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Agency group, Bartlett visit Ritchie

November 27, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI and TARA REILLY

scottb@herald-mail.com

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., accompanied by representatives of a national security-related agency, toured the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base near Cascade on Tuesday.

Bartlett said his hope is that the agency will lease land on the former base, which is now overseen by the PenMar Development Corp.

PenMar Development Corp. Board Chairman Brett Wilson would not identify the agency or provide details except to say that talks between the agency and PenMar were preliminary.

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Bartlett would not identify the agency, his spokeswoman said.

"It is no secret that I have been working very hard to bring new jobs and new tenants to Fort Ritchie," Bartlett said in a prepared statement.

"That is why I am happy to confirm that I brought representatives of a federal national security-related agency to Fort Ritchie to provide an on-site tour and discussion of its many advantages. I won't do anything that might endanger that possibility," he said.

The fort has a state-of-the-art communications system which could be converted to meet the needs of government agencies, Bartlett has said. The remote location in northeastern Washington County, a minus for many businesses, is what intelligence agencies want, he said.

PenMar Executive Director Richard Rook said the representatives from the agency spent fewer than two hours at the former base.

"I think he (Bartlett) has worked with these people before," Rook said. "He does a great job of supporting the base."

Rook said he could not release additional details because visiting agencies usually ask for anonymity.

In April, Bartlett's press secretary said the congressman was involved in discussions with potential tenants for Fort Ritchie, but the matter was so sensitive that the identities of potential tenants couldn't be revealed.

Rook did not say whether the representatives who visited the base Tuesday were the ones with whom Bartlett was involved in discussions last spring.

There are several federal government installations near Cascade.

Presidential retreat Camp David is about 10 miles away.

Site R, an underground military command center in southern Pennsylvania, is about three miles away.

The Army is paying about $315,000 to lease a barracks building at the base for one year. The barracks is housing an undisclosed number of military police officers who officials say are providing security at nearby Site R.

Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell, a member of the PenMar board, was on hand for Tuesday's visit.

In October 2001, Wivell sent a letter to Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge asking that his agency consider Fort Ritchie for a headquarters.

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

The PenMar Development Corp. was created by the state to redevelop Fort Ritchie and replace jobs that were lost when the base was closed in 1998.

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