Readying for possible base closures

State, local officials meet to discuss likely effects

July 29, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

State and local officials gathered in Crownsville yesterday to discuss the Department of Defense's plans to close or realign military bases - and how it might affect Maryland installations and their surrounding communities.

The defense department hasn't recommended any specific closings yet and isn't due to release a report until May next year.

However, state officials believe it's not too early to begin preparing a "coherent pre-response" to the recommendations.

This week, the Maryland Military Installation Strategic Planning Council held two meetings so that affected local and state officials could voice their concerns and suggestions.

Yesterday's meeting focused on three Maryland installations: Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Detrick in Frederick County.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele told the council that although the base closing review is in the early stages, he and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. want to ensure that the state does what it can before defense officials make their recommendations.

"The core objective is to make sure that Maryland installations are placed in the best possible light," Steele said.

The Base Realignment and Closure proceedings will look at hundreds of sites across the country and its territories. The review is aimed at allowing the military to reorganize and streamline operations to better face wartime demands, according to the department's Web site.

The Defense Department is to forward its recommendations to an independent commission next May. The commission, in turn, will hold public hearings and send its report to the president by September next year. The president and Congress can then accept or reject the recommendations in their entirety.

Aris Melissaratos, the state secretary of business and economic development and council chairman, said the meetings are one way the region can develop "readiness for any eventuality."

Anne Arundel County officials didn't seem concerned yesterday that Fort Meade, which is also home to the National Security Agency, would be closed. Instead, they focused on the likely impact of a possible expansion.

"Given [Fort Meade's] location, given what's transpired since 9/11, it augurs well for the future of the fort and the growth of that region," said Robert L. Walker, chief administrative officer for Anne Arundel County.

He said county officials want to work with the Army to prepare for any development.

"We want to make sure that we're able to meet the growing transportation needs as well as respond to any demand that it [growth] puts on housing," Walker said. He cited school crowding as an issue that will beg resolution if growing defense programs - and the jobs created by them-continue to draw families to the area.

Those representing the Aberdeen community said they, too, hope for expansion; but many also expressed concern over the possible relocation of programs.

"If [the Research, Development and Engineering Command] leaves, that's going to be a major change," said Aberdeen Mayor Doug S. Wilson. "The concern about realignment is that things go away."

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