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$800,000 offered for land rights

October 20, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

The U.S. Department of the Interior has offered to pay the City of Hagerstown $800,000 to secure rights to 576 acres near the Appalachian Trail, but city officials think they can get more money.

The agreement discussed Tuesday in the City Council's work session would be between the city and the National Park Service. It would cover land on South Mountain near Smithsburg that is city-owned and is one of the city's water sources.

The city would maintain ownership of the land, but the use of the land would be restricted.

"I don't think they're highballing this offer," Mayor William M. Breichner said during the meeting. "I don't want to leave any money on the table."

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City Attorney John Urner agreed, and said it would be worthwhile to try to negotiate a higher price with the federal government.

The Appalachian Trail covers more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. The portion that runs through Maryland runs along South Mountain, which is shared by Washington and Frederick counties.

City officials did not argue against the main portion of the agreement, which Urner said has been discussed for several years.

The tract in the agreement runs along a portion of the trail east of Smithsburg and crosses Warner Gap Hollow Road and Md. 491.

The agreement would ban logging within 300 feet of the trail and hunting within 500 feet. Throughout the land discussed in the agreement, no motorized vehicles would be allowed, except during emergencies or for trail work.

New fire trails would not be allowed closer than 100 feet to the Appalachian Trail, except in emergencies, and fire roads could not be wider than 12 feet.

City officials agreed with changes to the agreement that Urner suggested, including how the agreement would take place and when the city would be reimbursed by the federal government for costs.

Christopher Bordlemay, Water and Sewer Department assistant manager, said the agreement would not affect the city's needs for water management.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner asked for a speedy conclusion to the agreement.

"I think it's time to close it out, take the $800,000 and see what to do with it," Metzner said. He suggested earmarking the money for other land purchases needed to preserve the city's water supply.

Urner said the city had not thoroughly evaluated the federal government's offer and had not made a counteroffer.

The agreement had been scheduled for approval at next Tuesday's council voting session, but will not be considered until Urner reports back with progress on the price negotiations and the other proposed changes to the document, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said after the meeting.

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