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Activist seeks inquiry of greenway committee; She says county provided $20,000 for Patapsco study that was done pro bono


An Ellicott City activist has demanded that Howard County government officials launch an investigation into the Patapsco Heritage Greenway Committee's use of public funds.

Lee Walker Oxenham, a member of the Sierra Club, says the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks gave the greenway committee $20,000 to produce a feasibility study and master plan for the Patapsco heritage corridor. The group is trying to turn the Patapsco Valley into a certified heritage area.

The master plan was produced pro bono by Human and Rohde Inc., documents from the Towson landscape and architecture firm show.

In a July 7 letter responding to Oxenham's concerns last year, Howard County Executive James N. Robey wrote that the $20,000 was used for the feasibility study as well as "a share of the jointly funded assessment of the valley's historic resources."

A service agreement from Dec. 9, 1996, states that the money could be used in a discretionary way: It says services to be provided "shall include, but are not limited to" the master plan.

John Slater, president of the greenway committee, received a copy of a memo outlining Oxenham's concerns yesterday afternoon but said he had not had time to research the allegations. He defended the Patapsco Heritage Greenway Committee.

"I have all the confidence in the world in the work that the greenway has done," he said. "I have all the confidence in the world that everything was done on the up-and-up."

The proposed Patapsco Heritage Greenway would link Patapsco Valley State Park and the river towns of Ellicott City, Elkridge and Oella in a certified heritage area. Proposals have included trail networks, interpretive signs and brochures highlighting the valley's history.

The certified heritage area would attract state money in the form of tax credits and state assistance through matching grants, loans, technical assistance and revenue bonds.

Environmentalists such as Oxenham have opposed the plan, saying it would threaten the river and the wildlife.

Late last week, Oxenham delivered a memo outlining her concerns to Robey, the Howard County Council and the Planning Board. In the memo, Oxenham requests that the Department of Recreation and Parks require that the $20,000 be reimbursed. Robey and the council have not officially responded to the memo.

Oxenham said she plans to deliver her memo to the Howard state's attorney's office today. Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks Director Gary Arthur could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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