Businesses near Fort Detrick on Opossumtown Pike are concerned about what effect the decision to close of one of the post’s gates due to budget constraints will have on their bottom lines.
The U.S. Army garrison at Fort Detrick in Frederick announced last week that the gate would be temporarily closing beginning on Monday, with traffic directed to three other gates in a cost-saving measure.
Under the new plan, the gate on Opossumtown Pike will be closed, with the hours for the other gates as follows:
• Veteran’s Gate on 7th Street will be open Monday-Friday from 6 a.m.-6 p.m.
• The Rosemont Gate will remain open Monday-Friday from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. for those with Department of Defense decals.
• The Old Farm Gate at Rosemont Avenue and Old Farm Drive will be open 24 hours.
The plan to close the Opossumtown Pike gate already has some nearby businesses concerned they’ll lose customers if Detrick employees have to use gates in other parts of the city as much as three miles away.
Frank Reluzco, the owner of the Rose Hill Exxon Service Center, said the closure will affect his sales of gas and items from the convenience store immediately if Detrick workers no longer stop on their way to or from work.
But Reluzco said he’s not as sure it will affect business at the service center, where Detrick workers often drop their vehicles off on their way to work for repairs to be made during the day.
“We’ve developed a pretty good relationship with a lot of customers down there,” he said.
Esther Bur, owner of Rocky’s New York Pizza and Italian Restaurant on Opossumtown Pike, also said the closure would affect the number of people who come to the restaurant for lunch.
About two years ago, the gate closed for about three months for renovations, and Bur said her lunch business dropped dramatically.
John Stone, general manager of Lintini’s Pizzeria in the Thomas Johnson Center shopping center, said his restaurant also gets a good crowd from Fort Detrick for lunch, and predicted the closure would hurt his sales.
If workers can’t go out the Opossumtown gate, they’ll probably go out of the gate on Rosemont Avenue, which has a lot of restaurants.
“Definitely, with all the new restaurants around here, we don’t want to lose any customers,” Stone said.
The gate schedule will be shifted around because a Department of Defense hiring freeze has left the base with only about 60 percent of its guard positions filled, said Lanessa Hill, a spokeswoman for the garrison who declined to divulge the number of guards employed by the post.
With the shortages, the remaining guards have been working significant amounts of overtime and need a break, she said.
“The guys just can’t keep that up,” Hill said.
The changes are expected to save about $10,000 a week in overtime and other costs, Hill said.
Fort Detrick is Frederick County’s largest employer, with more than 4,300 workers working there.
On any given day, about 13,000 vehicles pass through Detrick’s gates, making it important that all the guards be alert and “on their ‘A’ game,” Hill said.
She said the move was not a result of the budget sequestration process that has caused cuts and hiring freezes across the federal government and had been planned before that went into effect.
As the sequester approached, the base also had eliminated travel expenses, and departments aren’t allowed to buy new equipment, furniture and other items, Hill said.
The gates will be reopened once the guard positions are back at full staff, although it’s not clear when that will be, she said.