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Editorial on PenMar's evacuee strategy was not accurate

September 17, 2005

To the editor:

This week's editorial in reference to the PenMar Development Corporation board's action in relation to Hurricane Katrina evacuees was in error.

Reporter Tara Reilly covered the major points of the PenMar Development Corporation's decision to offer shelter to refugees from Hurricane Katrina. But she did not report on most of the discussion that led to that decision. Here is a summary:

From the moment I broached the idea with them almost two weeks ago, the members of the PMDC Board expressed eagerness to be of assistance to those in need from the Gulf Coast.

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Efforts to solve some of the logistics issues began a week before the board vote. One member made calls to churches and to organizations like Habitat for Humanity the week before the meeting.

At our meeting on Sept. 12, almost all of them fully supported the idea of offering what facilities we have available.

Immediately after the vote, understanding that refugees who might want to come to this remote place will likely want to stay, and will need proper housing - not the floor of a gym - members of the committee to coordinate the effort, the executive director, an Army representative, and a representative from the governor's office toured the fort to see how we could make more buildings available for use.

We contacted a local attorney, who agreed to volunteer his time to set up a nonprofit organization to accept donations.

Realizing that evacuees are not likely to have personal transportation, and that there are only one or two stores and restaurants within walking distance of Ritchie facilities, we contacted the Red Cross, and through the One Mountain Foundation lined up more than 16 area churches to help provide services and equipment evacuees would need.

In the process, we realized the limitations of our facilities for this purpose and the problems many evacuees encountered at the Superdome, Astrodome and Convention Center. We agreed that we would not make unrealistic offers or put evacuees into situations that could be harmful.

We found that our only housing that was ready for habitation is a set of eight two-bedroom, unfurnished duplexes. Nothing else has functioning utilities, such as water and sewage, electricity, heat, telephones, kitchens or laundry machines.

The brick barracks inhabited by the U.S. Army MPs until at least mid-October lack kitchens and laundry machines. The other barracks and the guest house are in bad shape and also lack kitchens and laundry machines. Their heaters, air conditioners and phone systems are in poor condition.

Since no one had indicated how refugees might get to the fort, who would feed and clothe them, and where would they get medications and medical attention, we asked the Washington County Commissioners and Mayor Trump of Hagerstown if they could provide any of that.

They said they would coordinate with us, depending on what we decided. They said they would probably have to turn to charitable organizations for much of what would be needed.

Meanwhile, we and cooperating organizations have identified more than 15 churches and other groups ready to assist in supporting our offer.

We have been coordinating with FEMA and MEMA to offer our facilities, but so far are being told that there are no evacuees who want to come to Fort Ritchie. So we have gone the extra mile to contact all appropriate agencies to ensure that we are getting the correct information.

We agreed to explore the possibility of rehabilitating other buildings at Fort Ritchie for more evacuees, should the need continue.

It is a shame that the editorial chose to paint the board in such an erroneous light. We often enjoy reading the editorials and generally agree with the viewpoints expressed. This one, however, was simply wrong.

George Griffin
Chairman
Board of Directors
PenMar Development Corporation

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