MRRA, federal bill aim to speed Brunswick base resolution
Levesque: Public sale of property could delay development
BRUNSWICK — There are probably many misconceptions about the closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station. Chief among them, Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority officials said this week, is the notion that the town will immediately gain ownership of the property when the U.S. Navy departs in 2011.
Unlike previous base closures, rules in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure act require the departing military services to sell base land and assets at fair market value. In Brunswick that means the Navy – and the market – could determine when property is sold and who it's sold to.
And that's of considerable concern to the MRRA, the organization overseeing the redevelopment of the base.
Although purchasers would have to comply with uses outlined in the base redevelopment plan, MRRA is concerned that the Navy's quest for fair-market value could delay implementing the reuse plan and slow the region's recovery from an estimated loss of 5,000 jobs and $140 million in income.
Steve Levesque, the authority's executive director, said MRRA is hoping to obtain a no-cost economic development conveyance for between 800 and 1,000 acres of base property. The alternative, Levesque said, is for the Department of Defense to hold a public sale of base property. Levesque said such a sale would take place on the Internet.
"Our concern is that a public sale would take a long time and slow redevelopment," Levesque said.
Because the Navy is required to seek fair market value, MRRA officials are also concerned it will have little incentive to grant no-cost economic development conveyances.
Darkening the scenario are widely reported overruns incurred by the 2005 base closure round. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, in February repeated previous findings that said the latest BRAC implementation costs had
increased by $1.2 billion, resulting in overall costs of $32.4 billion.
In addition, 230 of the 800 military installations involved in the BRAC process were in danger of missing the 2011 deadline, a factor that could force further overruns.
In addition, military services are responsible for environmental cleanup at base installations, which at BNAS has become quite costly. Levesque said the Navy has already spent $80 million on remediation in Brunswick. He estimated that an additional $30 million was needed.
For those reasons, Levesque said he is hopeful a bill sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, will get a favorable reception from Congress. The bill, called the Defense Communities Act of 2009, would remove the Department of Defense mandate to seek fair market value for base property.
Snowe, in a recent press release, said removing the mandate would encourage the DOD to accept more economic development conveyances, and therefore, speed up property disposition and base redevelopment.
The bill is Snowe's second attempt to promote economic development conveyances. In 2005 she introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2006 that would have required the DOD to convey all base properties at no cost if requested by the corresponding redevelopment authority.
Opponents argued the amendment would have limited the DOD's options for disposing of military property, and by extension, its ability to get paid for them.
According to Snowe's press secretary Julia Wanzco, the amendment had a great deal of support, but not enough to pass.
The new bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. Wanzco said Snowe is working on gathering additional co-sponsors. It is supported by the Association of Defense Communities, an advocate for states and towns with military installations.
The bill, which also impacts active base communities, was recently referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, serves on that committee.
Snowe said the federal government must increase assistance to all base communities to effectively implement DOD initiatives and spur economic growth.
"This bill seeks to accomplish that goal by providing immediate benefits to all base communities, for both closed and active military installations around the country," she said.
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.