More Booms at the Proving Ground?

July 26, 1991

After an optimistic start that sputtered, military officials are proceeding more cautiously in proposing a "superpond" at Aberdeen Proving Ground. This 60-acre, 150-foot deep pond would be used to test the vulnerabilities and tolerances of Navy submarines and ships to various kinds of combat-type explosions. Parts or models of the vessels would be towed in by barge. The pond would be dredged in part of the Bush River

already enveloped by the Proving Ground.

The $22 million proposal warrants careful review. The huge APG facility is easily Harford County's largest employer. Testing multitudinous kinds of weaponry is one of its primary roles. Long-time countians tell you that you'll get accustomed to hearing the things that go boom in the distance; "Oh, they're just testing over at APG," is the often-tolerant explanation visitors hear.

The superpond project surfaced in May when the military said the pond would be an unmistakable asset for APG, the community and the environment, producing millions in construction contracts, temporary work and 50 permanent jobs. Plus the dredged spoil would be used for 100 acres of new wetlands that would benefit the Chesapeake Bay. Explosions, most of them underwater, would occur well outside normal waterways.

Residents are raising predictable questions ranging from noise levels to on-going costs to environmental matters. Three government agencies -- two federal and one state -- with environmental protection missions want more information on the possible environmental effects. They especially are concerned about the test pond's impact on APG's thriving bald eagle

population and the Bush River's fish and other aquatic life.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's data seems, in particular, to conflict with the military's position that explosions for the past two years in a smaller APG test pond have had little effect on bald eagles. The majestic birds are still listed as an endangered species, although a recent report on their growth in Maryland showed more are living in the state now than at any time since 1967.

So far, the military has been responsive to all these concerns. That's encouraging. This type of testing has been rejected in Florida and Virginia under circumstances quite different from the setting at APG. It is essential that the military now take the time to ensure that there will be no unwelcome side effects if this submarine superpond is built at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

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