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Options outlined for Letterkenny's future

November 14, 1996

11/14/96

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The main consultant working on ideas for the reuse of Letterkenny Army Depot property to be turned over for private use said the depot was the most attractive base for private industry of 10 he's worked with, despite huge environmental and administrative obstacles.

About 80 people showed up for a meeting outlining positives and negatives about the base, which is slated by the Pentagon for downsizing. Thousands of jobs will be eliminated during the transition.

Chief consultant John Alschuler said environmental contamination on the 1,500 acres to be turned over, equal to about one third the size of Chambersburg, could delay for many years the use of some parts of the property, which is a federal Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site.

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The Army has estimated it will have to spend nearly $400 million over the next several decades to clean up the site, he said. But, he said, other such sites have been cleaned up and reused. "This is not the only Superfund site in America," he said.

"One of the real advantages here is the polluter has the deepest pockets in the world," he said.

For most industrial uses, the contamination can be dealt with, he said. "It's not like you're sitting on top of radioactive cooties."

But even if the site was in pristine condition, it would take time for the amount of land to be absorbed. Alschuler noted that the Chambers-5 Business Park had developed about 30 acres a year.

"This is going to take 20 to 30 years to redevelop," he said.

Alschuler warned that bases that have not been successfully reused have most often failed because of community divisiveness, he said. "When people can't agree on the future of the land, everything stops."

Also, before companies can be lured to the site, a legal framework has to be in place between the Army, which plans to retain control of different "islands" within the land they're turning over, the local municipalities and the organizations that will be taking over the installation's utilities.

Advantages of the site included the fact that it already is used for manufacturing and has rails, roads and a full range of utilities running below capacity, proximity to Interstate 81, relatively cheap labor and a strong manufacturing base in the area.

Four million square feet of building space exists on the land to be turned over, and the consultants estimated the site could support an additional five to six million square feet.

Industries that would work well with the site include metal working, snack foods, packaging and plastics, the consultants said.

The consultants said support for building a natural gas pipeline is key for attracting industries like snack foods. No private gas company is going to build the 10 miles of pipeline needed because it wouldn't be cost effective, they said.

Other improvements needed include paving of gravel roads, upgrading of nine miles of unused rails, and upgrading of nearby roads such as U.S. 11 and Pa. 997.

Another issue that will need to be addressed is worker training.

"There's not enough work force to go around now," Alschuler said.

The consultants will return in January to offer specific options and recommendations on what properties and industries should be looked at first.

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