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IMI land transfer hits snag

November 11, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - Proposed federal legislation intended to speed up the transfer of property at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base for the expansion of a masonry training center has been shot down, a representative from U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes' office said Monday.

Sarbanes and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, both D-Md., sponsored the legislation so the International Masonry Institute (IMI) could expand the National Training Center, a move that would bring 200 new jobs to the base.

"We're deeply disappointed," said Tim Magrath, Sarbanes' Western Maryland field representative. "The senator has been trying to fight for job creation for Cascade."

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PenMar officials said they didn't think the rejected legislation would cause much of a disruption to IMI's plans.

Magrath said the proposed legislation was removed from the National Defense Authorization Bill for fiscal year 2004 in conference.

A conference of Senate and House Armed Services Committee members agreed on the bill Friday, according to a written statement from the office of U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Magrath said he did not know why the proposal was removed from the bill.

Conveyance of all base property from the Army to the PenMar Development Corp. is on hold because of a February-issued court injunction blocking the action. A court decision ruled PenMar violated legal requirements because an ad announcing the property's availability was faulty.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the former base, which the Army shut down in 1998.

The senators proposed the legislation that would allow the transfer of about 30 acres so PenMar could sell it to IMI, helping IMI get a head start on the expansion.

During an IMI open house in September, IMI President Joan B. Calambokidis said that IMI would look at other places to expand if it were not able to purchase the land.

IMI has signed several amendments to the sales contract and numerous lease extensions while waiting to buy land, according to a written statement.

"The continued delays and the lack of certainty in terms of land transfer have been a huge impediment and extremely costly to us," Calambokidis said in September. "We've invested roughly $2 million in developing this, and we don't own any land."

Magrath said Sarbanes is concerned about IMI's future at the former base.

"IMI has been a dedicated tenant," Magrath said.

IMI's offices were closed Monday and no one was available for comment.

PenMar officials said the state agency has readvertised the entire base's availability and the land transfer from the Army will take place over time.

Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell, who is a PenMar board member, said land could be conveyed to PenMar as early as March.

He said the senators' proposal probably would have bumped up IMI's conveyance by a couple of months, but that the training center still will have the opportunity to purchase land if the entire base is transferred to PenMar.

"I don't suspect that it would cause (IMI) to pull out," Wivell said of the delay.

"I'm not really concerned," PenMar Chairman Ronald Sulchek said. "I don't see why the conveyance can't happen in the normal chain of events."

In August, Mikulski told the County Commissioners she didn't think the proposed legislation would get congressional approval without the support of U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.

Bartlett, R-Md., is on the House Armed Services Committee.

Lisa Wright, Bartlett's spokeswoman, said she didn't have any information on whether Bartlett supported the proposal. She said Bartlett had asked Sarbanes and Mikulski to prove to him that the legislation would be the best way to bring jobs to the area.

Wright said she was not aware of whether Bartlett received that information.

In July, Bartlett said that IMI is attractive as a "bird in hand," a current tenant, but it would not make an ideal anchor for the redevelopment of the fort property. He said the former base's seclusion would make it "a great location for security."

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