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Don't hold the fort, let it go

August 19, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

"This (Fort Ritchie) is a great success story. If there are going to be other rounds of base closings, we are going to provide an example on how to do it right."

- U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, June 1997

Um, Roscoe? Point of order. By "great success" did you mean "abject failure" and by "do it right" did you mean "screw it up beyond all comprehension?"

Just curious. I mean, I know in Congress they have a different way of speaking and all, so this could just be a little misunderstanding.

But after six of the most fruitless years on record, I feel safe in pronouncing these two little words:

End it.

End it now. It's over. Stop the madness. Everyone get out. Dissolve the county PenMar board in charge of turning the old Army base into something useful. Let the Army give the property to whomever it pleases - the Masonry Institute, CPWC, CPR, CVS, Coldwell Banker, Long and Foster, Crosby Stills and Nash, the people of Cascade, the deer - anybody, I don't care. Just end it.

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Now it's turned into a fight in the halls of Congress, for heaven's sake. Please. Don't you see, no one west of High Rock cares. We are sick of hearing about it.

Look, no one has worked harder than Bartlett to find something to do with the property, and we're grateful for that. But if you're an elected leader and six years of strenuous leading has led nowhere, maybe your influence isn't exactly a strength. PenMar says Bartlett has done an "excellent" job. It's sunken to the point where we're praising someone for six years of failure. Praising. Great job, keep it up. Keep those unsigned contracts coming.

By the way, what ever happened to Dean Witter? You may recall the big investment house was going to step in and do something amazing - we were never told what.

Then there was Role Models Academy. Enough said.

Next, Bartlett said there were great and wonderful projects under way for the base, but they were so super-secret that even breathing a word of what they were about would doom the negotiations.

Shocker, Casper the Friendly Project never showed and now the latest windmill free for the tilting is Lerner Enterprises, the developer of Tysons II, the White Flint mall and White Flint-North. What's this going to be, White Flint-Boondocks?

If you're reading this at Lerner, I do apologize. For all I know, you have some really swell plans for the picturesque mountain property. It's just that we've had the ball whisked away from us on this property more often than Charlie Brown.

To establish a time line, I'd written the above just before leaving for California to report firsthand on the electoral nonsense out West. Then just before heading to the airport, I pick up the paper and see County Commissioner John Munson quoted as saying: "(Fort Ritchie) is too far in the boondocks ... The best thing we can do is give it back to the federal government and get rid of it. Get the county out of it. Get rid of the PenMar Development Board. It's not worth having."

At this point, I had two options. Finding myself so totally and unequivocally aligned, phraseology and all, with John Munson briefly made me think of employing the delete key on the whole project and telling the editors to run wire copy. But no, when I disagree with Munson and Commissioner Bill Wivell, I say so, and by gum when I agree, it is only fair not to back down.

Wivell says he will "probably be trashed" for suggesting PenMar's efforts be merged with the county's Economic Development Commission. No one enjoys a good trashing more than myself, but I can't do that either. Wivell's right. No disrespect to the PenMar board, but we do pay professionals a lot of money to market business property, so why are we duplicating services now?

And the PenMar board, some of the community's best and brightest, doesn't need this either. Most people appreciate a successful businessperson who will stake his reputation on an utterly impossible job for the betterment of the community. Not me, obviously, but most people.

Please, good sirs and madams, slip away while there's still time. Put your talents and energy into an area that has a chance of success, where there is a ray of hope, a glimmer of possibility, like downtown Hagerstown where you could make a real ... oh wait, what am I saying?




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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