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Senator sees missile money as good sign for base's future

July 28, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

An $11.4 million appropriation to modernize missile storage magazines at Letterkenny Army Depot is a good indicator that Congress wants it to remain open, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said Tuesday.

Specter, R-Pa., said the decision on whether to close Letterkenny should not be in the hands of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

"It ought to be up to Congress to decide which bases to close," Pennsylvania's senior senator said Tuesday during a meeting with members of the Opportunity '05 Committee, formed more than two years ago to press the case for retaining and expanding the depot.

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Specter, who is running for a fifth term against Democratic nominee Joseph M. Hoeffel, said he worked to get the $11.4 million into the 2005 military construction appropriations bill to modernize more than 100 concrete igloos used for tactical missile storage.

The bill still has to clear a conference committee with the House before it becomes law, according to Ed Averill, the director of the Letterkenny Munitions Center, one of the military operations at the depot.

"I think we can get it through the conference committee," Specter said of the construction funds.

"I don't think Congress would be putting up that kind of money unless Congress felt it should remain open," he said of Letterkenny. "A strong case can be made for national security" to keep the depot in business, Specter said.

Specter said the BRAC process is flawed, criticizing a 1995 decision to close the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. He said information was withheld that recommended the shipyard be downsized, rather than closed, and that he took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court did not overturn the decision, Specter said, because it would have affected decisions made by the BRAC about hundreds of other military installations around the country.

Letterkenny Army Depot was downsized as a result of a 1995 BRAC decision that moved its artillery maintenance mission to Anniston, Ala. The depot lost about 1,000 jobs as a result, according to depot figures.

In the past 18 months, however, the depot has hired about 300 new workers, bringing employment up to about 2,000, said John Gray, the civilian deputy commander of the depot. According to an economic impact study commissioned by Opportunity '05, those employees earned about $106 million last year.

Gray said the depot also has entered into partnerships with five Pennsylvania technical schools to prepare the next generation of depot workers and work is under way to modernize facilities.

Letterkenny already provides maintenance and storage for several missiles systems used by the armed forces. Later this year, the depot will take delivery on the new anti-tank missile, and storage and maintenance of a new guided missile system will begin next year, according to Averill.

To support arguments that Letterkenny should remain open, Opportunity '05 has commissioned the economic impact study and a joint land-use study and hired a retired general to identify opportunities for expanding missions, according to Chairman L. Michael Ross.

Because the depot has about 17,000 acres of land, there should be no issues about existing or future missions encroaching on the surrounding community, another plus for the depot, Ross said.

The Department of Defense must submit its list of recommended base closings to the BRAC by May 16, 2005, according to Specter's office, and the commission could recommend closing up to one-fourth of the nation's 425 military bases.

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