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Possible Ritchie tenants kept 'confidential'

April 10, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is in discussions with potential tenants for the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base, but the matter is so sensitive that the identities of the potential tenants can't be revealed, his press secretary said Tuesday.

"They said, 'Any wisp of who we might be and we will walk,'" press secretary Lisa Wright said. "The sensitivity is so high that an identity in even a very general sense of who the potential tenant might be could kill the whole possibility."

Wright said Bartlett, R-Md., had taken "officials from federal government agencies" to tour Fort Ritchie "on a confidential basis."

A Cascade-area organization said the secrecy over the potential tenants of Fort Ritchie is worrying residents in the area.

"Congressman Bartlett or anybody else in the county government hasn't given the community any clue of what this potential tenant might be and what its impact might be for this community," said Karl Weissenbach, co-chair of the One Mountain Foundation.

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Weissenbach and foundation Co-Chair Bob Davis said the buzz around the area is that Bartlett is trying to bring federal government offices - possibly Homeland Security offices - to the former base.

A spokeswoman for the Office of Homeland Security said Tuesday she hadn't heard anything about the possibility of agency offices being located at Fort Ritchie.

The One Mountain Foundation is a nonprofit group formed to help improve the quality of life in the communities of Cascade, Sabillasville, Md., Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., and Greenstone, Pa.

There are several federal government installations near Cascade.

Weissenbach said the former Fort Ritchie is about three miles from Site R, an underground military command center in southern Pennsylvania. Presidential retreat Camp David is about 10 miles away.

In October, Washington County Commissioner William Wivell sent a letter to Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge asking that the agency consider Fort Ritchie as headquarters for the office.

White House officials rejected the proposal, saying the Office of Homeland Security already had a facility in an undisclosed area of Washington.

The PenMar Development Corp., which was created by the state to redevelop Fort Ritchie and replace jobs that were lost when the base shut down in 1998, backed the proposal.

PenMar Board Chairman Brett Wilson declined to comment on whether discussions to bring Homeland Security offices to Fort Ritchie had resurfaced.

"We never discuss prospects," Wilson said. "We keep all negotiations quiet."

Wivell, a member of the PenMar board, said Tuesday he heard a few months ago that federal agencies were looking at Fort Ritchie, but said he hasn't heard anything since. He said he didn't know which agencies might have been interested in using the space.

"I would think that if the prospect was there, we would have heard about it," Wivell said.

Weissenbach said the One Mountain Foundation isn't opposed to Homeland Security offices, or any other federal offices, being located at the former base, but he has concerns that such high-level offices would make the base inaccessible for community use.

Areas of the base would be ideal in helping to revitalize the area, which was hurt economically when the base closed, he said.

"Will that mean that Fort Ritchie would be off-limits to the community again?" Weissenbach said. "We don't want that."

Washington County Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said he hadn't heard of any new plans for Fort Ritchie.

He said potential clients of the base may wish to remain confidential during negotiations.

"You have to respect their right to privacy," Iseminger said.

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