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Land may be set aside for Letterkenny Depot expansion

November 19, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Letterkenny Army Depot lost land when it was realigned in 1995, but the authority that runs the Cumberland Valley Business Park might decide Monday to make some of it available to the depot in an effort to keep the installation from closing.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., on Monday will ask the board of directors of the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority, or LIDA, to make 243 acres of the business park available to the depot for future expansion, according to L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp.

"I'm essentially in the position of making a request of myself," said Ross, who is also on the LIDA board and is chairman of Opportunity '05, a committee formed to support the depot. "I'm optimistic the board will act favorably on the proposal."

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In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) voted to realign Letterkenny, moving its artillery and vehicle maintenance missions to depots in Texas and Alabama. As part of the realignment, approximately 1,500 acres of depot land were turned over to Franklin County, which created LIDA to develop the property for civilian commercial use.

Next year, another nine-member BRAC commission will be named, and Letterkenny could face further cuts or closure. Conversely, it could benefit by picking up missions and workload from other military installations that get the ax from the commission, Ross said.

"We want to send the right message to the Department of Defense ... that the community is ready to partner with the depot," Ross said.

The land in question is adjacent to the depot and mostly undeveloped, but does include a track once used by the Army for testing self-propelled artillery and other vehicles, according to Ross.

"There are no specific projects, per se, on the drawing board" for the land, Ross said. Making it available to the Army, however, would allow depot personnel to examine options for how it could be used to bring more work and jobs to Letterkenny.

"The intention is to make Letterkenny more desirable for the placement of new missions," said Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas, a member of Opportunity '05. He said the Defense Department could next year recommend closing up to 25 percent of the nation's military installations, which means some bases will expand.

Ross said the depot has about 17,000 remaining acres, most of which is reserved for ammunition storage. The depot employs more than 2,000 federal workers, a figure that has increased since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Thomas said encroachment is a major issue for military installations, where development outside the fences hampers military operations, or those operations affect life outside the gates. He said encroachment is not a concern at Letterkenny and the additional land will make it even more attractive for expansion.

"This is prime real estate for the Army," he said.

After the BRAC commission is appointed in March, Ross said the next milestone will be in May, when the Defense Department presents its list of recommended realignments and closures.

"Our goal is to stay off that list," Ross said.

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