Naval Academy's sacred cow

May 17, 1994

Residents of Gambrills in western Anne Arundel County are still fighting to keep their "little piece of heaven," the U.S. Naval Academy's 862-acre dairy farm.

The question is, will the government do what it has done often in the past -- keep the dairy going, even though it makes little economic sense?

Milk from the dairy farm costs $2.30 a gallon, versus $1.75 to $1.99 a gallon the academy would pay to buy from a private dairy. The academy could save $340,000 a year by making this change. Since the 1960s, several studies have concluded the dairy is losing money and should be closed.

The dairy's raison d'etre -- it was created in 1911 to provide safe milk after a typhoid outbreak -- has long since ceased to exist. No other service academy has its own dairy.

To keep this farm because the neighbors like the view and because Congress, which alone can close it, hates to get rid of anything it creates is simply wasteful and irresponsible. The sums involved may not seem like much given the scope of the federal budget, but all across the nation are thousands of similar government-subsidized operations -- a little waste here, a little waste there, and it all adds up to real money.

If the academy is determined to keep the farm, at least it should follow the recommendations of agricultural experts for making it more efficient. They would be wiser, however, to change completely the way this property is used.

Some of the ideas being talked about -- leasing pieces of it to the county for nature and picnic areas, ball fields and an equestrian center -- would fill local needs without destroying the landscape while raising money to support worthy academy activities.

The academy's controversial proposal to turn part of the farm into a golf course could prove extremely profitable, given the demand for tee times. But if officials want support for the golf course, they need to be specific about how they intend to use those profits. The public wants to see the benefits go toward the considerable expenses involved in educating and training the midshipmen.

Of course, none of these options sits well with neighbors, who consider the farm perfect as it is. We understand why they feel that way. What they need to understand is that government is not in the business of giving individual communities their own little pieces of heaven.

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