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A battle with no risks

January 26, 1999

Give Del. Sue Hecht credit. The Frederick County delegate may not succeed in her quest to bring a state police training center to Fort Ritchie, but by pushing the proposal, she may be able to draw attention to the site for other possible uses.

It will be an uphill fight, however. The original proposal called for the $53 million complex to be built in Sykesville in Carroll County, where a $10 million police driver-training course opened last year and a $5 million shooting range is under construction.

Sykesville is the home county of Richard Dixon, the state's treasurer and a member of Maryland's Board of Public Works. In addition, the Sykesville site has the support of Comptroller William D. Schaefer. Faced with a full plate of items he wants passed, Gov. Parris Glendening may yield on the Sykesville site, though his staff says the rural setting doesn't mesh with the state's "Smart Growth" anti-sprawl program.

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Nor does Fort Ritchie, says John Frece, the governor's special assistant for Smart Growth. Frece says it doesn't make sense to have officers drive to a rural area for training, and that it would add to the air pollution and traffic congestion.

We disagree. If every officer drove a separate car, the congestion argument might hold water, but we assume those headed to training will carpool. And the air pollution caused by police training would certainly be no more than that produced when the base was a fully functioning military installation.

We suspect that the governor has a more urban setting in mind, like Baltimore or Prince George's County, but we would urge Del. Hecht not to yield without a fight. Fort Ritchie has everything a training center needs - housing, meeting rooms and a network of roads.

And as Washington County officials learned when industrial client began snapping up sites next to the Washington County Detention Center, businesses like to see those police cruisers going up and down the road. As we said, even if she loses this one, the battle should let the next batch of clients know that Fort Ritchie is open and ready for business.

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