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Couple ? Efforts to block hospital construction being opposed

November 30, 1999|By DAN DEARTH

A Hagerstown couple told the city council last month that their efforts to block the construction of a hospital on Robinwood Drive are being opposed by elected officials at the county and state levels.

Gordon and Janet Bartels and three other people are clinging to an appeal that they filed last year with the state's Court of Special Appeals to challenge the decision to build a hospital on Robinwood Drive.

The current hospital is in downtown Hagerstown.

"There has been tremendous pressure for us to drop the appeal," Gordon Bartels told the council.

The couple did not mention the identities of the public officials during the council meeting. They also did not respond to several phone messages from a reporter asking for the public officials' names.

Several state lawmakers representing portions of Washington County ? Sen. Donald F. Munson, Del. Robert A. McKee, Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. and Del. Christopher B. Shank, all Republicans; and Democratic Del. John P. Donoghue ? denied the couple's claims.

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Myers and Shank said in an interview with The Herald-Mail earlier this week that the appeal should end. Shank called the court challenge "frivolous."

Both legislators said they support a bill, which has not been filed, that would require litigants to post a bond when disputing medical-facility zoning or land-use decisions in court.

The bill would hold appellants liable for construction expenses connected to court delays.

Washington County Commissioners John F. Barr, Terry Baker and William J. Wivell said they didn't talk to the couple.

Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Kristin B. Aleshire, on the other hand, admitted they had conversations with the couple about the appeal.

"I didn't really ask them to drop the appeal, but I had a lengthy debate on the issue," Aleshire said.

Aleshire said he supports the couple's right to appeal, but that costs associated with the resulting delay are costing the county money.

The most recent cost estimate to build the hospital was $255 million. In January, James Hamill, president and CEO of the Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company, said delays caused by a court case could add an additional $150 million to the cost.

Aleshire said he favored building the hospital at the Allegheny Power site on Downsville Pike because that was the most cost-efficient proposal.

Although Kercheval said he supports the couple's right to appeal, he agreed with Aleshire that the appeal is costing the county too much money.

"I wasn't arguing with the Bartels," he said. "(And) ... I don't object to the Bartels' belief that it should have gone a different way."

Kercheval said he is worried that backlogs in the appeals court could cause a lengthy delay.

"It's been looked at multiple times through the cycle," Kercheval said. "It could have a major effect on the taxpayers of this county."

He said a new hospital is needed because Washington County Hospital has outdated equipment, and the emergency room is serving about 70 percent more patients than was intended.

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