Nike missile site's future pondered

Some in Granite seek removal, others say it should be preserved

September 29, 2000|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Thomas Blunt will hardly be sad to see his neighbor go.

"It was H-E-L-L," living near anti-aircraft missile base during the Cold War, he said one day last week from his farm in Granite in western Baltimore County.

The Nike missiles that were stored next to Blunt's farm for two decades in underground silos are long gone. But the old radar installation, made up of eight cinder- block buildings and two rusted radar towers, remains standing just down Hernwood Road. It was there that soldiers scanned the skies for Soviet planes.

Residents of Granite want the federal government to turn that land over to them, possibly to be annexed to Patapsco State Park. Officials at Fort Meade say that three underground fuel storage tanks were removed recently and that the property could become available within a year or two.

The Army removed the missiles from the site in the late 1960s, but the National Guard used the radar installation for several years after that.

Blunt is one person who would like to see all traces of the installation eliminated. Not just because the boarded-up buildings and rusted towers are a jarring contrast to the pastoral fields where goats and donkeys graze, but because they conjure up bad memories.

In the 1950s, the U.S. government took 28 acres of his family's land for the site, first offering $100 an acre, but eventually paying $1,000 an acre after Blunt took the government to court.

The property where the missiles were stored has since been taken over by what he describes as a better neighbor. The state uses the land as a training center for police officers and police dogs.

But farther down Hernwood Road, just north of Old Court Road, is the 16.5-acre former radar site. The community wants to use the land for a park, a community center, or maybe "an interpretive center for Cold War history," says Brenda Logue, president of the Granite Historical Society.

She says the community is undecided about the future of the base, which borders a national historic district.

During a recent visit to the site, hawks perched on the two rusted towers. Boards covered the windows of the buildings that once housed the radar operation. The area is surrounded by a chain-link fence and barbed wire.

Blunt sees it as an eyesore.

But Roz Roddy, president of the Greater Patapsco Community Association, says some in the neighborhood would like to preserve the control center.

One such resident, Joe Tatarewicz, an associate professor of history at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a Cold War historian, was so fascinated by the Nike site that he had his graduate students complete a research project about it in conjunction with the Granite Historical Society.

"I appreciate that for a rural community, it is an eyesore. It is an unpleasant reminder of another time," he says. "To me, as a historian of this era, it's as fascinating as a Victorian house is to a 19th-century historian."

While the site may look ugly to some, the installation has one asset that Baltimoreans might enjoy. The sentry box at the entrance - a building slightly larger than a telephone booth - is encased in Formstone.

But the condition of other structures on the property could pose a problem to the next owner, who would be responsible for removing old buildings full of asbestos and taking care of towers that are probably coated with lead paint, says Jim Gebhardt, an environmental engineer at Fort Meade.

It could cost could cost millions of dollars to remove the towers alone, says Tatarewicz.

Nevertheless, says Logue, "That's part of Granite's 1950s history. It's just a different era, but that's not a reason not to value its history.

"It's an eyesore that has real potential."

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