From: Gretchen Parker, Associated Press
Published November 25, 2004 12:00 AM

Maryland Governor's List of Surplus Property Alarms Environmentalists, Legislators

ANNAPOLIS, Md. − Gov. Robert Ehrlich wants to sell off land, buildings and other surplus state property in a plan that has alarmed environmentalists and led to a feud with Maryland's biggest and most influential newspaper, The (Baltimore) Sun.


Ehrlich so far has gotten rid of 300 cars, the state yacht and a plane. But his administration's inventory of "excess" property also includes 3,000 acres of land that mostly lies in and around state parks, leading to an outcry from environmental advocates who call the plan a "fire sale" of treasured areas.


Ehrlich this week said that the inventory is merely an inventory and not a for-sale list.


But his critics are skeptical. They point to the administration's recently aborted deal to sell 800 acres of sensitive timberland to a politically connected developer, Willard Hackerman. He is a longtime friend of the state comptroller, who is an Ehrlich ally, and would have bought the land without bidding for it. Hackerman would have received a tax break worth up to $7 million.


The deal fell through after a series of articles in The Sun examined it and the Republican governor's broader goal of selling off state property.


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Ehrlich angrily called the coverage slanted and inaccurate. Last week, he ordered press officers in 19 state agencies to stop talking to The Sun's State House bureau chief until further notice.


The governor continued to slam the newspaper Wednesday on talk shows on Baltimore and Washington radio. On Washington's WTOP-AM/FM, he blasted the newspaper's coverage as including "made-up context, made-up quotes, made-up stories."


Timothy A. Franklin, editor of The Sun, said he has been trying since last week to arrange a meeting with Ehrlich.


"He continues to go out in public and attack the newspaper and attack our journalists in these kind of vague generalities, but then steadfastly refuses to have a discussion about the specifics of those attacks," Franklin said.


Ehrlich issued a 600-word statement this week that attempted to explain his side of the controversy. The land list, he wrote, is part of his effort to run a leaner government. He emphasized that some of it could be turned over to local officials and would not necessarily be sold to developers. He pledged that parks and public forest "never were and never will be for sale."


The list, released under laws governing the public's access to state documents, is now well-publicized.


"I can't go anywhere without someone jumping on me: 'Is our park for sale?'" said Dru Scmidt-Perkins, director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, a coalition that advocates growth management. "We can't keep up with the calls and e-mails we're getting."


The controversy also has stirred leading Democratic lawmakers to propose a constitutional amendment that would tighten up the process for selling state land. Major sales currently need the approval only of a three-member board that includes Ehrlich, State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and the state treasurer.


The amendment would require sales to gain approval of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.


Source: Associated Press


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