The threatened closure of the Naval Electronics Systems Engineering Activity in St. Inigoes was averted yesterday when a federal commission exempted naval engineering facilities from consolidation.
The commission also voted to delay action on naval laboratories, which affects several sites in Maryland, until a parallel FTC commission studying military laboratories completes its work.
The Navy had wanted to overhaul its research program by creating new engineering centers on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, with facilities including St. Inigoes, in St. Mary's County, relocated to Portsmouth, Va.
The Navy also proposed consolidating labs specializing in air and surface warfare, which would eliminate jobs at facilities in White Oak, Annapolis and Carderock in Maryland.
William L. Ball III, a former Navy secretary, said he recognized the "importance to get on with this consolidation," but criticized the Navy plan for requiring $245 million in new construction. The plan also threatened considerable "turbulence" in several communities and the loss of scientific talent, he said.
Mr. Ball persuaded the panel to exempt engineering centers on the East Coast from reorganization with instructions that the Navy "investigate the use of existing facilities" for any future consolidation.
One St. Inigoes resident reacted with surprise when he heard the installation would be retained.
"You're kidding!" said Jerry den Hartog, 40, owner of the St. Inigoes General Store. "I'm surprised, at this stage of the game. It seemed like it was a moot point."
Maryland legislators were also pleased that the facility will be retained. But some were disappointed that other programs in Maryland will be trimmed.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes said he was pleased at new laboratory projects slated for Maryland, including Army proposals for expanded laboratory facilities at the Aberdeen Proving Ground and at Adelphi.
"However, I am very disappointed that the commission approved the Department of Defense's proposals to downsize important naval research facilities and laboratories in Maryland," he said.
In addition to retaining St. Inigoes, the commission added an amendment that would require the defense secretary to consider the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Laboratories. This will result in a delay until Jan. 1, which will affect the timing of changes at the David Taylor Research Center in Annapolis and the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak.
"Clearly the base closing commission recognized that the advisory commission on laboratories has an important role to play in this process. In that sense, we succeeded in getting our point across," said Representative Tom McMillan, D-Md.-4th.
"We can only hope that the laboratory commission will use that mandate to thoroughly review these proposals and not simply rubber stamp the Defense Department's recommendations," he said.