Chris Loysen, who owns Dodson's, a gas
station across from the gate at Fort Detrick, says he considers the base a good neighbor.
(CNS photo by Kevin McCullough)
By Kevin McCullough
Capital News Service
Friday, April 29, 2005
FREDERICK, Md. - Chris Loysen doesn't worry about the infectious disease
research that goes on at Fort Detrick, whose main gate is just across the
street from his gas station.
"I don't think having Fort Detrick is more or less scary than any other
neighbor," said Loysen, as he watched a steady stream of cars drive up
West Seventh Street to the fort's entrance. "I would take more of it."
It is a common sentiment when people in Frederick are asked about the
fort: Not only are neighbors not overly worried by the biological research
that goes on at the base, they are glad for the jobs and business it
brings the area.
"It's been a good neighbor," Loysen said.
Measured in terms of dollars and cents, it's been a very good neighbor.
The 1,200-acre fort is the largest employer in Frederick County, with
about 7,800 civilian and military employees. Army officials estimate that
the fort -- and the dozens of military and civilian government agencies
that have facilities there -- funnels an estimated $500 million a year
into the local economy.
That has helped drive the "biotech corridor" along Interstate 270
between Frederick and Washington.
Local officials hope the size and diversity that make Fort Detrick so
valuable to the county will also make it valuable to the Pentagon -- too
valuable to target in the upcoming round of base closures.
"Wel,l if Detrick closes, they're going to close every base in the
country," said John Lynn Shanton, a board member for the Fort Detrick
Alliance, a community group seeking to raise awareness of Fort Detrick and
to promote it.
Founded in 1931 as an airfield, the fort has been a center of
biological research for more than 50 years. Its mission included offensive
biological warfare development for more than two decades, until President
Nixon outlawed the development of bioweapons in 1969.
Today, Fort Detrick is a center for government biomedical research,
housing the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease,
the National Cancer Institute-Frederick, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel
Agency, and more than two dozen other tenant organizations.
The fort is "very important. It's really helping to drive biotech --
it's growing throughout the state," said Kenneth Busz, president of the
Frederick County Chamber of Commerce.
And the fort itself is scheduled to grow again with the development of
a new interagency biodefense campus. It will include the National
Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, a 160,000-square-foot
facility managed by the Department of Homeland Security that will include
biosafety level 4 facilities, which handle the most dangerous pathogens.
The continuing development and expansion of facilities on Fort Detrick
has given many members of the community reason to be optimistic about the
"I think that the diversified missions of Fort Detrick isolate it" from
the threat of closure under the Base Realignment and Closure list expected
in May, said John J. Fieseler, executive director of the Tourism Council
of Frederick County.
"We're very confident," said Busz, noting the development of the new
Homeland Security lab. "That wouldn't happen if the fort were in any
danger of closing."
"9/11 I think, helped secure Fort Detrick's fate, in a good way," he
Fieseler said that you can "never predict for sure what will happen,
but I think they are positioned to be pretty well insulated."
"There's been longstanding partnership between the community and the
fort," Fieseler said. He described the relationship between Detrick and
Frederick as "very symbiotic."
Col. John E. Ball, garrison commander at Fort Detrick, agreed.
"Fort Detrick has had a very positive impact on the Frederick
community," Ball said. "We want to continue with the positive impact."
Ball said he is optimistic that the fort will not be hit in the
upcoming round of BRAC. But with "such a sizeable investment going into
the installation," he said, it is "relatively easy to be optimistic."
In the last round of BRAC, not only did Fort Detrick escape closure, it
added about 1,000 personnel, both military and civilian, when nearby Fort
Ritchie was closed.
All of which is fine with Loysen, who stood at the pumps at his Texaco
station and pointed out the Fort Detrick employees who were filling up
their cars on a recent afternoon.
He said worries about the bioweapons and dangerous pathogens at Fort
Detrick are products of a bygone era, what he calls "an old image that
"There's stuff you don't know about. And if you started worrying about
it, you'd worry yourself to death," said Loysen, adding that the he is
convinced he has a safe -- and good -- neighbor.
"So Ebola goes in there," he said. "Better there than in here."
2005 University of
Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism