Power Plant at Inner Harbor.

Power Plant at Inner Harbor, restaurants on water.

By Dana Amihere

The Board of Public Works on Wednesday asked the the state’s wetlands administration to explain the high compensation rates of $175 per square foot proposed for three Cordish Power Plant restaurants in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor — Hard Rock, Dick’s Last Resort and Phillips Seafood.

The establishments’ wetlands licenses include fees charged by the state for use of the Patapsco River diverted from its intended use as navigable waters, and  for the direct impact the licensee’s activities will have on the aquatic environment.

The licensing items were officially withdrawn from consideration at this week’s meeting by the executive secretary of the Board of Public Works, Sheila McDonald. But Comptroller Peter Franchot insisted on debating the fairness of the “confiscatory” rates charged to install a roof over the eating and bar area of an existing pier.

Assessing a rate of $175 per square foot is “obviously ridiculous,” Franchot said, and would essentially be a “non-starter,” noting that the highest rate he’d ever heard of for a similar use in Annapolis was $132 per square foot.

An alternate appraisal of $110 per square foot for the value of the over-water rights had been presented to the Maryland Environment Department, but the department chose the higher appraisal.

At about 4,500 square feet, Phillips Seafood has the largest pier and would owe nearly $780,000 above and beyond the project’s construction costs.

“Why should state agencies pull this out of of these businesses?” Franchot asked. “I understand budgets are tight and I guess that they’re looking to beef up their own general fund, but this is clearly not acceptable.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley noted that it’s within the Board’s discretion to reduce the fee, or as in the case of Maryland Broadband in 2008, charge nothing at all for putting in cabling across a state bridge.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp questioned the legality of the projects citing legislation which prohibits structures from being built on piers. O’Malley noted that exceptions to those laws can be granted, and characterized the renovation projects as creating “floating restaurants,”

No decision was made on the proposed licensing fees. The board asked Wetlands Administrator Doldon Moore to come back with some answers in two when the items would be put back on the agenda for discussion and a vote.