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Myers says Sideling Hill center cut makes sense

July 24, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Closing the Sideling Hill visitor center is an unfortunate, but legitimate step for cash-strapped Maryland to save money, Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. said Friday.

"We are in a recession," said Myers, who represents that area in Annapolis. "We're in a budget crunch."

The closure is part of $280 million in state budget cuts approved Wednesday by the state Board of Public Works, which is made up of the governor, the comptroller and the treasurer. State officials are trying to close a budget gap of more than $700 million for fiscal year 2010.

The Sideling Hill Exhibit Center on Interstate 68, west of Hancock, is scheduled to close Aug. 15. It opened in 1991.

The center includes a four-level geological museum.

Bathrooms and a kiosk with travel information will remain open after Aug. 15.

In a joint statement issued Friday, Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, and Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, make clear the Maryland General Assembly didn't have a say in Wednesday's cuts.

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"Although this action by the Board Of Public Works to close the Welcome Center portion of Sidling (sic) Hill is certainly regrettable and a set-back for tourism, it is not a total closure," their statement says.

A day earlier, Washington County Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire, a Democrat, rallying support to keep the center open, sent an e-mail to more than 200 local politicians and tourism and business officials.

The savings from the closure will "pale in comparison to the loss of this unique regional landmark and the economic benefit it brings to the many folks that travel this route ..." he wrote.

Aleshire said Thursday the governor's office is willing to talk to people from Western Maryland about the cut.

Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy said Thursday a group might form to raise money to keep the center open.

But Myers and Edwards, in their statement, noted the visitor center is one of two closing because of high costs per visitor.

Asked about the burgeoning movement to fight for the center, Myers said the state has higher financial priorities, such as jobs and health services.

If county leaders want the visitor center to stay open, "I think the county should step up," he said.

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