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No-cost transfers of Brunswick Naval Air Station property now in hands of congressional leaders, Obama

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No-cost transfers of Brunswick Naval Air Station property now in hands of congressional leaders, Obama

BRUNSWICK — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe joined 12 other senators in urging President Barack Obama and congressional leaders to add a provision in the Defense Authorization Act that could help speed the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station.

The proposal by the two Maine Republicans and their colleagues was at the heart of two corresponding bills sponsored by Snowe and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, that successfully made their way through the Senate and House this summer. The provision would allow the military to transfer property at bases scheduled for decommissioning to the authorities charged with redeveloping those facilities.

The so-called economic development conveyances have been allowed in previous rounds of base closures. However, redevelopment authorities believe a stipulation in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure round that requires military services to obtain fair market value for property will discourage no-cost transfers and slow redevelopment.

Bills sponsored by Snowe and Pingree were introduced earlier this year to alter that requirement so that military services can offer no-cost transfers or obtain fair market value. 

While both bills were approved by their respective houses, they now need to be reconciled within the massive Defense Authorization Act. That charge will fall upon a conference committee made up of the leadership of the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committees, and ultimately, Obama.

Collins sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and did not sign the letter sent by Snowe and 13 other senators urging inclusion of the no-cost transfer provision. Collins, however, was among the 14 senators who sent an identical letter to Obama. 

"Communities must be equipped with tools – not hamstrung by obstacles – to recover from such a dramatic event as a base closing," the senators wrote. "No-cost EDCs get land in the hands of communities faster and at no cost to the community. By accelerating the transfer process, the Department of Defense will be allowing communities to redevelop and create jobs more quickly."

The senators added that everyone benefits from the transfers, including the DOD, which they said, would otherwise spend time and money maintaining facilities during land-transfer negotiations. 

In June, Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Steve Levesque said in a press release sent by Pingree that the U.S. Navy's obligation to seek fair market value for land could impede development of Brunswick's 3,200-acre installation. Levesque said that without no-cost conveyances, MRRA would have to come up with $20 million to $30 million to purchase property at BNAS.

"I don't know where anyone would come up with that kind of cash in this environment," he said. "And that would mean a big part of BNAS would sit undeveloped. This region would suffer greatly."

Julia Wanzco, a spokeswoman for Snowe, said Wednesday that the senator is working to gain additional support for the provision. Wanzco said it was unlikely the bill would be considered until the fall. 

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net