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Gigantic Fort Meade Sees Growth in its Future

CNS Photo by Sarah Lesher

World War II-era barracks at Fort Meade. (CNS photo by Sarah Lesher)

Capital News Service
Thursday, May  5, 2005

FORT GEORGE MEADE, Md. - Look out over the 5,415-acre Fort George G. Meade and what you see is construction -- condos, townhouses, duplexes, single-family homes.

Within the next few years, the Army base near Odenton stands to gain tens of thousands of jobs, based on briefs the community has gotten from the fort's commander during the past six months.

"It's a good problem to have," said Marcie Wallis, executive director of the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. The fort personnel "don't stand to lose. They stand to gain."






So when the Defense Department releases its Base Realignment and Closure recommendations later this month, Fort Meade, an administrative, recruitment and specialized training center, is likely to be one of the big gainers, from losses to bases elsewhere, say those connected with the base and community.

Traffic is expected to be a concern, said Wallis, and no one is sure how many new employees will live in the community or on base, but everyone is "cautiously optimistic" about the base future.

"I don't know that it's hit anybody yet," Wallis said of the expected growth.

"Fort Meade's really been in a kind of expansion mode," said Jay Weiner, a land developer who has worked in the area for more than 30 years.

Weiner said that Fort Meade has engaged the community around it on its growth. It "seems like Fort Meade is doing a lot of planning for the future."

But Fort Meade is so self-contained that even its own brochures advertise it as "virtually a city unto itself." The base has dog kennels, sports facilities, stores, movies, a bowling alley and an RV park for retired military who are touring the country.

It is so independent from the surrounding community that "you can go three months without ever going off base," according to Army recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Okrasinski, quoted in the base newspaper, Soundoff!

Originally named Camp Meade for the Civil War hero of the Battle of Gettysburg, the base was commissioned in 1917 and permanently named for Meade in 1929.

Each day nearly 110,000 people live and work on its campus. It and the adjacent National Security Agency combine to form the largest employer in Maryland, according to the base Web site.

"The amount of money . . . that they produce economically in the area," Weiner said, "it's so substantial that I guess, to be honest, most people would not think that it would be possible that it would be cut in any way."

The base estimates it annually contributes about $4 billion to the state's economy.

"They've worked very hard to be a good neighbor," Weiner said. "As big as the scope of things that seem to be taking place are, they seem to have done a really nice job of keeping the people that have any interest in knowing about it pretty much up to speed."

Nearby residents, Weiner said, "feel hopefully some sense of security about the fact that NSA is there and that the post is there," Weiner said.

As for the growth, he said, "I think it will have a positive effect on the area."


Copyright 2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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