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As Long as We Remember...

September 3, 2008

Plucking the Golden Goose

Norman M. Covert

It was the remote’s fault that John L. (Lennie) Thompson, Jr., popped up on my television screen. Mr. Thompson was trashing the reputation of a man testifying before the Frederick Board of County Commissioners about the New Market Regional Plan. Mr. T didn’t have the aggies to look him in the eye, a clear indication our commissioner is a Bum!


How typical it is of this board’s ideological majority to denigrate those from whom they want cash to flow. It would be crass to opine aloud that this board may rank among the most incompetent since former Commission President Mary Williams’ group (1978), or perhaps even the last time David Gray was the pole sitter.


However, in early summer, belying its anti-business reputation, the board had the chutzpa to ask for an upgrade in Frederick County’s Single-A credit rating. After some effort by staff to feed positive information to the credit raters in New York City, the money lenders agreed it wouldn’t hurt to up the rating to AA-plus.


The bean counters weren’t told the commissioners’ actions will stifle billions of dollars that will flow into the county if the Homeland Security Biodefense laboratories become operational. They proposed the National Science Foundation conduct a comprehensive laboratory safety analysis of the facility now abuilding at Fort Detrick. The study is a certain delay and victory for the anti-America crowd.


In a letter sent April 9, 2008, to Commission President Jan Gardner and each commissioner, this writer pointed out: “Hopefully you will not lend credence to unfounded rhetoric from a small group of long-time Fort Detrick critics. Their information is ideological dogma, fiction and hysteria.


“In 1978 such a group tried to prevent opening of the Recombinant DNA research lab in Building 550 within the National Cancer Institute facility. The fears they expressed were dashed when the facility opened and today it is a functioning facility of proven safety.


“The board must show appreciation for the 65-year record of extraordinary bio-safety at Camp and Fort Detrick (1943-2008). Significantly, no bio-warfare agent has ever escaped the laboratories or caused any infection in the Frederick community. The county’s Health Department can attest to this …


“Aside from abrogating your responsibility to the citizens and the economic health of Frederick County, you are putting the safety of this nation in peril.


“Historically, the community economic trauma following closedown of the former Fort Detrick offensive functions (1969-71) was exacerbated in 1977 when the Department of Defense nearly closed Fort Detrick in order to relocate its functions to Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, Dugway Proving Ground, UT, and Washington, D.C.


“The intervention and political adroitness of former Sen. Charles Mac. Mathias (R., MD) and then Rep. Beverly Byron (D., 6th) prevented this probable economic disaster for Frederick County. The military units that ultimately came to Frederick as part of that base realignment in the winter of 1978 were the seeds of today's robust local economy.


“The board is encouraged to understand that the new facility is a biological defense research facility, not a ‘biowarfare lab,’ a clear distinction in mission. Its work will expand the unique efforts to develop defenses to protect American servicemen and women from offensive biological warfare agents, as well as endemic diseases in potential theaters of war.


“The added benefit is its ability to work with other U.S. governmental agencies in protecting the nation from biological warfare attacks such as that which occurred in September and October 2001 …”


Only Commissioner Charles Jenkins and Ms. Gardner responded. Mr. Jenkins, who voted against the request, wrote that he wasn’t surprised by the board’s action and regretted it.


President Gardner responded April 18. “I want to assure you that it is not my intent or the intent of the commissioners to cause any delay to the expansion at Ft. Detrick


“The BOCC,” she continued, “have clearly stated in their letter to Senator [Barbara] Mikulski that we do not want to delay or otherwise negatively impact the new USAMRIID building or the expansion on the base. We are simply looking to provide a peer review and an independent reputable opinion that public health and safety issues are being appropriately addressed …


“…Such an action should not be construed to be anti-education and this action should not be construed to be anti-military or anti-Ft. Detrick (though I certainly cannot control what others might say) ...”


Yet delay is exactly what the intent appears to be as the discussions continued last week.


The county’s credit rating deserves to be AAA, but not with the vision of a Frederick without the bio-medical research center and its thriving support industry here. The board majority continues to tout Frederick County’s prosperity, yet – in their hands – the future is not bright.


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