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Maryland lawmakers plead for bases


WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers from across the nation, including Maryland, lined up yesterday to make last-minute appeals for the survival of military installations the Pentagon wants to close this year.

After seeking reprieves for six threatened facilities in Maryland, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said: "Now, may the force be with us."

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who opened the Maryland presentation to the commission on military base closures, said: "We think there is a strong case for each of these facilities."

Dozens of members of Congress from 20 states appeared to share similar beliefs, as they extolled the military values and economic advantages of keeping open local bases the Pentagon says it no longer needs in the post-Cold War era.

The targeted Maryland facilities are Fort Ritchie near Cascade in Western Maryland; the Naval Surface Warfare Centers at Annapolis and White Oak; the Army Publications Distribution Center in Middle River; the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda; and the Investigations and Automation Directorate at Fort Holabird.

Democratic Sens. Sarbanes and Mikulski reminded the commission that the Naval warfare center at Annapolis had been targeted for closure in 1993 but reprieved, and White Oak, now slated for closure, was selected only two years ago to be the site of the Naval Sea Command.

Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery Republican, and Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George's Democrat, joined forces to oppose closure of the White Oak facility, and argue for implementation of the plan to made it a command headquarters.

Mrs. Morella said it would cost $143 million to replicate a high velocity wind tunnel at the site and $102 million to move it.

Replacing a nuclear test facility there could cost as much as another $40 million, she said.

Echoing the point, Mr. Wynn said: "White Oak is a better, cheaper option."

Arguing for the continuation of the Annapolis Naval Warfare Center, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican, questioned the Pentagon's estimate of $25 million to move eight the center's research facilities to Philadelphia. Mr. Gilchrest estimated the cost at more than $83 million.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, proposed that the commission should remove the Army Publications Distribution Center from the list of closures, and, instead, make it part of a review of all military publication facilities.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, tried to persuade the commission that the Army proposal to close Fort Ritchie was based on "a multitude of data errors, omissions and faulty rationale" in the original Pentagon proposal.

While supporting the calls for keeping the threatened Maryland bases open, Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat, welcomed the expansion of the Patuxent River Naval Air Warfare Center, which could gain 716 slots under the shuffle.

"Clearly [Patuxent River] will be an enormous asset for the Navy, the Defense Department and our country," Mr. Hoyer said, striking a rare note of satisfaction in a day dominated by pleas for survival.

The Pentagon has proposed closing 146 bases this year, but the commission can add or delete facilities from that list.

The commission must make its recommendations to President Clinton by July 1.

The president then has 15 days to accept or reject the entire list. If he rejects it, the list is reworked by the commission.

If he accepts it, Congress then has 45 legislative days to accept or reject all the recommendations.

To keep politics out of the procedure, neither Mr. Clinton nor Congress can tamper with the commission's final list.

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