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Depot supporters to make BRAC pitch

July 01, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Ten years ago, buses loaded with Letterkenny Army Depot employees and supporters went to Baltimore in an unsuccessful effort to get the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to reverse a Department of Defense recommendation to downsize the depot.

On Thursday, depot supporters hope to get three busloads of people to Washington, D.C., to convince the commission that the Department of Defense made the right call in recommending 409 jobs be added at Letterkenny.

With the BRAC Commission devoting two hours to hear from Pennsylvania military installations affected by the Defense Department recommendations made in May, only 10 minutes have been set aside for Letterkenny, according to L. Michael Ross, chairman of Opportunity '05, the committee formed three years ago in an effort to prevent a repeat of 1995.

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"We hope to use those 10 minutes effectively to reinforce for the commission that the Department of Defense has made the right decision," Ross said.

The presentation to the commission will be made by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, who helped lead efforts to protect the depot, Ross said. A decade ago, it was Shuster's father, former U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, who appeared before the BRAC Commission.

"We have fought very hard to get time on the agenda" before the commission, Ross said. "The two major installations in Pennsylvania targeted for closure will get the vast majority of the time."

Two of the biggest hits for Pennsylvania are the department's plans to close the Willow Grove Naval Air Station near Philadelphia and move the 99th Regional Readiness Command of the Army Reserve from near Pittsburgh to Fort Dix, N.J., Ross said. Along with Letterkenny, Tobyhanna Army Depot near Scranton, Pa., which is also slated to receive additional workload, will also get 10 minutes in front of the commission, he said.

Ross said Opportunity '05 has chartered three 55-passenger buses to go to the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington. The buses will leave from the Kmart parking lot on Wayne Avenue at 6:30 a.m. and will return by about 3 or 4 p.m., he said.

"We're trying to get people to go down there as a show of support when Shuster addresses the BRAC Commission," said Jerry Mellott, president of Local 1449 of the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents about 800 blue-collar workers at Letterkenny. He said 26 were signed up as of Thursday afternoon.

Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp., said anyone interested in making the trip can call his office at 717-263-8282 to reserve a seat on one of the buses.

The trip is being paid for with money left over from about $600,000 allocated by the state to support the committee's lobbying efforts on behalf of the depot, Ross said. About $100,000 is left to support further lobbying efforts, he said.

While the possibility of the BRAC Commission reversing the Defense Department recommendation and cutting Letterkenny jobs is remote, Ross said the committee wants to protect the jobs the depot is slated to gain.

"We are very aware there is a very concerted effort in Texarkana, Texas, to have the DoD recommendation reversed," Ross said.

Texarkana is the home of Red River Army Depot, which the department is recommending be closed, with its tactical missile maintenance workload being transferred to Letterkenny.

"They've already had a visit from the BRAC Commission and they had a very strong show of support," Mellott said of Red River. The BRAC Commission will forward its recommendations to the president by Sept. 8, according to the Department of Defense Web site. Congress then has until Sept. 23 to accept or reject the commission recommendations in their entirety.

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