NEW ENGLAND: Bases for Sale

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Up to 5,000 acres of land, largely open.

Cape Cod beaches within minutes.

Horse and hiking trails, bowling, swimming pools, gymnasium, 9-hole golf course, athletic fields...

It sounds like a land huckster's pitch for a vacation-home development—but the property touted happens to be Otis Air Force base, and the idyllic description occurs in a slick brochure mailed by the state of Massachusetts to 1,500 corporations round the world. The state has been driven to this bit of hard-sell real estate promotion by the necessity of cushioning the impact of a federal economy drive on its citizens.

Since April 1973 the Pentagon has closed 13 U.S. military bases and curtailed the use of scores more in an effort to save the Treasury $3.5 billion over the next decade. Though the bases are scattered through 32 states, the economic blow has fallen hardest on New England; nearly half of the 74,000 jobs wiped out or transferred by the cutbacks were located in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The closings of the Newport Naval Station and Quonset Point Naval Air Complex and the exodus of a 30-destroyer fleet have lowered the personal income of Rhode Island's citizens by $307 million a year—a loss about equal to the economic damage wreaked in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky by this spring's tornadoes. In addition, Rhode Island Governor Philip Noel complains that the state has been saddled with expenses, especially for schools, run up to please the Navy.

Now the states are trying to interest private companies in setting up shop on the unused bases. They face serious obstacles. Though most of the land is choice, some of the bases contain outdated utilities and old buildings that would be expensive for a company either to renovate or tear down. Also, the military goes on using portions of some of the bases for such purposes as storing nuclear materials. Hale Champion, former chairman of the Massachusetts Federal Base Conversion Commission, referring hyperbolically to radiation from the nuclear stockpiles, asks: "Who wants to build a shoe factory that will glow in the dark?"

Anyone trying to convert the bases to civilian use must plow through a jungle of red tape. The Federal Government retains ownership of the base land and buildings until somebody else takes them over, and it reserves the right to determine the "best use" of them—a decision in which as many as eight federal agencies may get involved. Under some circumstances, the Federal Government will turn over base property free for use as parklands or airports. But if a state, local community or private company wants to use part of a base for industrial purposes, it must buy the land and any improvements at a "fair market price," which is determined after an appraisal by the General Services Administration.

Rhode Island nonetheless has persuaded the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics to lease from the Navy three seaplane hangars at Quonset Point for the construction of nuclear submarine hulls; eventually 2,000 people will be employed there. In addition, New England Electric System is negotiating with state and federal agencies to buy the Charlestown Naval Air Station in Rhode Island and build a nuclear power plant there. on Digg


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