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Pa. groups puts depot land plan in place

November 23, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Members of the board of directors of the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority Monday made the Defense Department an offer they hope it will not refuse - 243 acres of prime land in the Cumberland Valley Business Park.

As part of a strategy to jockey for better position in next year's Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, process, the board agreed not to market the land, making it available for possible future expansion at the adjacent Letterkenny Army Depot.

The board voted to take the land off the market until Dec. 1, 2005, by which time Congress will have voted on the commission's recommendations as to which military installations will be closed or downsized.

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With an estimated market value of $11 million, the land is part of approximately 1,500 acres that were declared excess property by the Defense Department after the BRAC Commission voted in 1998 to realign the depot. The authority, known as LIDA, was created to develop the property for civilian use.

The Defense Department has yet to transfer the 243 acres to LIDA, said Executive Director John Van Horn. A portion of the land is not scheduled to be conveyed to LIDA until early 2006, after the Army has cleaned up groundwater contamination, he said.

Transfer on the title to another area is scheduled for late 2008, and a 44.3-acre parcel along Pa. 997 is not scheduled to be conveyed to LIDA until 2009, Van Horn said.

LIDA controls the properties under what Van Horn called a lease in furtherance of conveyance. LIDA has, in turn, been leasing out the property for agricultural use, he said.

While LIDA is offering use of the land to the Army, LIDA board member L. Michael Ross said no discussions have been held with the Army about the properties, which include a vehicle test track.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said the LIDA decision sends a message that the land "will be available if the Defense Department sees a need for Letterkenny to expand its mission." When the commission makes its recommendations and Congress votes next year, Shuster said he wants to see Letterkenny benefit by getting workload and missions now assigned to other depots.

Shuster, who met with the board behind closed doors before the vote, said consolidation of maintenance for tactical wheeled vehicles, such as the Humvee, could be one use for the land, Shuster said.

"We're being as aggressive as possible. We're no longer trying to defend Letterkenny for retention purposes," said Ross, who also is the chairman of Opportunity '05, a committee formed to support efforts to preserve the depot from the defense ax and bring more federal jobs to the area.

LIDA Chairman John Redding said the board action was in line with its charter to replace jobs lost to previous realignments and retain and increase the federal work force. More than 2,000 people work at Letterkenny, including about 300 contractors, according to a depot official.

There are four other Army depots in the continental United States - Tobyhanna near Scranton, Pa.; Anniston, Ala.; and the Red River and Corpus Christi depots in Texas. The nine-member commission that will decide the fates of these and other depots will be appointed by March 15 and the Department of Defense will make its recommendations on what installations to close or downsize by May 15.

After the commission holds its hearings, Congress will have an up-or-down vote by late summer.

Shuster said he is "cautiously optimistic" Letterkenny will survive the BRAC process.

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