BRUNSWICK – Brunswick Naval Air Station may close, after all.

On Tuesday, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted to add the Maine base to its closure list. Meeting in Washington, the nine-member group took less than 30 minutes to make the decision, voting 8-1 to target Brunswick.

“I’m astonished,” said Capt. Ralph Dean, a retired pilot who has spent the last two years fighting to save the base from cuts. “That’s really depressing. I guess we go back to the drawing board.”

The base already had been in jeopardy since May, when the Pentagon had targeted it for a massive realignment, that would send all its planes and more than 2,000 service people to Florida. Under the realignment, it also would be downgraded to a naval air facility.

Yet, some Maine leaders took solace in comments made Tuesday by some commissioners, including Chairman Anthony Principi, that closure of New England’s bases should not leave the region unprotected by the military.

There is still time to save the base, Sen. Olympia Snowe said.

“It’s disappointing but not insurmountable,” she said.

News travels fast

Word of the possible closure spread across the town and the base within minutes of the 2 p.m. decision. Some people had watched the hearing live on an Internet. Others received phone calls from colleagues.

“It’s truly shocking,” said Richard Tetrev, who is leading the community fight for the base. “But I don’t think it’s the end of the world.”

“It means we have to work even harder,” he said. “We’ve got to throw it into overdrive.”

On May 13, the Pentagon announced its recommendations for closure or realignment. In effect, it would mothball the Brunswick facility. Tuesday’s decision could take away the rest of the base.

The base currently employs about 2,700 full-time Navy personnel, 1,300 reservists and 702 civilians. The previous plan targeted only 61 civilian jobs.

The Navy estimates it spends about $211 million locally each year.

If the base were to close, the jobs and the money would be gone. However, the base would be available for redevelopment.

“We always saw realignment as the worst possible scenario,” Brunswick Town Manager Donald Gerrish said Tuesday.

This is better, but only a little, he said. The town will likely resume analysis of how the 3,220-acre property might be redeveloped, he said.

Meanwhile, locals will continue to fight cuts. And there’s not much time.

Little time left

On Aug. 23, the commission will meet to vote again on each targeted base. If Brunswick is still on the list, it will likely close. All that would remain is rescue by the president or Congress, something that has never happened in previous closure rounds.

“After that date, we’re done,” said Tetrev, who leads the NAS Brunswick Task Force. “Game over.”

Until then, however, there’s a lot to do.

Brunswick will be visited by two more members of the closure commission. Also, as happened on July 6 in Boston, supporters will again make their case for Brunswick’s survival in a formal hearing with the commission.

“Not a day will go by between now and Aug. 23 that we don’t work on this,” vowed Sen. Susan Collins.

Much of that time will be spent sharpening the argument that America is safer with Brunswick than without it.

“I think that’s indisputable,” Snowe said.

There may even be a chance that the base could be slated to grow. During the hearing, Commissioner Harold Gehman asked if more missions might be performed at Brunswick.

Yet, he, like Principi, voted to add the base to the closure list.

“It’s just to make sure we have all the options,” he said.


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