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Mikulski says plan needs Bartlett's support

August 08, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Without the support of U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a proposal designed to spur development at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base won't get congressional approval, Sen. Barbara Mikulski said Thursday.

Sens. Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, both D-Md., co-sponsored a bill to speed up the transfer of 33 acres at the fort so the International Masonry Institute could expand its training program there.

But without the support of Bartlett, who is on the House Armed Services Committee, the proposal is unlikely to survive a conference committee debate in September, she said during a meeting with the Washington County Commissioners.

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Bartlett, R-Md., has not decided whether he will support the senators' proposal and is waiting for information from them to prove it's the best way to bring jobs to the area, said his spokeswoman Lisa Wright, contacted by telephone after the meeting.

In the past, Bartlett has said the Masonry Institute would not be an ideal anchor for redevelopment.

PenMar Development Corp., a public-private partnership created to redevelop the base when it was closed in 1998, had asked Bartlett to have all of the base transferred to it, but the request came in too late in the process, she said.

Pending litigation, which has been the main holdup in the redevelopment, might render the congressional action moot, Wright said.

But members of the Cascade Committee, representing residents who live near the closed base, said they believe the Masonry Institute could be expanded while the litigation continues.

They urged Mikulski to fight for her PenMar legislation, saying they are concerned that they know little about PenMar's plans for the rest of the base.

Several top government agencies have shown interest in using the land, along with Bethesda, Md.-based developer Lerner Enterprises, Bartlett's office has said.

Committee members George Drastal and Robin Biser said they have heard similar promises in the past that never came to fruition.

"Bartlett wants to hand over the land before he knows what's going to be there," Drastal said.

Mikulski said Bartlett may know something about the redevelopment that her office does not.

"Ours was a measured, prudent approach," she said.

Several new members of the Washington County Commissioners said they were undecided about how the redevelopment should proceed because they don't have enough information.

"These are things you have to be cautious about," said Commissioner James Kercheval.

Commissioner Doris Nipps said she has mixed feelings about conveying the entire base as opposed to one piece.

"The federal government didn't do a very good job," she said.

Mikulski said if she could turn back the clock she would try to block the closing of Fort Ritchie.

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