Losers angry, pained

June 24, 1995|By Norris P. West and Shirley Leung | Norris P. West and Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer John A. Morris contributed to this article.

There was sadness, disappointment and anger last night in Western Maryland and Annapolis.

The Base Closure and Realignment Commission sealed the fate of prized military installations in those communities, bringing the prospect of job losses, falling real estate values and closing businesses.

The commission voted yesterday to close Fort Ritchie in Washington County and the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Annapolis. It also voted to close a Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak in Montgomery County.

People such as Alan L. Decker Jr. will feel the pain. His family operates a convenience store in Cascade, Pa., near Fort Ritchie. And he just bought a house last year.

"It does upset me by the plain fact that there are more than jobs and businesses at stake," said Mr. Decker. "People have invested in real estate. You buy a home at $74,000, and a year later the base closes, and the property value just drops."

He said he had been confident that the base would remain open, keeping property values level. Now, he worries that Fort Ritchie might eventually house a prison.

The Fort Ritchie closure will cause an estimated loss of 600 jobs in Western Maryland. Another 1,000 jobs will be shifted to Fort Detrick in Frederick County.

Herb Meininger, chairman of Fort Ritchie Military Affairs Committee (FORMAC), which fought to keep the base open, said the Fort Ritchie closure will also affect Franklin County, Pa.

"Forty-six percent of employees at Fort Ritchie live in Franklin County. People from Waynesboro to Chambersburg are going to be hurt," he said.

Mr. Meininger said contractors will suffer from losing a major client -- the military.

Supporters of Fort Ritchie said they were frustrated as they watched the vote on television's C-SPAN yesterday. They said they had compiled a list of benefits and brought them to the commission's staff. They said those issues never were considered.

"We've been spending several months raising issues with that lTC staff," Mr. Meininger said.

In Annapolis, the 430 employees of the Naval Surface Warfare Center had dodged the Pentagon's cost-cutting bullet twice. The third time was not the charm.

The commission voted to transfer most of the center's research on submarine acoustics to the Naval Surface Weapons Center in Philadelphia. About 125 jobs would be eliminated.

The decision means the center must close within six years, said Cmdr. Roger Walker, who heads the Annapolis center.

"It's just ridiculous," said Mike Jacobsen, 34, a mechanical engineer, who has worked there since 1983. "I think they've made a wrong move. They're going to lose more quality people than they realize."

The Navy has been helping the scientists and technicians find new jobs since 1993, when the Pentagon proposed for a second time to close the center. The commission voted to keep it open then and in 1991.

"What the Navy wanted to happen, happened," Commander Walker said. "We'll do our best to make sure the people impacted are taken care of."

Anne Arundel County officials said the closure would hurt the county's economy.

"It doesn't make any sense to us that this facility, which is literally unique in the world in what it does, is on the list of bases to be closed," said Larry Telford, spokesman for County Executive John G. Gary.

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