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Political firepower crucial on Aberdeen; Base retention: Harkins, U.S. representatives working to bolster proving ground in Harford County.; Agenda '99


GREAT NOISE has engulfed Aberdeen Proving Ground recently. It's not from testing the tank guns but from local officials wondering if they have the political firepower to protect the sprawling Army base.

James M. Harkins, the Harford County executive, wasted little time carrying out a priority he included in his inaugural speech: retaining APG. He contracted with a former county official to help retain the base and attract new companies to serve it.

No one in the military has said that the artillery test ground, established by President Woodrow Wilson, will vacate the 60,000-plus acres of Chesapeake marshland it has occupied since 1919. But some county leaders are worried because of recent changes. Among them: the downgrading of a two-star general to a one-star general on post, and transfer of responsibility for a proving ground outfit called TECOM (Test and Evaluation Command) to another unit, ATEC, in Alexandria, Va. Even more disconcerting, as Harford's largest employer, APG is projected to lose 1,000 jobs by 2003.

U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., discounts reports of APG's demise. Even so, the heightened focus on APG in recent months is welcome. A private-sector Army Alliance is forming to work on behalf of APG, and the county and state are chipping in $200,000 to hire a professional lobbyist to push the base's case. That aggressive strategy helped save Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County years ago.

Just as corporate headquarters and sports teams increasingly hop between states, so do military operations. APG, which employs 14,000 people, pumps $400 million into Harford's economy and another $200 million into Baltimore and Baltimore County. Vigilance by local officials, Rep. Ehrlich and U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski is crucial.

Pub Date: 2/20/99

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