It may look like a giant golf ball, but the new weather radar that federal officials want to build along the Severn River is no toy. The dome-covered radar tower the Federal Aviation Administration has proposed would detect"wind shear," dangerous shifts in wind direction and velocity involved in several recent airplane crashes.
Wind shear "can effectively slam a plane into the ground," said Mark Miglietta, associate programmer for the FAA's seven-state eastern region. "It's like flying into a tornado."
Over the past two decades, wind shear was a factor in at least seven crashes nationwide, claiming about 500 lives, Mr. Miglietta said.
The FAA hopes to locate the 131-foot tower on a half-acre parcel of the state-owned Whitney's Landing Farm between Indian Landing Road and Evergreen Road in Crownsville, about eight miles southeast of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Mr. Miglietta said the FAA still needs the approval of the state Department of Natural Resources, which manages the 312-acre property, and the state Board of Public Works.
The DNR acquired the property in November 1990 after lobbying by environmental activists who want it preserved as open space. The farm is near Severn Run Environmental Natural Area and the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center.
DNR spokesman Ken Shanks said his agency is evaluating whether the farm will be developed as a state park or designated for more limited use like the Severn Run area. The Arden on the Severn community already uses a portion of the property for soccer fields; another section is used by a radio-control model airplane club, he said.
At DNR's urging, FAA engineers will present the agency's proposal to the public at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development conference room, 100 Community Place, Crownsville. Questions will be taken afterward.
Jim Martin, president of the Severn River Association, which represents more than 100 neighborhoods, said he wants to know if the tower's construction will affect wildlife and if it will emit any harmful electromagnetic fields.
Mr. Martin said he was unaware of the project until a scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratories invited him to the meeting by telephone two weeks ago. Lincoln Laboratories is helping the FAA choose the best sites to install 47 Terminal Doppler Weather Radar units around the country, Mr. Miglietta said. The federal government has earmarked $50 million for the entire project; Mr. Miglietta did not know the individual cost of each unit.
Four radar towers will be built in the Baltimore-Washington area to serve BWI, National Airport, Dulles International Airport and Andrews Air Force Base, the FAA spokesman said. Lincoln Laboratories evaluated 26 sites around BWI before targeting Whitney's Landing Farm as the best, Mr. Miglietta said.
Mr. Shanks said the FAA has been considering two locations at Whitney's Landing Farm: a field and a forested area, which might better screen the radar tower from the view of nearby residents.
The domed tower, 40-feet in diameter, would relay the information it records through telephone lines to air traffic controllers at BWI, Mr. Miglietta said.