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Ritchie good place for storm victims

September 17, 2005

To the editor:

Fort Ritchie in Cascade is an Army base that has been closed for several years, and ever since there has been nothing but bickering between the owners (the Army) and the transition administration (PenMar Development Corp.). The property was sold, but the actual sale has been blocked by litigation.

There are 126 housing units (according to Pen Mar's Web site - www.lakesideatpenmar.com, most of which are vacant. I am a resident of Cascade, and have traveled through Fort Ritchie, and know firsthand how many houses are empty.

In addition, there are numerous commercial-type and barrack buildings (620,000 total square feet, according to Pen Mar's Web site), also empty. These buildings range from classrooms and offices to a cafeteria and even a fire department and grocery store. All are empty!

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Some of the classroom and office-type buildings, though not "zoned" for residential, can certainly provide hurricane victims with private shelter, versus living on a football field. There are fields for the children to play and plenty of space for walks.

If the government wants to help, open this place to those who need it. Those without homes and jobs can easily help to restore the suffering community, even if for a few months or a year. The grocery store will need people to run it; the cafeteria can feed people (living in offices and classrooms). I'm sure one of the local fire departments can donate a truck and firefighters could volunteer in that fire department (and that would help the Cascade community, too).

The housing units have bedrooms, kitchens and living space with heat, air conditioning and plumbing - which is what these people don't have.

I'm sure people would love to donate things they don't need to help furnish these units. I have a spare bed, chairs, a couch, baby toys and clothes and even a television I would be willing to part with. That would get the stuff I don't need out of the way and give someone a place to sit in comfort.

We have this resource available to help those who need it. We can't help them all, but we can do whatever we can. As I was watching the news this morning, I heard them tell about all the states that have offered their assistance in housing these people. I heard Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Massachusetts - there are many more, but I did not hear Maryland. I have heard through a grapevine that Montgomery County or someplace such as that is helping. I am sure we are, but how nice would it be for Washington County to offer its help and to shelter these people.

I was recently made aware that this issue has been presented to U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-6th. His answer to the suggestion was that Maryland is "too far away" to help those in need.

Funny, Massachusetts is farther away (much farther) than Maryland, and they're taking in many people. That's not a good way to represent our state. Even though Fort Ritchie is not "Washington County property," it is located in Washington County - and one of the County Commissioners is a member of PenMar Development Corp., which has contact with the Army. Let's help them! We have the space!

Joe Keller
Cascade

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