- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

Officials in the District and Virginia said yesterday they were disappointed at the closing of the historic Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the decision to move more than 20,000 jobs outside Northern Virginia.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he was “very disappointed” about the decision and called the hospital “a part of the fabric of our local community for years.”

However, he and other city officials said it was unlikely they would mount a last-minute appeal to keep the facility in the District.

The federal Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission voted 8-0 with one abstention to close the medical center, saying it had become too old and outdated.

“Kids coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, all of them in harm’s way, deserve to come back to 21st-century medical care,” said Anthony J. Principi, the chairman of the commission.

Under a Pentagon proposal, Walter Reed and most of its 5,600 employees would go to Maryland to the proposed 340-bed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the grounds of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, said the commission’s decisions will have “dramatically different impacts” on communities in the state.

Alexandria and Arlington lost 20,000 military and civilian defense jobs from leased office space in the close-in suburbs of Northern Virginia to military bases outside the Beltway.

Nearby Fairfax County could gain about 17,000 of those jobs, which are slated for Fort Belvoir. Marine Corps Base Quantico, farther down the Interstate-95 corridor in Prince William and Stafford counties, is expected to gain roughly 3,000 jobs.

Officials say the moves will hurt the local economy and create traffic nightmares.

Rep. James P. Moran, a Democrat, said the majority of the commission’s decisions on leased space were “arbitrary, inconsistent and harmful,” and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican, described the decisions as “short-sighted.”

“It will take years, if not decades, to recover from these ill-conceived proposals,” Mr. Davis said. “In fact, I predict we will have to undo some of these moves once their impracticality becomes evident to Pentagon leadership.”

The commission also voted to reject several Pentagon recommendations affecting Virginia, keeping nearly 5,420 jobs that had been slated for relocation to other facilities in other states.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, also took issue with the committee’s decisions, saying members were predisposed to closing Walter Reed.

“It was clear from the dialogue [yesterday] that the commissioners were lured by the prospect of a new hospital, and everything else was off the table, even homeland security,” Mrs. Norton said.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat who represents Ward 4 where Walter Reed center is located, joined Mr. Williams, a Democrat, and Mrs. Norton in saying that there would be no further effort to save the medical center.

“You only have so much energy in a community,” he said. “I think it’s a done deal. The focus should be on what we’re going to use the site for in the future.”

Under realignment procedures, Walter Reed would have to be closed within six years.

Mr. Fenty said he expects the city will have a tough fight securing a section of or the entire 113-acre facility off Georgia Avenue.

Since it is federal land, federal agencies will have an opportunity to claim it. If no federal agency claims the site, the campus will be turned over to the General Services Administration (GSA.)

That could be beneficial for the District, since Mrs. Norton is the ranking member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management, the subcommittee that oversees the GSA.

The District then would have an opportunity to negotiate for the site for public uses, such as parks or schools. Mrs. Norton said it would be more complicated and costly, but still possible, to secure the site for private development.

Many local residents responded with uncertainty about the closing and the impact on the neighborhood.

“I’ve lived here 48 years, [so] I hate to think of something going away after so long,” said Vera M. Majett, 79, who lives in a one-story house on Ninth Street Northwest, one block from the medical center.

Lucille Lewis, who lives with her husband, Tom, in the 7000 block of 16th Street Northwest, said: “We don’t know what they’re going to put there. That’s my biggest concern.”

Arlo Wagner contributed to this report.

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