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Study labels depot as good civilian neighbor

March 29, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A joint land-use study of Letterkenny Army Depot and surrounding communities shows the military installation can peacefully co-exist with its civilian neighbors if it survives the cut in this year's Base Realignment and Closure Commission process.

The study, done by the Chambersburg engineering firm Martin & Martin Inc., indicates there are "nominal encroachment issues and no unresolvable encroachment issues," said L. Michael Ross, chairman of Opportunity '05, a group formed to support keeping the depot and its 2,400 jobs in Franklin County.

"It truly is an instance where the installation and the community aren't at each other's throats," Charles Sioberg of Martin & Martin said after presenting a summary of the report to local government officials Monday.

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With more than 17,000 acres, Sioberg said the depot has room to expand operations within its fences without interfering with development in the surrounding townships of Greene, Letterkenny and Hamilton.

Much of the depot is surrounded by prime agricultural land and agriculture security zones, which indicate residential development will be slower than in other parts of the county, he said. The northwest portion of the depot borders on a state forest and Letterkenny Township has no municipal sewer system and poor soils for septic systems, which also will retard development, Sioberg said.

The number of complaint calls to local governments about ammunition demolition at the depot has decreased from 50 in 2002 to six in 2004 and one this year, Sioberg said. Most of those he described as "curiosity calls" from people who did not know the source of the sounds.

Sioberg recommended notices about the demolition be included in subdivision plans so people moving to the area know what to expect.

Col. Andy Smith, the depot's director of public works, suggested notices also be included that missile radar system testing at the depot could interfere with some forms of communication, such as cordless phones, that use the same frequency range.

Sioberg also recommended improvements and a traffic signal at the intersection of U.S. 11 and Sunset Pike, which is used by trucks going to and from the depot.

The effect of the outside community on a military installation is one of the factors the base closure process will take into account as the Department of Defense readies its list of recommended closings to the commission by May 16.

When the commission sends its recommendations to Congress and the president later this year, decisions also need to be made about transferring missions from bases being closed or downsized to other installations. Ross has said Opportunity '05 wants to play a role in convincing the Department of Defense that the workload at Letterkenny should be increased.

"You can't look at BRAC '95 and translate that to what might happen in BRAC 2005," Ross said. Ten years ago, the commission recommended downsizing the depot and some of its workload was transferred to other installations, but Letterkenny has seen increased activity and hiring since the war on terrorism began, he said.

Ross said the study cost about $93,000 and was paid for with a Defense Department grant to the county and state funds for communities facing the possible closure of military bases.

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