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Starting over on Ritchie

April 02, 2003

"And other interested parties."

For lack of those four simple words in a previous advertisement, the process of determining what will happen to the former Fort Ritchie Army base will start all over again, based on a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. While this is a setback for the effort to redevelop the old fort, it's a chance for PenMar Development to begin a more open process that embraces the community as a partner.

The court based its decision on an advertisement placed following the 1998 shutdown of the base. Within 30 days of the property being declared surplus, the court said that PenMar should have advertised the time period in which it would receive applications for re-use from "representatives of the homeless and other interested parties."

But PenMar's ad left out the last four words, so now it must advertise again, giving applicants 90 days to propose uses for the site.

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Let us say that one of the worst possible uses of the site would be any sort of shelter for the homeless. The old fort, built on top of a mountain and far from any medical or job-training facility, would be an impractical homeless shelter site - unless the purpose was to put the homeless out of sight and out of mind.

A better possibility would be an educational facility, such as a trade school, which would tie in with redevelopment efforts there. A school that taught personal computer repair would be a perfect fit with a company that utilized the latest computer technology. Internships are only one of the possibilities.

No doubt some of the proposals made for base re-use will be pie-in-the-sky ideas that depend on grant funding at a time when such sources of cash are drying up. PenMar and the Cascade community should oppose such ideas.

When Fort Ritchie closed, 2,000 jobs were lost, and in four years, little has happened to replace them. The remote site is a difficult sell, to be sure, which is why PenMar needs the community's help in that effort. Cascade area citizens may not be economic-development experts, but because their community's prosperity depends on the success of that effort, they are highly motivated.

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