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Area Communities Lobby In Defense of Their Bases

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page B01

Military and economic development officials in the Washington area have spent the past two years preparing for the Pentagon version of "Survivor."

As the Defense Department plans its largest realignment of military bases, communities have invested millions of dollars in hopes of convincing the Pentagon not to eliminate local bases. From Norfolk to Frederick, the region is home to almost 50 military installations -- the largest concentration in the country -- and many are the largest employers in their communities, helping the area to weather the nation's recent economic downturn.

Fort Detrick, shown in 2001, is home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and is Frederick's largest employer. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

The list of bases selected to close is to be released May 16, but in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, the worst fears appear to have subsided. Advocates for the three jurisdictions said that rumor and research has led them to believe that no regional bases will close in the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. But they say there could be a lot of shuffling among bases.

"I expect the 'R' in BRAC to be a lot more significant than the 'C,' " Cord Sterling, military legislative assistant to Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said yesterday at a meeting of the Virginia Commission on Military Bases. The commission, which met in Fredericksburg, was formed in 2003 to lobby for Virginia's 31 installations.

According to economic development officials, many area bases employ a large percentage of researchers and scientists -- both military personnel and contractors. Some base officials believe those jobs are stable and will stay put; others believe those jobs can be moved more easily than those at training bases.

Fort Meade, which houses the National Security Agency, is Maryland's largest employer. Fort Detrick is Frederick's largest employer. Both have grown significantly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and officials said they had no indication that the trend would reverse. Officials in Dahlgren, Va., said the same is true of the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center there.

But communities have not left their bases' futures to hope or chance, spending more money on lobbying in this round of closures than in previous rounds in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995.

Virginia put $1.7 million into helping communities make cases for their installations, and legislators passed laws in the recent session to provide military employees better life insurance coverage and extend economic development incentives to bases that are typically reserved for private companies.

Maryland, which has 11 large bases, passed a law this year making housing on bases tax-free. Maryland had undertaken an environmental review of bases in an effort to seem eager and ready for expansions.

Maryland officials also tried to smooth out problems between bases and environmental advocates "so we could have greater harmony during all this," said Brig. Gen. Michael Hayes, head of the state's office of military and federal affairs.

Several communities repaired roads to ease traffic congestion that has annoyed civilians. They also have hired consultants and lobbyists.

"They're trying to think innovatively about how they can be more attractive," said Chris Hellman, a military policy analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, who has been involved with base closings since 1987.

The same process is going on across the country, Hellman said, noting that Texas passed a $250 million bond issue last year to make money available for road improvements around bases, while other states provided discounted utilities to bases or tuition benefits for military staff at nearby schools.

"They're thinking outside the box besides just lobbyists," Hellman said.

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