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Strings attached to fort water

August 23, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County likely won't take ownership of the water system at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base without strings attached.

Randall M. Griffin, CEO and president of Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md., said Monday morning that COPT didn't want to give the system to the county and then have to pay full allocation fees to hook up to that system.

He said COPT is willing to negotiate with the county about reducing the fees in return for giving the water system to the county.

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"We're not going to just turn that over to the county and then turn around and pay full fees, which we think is double dipping," Griffin said.

Griffin made the statements during a presentation to the PenMar Development Corp. on COPT's plan to redevelop the former base.

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

PenMar agreed in July 2004 to sell the property to COPT for $9 million. The price will drop to $5 million if COPT creates 1,400 jobs over nine years.

Washington County thought PenMar would turn the system over to the county, but nothing in the sale agreement with COPT addressed such a move.

The county wants the system as a resource that would help potential water capacity problems in the Cascade area.

County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell has said PenMar's Economic Development Conveyance, which the agency submitted to the Army in 1999, states that PenMar would upgrade the water system and then give it to the county.

Wivell is a PenMar board member.

The purpose of the Economic Development Conveyance was to justify the transfer of the base to PenMar, according to the document.

Griffin and Wivell disagreed Monday over the context of the conveyance.

"It never did say it would be turned over," Griffin said.

"I believe it did," Wivell said.

Wivell told Griffin he didn't think "forgiveness of allocation fees" was the direction the county should go.

In May, County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said the water system was worth "several million dollars." It consists of a 1 million-gallon reservoir and a 300,000-gallon reservoir, several wells and a distribution system.

Wivell in May said the allocation fees could be a sizable amount, depending on how much COPT builds at the base.

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