Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"Here's what we've done to help." [Testimony at today's Board of Ed meeting]

Good morning, 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 on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park. Today, I’d like to suggest an area where, with your assistance, we may find common ground.

As I testified here two weeks ago, a threshold issue exists for you, the county, and the state, in connection with the actual availability of the park site for construction of a school. Documentation shows that, in 1992, federal Land and Water Conservation Funds were used to develop Rock Creek Hills Park. 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. There is third-hand information that Program Open Space (POS) funding may also have been used here, and, if that is the case, restrictions similar to those of the LWCF may apply regarding conversion of the site. For this reason, and to ascertain how the Department of Natural Resources will enforce conversion restrictions, we wrote to the DNR Secretary soliciting his clarification. To date, we have heard nothing from the DNR Secretary on this matter.

Regardless of how one feels about site selection, I think we can all agree that understanding the availability of the site is key to avoiding wasting time, resources, and scarce tax dollars pursuing an option that may not exist. Here's what we've done to help: In addition to contacting the DNR Secretary to seek to clarify the sources of funds, accompanying restrictions, and enforcement, members of our community are also reaching out to Governor O’Malley, to our federal Senators and Congressional Representative, to our state Senators and Delegates, and to our local representatives, to seek clarity on the status of the park.

In the absence of the DNR Secretary's response, it would help the process greatly if you would reach out to these parties and seek their assistance to help clarify the situation. Doing so would be consistent with the due diligence that is required in any site selection, and in this case, it could help avoid enforcement actions or threats to future funding. Please know that we stand ready in this regard to assist you in any way that we can.

Thank you.

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