Maryland may lose 5 bases, jobs

March 01, 1995|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon announced plans to close or reorder operations at 146 military bases across the nation yesterday, delivering a surprisingly harsh blow to Maryland, which faces the loss of five military installations.

The targeted facilities in Maryland are Fort Ritchie, in Cascade in Western Maryland; the Naval Surface Warfare Centers at Annapolis and White Oak; the Army Publications Distribution Center in Middle River; and the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda.

Several Maryland installations would be expanded under the Defense Department plan, but the civilian work force on bases in the state would suffer a net loss of 1,211 jobs. Military employment would shrink by 481 slots. Hundreds more related jobs could be lost in communities surrounding the military installations.

The latest round of proposed base closures, announced by Defense Secretary William J. Perry, is meant to save $18 billion over the next 20 years and reduce the surplus real estate controlled by the Pentagon in the wake of the 33 percent shrinkage in manpower since the end of the Cold War.

Savings from the changes, Mr. Perry said, would be earmarked for combat readiness and force modernization.

The Pentagon targeted 33 major bases for closure, including Fort McClellan, Ala.; Long Beach Naval Shipyard, Calif.; the Minuteman missile base at Grand Forks, N.D.; the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, Colo.; the Naval Air Warfare Center, Meridian, Miss.; the Naval Air Warfare Center in Indianapolis; Rome Laboratories, in Rome, N.Y.; and Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.

This was the fourth round of proposed base closures, and follows similar cutbacks in 1988, 1991 and 1993.

Mr. Perry said a fifth round might be necessary, but indicated that he doubted that Congress would have the political stomach to inflict yet more political and economic pain on communities near the bases.

Political battleground

The Pentagon's latest target list will be reviewed by the independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which will become a political battleground as local politicians and communities fight to save their bases. The commission has the power to delete from or add bases to the list.

The panel has until July 1 to send its final recommendations to the president and then Congress, who must either accept or reject the list in its entirety. This is to prevent last-minute political tinkering with the list.

Glendening response

Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced last night he had retained former Western Maryland Rep. Beverly B. Byron, who served on an earlier base closing commission, to coordinate Maryland's response.

"Every job in Maryland counts, whether it be military or civilian, and my administration will fight for each and every one," the governor said.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, said he would call a meeting of the state's congressional delegation to try to reverse the Pentagon's proposed cuts in Maryland.

"I am hopeful," he said. "The commission is there, of course, for you to point out the weaknesses and fallacies in the rationale of the services [for closing the installations]. They are by no means perfect, and the commission in the past has modified, revised, or even completely reversed decisions."

As outlined by the Pentagon, here is the potential economic impact of the five proposed closures in Maryland:

* Fort Ritchie, the Army's signal outpost in the Catoctin Mountains of Western Maryland. The area stands to lose 2,344 jobs on the base and 866 related, off-base jobs. That represents 4.8 percent of the employment in the Hagerstown area. But the overall impact of the closure would be offset by the transfer of 936 of the jobs to nearby Fort Detrick.

The estimated annual savings for the Pentagon: $65 million.

"It's a big whack," said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the 6th District Republican, of the proposed closing of Fort Ritchie. "They were not supposed to close bases where there would be an unwarranted economic impact. We feel we have some potent arguments we are going to make."

* Naval Surface Warfare Center, White Oak, on the Montgomery-Prince George's county line. Closure could cost 646 jobs, with 202 of them on the base and 444 indirectly serving the installation.

The real impact is that some 3,800 jobs that were to be created with the arrival later this year of the Naval Sea Systems Command, now located in Northern Virginia, would be redirected to the Washington Navy Yard.

This would be a major blow to efforts to revitalize the Silver Spring area.

Estimated annual savings: $6 million.

* Naval Surface Warfare Center, Annapolis. The projected loss over the next five years on and off the base is 1,512 jobs, the Pentagon said. Of these, 522 are civilian and military jobs directly tied to the center. The other 990 are indirectly dependent on it.

Partially offsetting the loss is the prospect that 19 of the civilian jobs and one military slot would be transferred to the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Carderock, in Montgomery County.

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