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Waste plant may have been costly mistake

July 20, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

In the seven years before Washington County's costly industrial pretreatment plant was built, costs ballooned, grants fell through, a potential customer said it was too expensive and surveys showed existing businesses didn't need it.

Still, the Washington County Sanitary Commission and the Washington County Commissioners gambled that spending $9 million to build the Conococheague Industrial Pretreatment facility the would spur economic development.

Instead of producing jobs, the plant, which opened in 1994, has produced a $2.34 million river of red ink that helped spur a property tax hike this year.

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The plant will continue to lose about $1 million a year unless it gets more customers, according to county projections.

The more than $11 million invested in the plant so far is equal to about $86 per county resident.

Depending on who you ask, the plant is either a classic example of government waste or a rough diamond that needs a little polish.

"Basically it's an $11 million gamble that didn't pay off," said County Commissioner James R. Wade, who became a commissioner after the plant was built.

Wade said that with hindsight the plant was clearly a mistake.

"How many businesses put up an $11 million building and hope they find somebody to fill it?" Wade said.

The plant hasn't attracted companies or jobs to the county, said coordinator Sharon Disque at the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Water and Sewer Director Greg Murray said Wal-Mart located its photo processing plant near the pretreatment plant in the Interstate 70/81 Business Park in 1994 in part because of the pretreatment plant, but Disque said the company probably would have come without it. Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. Inc. now runs the operations at the plant and employs about 200 people, according to the EDC.

Disque said she didn't see any projects on the horizon of the type that would use the plant, either.

"Frankly, those projects are few and far between," she said.

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