WEST BETHESDA – The Carderock Naval Surface Warfare Center sits just past a line of trees and beyond a tall electric fence on a quiet, winding stretch of MacArthur Boulevard that is frequented by bicyclers and dog walkers.
Most neighbors said they don’t give the facility a second thought, if they think about it at all. The center and its 1,400 employees don’t really make the already bad traffic that much worse, they say, and the base and its workers do not have that much of an impact on the few stores in nearby Cabin John.
What neighbors seem think about, when they think about the 186-acre center at all, is what might happen if the facility was not there.
“I don’t think (its closing) would have a big impact on the community,” said Burr Gray, president of the Cabin John Citizens Association. “But people would be concerned about whatever was going to come next.”
Like every military installation in the country, Carderock is being eyed by the Defense Department for possible closure or consolidation under the Base Realignment and Closure process. The next BRAC list, a hit list of bases recommended by the Pentagon, is scheduled to be released this month.
“Every base is potentially at risk of being affected,” said Kristina Ellis, a business development specialist for Montgomery County’s Department of Economic Development. “Everyone knows to be on the lookout.”
Even though Carderock has a low profile among its neighbors — Cabin John postmaster Laverne Baptist said, “Ninety percent of us don’t even know that they’re there” — the facility is the only one of its kind in the nation, say supporters, who hope to use that fact in their fight to keep the base alive. The facility tests and produces ship systems for the Navy, Coast Guard, Army and maritime industry.
“Carderock is a very substantial organization,” said Ivan Caplan, vice president of the Maritime Technology Alliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes the maritime industry in Maryland. “They’re the only ship system laboratory in the nation.”
Caplan, who is trying to make the case for Carderock’s importance to the state and nation, said it is important to economy of the region as well, because of the amount of work contracted out to civilian companies.
While Carderock may not make a huge difference to the few stores in Cabin John, Caplan said the base contributes about $70 million in contracts every year and about $140 million in salaries.
The 1,400-plus employees at the base are almost entirely civilian workers, and a large number of them are scientists with advanced degrees, a fact that Ellis says should make Carderock less of a target for the base-closing committee.
People would notice if Carderock was closed, especially if the 186-acre compound was developed afterward, said Gillian Ritchie, a resident who works at the Bethesda Co-op in Cabin John.
But, Ritchie added, “Me, personally, it might take me a while to notice.”
Ellis said that even if the base were closed, it would not necessarily mean the land would immediately go to the highest bidder to be turned into townhouses or condominiums. The facility could be given to another branch of the military or to the government.
Carderock could also wind up getting additional functions in the coming round of BRAC instead of being closed, she said.
Cabin John resident Forrest Minor said he is not too worried about the next BRAC. Minor, who retired from Carderock just over 10 years ago, was around for BRAC hearings and reviews in 1988, 1991 and 1993, and Carderock survived each time.
“I don’t think anything will happen to Carderock,” Minor said. “Every time there’s a BRAC, everybody who works on the base starts sweating.”
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