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Ritchie's possibility of success

October 20, 2003|By Karl Weissenbach

The Cascade Committee extends its thanks to the Board of Washington County Commissioners and the PenMar Development Corporation Board of Directors for their unanimous votes to lease the mothballed Fort Ritchie gym to the Chewsville, Smithsburg, and Leitersburg (CSL) Sports League.

We also wish to thank the Army's Bill SpiglEr and his team for offering to work with the CSL and PMDC regarding the use of the Fort Ritchie parade fields for additional recreational sports.

Further, we salute CSL President Carrie Gouff and her board for sticking with its year-long effort to use the gym even when it looked as if property on the closed base was off-limits to nonprofits involved in any kind of community service.

This success story clearly demonstrates that when people and organizations work together, good things can happen at Fort Ritchie. For the first time since Fort Ritchie closed, its assets will be used to address a community need, as called for in the Department of Defense's Community Guide to Base Reuse.

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By allowing a county nonprofit to use a mothballed Fort Ritchie building, 600 county youth will benefit, a county nonprofit will have a ready-made "headquarters," and PMDC will save a one-of-a-kind community asset from deterioration and costly demolition.

What caused this dramatic change of fortune at Fort Ritchie? We believe it is a direct result of BOCC concern about the lack of progress at Fort Ritchie and the operations of PMDC in general. There have been many "red flags" warning of the need for more county and state oversight over PMDC's operations and decisions, and for new thinking and reform on the PMDC board. Finally, in June the BOCC took a tremendous step forward by appointing several new individuals to the PMDC board, four of whom live very close to Fort Ritchie.

Already these individuals have demonstrated to the BOCC and Washington County that they offer subject area expertise in several areas that will bring stability to the board and help address critical issues pertaining to long term redevelopment of Fort Ritchie.

In addition, these new board members seem to be community minded and have an understanding of their obligation to reach out to the community and facilitate access to community assets at the base, such as vacant, much-needed gymnasiums.

Most importantly, these new board members also appear to understand that PMDC, as an independent state agency, must comply with all applicable federal, state and county laws.

If the County Commissioners take their oversight responsibility seriously and continue to make sound appointments to the PMDC board, we believe the problems of the past will continue to dwindle. In the future, if the official actions of a PMDC board member are believed to be inimical to the interests of Washington County citizens, or if a PMDC board member is found to have interests that conflict with the member's official board duties, the BOCC should simply ask for the member's resignation or, if necessary, instruct the county's representative on the PMDC board to make a motion for the PMDC board to remove the individual from the board.

Of the 10 common principles listed in DOD's Community Guide for Base Reuse for community officials to consider in structuring a Local Redevelopment Authority - which is what PMDC is - perhaps the most important one is to ensure that the LRA is "representative of the impacted community" and that it "allows for maximum public input in its deliberations to reach a consensus on base reuse." The BOCC should keep this in mind when it appoints new members to fill the seats of the PMDC board members who recently resigned. If the BOCC appoints more PMDC board members who will adopt that principle in earnest, county citizens will finally believe that Fort Ritchie is less of a deteriorating, fenced-in fortress and more of a tremendous county asset that can fill both community and economic needs.




Karl Weissenbach is director of the Cascade Committee.

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