Lawmakers launch bipartisan effort to overturn military base closures


WASHINGTON -- Maryland members of Congress yesterday agreed on a bipartisan effort to save hundreds of jobs threatened by the proposed closure of five military installations in the state.

Joining them for their first strategy session since the Pentagon announced Tuesday that the five Maryland facilities were among 146 targeted closures across the nation was former Democratic congresswoman Beverly B. Byron, appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to organize the state's response to the economic setback.

Noting that community groups already had formed to fight the closures, Mrs. Byron said: "That's important. We have a (congressional) delegation that is going to speak from strength, and that's important."

Mrs. Byron was a member of Congress during the 1991 round of base closures and, after leaving office, a member of the independent Base Closure and Realignment Commission during the 1993 round.

"You have worked both sides of the street," Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, the Democrat who called yesterday's meeting, told Mrs. Byron. "We want to hear from you."

The five Maryland installations threatened with closure are Fort Ritchie, in Cascade, Western Maryland; the Naval Surface Warfare Centers in Annapolis and White Oak; the Army Publications Distribution Center in Middle River; and the Naval Medical Research Institute, Bethesda.

Their fate now rests with the base closure commission, which can add or delete bases to or from the Pentagon's list before it makes its own recommendations to the president and Congress July 1.

The local effort to overturn the Pentagon decisions will concentrate on the commission, which is to hold a regional hearing to allow affected communities to make their cases for keeping facilities open.

According to the Pentagon, 1,211 civilians and 481 military personnel are employed on the installations.

Hundreds of other jobs in surrounding communities -- and much of the local economy in the Fort Ritchie area -- are tied to their operation.

Mrs. Byron said communities should not focus on the economic impact of the proposed closures, but should stress the military value of the facilities.

"That presentation by each facility has to be very tightly crafted," she said.

Senator Sarbanes, a veteran of previous base closure battles, said: "You can't go before the commission without a good case because you get torn to shreds if you do that. We know how to put together a strong brief. It's almost like a lawyer putting together a case."

David S. Lyles, the commission's staff director, told the delegation: "Every affected community will have a seat at the table. There are going to be no secrets in this process."

Mr. Lyles told the delegation that in previous base closure rounds the commission had accepted roughly 85 percent of the Pentagon's recommendations. He added: "The best way to stay off the commission's list is not to get on the (Pentagon's) list in the first place."

One of the threatened facilities, the White Oak Naval Center, is the site of a one-of-a-kind research wind tunnel. On Wednesday Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested the tunnel be retained. The delegation plans to use his comments to bolster its case for keeping open White Oak, which straddles the Montgomery-Prince George's County line.

Said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat: "Anyone who knows anything about aviation infrastructure and research and development knows how important this is. That wind tunnel, along with a 1.75 million gallon testing tank, are irreplaceable one-of-a-kind facilities."

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