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HARRISBURG, PA-As the US Navy takes the first step in the process of disposing of the 910-acre, 170-building Willow Grove Naval Base, Gov. Ed Rendell and the Pennsylvania National Guard submit a proposal that would block its disposal and retain the asset as a military airfield. Willow Grove is designated for closure under the BRAC Commission. For previous coverage of this issue, click here. Disposition of closures under BRAC begins with a “notice of availability of surplus property” in the Federal Register, informing federal agencies and the Department of Defense that the property is available for other government uses. It sets a 30-day deadline for government entities to express interest. If interest is expressed, this step is followed by a procedure for transferring the property. If no interest is expressed, the Pentagon proceeds with disposal, a process that includes deadlines for communities to form local redevelopment authorities to establish re-use plans. On Nov. 15, the Navy issued the Willow Grove notice of availability.

In a letter to Navy Secretary Donald Winter, Rendell urged that no action “inconsistent with maintaining flight operations at Willow Grove” be taken. At the same time he urged federal lawmakers to support a plan, developed by the state National Guard that would maintain a significant military presence at the installation and move the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team to Willow Grove from Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County. This brigade is the only one of five such teams to be made up of citizen-soldiers.

Under the state’s re-use plan, the facility’s 8,000-ft runway, towers and other flight facilities would be maintained and the base would consolidate the Guard and the 56th Stryker Brigade at Willow Grove, adding more than 1,000 in personnel. Rendell argues that removal of the radar towers alone would cost DoD more than $15 million, while consolidation at Willow Grove would result in a savings of $6 million. He also says the plan would offer FEMA, EPA and other federal agencies use of the Willow Grove installation, “consistent with the federal government’s move toward agency consolidation. …If the Navy is allowed to pack up and shutter the airstrip, it will only serve as a monument to government imprudence.”

Rendell also reminded lawmakers and the DoD that a federal judge ruled in favor of the state in its lawsuit against BRAC. The suit was based on the US Constitution’s militia clause, which prohibits the federal government from making changes to the National Guard without a governor’s consent. BRAC made its point that Willow Grove houses both US military and state National Guard and left it on the closure list.

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