Hoping to preserve 470 largely wooded acres as a wildlife habitat, aFort Meade advisory panel is urging the Army to nearly halve the amount of surplus Meade land targeted for possible development.
Developing the land, part of 1,400 surplus acres not being turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, would require bulldozing hundredsof acres of dense forest that is home to many species of wildlife, the Fort Meade Coordinating Council says. Development also would endanger environmentally sensitive wetlands, worsen traffic congestion anddestroy historical sites and artifacts, members said.
The council of civic leaders, elected officials, land-use planners and environmentalists unanimously adopted a resolution Monday nighturging the Army to turn the land over to the Fish and Wildlife Service to expand the neighboring Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.
Under a compromise worked out last year by Maryland's congressional delegation, Patuxent already will receive 7,600 of the 9,000 acres the Army must shed as part of a federal base-reduction program.
The council's hopes of turning over all the land to the Patuxentcenter, however, were quashed Monday night: Patuxent's director said the center had no interest in acquiring Tipton Airfield, an active landfill or other land because of concerns about toxic chemicals and unexploded ordnance.
Thus, the battle over Meade's future likely will now focuson the 470 acres of heavily wooded land that Patuxent would like to acquire.
Council members, responding to a March 20 Army Corps of Engineers draft of an environmental impact study, sharply criticized the report's conclusion that building some 1,500 homes and stores and offices on the land just west of Tipton Airfield would be "feasible."
"Taking down all these trees and putting in houses and industry is feasible?" asked Clifford Andrew, an environmentalist who serves onthe council. "What's that mean? What would not be feasible then? I don't understand."
Keith Harris, the Army Corps of Engineers project manager, responded by saying the report remained preliminary. He reminded council members that the Army has yet to decide what to do with any of the 1,400 acres not slated to go to the Patuxent center.
Harris also said further environmental studies, as well as a comprehensive survey of the land for unexploded ordnance and underground chemicals, must beconducted before any building takes place.
The Army report listed among "preferred alternatives" selling the 1,400 acres not slated for transfer to the Patuxent center. The Army then hopes to lease from the new owner a fire station and the 440-acre Tipton Airfield for reservists' training, while selling the remaining 1,000 acres for development.
County Council members, however, have vowed toresist efforts to loosen land-use restrictions specifically designedto prevent major development at Meade.
Throughout an emotional two-year battle that has reached fromlocal legislative chambers to the State House, Capitol Hill and even the White House, the vocal coordinating council had insisted that all 9,000 surplus acres be preserved.
Retired Army Col. Alfred Shehab, the coordinating council chairman, promised the council would continue to fight to preserve that landand to stop attempts to bring major development to Meade.
"The taxpayers are telling the people who they pay the taxes to that we wantthat 9,000 acres left alone," Shehab said, drawing applause from fellow council members and residents at Meade on Monday.
He said the Army merely carried out its federally required duty to get as much aspossible for the Meade land and should not be blamed for doing so.
But Shehab faulted county, state and federal lawmakers for failing to coordinate efforts to preserve the land and plan potential uses.
"No government agency is capable of sitting down and planning properly," he said.
The Army has scheduled a public hearing on the draft of the environmental impact study for 7:30 p.m. Monday at Meade High School and plans to prepare its final report by May 20.