Ruppersberger accused of impeding raceway Executive didn't show 'good faith,' Holt says

December 05, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

In an uncharacteristic blast at the Baltimore County executive, a state delegate from Essex says C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger has derailed plans for a $100 million NASCAR speedway by failing to negotiate in good faith with developers.

"If the Ruppersberger administration had wanted it, the raceway would have happened," said Del. Kenneth Holt, a Republican and an energetic supporter of the Middle River Racing Association's proposal for a speedway near Martin State Airport.

"It was incumbent on the administration to work closely with the developers, in good faith, and that didn't happen."

Comparing the speedway to Harborplace for its economic-development potential, Holt said this week that the project has been stalled by the county executive's insistence that developers pay millions of dollars for roads and utilities, and wait for regulatory approvals that could take up to five years.

Holt's criticism is unusual in the county, where Democrat Ruppersberger has touted his cooperation with legislators of both parties in securing school construction money and other benefits from the state.

Some consider Holt's comments politics as usual on the east side. Others view them as the first shots in a challenge to Sen. Michael J. Collins, an Essex Democrat who is chairman of the county's Senate delegation.

"After Holt took office in 1995, he was quiet, doing little things that help people," said William Wright, a Bird River Road resident.

"But now that the speedway is threatened, he's gotten louder, calling into question Ruppersberger's intentions," said Wright. "All of us on the east side are asking why does Holt put his future on the line to support a project opposed by a majority of his constituents. The raceway has become his banner."

Rick Cammack, president of the Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce, said, "Holt is showing an awful lot of spunk and concern about the economic down-slide of our community and the scary prospect of losing something with the potential of a speedway. This could become a political issue. Holt is a strong Republican threat."

U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a 2nd District Republican, said Holt's political ambitions and the speedway are separate issues.

"Ken is a rising star in the party, and he can raise funds," said

Ehrlich. "He was the first Republican elected in that 6th District, and I'll support him if he runs for delegate or the Senate."

Maryland Republicans have targeted nine state senators as vulnerable, and Collins is one, said Del. James F. Ports Jr., a Perry Hall Republican.

"Ken's respected and has a great chance," Ports said. "He is showing Dutch he's not afraid of him. He was right to stand up for the speedway."

Speedway opponents fear traffic-clogged roads, noise and pollution. Proponents look at auto racing, a fast-growing sport, as hope for a region that has lost tens of thousands of jobs.

"If Delegate Holt wants to represent his constituency properly, he should get the full picture before he spouts off," Ruppersberger said. "Instead of attacking my integrity, he should know you just don't say, 'I support something' and it happens."

Ruppersberger noted the labyrinth of county, state and federal regulatory agencies that must be navigated before a project such as the speedway can be built.

After several years of planning and marketing, Middle River Racing Association officials proposed in September an infrastructure plan for the 1,100-acre site on Eastern Boulevard.

Several weeks later, Ruppersberger told speedway developers that although he supported the idea of a racetrack, he had rejected their plan.

The county wants the developers to widen roads and supply utilities, which would cost more than $12 million.

Speedway officials must also wait at least five years for White Marsh Boulevard to be extended, which would link the site to Interstate 95. The officials, already facing intense local opposition, said a long delay might scuttle the project and that they are deeply involved in a similar development near Chicago.

Meanwhile, Chief Operating Officer Joseph Mattioli III has laid off Middle River Racing Association's community liaison representative and has said that "meeting the county's proposals will be a difficult task."

Holt and other proponents of the speedway are uncertain about the Middle River Racing Association's future.

"I have my fingers crossed," said Holt, who would not comment on his political plans.

The prospect that the speedway developers might pull out doesn't worry Ruppersberger.

After meeting this week with federal officials, he said other commercial development in Middle River could generate 10,000 full-time jobs and capital investment of $330 million once White Marsh Boulevard is extended.

Holt said Ruppersberger should have "fast-tracked" clearances of environmental regulations, rerouting of traffic and the White Marsh Boulevard extension.

The speedway could be Middle River's "Harborplace, a tourist destination," he said. At a recent rally in an Essex bar, tavern owners, tow truck company operators and marina owners applauded Holt's view.

Collins said Holt, a supporter of the county executive's legislative initiatives, has been encouraged to run for the state Senate in 1998. "I keep hearing these reports, but Holt's criticism of Ruppersberger mystifies me," Collins said.

"I defend Dutch's pro-business stance and how he has helped the east side residents on housing, anti-crime and school issues, and Ken has supported them in Annapolis," Collins said.

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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