WASHINGTON -- Defenders of five Maryland bases tagged by the Pentagon this year for closure have won a home-field advantage. An appeals hearing for all proposed closings in the mid-Atlantic region will be held in Baltimore on May 4.
The Maryland congressional delegation pressed for the in-state location because hundreds of civilian jobs in the state are threatened by the Pentagon decision to put the five Maryland bases on this year's list of recommended closures.
It is the first time that the independent Base Closure and Realignment Commission has scheduled a regional hearing in Maryland. In previous rounds -- in 1988, 1991 and 1993 -- it has held hearings in Washington and Virginia.
"I think it serves our purposes to have it here," said Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland. "We don't have to travel out of state, and our people are not going to be inconvenienced.
"The community groups have been energized, and they are hard at work. I have no basis to be optimistic or pessimistic. You do what you have to do here, which is mount as effective a presentation as you can to the commission."
The Maryland installations targeted are Fort Ritchie in 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 in Bethesda.
In a letter last week to Alan Dixon, a former senator from Illinois who is chairman of the base closure commission, the congressional delegation said the choice of Maryland as a regional hearing site would be appropriate, because the 1995 closure list heavily affects the state.
"I think this shows a very positive mood in the commission," said Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland. "I think it shows they regard the Maryland bases to be of significant importance. I think it shows they want to be fair."
The commission has the power to endorse or alter the Pentagon's list. The hearing, one of 11 to be held around the nation, will give each affected community the chance to argue for keeping its local base open.
In the three previous closure rounds, fewer than one in five bases were saved. In those rounds, each affected community was given 15 minutes to make its case to the commission for keeping its local base open. This year, each state will be given a block of time, based on the severity of the potential impact.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening has appointed former Rep. Beverly B. Byron to lead Maryland's campaign to save the five Maryland bases.