A large and angry crowd came to an Upper Marlboro hearing room last week to reiterate their objections to the creation of a scenic park on the Patuxent River.
The occasion was a hearing by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Prince George's County Council on an MNCPPC report listing areas of the county that contain natural resources, large-scale developments, public facilities or other environmental concerns. When adopted by the County Council, the report will become part of a larger state plan to establish management programs for these areas.
Included in the report was the proposed Patuxent Scenic River Park, which drew major opposition last September at a previous MNCPPC hearing. The park would take 55 miles of the Patuxent River shoreline in Prince George's County for conservation, preservation and recreational use.
When represenatives of the Southern Patuxent Concerned Citizens Association, a group of affected landowners, found out that the park plan was contained in the report, they called out their neighbors to object to what they saw as further endorsement of the park.
As the crowd assembled, Council Chairman William B. Amonett of Bradywine called on the Council to strike all mention of a park from the recommended critical areas listing on the Patuxent River, mollifying much of the citizen anger.
But members of the group were determined to testify about their opposition to the commission's park proposal anyway.
"The marshes and wetlands are still there untouched after 300 years of family control," said Thomas Clagett, whose family has owned land in the area since the 1600s. "The Corps of Engineers has said the Patuxent is now little more than an open sewer," he continued.
"If you must send something to the state for critical concern, send the Patuxent River," added his brother Robert.
The report, which cost taxpayers $12,400, sought to identify those areas where the county felt state involvement would be valuable, said Dominic J. Motta, senior park and planning planner. "We may need financial assistance or assistance from the state highway department for priority on certain things. And we made an effort to identify those areas of the highest and most unusual ecological priority," he said.
The Patuxent Scenic River Park was one of 16 specific and 10 general areas included with other environmental concerns such as Belt Wodds, Suitland Bog and Mattawoman Creek, industrial and potential developmental concerns like Central Avenue and the Washington Industrial Park, and federally owned land like the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.
Mary Bottner has a tobacco farm on the river near Mitchellville. She wants "to send the river to them. No one person can scream about how bad it is (the Patuxent) if no private person owns it.
"The heavy chlorine content in the water creates vapors that are ruining my tobacco crop. These are our cash crops. How many families' way of life are you ruining with this plan?" she asked.
Concerned with increased state and county jurisdiction over their property, these rural residents shouted out "socialism" and "communism" to underline their distrust of bureaucrats and what they call land grabbers; their low tolerance for government restrictions.
Dent Downing, president of the citizens group and an Upper Marlboro resident, drew cheers from the crowd as he testified, "From three lines of state legislation to a 360-page book of recommendations - this is an example of the bureaucratic process.The only endangered species here is the citizens."
"We need two pieces of legislation that will change the way," said John Perry, a College Park resident and member of the Prince George's County Civic Federation. "Bring the Park and Planning Commission under your (County Council) control and then if we don't like you we can send you on your way."
Diane Carpenter of White's Landing Road in Brandywine summed up many of her neighbors' feelings when she said, "I am against this book. No one will be safe in your land and home. The only way to live here is if you are very rich or very poor. The middle class have no way here. I support the idea of cleaning up the Patuxent River. But not the land grabs. I can't live in my home without fear of park and planning."
Planner Motta explained that the draft for the recommended areas of critical concern was prepared before the Patuxent Scenic River Park Plan hearing in September. "They (residents) should realize this is a prelimininary plan and they shouldn't consider it a set plan. I didn't anticipate that people would take it as setting boundaries."
Although the state does not require Prince George's County (as a charter county) to incorporate critical areas into county planning, Motta expects that these areas will be noted as they represent county concerns.
The recommendations, in some form, must be adopted by the County Council and submitted to the state by April 1.
As for the Patuxent Scenic River Park Plan, Council members were promised by residents that they have not heard the last on that subject.
One Nottingham resident said, "I say no to birdwatchers, no to the two bus loads of hikers we have in the county. I love the land, I love the river and I've worked on it for 26 years. They'll never do it as long as I can draw a breath from my body.