Our Issues‎ > ‎

Tech Park in Bryans Road Conserved!

On October 30, 2018, Charles County Commissioners Amanda Stewart, Ken Robinson, and Peter Murphy adopted a conservation easement that protects 208 environmentally sensitive acres protecting the headwaters of one of Mattawoman's finest streams. The easement is held by the Conservancy for
Charles County, a local land trust, while the county retains ownership and may use the land for environmental education.

The action favorably closes an unpleasant chapter in Charles County's history that began in 2008 when a previous board of commissioners joined developers in a public-private partnership to convert the forest into an industrial park, with taxpayers assuming all the risk and on the hook to provide sewer and water for an obsolete "greenfield development."

The failed project aimed to manufacture and research explosive devices next to two schools and a state park. The ill-conceived project collapsed for lack of tenants, and the developers backed out.  The forming documents of the partnership forced the county to buy the land back from the developers for $6.4 million, even though it was only assessed at about half that at the time. Since then, speculators continued to clamor for development. But in July 2016 Commissioners Peter Murphy, Ken Robinson, and Amanda Stewart adopted a new comprehensive land-use plan that calls for zoning the site for conservation.

At the time the partnership was devised, the The Board of Commissioners comprised Reuben Collins, Sam Graves, Edith Patterson, Gary Hodge, with Wayne Cooper as president. How the deal was decided is clouded in mystery. The commissioners misleadingly named the scheme the "Indian Head Science and Technology Park," despite its being in the town of Bryans Road, because they wanted people to believe it was related to the Naval Support Facility in Indian Head (it isn't). These commissioners forged ahead with a zoning change against strong public opposition. Among the objections:

(i) taxpayers assumed all the risk;
(ii) taxpayers had to supply expensive infrastructure like water and sewer, amounting to millions of dollars;
(iii) the site is extremely sensitive environmentally;
(iv) the wisdom of producing explosive materials next to schools is questionable.

The project is still being pushed by developers who for years have tried to urbanize the area with public subsidies, even though infrastructure is already available in Waldorf, and the town of Indian Head has boarded-up buildings. In fact, a belated taxpayer-funded market study concluded that the site's location and isolation made it undesirable for commercialization. As a vice-president of one of the developers said before the deal was made too sweet to pass up, the site is "in the middle of nowhere."

An environmentally poor choice

The site is sensitive to an extraordinary degree. The 277 acres:
  • is fully forested, including ecologically valuable "hub forest" within a "targeted ecological area,"
  • is laced with streams,
  • is almost 50% stream valley, which should be protected according to the Army Corps of Engineers,
  • is adjacent to Maryland Wildlands,
  • contains a Wetland of Special State Concern,
  • is mostly deep forest habitat for forest-interior dwelling wildlife,
  • forms the headwaters of an especially high‐quality tributary feeding Mattawoman Creek,
  • is in a Stronghold Watershed, most important for protecting Maryland's aquatic biodiversity, and
  • contains uncommon Sweetbay Magnolia seepage swamps, and an officially rare wildflower.

The site's location next to two schools, J.C. Parks Elementary and Matthew Henson Middle, make it an ideal asset for an outdoor environmental education center. In fact, J.C. Parks was the first school Governor O'Malley visited when he launched Maryland's Explore and Restore Your Schoolshed initiative.

The maps below compare a schematic development plan to the site's many important ecological assets. These assets are copied from the Water Resources Registry, a state and federal assessment aimed at locating lands suitable for development and lands better left protected. Clearly, by every measure, this "greenfield" site is inappropriate for development.