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NEWTOWN, SQUARE, PA-While locally based GMH Communities Trust is relieved at the BRAC commission voting, anxiety over the fate of the Willow Grove Naval Station remains high as the commission pushed its vote on that facility from Wednesday to today. The state filed a federal lawsuit to block its closure calling such a move against the Pennsylvania National Guard “unconstitutional.”

As for GMH, “based on the BRAC commission’s vote, we would lose only approximately 700 military housing units out of approximately the 17,000 housing units we currently control,” says Bruce Robinson, president of the locally based specialty REIT’s military housing division. “This is substantially less that the 2,000 to 2,500 military housing units we previously reported were at risk for elimination. In addition, we still expect more than 16,000 military personnel will be relocated to bases currently covered by our other projects.”

The saving grace for GMH was the commission’s reversal of the Defense Department’s recommendation to close the New London Submarine Base in Groton, CT and Portsmouth Shipyard in Kittery, ME, while agreeing with DoD’s recommendation to close the Brunswick Naval Air Station in Brunswick, ME. This is not the final round. BRAC’s recommendations go to President Bush on Sept. 8, and he has until Sept. 27 to decide whether to accept or reject them. If he accepts them, which Robinson anticipates, Congress has 45 legislative days to reject them or they become binding on DoD.

Meanwhile, resolution of the state’s efforts to maintain Willow Grove Naval Station hangs in the balance. The BRAC commission was expected to vote on this base during its opening day, but put the vote off until today. On July 13, Gov. Ed Rendell and Senators Rick Santorum and Arlen Spector filed a federal suit against DoD to prevent deactivation of the 111th Fighter Wing of the National Guard. Although the US Navy maintains the base, the facility houses units from all military services, including the 111th Wing.

On Aug. 23, US District Judge John R. Padova held hearings on the suit and promised to rule on the case by Sept. 8, which is the BRAC commission’s deadline for sending its recommendations to the president. The plaintiffs, on behalf of the state, cite the “militia clause” of the constitution, which prohibits the federal government from making changes to a state’s National Guard without the governor’s consent. During the hearing, the US Department of Justice sided with DoD and charged that the state was attempting to return “to a system in which local politics, rather than national planning, determined which facilities were closed and which were spared.” It is not known whether or not the lawsuit played a part in the BRAC commission’s delayed vote on the Willow Grove closing.

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