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Closing the Barn Door

Now that his cronies have been paid off, Governor O’Malley is proposing to regularize the process by which the state government acquires land for open space and conservation.

The administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley will propose several steps today designed to make tens of millions of dollars a year in state land conservation purchases more systematic and more transparent.

The move comes at a time when Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) and others have criticized the price and the process that led to some recent multimillion-dollar acquisitions under the state’s four-decade-old Program Open Space.

Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin is scheduled to present the new guidelines, which call for ranking proposed acquisitions by their environmental benefits, to the Board of Public Works this morning. Both O’Malley (D) and Franchot sit on the three-member board, which approves land purchases and state contracts, along with Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D).

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This is the same John R. Griffin who was involved in developing the feasibility study to propose selling the 271 acre Langenfelder property to the state and then approving that purchase after becoming secretary of natural resources.

“We have developed a much more rigorous and quantitative approach based on a variety of ecological criteria,” said Eric Schwaab, deputy secretary of natural resources.

A draft “ranking protocol” obtained by The Washington Post awards points based on several other factors as well, including a property’s potential recreation and historic value and its consistency with local land-use planning.

Schwaab said the department also wants to take a more active role in identifying land for conservation. Critics say the program relies too heavily on landowners coming forward to sell property, which can raise questions about political favoritism and sweetheart deals.

Favoritism? My gosh, does that happen?

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