U.S. Agency Assails Ft. Meade Plan

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 22, 2007

Federal officials warn that the Army's proposed expansion of Fort Meade with new buildings and two 18-hole golf courses could threaten a nearby wildlife refuge and clog the roads that lead to the post in western Anne Arundel County, according to an environmental impact report released yesterday.

The U.S. Department of Interior described the plan, part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, as a "significant threat to the biological and territorial integrity of the Patuxent Research Refuge, a unique national interest in the forefront of scientific research and protection.

"The potential loss of 144 acres of existing trees and forest for two golf courses is highly significant for a watershed which is undergoing such large increases in impervious surface and development," Michael T. Chezik, the regional environmental officer, wrote the Army in a May 7 letter, released as part of the report.

In response, the Army said that it is taking steps to limit the environmental damage but that the golf courses are needed for "maintaining the quality of life for soldiers and their families."

The release of the final environmental impact study represents a critical step in advance of a final decision on the expansion to be made by the Army within 30 days. The growth at Fort Meade and the National Security Agency is projected to bring about 22,000 military and defense contracting jobs, 7,700 schoolchildren and $61 million in construction projects to the surrounding area, the Army estimates.

Army studies show the traffic delays at intersections along Route 175, a key access road to the base, could increase significantly, in one instance "from 15 seconds to more than five minutes" during the peak morning period.

The state is projecting congestion on Maryland routes 175 and 198, which will probably not be widened until years after employees have relocated to the post.

"The combination of the direct impacts to the transportation system . . . and the indirect impacts associated with this growth will, in many cases, cause a degradation in the quality of the transportation system in terms of delay, congestion," John D. Porcari, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, warned in a memorandum included in the report.

In response to traffic concerns, the Army said in the report that it is continuing work with the State Highway Administration on widening Route 175.

A spokeswoman for Porcari said yesterday that he had not seen the report.

Fort Meade covers 5,067 acres in Anne Arundel County, near the Interstate 95 corridor. Under the proposed realignment, three major defense activities would move to Fort Meade by 2011.

In the report, the most strenuous objections to the proposed expansion were raised by the Interior Department.

The 12,750-acre Patuxent Research Refuge is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and was established in 1936 to support wildlife research.

Concerns about damage to the refuge were raised by the Interior Department after the Army released its draft environmental report in April. Chezik wrote that the draft "does not adequately address potentially significant diverse impacts to natural resources."

In its response, the Army said "the layout and design of these two golf courses will preserve the natural resources to the maximum extent possible."

In addition, the Army said it will design "storm water controls to minimize impacts to the environment."

"We feel we have adequately addressed their concerns," Mick Butler, the Fort Meade environmental project manager, said yesterday.

He said the permits that would be required to be issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment "will provide adequate protection to our adjacent land owners."

Asked whether the Interior Department was satisfied with the Army's response to the concerns raised, Chezik deferred comment to officials of the Patuxent Research Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who are overseeing the matter. Those officials were not available yesterday.

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