Defense cutbacks to put strain on Southern Md.

February 16, 1993|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

CHARLOTTE HALL -- As the Pentagon continues to reduce the size of its fighting forces, the Navy brass gathered here yesterday morning to warn Southern Maryland business and community leaders that there could be some difficult times ahead.

Indeed, a mini-shock wave hit the packed hall when Capt. Norman S. Scott told the gathering of about 150 people that he couldn't assure them that the base he commands in Dahlgren, Va., wouldn't close.

Dahlgren, off Route 301 on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, had been viewed by local economic development people as relatively safe because it is scheduled to receive nearly 800 personnel from a Navy installation at White Oak, Md.

Dahlgren draws a number of its approximately 3,500 workers from Southern Maryland.

Captain Scott was just one of the speakers at the conference, held at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home to consider how the military installations in the region might fare in the Pentagon's new round of base closure and realignment announcements.

U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, another speaker on the program, said he was more concerned about the future of the Naval Electronic Systems Engineering Activity (NESEA) at St. Inigoes than the other bases in the region. He said it was marked for closing two years ago, and there is fear that it could be on the new base closure list, which is due out next month.

The impact of NESEA's closing could be severe. The 2,000 or so contractors doing business with the base occupy about one-third of the warehouse and office space in St. Mary's County.

Even Capt. Barton D. Strong, commander of the Aircraft division of the Patuxent River Naval Air Warfare Center -- a base that is expected to benefit from the Navy's consolidation -- warned of potential problems ahead.

There will be some surprises coming, he said, "some good news, some not so good."

Because of earlier Pentagon decisions, Pax River, as the base is commonly called, is scheduled to receive about 1,700 personnel from a Navy installation in Warminster, Pa. These transfers, however, are notscheduled to begin until 1995 or 1996.

The most optimistic of the four Navy captains on the program was David G. Maxwell, head of the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head. Captain Maxwell said his base operates much like a private company in that it sell its research services to all four branches of the service.

"We are bound to be affected by the downsizing," he said, "but I think our future is in pretty good shape."

To increase the chances of more good news than bad, Mr. Hoyer said he has brought both Defense Secretary Les Aspin and Sen. Sam Nunn, head of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, to the Southern Maryland bases in an attempt to convince them of the need for the installations. Mr. Aspin was head of the House Armed Services Committee at the time of the visit.

Mr. Hoyer said he has been arguing that the technology at the Southern Maryland bases is vital to a smaller Navy. "Hopefully, I'll be successful," he said.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who was also in attendance, talked briefly at the conference before meeting with the top officials at Pax River.

He visited to discuss what the state could do to secure the future of the Navy base.

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