Packed into a small tour bus, members of the governor's staff toured the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County on Thursday as local officials completed a series of briefings aimed at getting support from the Maryland Board of Public Works for the county's efforts to keep the station open.
The proposals seek to accommodate the Navy's continued presence in St. Mary's and to reduce any chances that the base would be closed under the Base Reorganization and Consolidation (BRAC) review, the Pentagon's downsizing initiative scheduled for 2005.
"We've identified seven points that we know the Navy has concurred with us putting in place," said George Forrest, county administrator. Objectives include demolition of Lexington Manor (the "Flattops community"), a neighborhood of low-income housing under the flight path of aircraft at the base, construction of a school and rejuvenation of Lexington Park.
Forrest said each priority addresses the question the Navy poses to local officials where bases are located: "Is your community able to support Navy operations?"
At the naval base, members of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s staff -- Mary Beth Carozza, the governor's deputy chief of staff; Karen A. Smith, director of intergovernmental affairs; and Paul Magness, the liaison to the Board of Public Works -- visited the Atlantic Test Range (ATR), the Manned Flight Simulator and the Frank Knox Training Center for briefings on the facilities.
Over the past two months, the county also has briefed Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, who, with the governor, make up the membership of the Board of Public Works. That board must approve any state funding committed to construction projects.
County representatives noted figures highlighting the statewide economic importance of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which they said accounts for $2.7 billion of the state's economic activity each year. That is nearly twice the impact of the Port of Baltimore, St. Mary's officials said.
They are requesting state funds for the acquisition and demolition of Lexington Manor. The county also wants state funding for the construction of replacement low-income housing in Hunting Creek, where former Lexington Manor residents will be relocated.
Lexington Manor "is in an AICUZ zone [Air Installations Compatible Use Zone], which is designed to prevent building outside from encroaching on the base," said Board of Commissioners President Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large). The county, faced with the owner's plans to demolish Lexington Manor and replace it with commercial and retail space, is asking for funds to buy the 84 acres to protect the area from future development that could pose encroachment conflicts with the Navy.
"We will demolish all of the homes except for two that would be maintained for historic preservation," McKay said.
The county is also seeking state funds to convert an old Tri-County Youth Services building in Charlotte Hall into a northern gateway to St. Mary's, with a visitors center and office space.
The new Indian Bridge Road elementary school near St. Mary's State Park is also part of the county's agenda before the Board of Public Works. The county has encountered opposition to building the proposed school on the habitat of the endangered eastern narrowmouth toad.
The county is asking the Board of Public Works to propose alternatives for accommodating the habitat concerns or to allow the county to build on the site.
"If you stop the schools, you stop the growth," said Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R-Golden Beach). "And we can't afford, with our relationship with the Navy, to do this."
The county's proposals will go before the state board Wednesday.