Fort Ritchie is a tough sell

December 27, 2001

Fort Ritchie is a tough sell

For three years now we've been fighting doggedly to wrest ownership of Fort Ritchie from the federal government. Now that the government is about to turn it over to us we have a new idea: Give it back.

County Commissioner William Wivell came up with the plan, which would place the old Army base under control of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and his newly formed Department of Homeland Security.

So what are they going to secure us from up there, woodchucks? About the only form of life detected at Ritchie since the base closed has been of the wild variety. I don't know much that Ridge could do up there to go after al-Qaida, but it's aces if he plans to expand the war to al-Bambi.

Wivell wasn't terribly specific about what the Department of Homeland Security would do there, perhaps because the Department of Homeland Security doesn't much seem to know what it should be doing either.


So far it's just sounded a bit like those guards on the city walls from medieval times: "Ten o'clock and all is we-elll. Ten o'clock and all is we-elll. Ten o'clock and all is - RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!"

They can do that from Fort Ritchie, I guess. Or they could use it as Official Dick Cheney Hideout No. 1,495-a.

Following closure of Fort Ritchie in 1998, the PenMar Development Corp. was created to try to find a new use for the 636-acre base and replace all the jobs that were lost when the Army moved out.

That's been a thankless and no-win task because Fort Ritchie isn't in the middle of nowhere, it's way out on the edge of nowhere, about to drop off. CEOs looking to relocate somehow don't relish the thought of snows on the mountain and having to send sustenance to their employees by way of St. Bernard. Marketing Fort Ritchie is like trying to market fishing camps on the moon.

One other leeetle problem is that the Army says there are a number of unexploded shells under the ground left over from old Army training days.

So needless to say, PenMar eagerly supported Wivell's plan, as did other county officials who would love to be rid of this mountaintop albatross.

I don't know what part of the base they want to give to the Department of Homeland Security. I hope it's the part with the bombs under it. That nebulous feeling of a bomb going off at any time would be good training for dealing with terrorists.

And it would serve the department right for all their foggy warnings of potential terrorist attacks of unknown variety at unspecified locales. Personally, I'm getting real tired real fast of these warnings that go something along the lines of "We have it on multiple and credible sources that there is something going on that we don't know about."

Thanks a lot. That's like forgetting your PIN and having the bank tell you that it is almost assuredly not 4921.

In promoting the base to the Homeland Security department, Wivell points out that it is 10 miles from Camp David, 18 miles from Fort Detrick and 75 miles from Washington.

It is handy to be in close proximity like that - or at least it would be if our government didn't have any telephones. Other than that I'm not sure what benefit you get, except that it's a little more chummy.

Ring. "Hello? Yeah, hold on a sec - Hey Yasser? It's Tom over at Homeland Security. He wants to know if we want to pop over for some homemade cornbread."

But hey, if the feds will take it off our hands after we've taken it off there's, I'm all for it. Maybe they'll bite. As one of the Johnsons said in Blazing Saddles, "Hey everybody, the fool's going to do - I mean the sheriff's going to DO it!"

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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