Maine lawmakers make last-ditch pitch to save Naval Air Base

The Maine delegation Wednesday had its last public opportunity to persuade the independent Base Closure and Realignment Commission to keep open the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

During hourlong testimony on Capitol Hill, Maine lawmakers said Brunswick is vital to homeland defense, and closing or stripping the base of its aircraft would compromise national security.

"Closing Brunswick would leave the Northeast more vulnerable to threats and would create an intolerable risk for the department and the nation," Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, told the commission Wednesday morning.

The base, the only remaining active-duty airfield north of central New Jersey, is home to several P-3 Orion maritime patrol planes, which the Pentagon wants to move to Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida.

In May, the Pentagon recommended keeping only a skeleton of the base open, to handle mission needs in New England. But commissioners fear that keeping the base warm -- and not allowing the local community to redevelop the property -- would leave Brunswick with little chance to recover economically from the base closing. Last month, commissioners voted to consider shuttering Brunswick altogether to allow private businesses to develop the base.

"The current recommendation does not make a whole lot of sense," Commission Chairman Anthony Principi said Wednesday.

Maine lawmakers were joined by retired Navy officials, who dismissed both options.

"Closing the last fully capable operational air station in the Northeast is fraught with danger," said retired Rear Adm. Harry Rich.

Retired Navy Capt. Ralph Dean added that realigning the airfield would "degrade the readiness of the maritime patrol force and save precious little money in the process."

Maine is among the states hit hardest in this base-closure round, with Brunswick and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on the cutting blocks. If both are closed, the state could lose more than 10,000 jobs tied directly or indirectly to those installations.

Wednesday's hearing was one of the commission's last, with just two weeks to go before they make their base-closure recommendations and forward them to the White House by Sept. 8.

Aside from Brunswick, commissioners also heard testimony from the Indiana and Ohio delegations on the consolidation of Defense Finance and Accounting Services centers, as well as the potential closure or relocation of the Air Force Institute of Technology, located in Dayton, Ohio.

Meanwhile, North Carolina lawmakers testified on the realignment of Pope Air Force Base, while Virginia and Washington, D.C., officials discussed the consolidation of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military medical commands.

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