Bartlett killing the one Ritchie success

November 24, 2003|by Jim Lemon

To the editor:

I am writing concerning the Nov. 11 article describing how federal legislation to facilitate the transfer of property at Fort Ritchie to the International Masonry Institute (IMI) has just been "shot down" by a House-Senate conference committee. I commend your paper's recent attention to Fort Ritchie issues, and I would like to raise some questions and provide additional information concerning the congressional action described in the article.

The article gives rise to three questions the public must now begin asking about virtually anything that happens at Fort Ritchie: Who is involved, what are their motives, and what are the ramifications if they succeed or fail? In that regard, let me try to answer a few of these questions as they relate to the IMI conveyance legislation that was just killed in Congress.

First, it is my understanding that Washington County's own Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is the individual solely responsible for "shooting down" this legislation. Based on conversations I and others have had with Congressman Bartlett and his staff, he was apparently motivated by his belief that IMI is not a suitable tenant at Fort Ritchie, and that some day he can most assuredly produce a better tenant.


The fact that the legislation was sponsored and fully supported by both of Maryland's senators raises many obvious questions about Congressman Bartlett's actions to kill it. The fact that IMI is Fort Ritchie's first, oldest, most stable and (until very recently) only commercial tenant raises more questions as to why Bartlett wants to push them out. The fact that the State of Maryland and PenMar Development Corporation gave IMI a multi-year, $1.5 million interest-free loan as an enticement for IMI to locate and stay at Fort Ritchie raises even more questions about why Congressman Bartlett would use his seat in Congress to dissuade IMI from remaining on the base.

One has to wonder, given all the missteps and false starts at Fort Ritchie, why it now makes sense to get rid of the one and only bona fide, jobs-producing tenant the closed base has ever seen, at the same time that that tenant is champing at the bit to pay PenMar approximately $1.2 million for the land it has rented and occupied longer than any Fort Ritchie tenant, so that it can finally own its 30 acres of land and begin building its training campus. One has to wonder exactly why Congressman Bartlett worked so skillfully and so stealthily to kill this legislation when it could have helped secure about 200 solid jobs at Fort Ritchie. I challenge him to publicly answer these questions.

Finally, what are the ramifications of Congressman Bartlett's action? The article leaves the impression that PenMar and Washington County officials are not worried one whit that this opportunity to finally seal a deal with IMI has been killed by their own congressman for reasons still unknown to the public. That may explain why none of them opposed Bartlett's months-long maneuverings in Congress. Some of these leaders actually supported his efforts. Based on the news article, they appear to believe there is not the slightest chance IMI will leave Fort Ritchie, and they seem confident IMI will still be able to buy the property reasonably soon under routine base closure procedures. It appears they have no concern that a tenant such as IMI just might be unhappy if a routine conveyance fails to materialize soon at Fort Ritchie, and just might not be willing to peacefully fold up their tent and depart without any ill-feelings or second thoughts about having wasted five years and lots of money patiently waiting for property to convey under any means possible.

Perhaps this will all pan out and IMI will take possession of the property it deserves very soon in a routine conveyance. If not, Congressman Bartlett better have that ace up his sleeve. In the meantime, he should publicly explain his actions.

Jim Lemon

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