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Conservation Easement conflict uncovered at public hearing

La Plata, MD - Following a long series of events, the fate of the multi-million dollar tract of 200 acres of land being designated to the Conservancy for Charles County Inc. could be determined in the coming week.

After a going through multiple edits and public hearings, the parcel that was once intended to become the Indian Head Science and Technology Park could now be a lost cause. After spending roughly $6.4 million with hopes of creating jobs and expanding economic development into western Charles County, the parcel is inching closer to being placed into permanent preservation by three of the five Charles County Commissioners.

On Oct. 23, with 15 people scheduled to speak, many familiar faces were found coming to testify for and against the easement for a second time. Various educators and conservancy representatives came out to show support, while the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors(SMAR) and the Chamber of Commerce have led the charge opposing the easement.

Ken Hastings with the Mason Springs Conservancy came out to address the public as to how the commissioners are not “giving anything away.” However, one interesting point was when Hastings suggested investigating campaign contributions for the past board, and was abruptly interrupted by Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy[D] saying “Can we not go there, please?” Hastings’ comments were likely directed at past commissioners receiving campaign contributions from beneficiaries of the technology park. This would be a rebuttal to three of the five of the current county commissioners having accepted campaign contributions from over half of the Board of Directors from the Conservancy for Charles County Inc. as well as from those director’s spouses.

Another notable testimony came from past county commissioner and Democratic candidate for Charles County Commissioners’ President, Reuben Collins. Collins came forth to voice the idea of doing further research and letting the decision roll over for the new board to decide.

However, one strong beam of light may have found its way to halt any final decision. Past Charles County Chamber of Commerce President Evie Hungerford brought to light what could be seen as strong reason to delay this decision.

“Some say this is a done deal,” Hungerford said. “If you are going to take action then it should be done correctly, both ethically and legally, and I request that Commissioner Peter Murphy should recuse himself to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The conservancy gave Commissioner Murphy a heritage award and noted he was a founding member of that group. This goes far beyond being just a member of an organization.”

Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy has served as the head to the Charles County Charitable Trust and is a past president of the conservancy to which this multi-million dollar parcel of land is being gifted. Additionally, Murphy donated his own property to a cooperative member of the conservancy back in 2000, and has received personal tax benefits on his personal income and Charles county property taxes.

One might think that all of these new findings may impact whether or not Murphy should be allowed to vote on these matters. Based on how Murphy has acted as the deciding vote on every decision made regarding the easement, without his vote, any motion regarding the easement would likely die with a tied 2-2 vote.

There has been a work session and request for approval regarding the conservation easement tentatively scheduled for the commissioner’s meeting Oct. 30.

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