BRAC votes to keep Hawthorne depot open

DAVID C. HENLEY/Nevada Appeal News Service The Hawthorne Army Depot, seen here last month, was spared from closing by a vote of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission on Wednesday.

DAVID C. HENLEY/Nevada Appeal News Service The Hawthorne Army Depot, seen here last month, was spared from closing by a vote of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission on Wednesday.

Mineral County was celebrating Wednesday after the Base Realignment and Closure Commission reversed an earlier decision and voted to keep the Hawthorne Army Depot open.

Hawthorne residents were devastated in May when the BRAC Commission announced the depot, one of the military's primary storage and processing facilities for thousands of tons of bombs and other munitions, would be shut down.

County Commission Chairman Richard Bryant said that would mean the loss not only of 565 jobs on the base but probably that many more in businesses and local government in the area.

"We've only got somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,800 jobs here and it was going to take 1,100 of those out," said Bryant. "It was going to gut us. It would have devastated schools, devastated hospitals, devastated public safety."

Gina Simmons, assistant to the county Economic Development Authority director, said the whole town was celebrating.

"My mother worked out there, has worked out there 20 years. We were on the phone and everybody was screaming behind her."

Bryant credited Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., for their work in getting the BRAC commission to visit Hawthorne and review the closure order. But he said Lt. Col. John Summers also deserves credit for his work in convincing BRAC to change its mind.

"It really was a team effort," he said, adding that Reid deserves special credit for getting BRAC commissioners Philip Coyle and Anthony Principi to visit Hawthorne and see it for themselves.

Reid praised the decision, saying the depot "has unique qualities that are vital to our national security."

"They do work in Hawthorne that can't be done at any other base."

Gibbons said he was gratified the commission understood evidence of both the strategic importance of Hawthorne's depot as well as its economic importance to the area.

Bryant said with all the evidence, statements from the congressional delegation and from Col. Summers, even the U.S. Army spokesman at Wednesday's hearing began his comments by admitting they had made a mistake in recommending closure of the base.

Gov. Kenny Guinn thanked the commission for listening to the state's arguments.

"I am also happy for the people of Hawthorne and Mineral County who would have suffered a devastating financial blow," he said.

Guinn credited them for "an eloquent job in making an excellent case to keep the depot open."

Don Orndorff, economic development coordinator for public lands in Mineral County, said not only is the depot staying open "huge news," it opens doors for more economic opportunities.

"It's probably going to stimulate some additional (Department of Defense) activity in the area," he said.

Orndorff said the vote also puts new life in a plan to withdraw 142,000 acres of BLM lands for a military training area near Hawthorne.

And he said he and other officials will be working with the military and the federal government to get additional lands to enable economic diversification.

"We're not going to wait until BRAC hearings come up again in another five years," he said. "This was so close."

The BRAC Commission also recommended sharply reducing operations at the Nevada Air National Guard base in Reno. The proposal would transfer the base's C-130 Heavy Lift Squadron from Reno to Arkansas. No decision has yet been made on the appeal to reverse that decision.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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