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O'Malley stops by, offers to help town

April 13, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

BOONSBORO -- During an impromptu stop Saturday afternoon in Boonsboro, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said he would try to help town officials secure state funding to rebuild a portion of the square that was gutted Feb. 22 in a fire.

After O'Malley viewed the charred remains of the historic Boone Hotel, he said aid could be available from a handful of state agencies, including the Maryland Insurance Administration and the Department of Housing and Community Development.

The governor said historic tax credits and zero- or low-interest loans could be procurable as well.

"It was a heartbreaker ... To see the center of the Main Street gutted by that fire," O'Malley said. "I wanted to hear from (Mayor Charles F. "Skip" Kauffman Jr.) the degree (the state) was being responsive and the degree we were not."

O'Malley said he was on a tour of several sites in Western Maryland and decided to stop in Boonsboro on his way home.

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For many town officials, the Maryland Insurance Administration's acronym just as easily could stand for Missing in Action.

Town Manager Debra Smith said the Maryland Insurance Administration visited the site of the fire and placed the financial burden of rebuilding the square on private insurance companies.

The Maryland Insurance Administration could have offered help to businesses, but many of the properties that were damaged had apartments and didn't qualify for state assistance, Smith said.

"It usually falls back on the tenants' insurance," she said.

Kauffman said he was encouraged by O'Malley's visit.

"I spoke to him the day of the fire, and he asked if he could assist," Kauffman said. "The visit showed he was sincere with helping."

Kauffman praised one state agency -- the Maryland State Highway Administration -- for its prompt response in restoring signal lights and street signs that were destroyed in the blaze.

Kauffman also lauded the Boonsboro Volunteer Fire and Rescue Co.

"No one got killed or injured," Kauffman said. "They did an excellent job to minimize the damage. It was just a great effort."

Kauffman said firefighters used more than 500,000 gallons of water to extinguish the blaze -- about 75,000 more gallons than all of Boonsboro consumes in a day.

The fire occurred when fuel ignited in a propane tank that construction workers knocked over in the Boone Hotel, State Fire Marshal Jason M. Mowbray said in February. Seven buildings sustained about $2 million in damages.

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