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State critical of Shore land purchase

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland's auditor has criticized the state for failing to require documentation to show that land purchased for preservation on the Eastern Shore in 2004 was bought at a fair price and protected from development.

In a report released yesterday, legislative auditor Bruce A. Myers said the Maryland Department of the Environment should have required a conservation easement and second appraisal during the purchase of 385 acres in Dorchester County.

Bob Ballinger, spokesman for the state agency, said it will require such documentation in all future land conservation purchases.

"We do not believe there was anything criminal, but we are reviewing what we do to make sure that tough standards are in place to make sure any land purchased in the future does not have these issues," Ballinger said.

The farmland, near the Chicamacomico River, was purchased by the Biophilia Foundation, a conservation group, using $1.8 million that the state gave to a bank as a loan for the land preservation.

The foundation, in Severna Park, bought the land for $1.7 million and used the other $100,000 to restore wetlands on the property and plant trees and meadow grasses, said Richard G. Pritzlaff, president of the foundation.

The foundation, which has bought and preserved about 5,300 acres in Maryland, Virginia and New Mexico over the past nine years, now seeks to sell the land for about $4 million to buyers who will promise to preserve the land and build up to three homes, Pritzlaff said.

Pritzlaff said he had told the state he would have a conservation easement done by December but that the paperwork has been delayed. He said he hopes to have the easement approved next week.

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