Land? $71 million. Legacy? Priceless.

The Baltimore Sun

These days, we're digging quite a hole for future generations, piling up debt, fouling the water and air, turning up Earth's thermostat to sizzle.

Nice legacy, eh?

But there is one thing we in Maryland can leave for the kids and the kids' kids that might keep them from thinking we're a complete bunch of self-centered chuckleheads: shoreline with acres of undeveloped dirt behind it.

Camp O'Malley wants to spend about $71 million to buy five parcels totaling 9,200 acres in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore, not to build another National Harbor horror show or to put up a slots palace or two. No, the guv wants to set aside dirt so it can continue to do what it does best - provide us with a place to be that isn't work. Hike, paddle, horseback-ride, bird-watch, fish, hunt. Or do nothing but enjoy a sunset or stare off into space.

Think of it, 9,200 acres is nearly 7,000 football fields. It cost us $220 million for one Ravens football stadium, which just sits there empty most of the year. Land is, well, for all of us, not just people with $5,000 permanent seat licenses.

The Board of Public Works will vote on the purchase of the first parcel - 800 acres in Worcester County known as the Foster property - Wednesday. Votes on the others will follow in January. One can presume the guv will vote for his own plan. Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who attended the announcement of the proposed purchase and has backed other green initiatives, should be the deciding second vote. The third rail, er vote, belongs to Comptroller Peter Franchot, D-Annoyed, who, when it comes to temperament, seems to have picked up where William Donald Schaefer left off.

The land deal probably doesn't need Franchot's blessing, although it would be nice to make a unanimous statement.

But there have been rumblings from well-meaning people who say the state shouldn't be buying land and furloughing employees at the same time.

On the surface, it seems a valid, even humane argument.

But the surface doesn't tell the whole story.

Here's a six-pack of facts:

Fact One: The land is would be purchased with Program Open Space funds, money that is collected when real estate changes hands. In their wisdom some years back, our leaders decided to set up the program so that when times are good and the real estate market is hot, we're putting away a good chunk of change and no one really notices.

Fact Two: In nearly 40 years, POS has been used to buy close to 300,000 acres for local and state parks and wildlife management areas.

Fact Three: It's a dedicated fund, meaning we're not supposed to go out and buy Guitar Hero for everyone. (Although the Ehrlich administration did siphon off $269 million during the first three years of its term before getting in touch with its green roots in a re-election year. So we're actually behind in our dirt purchases.)

Fact Four: Unless I've missed something, God isn't making any more dirt. Even Will "Zelig" Baker of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation says it's true. As a matter of fact, global warming means we're losing land to rising waters. Just ask the folks on islands in the Chesapeake Bay. Or Baker, who built his headquarters where, when the moon is full and the winds are howling up the bay, you can hear waves practically lapping the foundation.

Fact Five: Waterfront land won't be getting any cheaper. With these purchases, Marylanders get 19 miles of water access.

Fact Six: If we want to slow bay degradation, we need to stop building at the waterline. That's not going to happen if we wait for zoning and planning boards to get a backbone.

The parcels are impressive. It's hard to visit them and not think of big, organic escape valves for harried city dwellers and suburbanites.

The Board of Public Works needs to approve these purchases. If not for us, for the kids who will one day judge us.

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