Md. mounts attack on base closings

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Maryland mustered its forces yesterday to counterattack the Pentagon's decision to phase out five military installations in the state, which would eliminate nearly 1,700 jobs and have a serious economic impact on western counties.

State officials had two hours and 10 minutes to plead their case during a hearing in the University of Maryland Baltimore County's field house before the independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The commission has the power to reverse the Pentagon's decisions.

In a carefully planned and rehearsed maneuver, the state used every second to argue that the proposed closings would threaten national security, would cause communities undue hardship and were based on faulty savings estimates.

Later, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said his office is working with the Virginia and Pennsylvania governors to offset military losses in the region. The three states, he said, have played an "inordinately positive role" in the defense of the nation and are now taking an "inordinate hit."

Nine weeks ago, Defense Secretary William J. Perry announced plans to close or reorganize 146 military bases to save $18 billion over the next 20 years. Targeted facilities in Maryland include Fort Ritchie in Washington County, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Annapolis, the Army Publications Distribution Center in Middle River, and the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak, Montgomery County.

In addition, the Army has proposed elimination of inpatient services at Kimbrough Army Hospital at Fort Meade, reducing it from a hospital to a clinic.

During the 130 minutes, Mr. Glendening, both of the state's U.S. senators, five congressmen, a county executive and nine people associated with the military installations tried to persuade the commission to keep the installations open.

The schedule was so tight that when Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan came to the podium, commission Chairwoman Rebecca Cox interrupted to tell him he had only 11 seconds for his remarks. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who coordinated the state's effort, said he would give the county executive one minute of the time he planned for wrapping up the state's argument.

Base supporters from across the state packed the field house. Fort Ritchie's contingent waved miniature American flags, wore red-white-and-blue ribbons and carried "Save Fort Ritchie" signs. White Oak supporters in white T-shirts hung banners around the auditorium, including one that read "National Security Equals White Oak's Facilities." Chants of "Save Fort Ritchie" and "Save White Oak" rang out minutes before the daylong hearing began.

Lonnie Knickmeier, a member of the Fort Ritchie Military Affairs Committee formed in February to save the base, told commissioners that the 638-acre post is irreplaceable because it serves as a crucial link to Site R, also known as the Z "underground Pentagon."

Fort Ritchie is six miles from Site R, which would serve as a command post for the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff in wartime. Under the Pentagon's proposal, support service for Site R would be transferred to Fort Detrick in Frederick, 32 miles away.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, whose 6th Congressional District includes Fort Ritchie, said that under the proposed scenario, a missile launched half a world away would get to Site R quicker than personnel from Fort Detrick.

Fort Ritchie employs about 2,500 military and civilian workers. Its closing would mean the transfer of 936 jobs to Fort Detrick. Another 560 jobs would be transferred to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and elsewhere. At least 600 jobs would be lost.

Mr. Knickmeier claimed that defense projections "were grossly overstated" -- 843 percent higher than actual costs, he said. For example, he noted the Pentagon claims that it would save $52 million in housing and other costs by closing Fort Ritchie. But Mr. Knickmeier maintained that the figure is closer to $22 million.

John Tino, a member of Montgomery County's contingent, said that one of the Surface Warfare Center's unique components is a hypervelocity wind tunnel, which provides testing for tactical missiles and flight vehicles like the space shuttle. The tunnel is used by all branches of the military and by NASA, he said. The White Oak base also has "three of the world's largest and most capable nuclear radiation simulators," he said.

Mr. Tino, a retired department head at the White Oak center, also pointed out that the Navy's projected one-time cost of $2.9 million to close the facility doesn't take into account the $143 million cost to replicate the wind tunnel and the $102 million cost to move it. The cost to move or replicate the nuclear radiation simulators is $37 million to $40 million.

"Clearly, it is too expensive to move the critical national defense assets at White Oak," he said.

The Navy also reversed the commission's decision in 1993 to move the Naval Sea Systems Command with 3,800 jobs to White Oak from Crystal City, Va.

Besides Maryland, delegations from Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina made presentations before the commission. The hearing was the 10th of 11 hearings.

The final regional hearing will be held today in New York City.

No decisions came out of yesterday's hearing. The commission's recommendations will go to the president by July 1.

Although it is rare for the commission to reverse a Pentagon recommendation, it happened in Maryland two years ago when the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Annapolis was removed from the list. The center, the Navy's premier research facility, showed up on this year's hit list, however.

Like other base proponents, Annapolis supporters focused on the military value of the research facilities at the center, including the Deep Ocean Pressure Simulation Facility that can duplicate the pressure of depths up to 27,000 feet.

Larry Argiro, a retired head of research and development at the center, said he was "flabbergasted" to see the Annapolis facility on the list again this year. He noted that the commission voted 7-0 two years ago to keep the center open.

Cathy Kropp, a computer assistant at the Army Publications Distribution Center in Middle River, told the commission that instead of closing the facility, it should use it to

distribute publications for all branches of the military. Such a move, she said, would save the 131 jobs at the Baltimore County center and save the government "hundreds of millions of dollars."

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