Monday, September 26, 2011

"... now we are facing more than a matter of opinion." [Testimony at tonight's Board of Ed meeting]

Good evening, Dr. Starr, Mr. Barclay, and members of the Board.

My name is James Pekar. I have appeared before you several times to speak against building a school in Rock Creek Hills Park because new information just keeps coming up, information that, arguably, should have been addressed during the course of the site selection committee’s work.

Today, I point you to potential legal impediments to the conversion of the park to school use that need to be clarified. There exists documentation that, in 1992, more than $171,000 was authorized from the federal Land and Water Conservation Funds available to the county to develop Rock Creek Hills Park. (You have a copy, attached to my written testimony.) Under the law, parks developed with these funds may not be converted from park use without providing replacement land of equal value in the community. We also have learned that the state Department of Natural Resources believes state Program Open Space funds were used for such development. Under the law, conversion restrictions similar to the LWCF apply.

DNR has said that its “practice” is not to enforce POS restrictions beyond 20 years from the use of funds, but our community does not see authority for this “practice” in law. For that reason, and to identify actual fund sources, we have asked the DNR Secretary to clarify this matter. (A copy of the letter is attached.)

Understandably, people can disagree on the issues of parks versus schools, but now we are facing more than a matter of opinion. We have an issue of law, and the county’s and state’s obligation under the law. An incorrect decision here may trigger enforcement action and/or have an impact on future funding to this state.

With such issues at stake, I ask that you, as stewards of the public’s resources, act prudently. Please halt activity in Rock Creek Hills Park until the provenance of park development funds and associated restrictions is understood, so that we may avoid inadvertently triggering a violation of law.

Thank you.


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