Maine was dealt a staggering blow Friday with release of a Defense Department report calling for the closure of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and drastic cuts at Brunswick Naval Air Station.
In all, the state stands to lose nearly 7,000 military and civilian jobs – the second highest total in the nation – according to the highly anticipated Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list released Friday morning.
Despite its focus on the two southern Maine bases, the list did not spare smaller facilities in the northern part of the state, recommending closure of the Defense Finance Accounting Service office at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone and a small Naval Reserve Center in Bangor. The cuts at Loring would result in the loss of at least 240 jobs.
If there was any good news for the state, it came with the list’s recommendation that 240 jobs be added at the Bangor Air National Guard Base, home to the 101st Air Refueling Wing, which has figured prominently in recent military operations.
But the added jobs in Bangor did little to soften the blow to the state.
Within an hour of the list’s release to members of Congress shortly after 9 a.m., bristling Maine delegation members issued pointed responses, vowing to fight the proposed cuts.
“It is a travesty and a strategic blunder of epic proportions on the part of the Defense Department,” U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said. “It is entirely beyond me as to the basis on which they made their recommendations, but it certainly wasn’t logic or reason.”
The list is not final, but getting off has not been easy historically, with only about 15 percent of installations able to do so in recent base closure rounds.
Lawmakers and supporters of both bases vowed to fight the Pentagon, arguing that the numbers do not support closing or scaling back either of them. Together, the bases pump more than $300 million into the regional economy.
While critics of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard – the nation’s oldest – contend its mission of overhauling and upgrading nuclear submarines has become obsolete, supporters say it remains the nation’s most efficient shipyard.
“Every time work is done there it saves tens of millions of dollars,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
More than half of the Maine job losses would come with the closure of the Kittery shipyard.
The Brunswick Naval Air Station, although spared closure, would be cut roughly in half, losing 2,317 military jobs and 61 civilian positions, under the proposal.
The BRAC recommendations were not kind to New England, in general, instead favoring installations in southern states such as Georgia and Texas, which together would gain more than 13,500 jobs.
Maryland stands to gain the most jobs under the realignment, adding more than 9,200 positions.
Nationally, Maine’s losses were surpassed only by Connecticut, which is poised to lose 8,586 jobs, most through closure of its submarine base in New London.
Combined, losses in Maine and Connecticut made up nearly 60 percent of the 26,000-plus total job reductions recommended in the report.
Maine led the country in the number of civilian jobs lost, with 4,139 nonmilitary positions on the block, most of them at Portsmouth.
While many had anticipated at least one of the southern Maine bases making the list, the proposed closure of the Limestone DFAS center took many by surprise, including 2nd Congressional District Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, who discussed the cuts with reporters in Bangor.
“Even though the numbers aren’t as large, it would have a devastating effect in Limestone,” said Michaud, noting the DFAS jobs were placed in there in 1997 to help compensate for the closure there of Loring Air Force Base three years earlier. “This is another hit.”
Although the Bangor Naval Reserve Center also took a hit, losing its seven military positions, the city took some solace in the proposed expansion of aircraft refueling operations at the Guard base at Bangor International Airport.
The BRAC list calls for the addition of 240 jobs to the Bangor operation, which, along with the added personnel, will house four additional KC-135 aircraft, according to officials.
Interest in Bangor may go beyond its geography and its 11,440-foot-long runway. Federal authorities have described the base’s 101st Air Refueling Wing as a “quiet miracle” willing to perform necessary duties without hesitation.
The added jobs in Bangor did little to soften the blow to the state, however. And delegation members and Gov. John Baldacci converged Friday afternoon on Brunswick to discuss a strategy to counter the Pentagon’s proposal.
The delegation has had some success, most recently 1993, when it lobbied base closure officials to remove Portsmouth from the list.
“The fight goes on,” Collins said of this latest round of base closure talks. “This is not by any stretch the end of the battle.”
NEWS reporter Doug Kesseli and The Associated Press contributed to this report.