State sees minor impact in possible base closings

Work in Md. in war against terror may mean net job gain, officials say

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April 26, 2005|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

Bracing for the announcement of a list of military bases to be closed or reduced, state officials believe that Maryland could come out with a net gain in jobs because of the war on terror.

But they fear the Defense Department might close or realign the Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center in Charles County, whose functions could be absorbed by a larger facility.

"We don't believe that Indian Head is on a closure list, but we're very much concerned about pieces coming and going," said J. Michael Hayes, a retired Marine Corps general who heads the office of military and federal affairs in the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

Be prepared, governor says

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. urged yesterday that the state be prepared for the closure of a base. He spoke to the 19-member Military Installation Strategic Planning Council, set up in 2003 to protect state military bases from this year's round of cuts.

"Maryland's bases are largely focused on research and development in the fields of the life sciences, intelligence and aerospace - which are all central to the war our nation is now fighting," Ehrlich said.

Officials fear the economic impact of closures or realignments on communities surrounding bases. Indian Head employs 3,600 people, according to the Department of Business and Economic Development.

The Pentagon is reviewing its 425 facilities to determine whether to close or consolidate some to save up to $7 billion annually. The Pentagon list is expected to be released May 16. The list will be reviewed by a commission, and President Bush will submit a final list to Congress in the fall. It can be changed at several steps of the process.

Officials in Maryland have spent two years lobbying on behalf of the state's 11 major bases, which employ about 100,000.

Installations such as Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Detrick in Frederick County stand to gain jobs because of research related to bioterrorism and homeland security, officials said.

"When you look at what we have here and relate it to what the military mission is right now, we're fairly well positioned," said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research for the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute.

Indian Head, which Clinch says directly adds $350 million to Maryland's economy, is viewed as likely to be downsized mostly because of its smaller size.

During the last realignment and closure of military bases a decade ago, Indian Head was on a preliminary list to be closed, but taken off, officials said.

Some bases likely to expand

Some bases, particularly Army posts, are expected to expand, Hayes said. They include Fort Detrick in Frederick County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel, where the National Security Agency is located.

Aberdeen Proving Ground has spurred growth in northeastern Maryland. A company has proposed a 300-acre business and technology park at the military installation that could more than double the number of civilian jobs there.

"Probably the reason for the most optimism I would say is because of their critical mission," said William Seccurro, president of the Harford County Chamber of Commerce, noting that Aberdeen conducts ordnance testing as well as biochemical and chemical testing in its laboratories.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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