Some 250 acres around a Laurel-area youth rehabilitation facility have officially been set aside for preservation, fulfilling the terms of a two-year-old settlement between the District of Columbia and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
District officials announced last week that they had executed a deal with the State of Maryland and local conservation groups to protect the land, which is part of a federally-owned tract that includes the New Beginnings Youth Development Center.
The agreement—known as a conservation easement—is designed to "preserve open space, to protect the natural wildlife habitat … and to foster low impact recreational uses and activities," according to a statement from the District.
In 2010, D.C. officials reached a settlement with the EPA over alleged mishandling of underground storage tanks at the site. The agency had accused the District of failing to install proper safeguards on 14 tanks or register them with the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Under the agreement, the District was required to pay $73,489 in fines, to remove the tanks, and to extract approximately 725 tons of contaminated soil. Officials also committed to establishing a conservation project at the site, which resulted in the new easement.
The District will continue to bear responsibility for the land, but three organizations—the Maryland Environmental Trust, the Scenic Rivers Land Trust, and the Patuxent Tidewater Land Trust—will be allowed to access the plot and ensure that the conditions of the easement are being met.
Situated between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD-295), the Patuxent Freeway (MD-32), and Fort Meade Road (MD-198), the protected acreage was among 827 acres purchased by the U.S. government in 1923. The notorious Oak Hill Youth Center operated at the site from 1967 until its closure in 2009.
According to the District, the plot features woodlands, wetlands, steep slopes, hydric soil, and a section of the Little Patuxent River. It also serves as a "relatively natural habitat" for forest interior dwelling birds, officials said.