Maryland speaker meets with business leaders here

October 05, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

A group of Washington County businesspeople met for dinner with Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch for dinner Wednesday at the Fountain Head Country Club.

According to Brien Poffenberger, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, many local issues were discussed during the session, which was not open to the public.

Poffenberger said he did not initiate the meeting, but "I sort of directed the agenda .. it was a team effort."

Poffenberger said that "It was a very convivial meeting," but added that the assembled group "hit hard" on the agenda of the community coalition formed to lobby on local issues.


According to Poffenberger, the issues discussed included:

· The expansion of the Washington County Free Library's branch on South Potomac Street in Hagerstown.

· Ways that the state can encourage adaptive re-use of some existing buildings for the school system.

Poffenerger said that when the cost of a brand new high school is topping $60 million, it makes sense to look at how to turn existing industrial/commercial buildings into space that can more affordably be re-used as classroom space.,

· Funding for Hagerstown Community College's capital projects.

Work on long-term transportation issues, including work needed on Interstates 70 and 81, commuter rail and a northeast bypass, a road that would take traffic around Hagerstown on the east.

A state proposal to build an interstate-type bypass in the early 1970s was killed by the General Assembly delegation then in office, partly out of concern that it would use up too much farmland.

"For the more near-term," Poffenberger said, "we talked to the speaker about projects such as the intersection of U.S. 40 and Edgewood Drive, the extension of Eastern Boulevard, the expansion of Keep Tryst Road and Southern Boulevard."

Keep Tryst Road is at the soutghern end of Washington County, while Southern Boulevard would route northbound traffic around Funkstown.

Poffenberger said the group also asked for Speaker Busch's guidance on how to get a "seat at the table" on negotiations for BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure).

The BRAC process was responsible for the 1998 closure of Fort Ritchie in Cascade. Now it appears that BRAC will add jobs at some Maryland bases that remain open, including Fort Detrick in Frderick, Md., and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

Poffenberger said the concern is that state money will be directed to those counties at the expense of Washington County, even though this area might get jobs and new residents as a result of the shift of these jobs.

Attendeees at this meeting included: Washington County Hospital CEO James Hamill, former state delegate Bruce Poole, former state delegate Paul Muldowney, Jim Pierne, CEO of Susquehanna Bank, Art Callaham, executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee and Malcom "Mac" Davis of Davis, Renn Engineers.

Except for Hamill, who said another commitment prevented him for staying for dinner, all who could be reached said the group had agreed that Poffenberger would make any statements.

Hamill said the hospital issue wasn't discussed in depth, but said that Busch asked him about the progress of the effort to build a new facility.

Asked why no elected officials attended, Poffenberger said the chamber sometimes holds meeting with everyone possible in attendance, such as it did when hosting a recent local appearance by Gary Maynard, the state's new Public Safety Secretary.

At other times, he said, a smaller meeting works better.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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