The Marine Corps' elite chemical and biological weapons response team's relocation to the Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center this year will bring a needed economic boost to the Charles County town of Indian Head, federal, state and local officials said Monday.
"We've been struggling, but good things happen to those who wait, and we've been waiting," Indian Head Mayor Warren Bowie said.
Indian Head has barely grown in recent years despite the economic boom in Southern Maryland. In the last three years, seven new homes have been built in the tiny town, while in nearby La Plata nearly 20 times as many new homes have gone up. Some county officials said the arrival of the Marine unit's 373 members and their families will provide a new set of consumers in a town that has suffered the loss of several businesses.
Aubrey Edwards, executive director of Charles County's Economic Development Commission, said the military personnel and their families will "serve to energize the community. The health of the base is very important to the health of the community."
The town's fate has been inextricably tied to the base, which has had its own share of problems, among them layoffs, union allegations of unfair labor practices and threatened closure.
The arrival of the Marine unit could change all that, officials said during an upbeat news conference Monday in Indian Head. Those assembled included members of the County Board of Commissioners, the county's state legislative delegation and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).
"This is a business . . . where you're either growing or you're going," Hoyer said. "This is a great opportunity for Southern Maryland, Charles County and Indian Head. I think this represents a turning point for Indian Head."
The specially trained force was created in 1996 to combat the growing threat of chemical and biological terrorism. It will begin its move from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Indian Head in April. Officials said Indian Head was chosen as the unit's home because of its proximity to the nation's capital and Andrews Air Force Base.
"This was not a political decision," Hoyer said, stressing that the move is due to the merits of Charles County's location. "If Indian Head were to survive and fall based on political decisions alone, we'd be in trouble."
Local officials pledged at the news conference to do everything they could to prepare the town for the members of the unit--most of them Marines, with some Navy and Army personnel--and their families. The Marines plan to spend about $11 million to upgrade Indian Head's facilities.
Most of the members of the unit will live on the base, officials said.
A task force of state and local officials and military personnel is being established to review what preparations need to be completed before the unit's arrival, said Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large).