Cumberland Times-News

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October 8, 2013

City backs grant proposal for forest management plan

CUMBERLAND — The Mayor and City Council agreed to give their support to a proposal by The Nature Conservancy to apply for a grant to develop a forest management plan for the city’s watershed. The grant proposal was explained by Donnelle Keech, of the conservancy, who said that development of a plan was essential to protect the source of the city’s water.

The decision to support the grant application was taken at Tuesday evening’s mayor and city council meeting at city hall. The grant application is for federal money with a deadline of Oct. 15, or until the date the U.S. government has emerged from its shutdown, Keech said.

Keech also proposed that a conservation easement by the city be considered as part of a long-term plan to manage the forest surrounding the lakes that provide Cumberland with drinking water. City officials took no action on that idea. The easement, if it came about, would keep the land under city ownership, but limit certain uses that conflicted with conservation of the forests surrounding the watershed, Keech said. The easement could also help with limited city resources, allowing the city to take advantage of Pennsylvania and Maryland state natural resource departments to help manage the forest land, Keech said.

A proposal which would have transferred ownership of the forest land to the Western Maryland Conservancy met a dead end after public opposition in 2010-11. The Pennsylvania organization withdrew their $4 million offer for the land in early 2011.

City Solicitor Michael Cohen said one of the main objections to the Western Maryland Conservancy offer was that it would have resulted in the city giving up ownership of the forests.

Council member Nick Scarpelli emphasized that if a conservation easement was considered in the future, the city should maintain ownership of the land.

Council members were quick to point out that they were only supporting the grant application, and not taking a position on a conservation easement.

Lake Gordon and Lake Koon, which supplies Cumberland’s drinking water, are sister lakes in Bedford County, Pa., separated by a 92-foot high dam. About 4,000 acres of forests surround the lakes. The city owns the land surrounding the lakes and recreational use of the lakes is permitted.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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