Bartlett pressing to use Fort Ritchie as intelligence agency backup

November 11, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who once backed the use of the former Fort Ritchie as a home for the new U.S. Homeland Security agency, now says he's touting the site to various intelligence agencies that need back-up facilities in case of disaster.

Bartlett, in town earlier this month, said that he's invited a number of intelligence agencies and some of their contractors to tour the old fort, for several reasons.

The first is that all of them are now required to have a "continuation of operations" plan in case of a disaster and Fort Ritchie meets the criteria because it's within two hours and 60 miles of many of their existing installations.

The fort also has a state-of-the-art communications system which could quickly be converted to their needs, Bartlett said. And the remote location, a minus for many businesses, is just what intelligence agencies want.


The negotiations have been complicated, Bartlett said, because some agencies aren't sure they want to be neighbors with businesses where there's a great deal of in-and-out traffic.

Asked how PenMar Development Corporation is dealing with that possibility, Bartlett said that "for several months now they have not been aggressively marketing there."

Brett Wilson, chairman of the PMDC board, said that marketing has been delayed but mainly because the bankruptcy filling of the Role Models Academy made it impossible for the Army to transfer any property.

"Circumstances didn't give us anything to market," he said.

Another problem cited by Bartlett is that some agencies require a secured perimeter and there's a public road that abuts the base. In that case, he said it might be necessary for the county to buy some nearby homes to extend the perimeter.

The expense would be justified, he said, because if the agencies relocate, they will pay up to $300 per square foot in rent for up to 70,000 square feet of leasable space.

"It's a good location because the infrastructure is already there and it's within the air security perimeter of the Camp David presidential retreat," Bartlett said.

The jobs such agencies would yield would certainly fall into the high-tech category, though I'd bet most of the job growth would come as a result of employee relocations rather than new hires.

But as an economic development specialist once pointed out to me, even a high-tech facility needs a support staff. At least this is a plan that makes sense, because since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, many private businesses have put together plans to keep operating in the event of a disaster, natural or otherwise.

Bartlett also talked about the following subjects:

  • Funding for local projects. That $31 million he asked for to upgrade local security procedures - without success - has been placed into a number of appropriations bills. I asked Bartlett whether getting the cash that way would force him to accept a process he detests, where all sorts of unrelated items are bundled into an appropriations bill.

    "In general we like to limit spending," Bartlett said, "but once Congress has decided to do it, we try to get it to spend for our people."

  • On what he feels is the difficulty of fighting the war against terrorism without eroding civil liberties.

    "We've detained more than 1,000 people who haven't been charged with anything. They can't call their lawyers, can't call their families. I'm concerned that our civil liberties are at risk," he said.

  • The region's transportation needs. Not only does Interstate 81 need to be widened and a runway lengthened at the Hagerstown Regional Airport, but there needs to be a new north-south corridor to bring traffic to far Western Maryland.

    "Your go from I-81 to (Interstate) 79 before you see a north-south corridor," he said.

  • The House resolution to give President Bush authority to move against Iraq.

    "I just as easily could have voted against that resolution," he said, adding that it was unwise to "turn over the authority as if it were the king's army."

Bartlett said his concern was that if the U.S. goes ahead without a coalition of allies, it could cast the war as America against the Arab world.

In that case, he said, the oil-producing countries might feel compelled to cut off shipments to the U.S., a weapon for which he says the U.S., has no counter.

"If they cut off our oil, Bush would be under pressure to go get it and Russia wouldn't allow that," Bartlett said, adding that there doesn't seem to be a long-term strategy.

"My concern and that of a lot of my colleagues is if there's no end game, then what?" he said.

But Bartlett said that in the end he voted for the resolution to support the president and show unanimity. Still, he said, he hopes the president will return to Congress before any major move.

- Health care. Bartlett said the problem is that most recipients of health care perceive that it's not their money. He said he would move ownership of the policy to employees and have employers contribute in a way that would reward employees who took preventative measures. Long-term care also needs to be built into every insurance policy, he said.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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