000 feet of the water. SACReD estimates that 330 acres of the property fall into this classification.

Dennis Callahan, director of the county's Department of Parks and Recreation, said his department received permission from the state to mow the high grass and wild flowers in a meadow on the site.

"While we are in the process of developing a plan, it's our responsibility to maintain the status quo," Callahan said.

But, after being contacted by a member of SACReD and asked to halt mowing until spring, Callahan said he obliged.

Franklin Point has been a battleground for the activists for more than 12 years.

The struggle began when the owner of the property proposed building 152 luxury houses amid the lush green wetlands and pines of the peninsula. The developer, Dominic F. Antonelli, lodged an unsuccessful $50 million libel suit against the group during the public battle over use of the land.

Antonelli finally gave up and sold the property to the state. This summer, the organization asked that farming be stopped on the site to help restore wetlands and to contain contamination of the bay. Corn and soybeans have been cultivated on 74 acres of the land since 1972.

The activists gained a victory last month when the state's wetland-restoration steering committee recommended that a management plan for Franklin Point include wetland and habitat restoration.

In a letter sent Oct. 8 to Owens and Sarah Taylor-Rogers, head of the Department of Natural Resources, Erin Fitzsimmons, the committee's chairwoman, wrote, "Governor Glendening established a wetlands restoration goal of 60,000 acres, the amount of wetlands lost to sprawl development since World War II. In order to reach this goal, we are encouraging all sectors of Maryland, both private and public, to incorporate wetland restoration in all possible opportunities."

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