While the Prince George’s County end of Gov. Larry Hogan’s long-shot proposal to swap land with the federal government for a new Washington Redskins football stadium has been the subject of much heated debate, less attention has been paid to the western Maryland end of the deal.
That’s starting to change.
In recent days, the Central Maryland Heritage League has been ringing alarm bells over Hogan’s proposal to turn over to the federal government “approximately 2,481 acres located in South Mountain State Battlefield, Gathland State Park, and some surrounding areas” in Frederick and Washington counties along the state’s portion of the Appalachian Trail.
In exchange for transferring those properties, Hogan proposes that Maryland get federal land at Oxon Cove Park in Prince George’s, which it would offer the Redskins for a new stadium site in Maryland.
But Audrey Scanlan-Teller, vice president of the Central Maryland Heritage League, said the deal could leave the Western Maryland parkland in worse shape.
Scanlan-Teller, who can see South Mountain from her backyard in Frederick County, said she had two ancestors die in the Civil War battle there and wants to make sure their memory is preserved. She fears a transfer of the land to the federal government, which is experiencing a shutdown and has a massive backlog of maintenance needs at its parks.
“With the current state of affairs in Washington, I see our parks being shortchanged as much as possible,” Scanlan-Teller said. “I cannot see that this would improve the situation.”
She argued the state already does an “excellent job” maintaining the parkland with three newly renovated museum and visitor centers, trails and history programs.
“The Central Maryland Heritage League is concerned that should the park be given to the park service, South Mountain Battlefield will be mothballed because of lack of funding, leaving the story of the battle, which resulted in more than 5,000 casualties, untold,” Scanlan-Teller wrote in a letter to The Baltimore Sun. “All the state and private funding and untold hours of effort that went into making the park what it is today will also be lost.”
Her concerns were echoed by state Sen. Ronald N. Young, a Democrat who represents Frederick County.
“I don’t see why we would want to start giving up state parks,” Young said. “That’s a very popular park there. I just don’t see how it’s a good idea.”
Amid the mounting criticism, Hogan softened his stance on his desire for a Redskins stadium at Oxon Cove Park. Last month, he touted the potential of the park site for the football team, but Wednesday he said he didn’t much care whether the team ultimately relocates there.
“Whether or not it’s ever going to be a stadium, I don’t know,” Hogan said. “That’s up to the people in the area to decide. Doesn’t really matter to me one way or the other.”
Despite the criticism, Hogan said many people support his efforts to keep the Redskins in Maryland.
“We want to get control of that property,” Hogan said of the Prince George’s site. “It’s a gateway to Maryland. Senator [Ben] Cardin agrees with us, as do most people. Right now, it’s not being utilized at all. I think 100 people go there to pet an animal. The federal government wants to get rid of it. We don’t want it to sit lying fallow.”
The park attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually. And, while Cardin said he would like to see the Redskins keep playing in Maryland, he did not specifically endorse the proposed land swap.
“I’m open to finding a suitable location to make that happen,” Cardin said.“This might include potential land swaps, but it would depend on the specifics, which don’t really exist right now.”
Of the Western Maryland site, Hogan said, “the federal government desperately wants to have a Civil War park up in Western Maryland on property we’re not using. It makes perfect sense.”
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the administration is briefing Maryland's federal delegation about the proposed land transaction. She added the Western Maryland parkland will remain parkland under the swap with the National Park Service.
Hogan signed a memorandum of understanding in 2017 with the U.S. Department of the Interior for the potential land swap — the details of which were kept confidential until the document was released last month in response to public information requests.
Both Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch and Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller have spoken out against the proposal, aspects of which would need state legislative support, citing the secrecy of negotiations.
Their criticism isn’t the only hurdle for Hogan’s plan for the 512-acre Oxon Cove Park. State lawmakers are submitting legislation to block the move; the Washington Redskins are exploring other sites; a federal environmental study is needed; and both the General Assembly and the U.S. Congress would have to approve various aspects of the deal.
Miller suggested the Redskins want to relocate to Washington and that Maryland is being used as a bargaining chip.
“There have been no public hearings,” Miller said of the plan. “Are we just being used as a pawn to negotiate for D.C.? The governor’s proposal suffers from a lack of transparency.”
Angela Alsobrooks, the new Prince George’s County executive, supports efforts to keep the Redskins in the county, but said Wednesday that she was not involved in the governor’s plans.
“That’s a matter between him and the federal government,” she said. “I haven’t been a part of any discussion about that land.”
But Marc Weller, the president of Weller Development Co., said Oxon Cove Park — which is home to a farm museum, bike paths and trails — would be an “incredible location for a large-scale new development including a stadium.”
“Coupling a stadium with a mixed-use development that complements and embraces the surrounding community while promoting local businesses would set the table for success,” Weller said in an email. “The first step is to engage the local community for input and ideas. Obviously a project like this would create a significant number of jobs along with significant state and local revenues.”
And state Sen. Michael Hough, a Frederick County Republican, said he believes critics are being too hard on the governor’s plan.
“I don’t have any objections to it,” Hough said. “The National Park Service does a great job serving parks and running them. They may even do a better job than the state. From what I hear, the site in Prince George’s is an ideal location for a stadium. If Martin O’Malley had done this, they’d be praising him for such a great business deal. I don’t see any downside to it.”
Noon Thursday: This story has been updated to correct the acreage of Oxon Cove Park. The Sun regrets the error.
4 p.m. Thursday: This story was updated with a comment from Sen. Ben Cardin.