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County still in the race to house TWA 800 wreck

April 09, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Washington County could learn this summer whether it will house the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 and a national training center.

The National Transportation Safety Board will formally solicit bids by mid-May, U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., said Wednesday.

The agency is seeking a new home for the remains of the jet that crashed off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., nearly three years ago. It also is considering merging the rebuilt Boeing 747 with a national training center.

Investigators have rebuilt about 95 percent of the Trans World Airlines airplane from pieces recovered from the Atlantic Ocean. But they have not determined what caused the crash.

Bartlett said he is confident Washington County has a leg up on its two principal rivals, sites near John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.

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"It's going to be awfully hard to beat our bid here," he said.

Thomas B. Riford, marketing director for Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, also expressed optimism.

Riford said the NTSB could house the plane in Washington County for far less than the $4.5 million a year it is paying now.

Although the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the NTSB's budget represents the Dulles area, Riford said the agency told local officials that they would be invited to bid on the proposal.

"That would indicate to me that we're still in the hunt," he said.

Washington County bought a 19-acre property last week where the hangar and training facility could be built. The land is off Interstate 81 near Hagerstown Regional Airport.

In addition to providing the space for less money, Riford said Washington County has a number of other advantages, including proximity to Washington and sufficient hotel space for conferences.

The county also has two major highways and a strong railroad heritage, Riford said. The NTSB investigates rail and highway accidents, in addition to aircraft accidents.

"We kind of are all of these things that the NTSB is all about," he said.

Riford and Hagerstown Regional Airport Manager Carolyn S. Motz will write the bid proposal. Motz said she does not know how much the project would cost.

One method would be to get a state loan to build a hangar and then repay the loan with rent money. Riford said the county also has hangar space available at the former Fairchild Industries building.

"I just have to think we're a really excellent location for it," Motz said.

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