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Next steps on Fort Ritchie

July 02, 2004

Getting a big price for the old Fort Ritchie Army base isn't crucial, according to PenMar Development Corporation chairman Ron Sulchek. Any money paid for the facility must either be plowed into improvements there or returned to the Army.

The revelation that there's no monetary incentive to get the best possible price makes it that much more important for PenMar to make sure that any sale agreement contains the safeguards that we described in our Thursday editorial.

The first and foremost is a guarantee that the jobs created at the old fort will be good, high-paying jobs, as opposed to warehousing and data entry.

That's not to say that such work isn't worthwhile, but Washington County needs to aim higher, given the fact the the old base is already set up in a way that makes creation of high-tech jobs easier there.

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The question of how much access the public will have should be answered early on as well. For many years, the residents of Cascade worked on the base, walked along the lake and considered the fort a part of their community. If the Department of Homeland Security or some similar agency moves in, there might be some justification for restricting access to the base, but otherwise we'd question what purpose it would serve.

The buyer of this property should also have a plan for interacting with the community and for keeping the taxpayers of Washington County informed about what goes on there.

To be blunt about it, public relations has never been PenMar's strong suit and people form the Cascade community have been treated as interlopers instead of people who have a stake in what goes on there.

There was no reason for this week's meeting to be secret, and nothing Sulchek said Wednesday couldn't have been revealed a day earlier.

That said, the members of PenMar board are not public relations professionals, but dedicated citizens trying to replace the jobs lost when the base closed. We ask them to remember that the public is as interested as they are in how all this turns out.

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