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Promoters seeking up to $190,000 for Civil War museum

July 06, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski promised the Washington County Commissioners Tuesday she would work to get the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 moved to the Hagerstown Regional Airport and to convince the U.S. Army to deed its Fort Ritchie land to the PenMar Development Corp.

She also said she would meet with President Clinton in the next week about finding a way to stop HMOs used by Medicare recipients from pulling out of rural counties because of low reimbursement rates and government regulations she described as "Draconian."

She noted that CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield said last Thursday it would halt service to 14,000 members in 17 rural Maryland counties, including about 1,100 senior citizens in Washington County, because providing the service was too expensive.

Airport Manager Carolyn Motz told Mikulski, D-Md, that the county airport has submitted a proposal to be the storage site for the remains of the TWA jet that crashed off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., in July 1996. The National Transportation Safety Board is looking at three possible sites for the plane and a national training center.

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The two principal rivals are near John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.

While the NTSB has promised a decision by Aug. 1 it has not formally requested or accepted bids for the project, Motz said.

Mikulski said she would write a letter strongly endorsing placing the plane and the training center in Washington County. She said she would have U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md, write a similar letter. She said, however, their letters probably would compete with endorsements from legislators representing the other areas in the running.

Mikulski also said she would work to resolve a problem with the former Fort Ritchie land.

The 638-acre Army base in northeastern Washington County closed last September, and the U.S. Army still owns the land. A major factor delaying the transfer of land to Washington County is weaponry, including unexploded mortar shells and hand grenades, that military authorities believe could be buried on the property.

Before turning over the property, Army officials say they must find and remove any unexploded ordnance.

The transfer delay is hampering PenMar's efforts to convert the land into a technology park, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said. He said if PenMar were given title to the land it could make sure any weapons are removed.

Mikulski suggested Shoop have someone prepare "a stern and feisty letter" describing the county's and PenMar's frustration with the delays and send it to her.

She said she would deliver such a letter to someone at a high level within the Department of Defense.

PenMar, which has been criticized by some residents in nearby Cascade for moving too slowly, wants the ability to sell lots to companies. The International Masonry Institute, one of two tenants on the former base, would like to break ground on a new $40 million facility.

Tuesday's was the first formal meeting between Mikulski and four new commissioners elected in November 1998.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook missed the meeting because he was out of town. Vice President Paul L. Swartz chaired the meeting.

Mikulski apologized for not meeting with the commissioners earlier. She said the Clinton impeachment proceedings and her gall bladder surgery delayed an official meeting.

Sarbanes will meet with the County Commissioners in mid-August, Mikulski said.

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