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BRUNSWICK — In a ceremony attended by hundreds of people Tuesday, U.S. Navy and government officials closed Brunswick Naval Air Station.
Speakers thanked surrounding towns, civilian staff and sailors, past and current, for their service, and emphasized the ongoing importance of the redeveloped base as a driver for regional economic growth.
The afternoon ceremony was the final, official step in a process that began in 2005, when the federal Base Realignment and Closure commission decided BNAS should be closed by this year.
Speaking for Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Jim Pineau thanked Capt. William Fitzgerald, the base commander, for his service, and acknowledged the work of the sailors who stayed on the base until the closing day.
Speaking for Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Brian Whitney also commended Fitzgerald for being open and transparent in his relationship with surrounding communities. He called the BNAS a model of base closure and realignment nationwide.
Andrea Quaid read a letter from Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, that emphasized the importance of the base in the nation’s defense, especially in anti-submarine operations during World War II.
And reading on behalf of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Alec Porteous highlighted efforts to mitigate the economic impacts of base closure, including funding for the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority and advocacy for an armed forces reserve center in Brunswick.
Gov. Paul LePage also attended the ceremony, and emphasized the base’s original motto, “built for business.”
“The battle cry that was established 70 years ago will be transformed from a military motto to a civilian slogan,” LePage said.
He pointed to the Navy’s decision to lease and transfer property to MRRA before the base officially closed as an example of the bright economic future for Brunswick Landing, as the base will now be known. He also acknowledged the towns of Brunswick and Topsham for contributing to the ongoing economic development at Brunswick Landing.
The keynote speaker of the ceremony, selected by Fitzgerald, was Ret. Rear Adm. Harry Rich. He invited the audience to accompany him on a “trip down memory lane,” in which he recounted memories of his time stationed at the base, including the kindness of many community members to his family while he was serving abroad.
Like Rich, Fitzgerald also acknowledged community members for holding “the Navy dear to your hearts.”
“It’s not like this everywhere,” he said of the relationship between the base and the people of Brunswick and Topsham. “Thank you for making each of us who have ever been stationed here or lived here, better.”
In that spirit, Fitzgerald presented plaques to the town managers of both towns.
Toward the end of the ceremony, Navy sailors lowered the American flag at the base one last time, marking the official transition of the base to Brunswick Landing.