An official of the U.S. Innigration and Naturalization Service indicated yesterday that the disused Bainbridge Naval Training Center in northeastern Maryland has become the leading candidate to serve as a resettlement center for hundreds of Cuban and Haitian refugees now housed as Fort Chaffee, Ark.
"Bainbridge has very good potential for our purposes," said Doris Meissner, acting INS commissioner, after a tour of the base which is located in Cecil County near the tiny town of Port Deposit.
Bainbridge was one of about eight sites recommended by the INS to President Reagan last week as possibly adaptable to the relocation plan, and its inclusion in the list set off an immediate outburst of indignation from Maryland officials and nearby residents.
Port Deposit Mayor Donald Poist, whose town of 675 residents is separated from the abandoned base by an 8-foot-high fence, said "I'm 95 percent sure" that Bainbridge will be chosen. "I've heard from sources and it dosen't look good. We are rather fearful and very concerned. We feel like we're standing in front of a firing squad."
Maryland Democratic congressmen Roy P. Dyson and Clarence Long, who also toured the base last week, both denounced the proposal.
"There's not enough water; sewage facilities have deteriorated over the years," said Long, who also said he will introduce a measure in Congress tomorrow to force the Navy to sell Bainbridge and never use it as a refugee camp. "Some of these people are emotionally disturbed and others are criminals. All of them are unskilled laborers and Cecil County has no market for these."
Mayor Poist, who said the situation is more serious than May 1980 when the Carter administration canceled plans to send as many as 20,000 Cuban refugess to Bainbridge, said Post Deposit residents are "family-type people used to quiet-type living and no major problems."
Port Deposit, he said, has only two full-time policemen and one part-time policeman. "There is apprehension here and a few people have become so alarmed as to say, 'Oh, I have to buy a gun.' And someone has started target practice. Some are threatening to sell their property and move away. That is overracting, but hopefully, we will never find out."
Meissner said Bainbridge, where 260,000 servicemen were trained during World War II, could house 400 to 2,000 refugees regulary and up to 10,000 "in a tent city in an immigration emergency." Most of the refugees that would be sent to Bainbridge from Fort Chaffee, Meissner said, are "mostly single men, with limited education, limited skills, almost no English ability . . .
"They would simply be detained and have minimal training in an attempt to release them unless we were able to negotiate an agreement with Cuba to return them. But we believe that most of these people will have to be held for some considerable period."
Meissner said Bainbridge was appealing to INS because of its potential as a long-term center for aliens and refugees other than the Cubans and Haitians. If the base is used, Meissner said, it would require a total renovation, costing millions.
"Our proposal is certianly not to use it in its present condition," she said. "If it were chosen, it would be about four months minimum before refugees could be sent there."