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Delegates to scrap PenMar overhaul

March 20, 2004|By LAURA ERNDE

Washington County delegates gutted their PenMar Development Corp. legislation Friday after failing to reach a compromise with opponents.

It now will be up to the House Economic Matters Committee to decide whether to accept or junk the watered-down bill that affects the agency charged with bringing new jobs to the former U.S. Army base in Cascade.

Lawmakers have agreed to scrap most of their proposed overhaul of the PenMar board for now, Delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank said.

All 10 board members would serve their remaining terms, although lawmakers would get to fill five vacancies in July, under the delegation's proposed changes to the legislation.

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Controversial provisions dealing with dissolving the board, instituting residency requirements and placing restrictions on PenMar staff have been removed.

The only substantial changes that would be made to PenMar would be requiring additional oversight by the Washington County Commissioners and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and clarifying that the county and state would be free of liability.

The County Commissioners would have to approve any changes to PenMar's bylaws, any master lease agreement with a developer and any bonds.

Despite the changes, a group of residents who live near the old base remain opposed to the legislation.

Karl Weissenbach, director of the Cascade Committee, said the remaining changes to PenMar are not necessary.

He said he's concerned that lawmakers will give the five appointments to former board members or their allies.

Although lawmakers voted unanimously to introduce the PenMar legislation last month, some later began having second thoughts about some of the more controversial details.

Del. Richard Weldon, R-Frederick/Washington, said he has "serious reservations" about the legislation.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said gutting the legislation will allow the delegation to salvage something this session.

"It's probably the appropriate thing to do and the best deal we could get," McKee said.

Shank, R-Washington, said the delegation tried to address opponents' concerns.

After the PenMar board and the Cascade Committee testified against the legislation at a March 10 hearing, lawmakers proposed further concessions.

"We thought we bent over backwards to compromise," Shank said.

The PenMar board rejected proposed changes.

In a letter to House Economic Matters Committee Chairman Dereck Davis, D-Prince George's, lawmakers said they would not put the committee in the middle of the local issue.

"We regret and apologize if the controversy over this local issue has interfered with your Committee's important work," the letter said. "However, the Delegation still feels that it is crucial that we pass a bill dealing with the situation this year. Pen Mar is at an important crossroads in its history and decisions made at the former base will impact our state and county for generations to come."

When asked if he was disappointed by the development, Shank said he wants to wait to see what the committee does.

"It was a valuable learning experience," he said.

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