All this time, county had plan behind sewer crisis

February 04, 1997

Oh dear heavens, how shortsighted have we all been?

Dense, if you will.

Because the Washington County water and sewer crisis isn't a crisis after all. In fact, it seems the past board of county commissioners PLANNED the water and sewer crisis as a way to help reopen Fort Ritchie.

I wish I could say I was making this up, but I heard it with my own ears at the annual Washington County Commissioners' State of the County Address to the Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

This inspired a few questions in my mind, like how the County Commissioners knew back in 1986 that Fort Ritchie was closing, but then I got caught up in the whole vision thing and forgot to ask.


Here's how the basic theory works, according to County Commissioner Ron Bowers:

No, wait. First we need to point out that although the closure of Fort Ritchie will save the county sewer system, Fort Ritchie is not really closing. "It's not a closure, it's a re-use," Bowers said.

Oh, OK. It's a little awkward, though. "Hey, Phil, I hear another store is re-using in downtown Hagerstown..."

Anyway, the theory goes like this: Fort Ritchie will be used to train people. These people will then go to work in new businesses built in the Newgate Industrial Park near Williamsport. And these businesses generate revenue for the county by using the Conococheague sewer-treatment plant. And voila! Our crops, they're saved! No more sewer crisis.

In review: Let's radically overbuild our sewer system at a cost of millions of dollars then use the closure, sorry, re-use of a huge county employer to train people to use the radically overbuilt sewer system.

Creative as I like to think I am, I could not have thought of this.

And hey, it may work; who's to say?

And at least the county has a plan. To my knowledge this is the first firm plan since the commissioners wanted to make Washington County the bakery capital of North America.

We can figure out the details later. Like why it is you need to train people at the high-tech, fiber-optic intensive Fort Ritchie for two years so they can go work in a Newgate Industrial Park warehouse.

I will say this. Bowers and the other commissioners are correct in the basic premise that an increase in customers is the key to paying off the sewer debt and softening the increase in residential sewer bill.

If Fort Ritchie can help in this regard, then full speed ahead. In all honesty, I do not mean to belittle the initiative - the idea just caught me a little off-guard, that's all.

It's also better than my own plan, which was more along the lines of legalizing marijuana in Maryland like they did in California and Arizona for medical treatments and then turning Fort Ritchie into a resort for cancer patients who would be free to have one big, daily community smoke out.

This would greatly enhance Washington County's agricultural base because farmers would have a far more lucrative cash crop and would no longer have to rely on unpredictable soybean futures. Also Nibble With Gibbles and other snack food outlets would receive a major boost.

Oh sure, there may be some fistfights over who got to drive the delivery truck up to the base, but these are minor details.

Think of what economic developists like to call the "spin-off" businesses. Head shops, software programs to set up your own head shop, paraphernalia sales for head shops and the slumping-but-revivable fluorescent poster industry. I didn't ask any of them, but I'm fairly certain my fellow Chamber of Commercees would be thrilled at the thought.

Best of all, you could use the profits on marijuana sales to pay off the water and sewer debt.

Tell me Ron Bowers and I aren't light years ahead of our time.

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