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Munson says give fort back to the feds

August 14, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County Commissioner John C. Munson said Wednesday he thinks the corporation created by the state to redevelop the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base should be eliminated because its attempts to bring in new businesses will be unsuccessful.

Munson said in a phone interview that the former base is "too far in the boondocks," its buildings are in poor shape and the roads in the Cascade area wouldn't be able to handle heavy traffic or tractor-trailers.

Munson said he thinks the fate of the property should be put back in the hands of the federal government, which still owns it.

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"The best thing we can do with ... is give it back to the federal government and get rid of it," Munson said. "Get the county out of it. Get rid of the PenMar Development board. It's not worth having."

The state created the PenMar Development Corporation when the Army closed the 638-acre base in 1998. The 18 members of the PenMar board are appointed by the Washington County Commissioners.

"I do not think it will be successful," Munson said.

Munson made the comments after he was asked for his thoughts on a proposal to create an anti-terrorism training center at the former base.

"Commissioner Munson, like every other American in this country, has the right to his opinions...," PenMar Executive Director Richard Rook said Wednesday night. "He's not always aligned with the mainstream, and I wish him the best."

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell, who is on the PenMar board, said that while PenMar has been slow to show results, it needs more time to carry out redevelopment efforts.

"There's been a lot of changes and not a lot of successes," Wivell said.

Wivell said PenMar has encountered legal setbacks, including one that deals with the conveyance of the former base from the Army to PenMar.

Currently, the biggest impediment is a federal court order halting the transfer of land because a legal notice was flawed. PenMar is waiting for clearance from the Army to readvertise the property.

As a result, Rook said in April that the transfer of land would be delayed at least eight months and possibly for as long as two years.

Wivell said he thinks PenMar should partner with a "master" developer for assistance in redevelopment efforts.

He said he thinks PenMar could also be consolidated with other economic development agencies, particularly the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

"I've always been an advocate for consolidation," Wivell said. "I'm probably going to get thrashed for this, but I think at some point in time it's probably appropriate that PenMar and other agencies ... could merge."

"There's a lot of work to do up there," he said. "Hopefully, one day, we'll get there."

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