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Group aims to keep depot vital

April 16, 2002|BY STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A committee is shaping a "game plan" to make Letterkenny Army Depot more valuable to the country and less likely to be included in the next round of base closings.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and a group of local business leaders and representatives from Letterkenny met Monday to brainstorm ways to strengthen the mission of the depot, which lost nearly 2,000 jobs in a 1995 downsizing.

With the government planning another Base Realignment and Closure Act in 2005, Shuster said it was time to start thinking of ways to keep the 1,700 jobs remaining at the depot, if not add more.

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He said Letterkenny should play up its strengths - munitions destruction and size.

Cutting-edge technology could be added to destroy munitions without the explosions, he said. Its 19,000 acres allows for additional storage and maintenance facilities, and its proximity to Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon is also a plus.

"I can make the case that Letterkenny has the greatest opportunities," he said.

Shuster said he is pushing to make Letterkenny a strategic site with a Transportation Infrastructure Analysis Center. He first proposed the idea last year, and it was referenced in the defense appropriations bill but no money was allocated for its creation.

He said he envisions 25 to 30 employees studying all aspects of transportation and infrastructure to determine where terrorists might strike to destroy commerce.

He said he thinks the $2.5 million proposal has a better shot this year.

"There is nothing like it in the country. Not one clearing house where all data goes in and out of," he said.

A subcommittee from Monday's meeting will devise a draft plan in the next two months to use as a blueprint for moving forward.

"We need to hit our stride by the end of the year," in order to be ready to make a case by February 2004, when the Department of Defense will put together its list of criteria for considering base closures, Shuster said.

Shuster said he urges the formation of a statewide coalition that will work to preserve the entire state's defense jobs rather than lobbying base by base.

He did not know if other communities with military bases were taking similar measures.

"We're going to do what we have to do. If it requires taking the lead, we will," he said.

Letterkenny's preservation is critical for Franklin County.

L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corporation, said despite the downsizing in the 1990s, Letterkenny remains one of the largest employers in the county with an overall impact of about $100 million a year.

"If we were trying to recruit an employer of 1,200 people we would be doing back-flips, especially one where wages are significantly higher than the wage structure of the region," he said.

Ross said BRAC decisions are as much political as they are business.

"We need to present our efforts most effectively both ways. That's why it is important Congressman Shuster is heading the local committee," he said.

Ross was involved in a similar committee in the 1990s when the depot was spared in 1993 but put back on the BRAC list in 1995.

"This time we better understand the process, the need for advance preparation and that is what we are trying to do now," he said.

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