In once-secret silo, residents are taken -- not with the possibilities, but the past Curiosity eclipses talk of how Arundel may use site

March 13, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Questions about parkland and building space went unasked as residents stood on the edge of a metal staircase that dropped 30 feet to a place that was once one of the most secret in the country.

A dozen central Anne Arundel County residents yesterday toured the old Nike missile silo on Bay Head Road that once housed nuclear warheads in their neighborhood.

The residents were trying to figure out what they should do with the buildings and 24 acres on the soon-to-be closed site, which the Navy has promised to donate to the county next year for community activities.

But being on the secret site made the residents look to the past rather than the future. Some were old enough to remember when the silo was Washington's first line of defense against the threat of bombs during the Cold War. Others were young enough to understand only that nuclear warheads sound cool.

How did this place work, one of the visitors asked, peering down the dungeonlike hole with hidden rooms and a rotating launch pad.

What did they do here, asked another. Where was the bomb? TC How much damage could it do? Does the launch pad still work? What defenses do we have now?

A Navy representative, there to field questions about drinking water and ball fields, was unprepared to answer questions about nuclear war.

"I can neither confirm nor deny the use of nuclear " Cmdr. Thomas Buckingham began.

A couple in the crowd chuckled.

"Look, the Nike missile system became antiquated almost the minute it was finished," he said. "It was meant to protect D.C. from bombs."

The crowd roamed undeterred, trying to figure out just what kind of knitting group, garden club or other community activity would be appropriate for a bomb silo.

"This is kind of cool," seventh-grader Blake Foster told his friend as they discussed whether the silo would make a good ice hockey rink. "Wish we could see it go up like it was going to launch."

The land was privately owned until the Army bought it in 1954 for the missile site. Two weeks ago, the Navy acknowledged at a community meeting that it once housed nuclear weapons. An earlier survey of the site showed no contamination, but the Navy has scheduled further testing to begin this month.

In 1969, the Army turned the site over to the Navy, which used it for fire testing, setting fire to samples of equipment and supplies bound for naval vessels while developing fireproof materials.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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