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Lawmakers seek compromise on PenMar reorganization

March 17, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County lawmakers are still trying to find common ground with opponents of their plan to overhaul PenMar Development Corp.

If the behind-the-scenes effort fails, the bill's fate largely will rest with the House Economic Matters Committee on which no local members serve.

After hearing critics denounce the bill at a hearing last week, the committee asked local lawmakers to pursue a compromise, Delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank said Tuesday.

"I'm hopeful we'll be able to do that," said Shank, R-Washington.

Shank has been talking to the Washington County Commissioners, PenMar board members and members of the Cascade community about the legislation, which would make changes to the board that oversees redevelopment of the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base.

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Shank said the two most important elements of the legislation are an increase in oversight of PenMar and protecting county taxpayers from liability.

Commissioner James Kercheval has offered a compromise plan that calls for the county and state to increase oversight through changes to the PenMar board's bylaws rather than by legislation.

His proposal also would minimize the shakeup to the board, which would be dissolved under the current plan.

Kercheval suggests that the 10-member board still be replaced, but with 11 members rather than nine.

The changeover would take place July 1 instead of immediately upon the governor signing the measure.

It would allow PenMar Chairman Ronald Sulchek to remain chairman. Under the current plan, the chair must live in Washington County and Sulchek lives just over the Frederick County line in Sabillasville.

The commissioners' representative to the board would still lose the right to vote, but not until after Commissioner William Wivell's term expires in 2007.

"It's important to get this issue behind us and find a way to bring all parties together so that we can get back to focusing on developing the base," Kercheval wrote last week in a letter outlining his plan to local lawmakers.

Members of the Cascade Committee, which has become a watchdog group for the base redevelopment, remained opposed to the bill Tuesday, according to Director Karl Weissenbach.

Opponents argue the legislation would disrupt sensitive negotiations with potential developers.

Most of the time, the Maryland General Assembly grants what is known as "local courtesy" to legislation that affects only one part of the state.

But the legislature, whose 90-day session ends April 12, has made exceptions in the past when there has been local opposition.

If the Economic Matters Committee kills the bill, it seriously weakens its chances of passing.

But legislation cross-filed in the Senate would ensure that the legislation would stay alive.

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