On the Base

The closure of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) was a long, drawn-out affair.  Like most impending events that you eventually find out were inevitable, this was another one that elicited hand-wringing, predictions of doom and gloom—not to mention—certain economic devastation. Brunswick was likely to dry up and blow away without Uncle Sam and the Pentagon sending shekels, keeping it afloat—at least that’s the version the media sold us.

The perspective is always different through the lens of hindsight. Looking back also provides perspective on how news stories get spun. I find it especially enlightening when political icons are judged by history. George Mitchell, everyone’s favorite Maine Democrat (if you’re a Maine Democrat) had this to say back in 1993, when he was Senate Majority Leader, in a news brief I located from the Boston Globe. [via ProQuest]

Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell said yesterday that he is optimistic Maine’s Navy bases will be spared when the Defense Department’s list of recommended bases for closure s released. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and the Brunswick Naval Air Station could potentially be on the list Secretary of Defense Les Aspin will present to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. [The Boston Globe, March 6, 1993]

BNAS was on the list, and it wasn’t spared. So much for the wisdom of ole’ George, Mr. Maine Democrat.  Actually, there’s more political wrangling to this story, as Mitchell ended up leaving the Senate and as a result, Maine lost some clout in Washington. That might actually have had more to do with the closure than Mitchell being a lousy prognosticator.

When BNAS closed in 2011, it affected 2,687 active duty personnel and 583 full-time civilian personnel. That was a significant loss of jobs along with the economic ripple effect that accompanied the closure.

Fast forward four years and the former Naval Air Station is in the process of redevelopment under the care of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA). Since redevelopment began, there are more than 70 businesses occupying the former base, and according to various news sources, more than 700 new jobs have been created.

Being that the JBE wants to be your go-to source for local news, at least local in terms of drawing a 30-mile ring around the JBE compound, I was able to dig a bit deeper for my readers. According the MRRA’s very own Redevelopment News newsletter that number is actually 730 jobs—which they cite as being “60 percent more than projected four years into this project. The newsletter goes on to report that they “expect to have more than 800 employees here in high-paying, quality positions by the end of the year.”

Plenty of space for development, at Brunswick Landing.

Plenty of space for development, at Brunswick Landing.

Steve Levesque, MRRA’s executive director, was lauded by Senator Susan Collins, for his work in revitalizing the former military installation. Collins led Maine’s congressional delegation back in June, presenting Levesque with the 2015 Community Leadership Award on behalf of the Association of Defense Communities.

This award is part of the Association’s annual awards program, which recognizes communities, military installations, public officials and military leaders demonstrating strong leadership, innovation and excellence. [from Targeted News Service, June 24, 2015]

I guess creating one job for every four lost constitutes success in an empire in decline. Actually, this article, which highlights that all is not peachy-keen in Brunswick, especially with the local town council, puts the number of jobs lost at the base at closer to 5,000 total. Also, there have been issues regarding hazardous materials at the site. The entire base is actually considered a federal Superfund site. According to one local group, Brunswick Area Citizens for a Safe Environment, they have concerns about groundwater and places that were used to dump hazardous materials; this included garbage, waste oil, pesticides, solvents, paint, and aircraft and automobile parts.

Mölnlycke Health Care is one of Brunswick Landings 70+ tenants.

Mölnlycke Health Care is one of Brunswick Landings 70+ tenants.

Here’s some personal backstory on BNAS, or Brunswick Landing, using the current moniker. Back in the 1990s, I worked for Central Maine Power Company. Things aren’t the same there, either, as they are now owned by a Spanish multinational, Iberdrola. Back when I worked for CMP, you could make a living wage reading meters. Now, smart meters have eliminated those kinds of jobs. Technology is a wonderful thing.

During that period (actually, it was 1987 through 1995, but no one’s counting), we were required to go on base and read several electrical meters, for billing purposes. This required crossing the runway. Of course, there were planes taking off, so we had to have a Navy official ride with us, in order to obtain clearance to cross the runway. Simply gaining entry to the 3,200 acres required stopping at a guard station just off the Bath Road and submitting credentials of some kind.

With the closure of BNAS, one of the big changes is that you now have open access to most of the former Navy base. No more guards at the guard station. That’s very weird for me.

I’ve been on campus several times over the last few years. Shortly after the base was closed, someone I used to work with during my workforce days, drove me around and pointed out some of the development that had just begun, after MRRA took over.

On Sunday, Mary and I loaded our bikes on the back of her SUV and made the short drive over to Brunswick. We were going to spend the brisk October Sunday, tooling around greater-Brunswick, including exploring the former military base, on two wheels, rather than four. There’s no better way to see the sites than via bicycle.

There are some nice trails and pathways for bicyclists. A Google search showed me that there is now a bike/pedestrian entrance to Brunswick Landing via Pine Street. The path takes you out around the runway, parallel to busy Bath Road.

Miss Mary, biking by the old BNAS runway.

Miss Mary, biking by the old BNAS runway.

Once on the old base, there are a host of places to explore.  We rode towards the easternmost perimeter of the grounds, following some of the outer roadways. There is now a Maine Army National Guard Reserve Center domiciled where the former ordinance grounds were. While the entire 3,200 acres of the Brunswick Landing campus was pretty deserted on a Sunday, this portion of the grounds was eerie, or “creepy,” as Mary described it.

We eventually made our way around the contours of the landing strip, by the golf course (now open to the public), and out the gate located off Route 123 and Middle Bay Road.

Crystal Spring Farm, in Brunswick.

Crystal Spring Farm, in Brunswick.

Then, we headed out to Maquoit Bay, around Woodside Road, down Pleasant Hill Road (past Crystal Spring Farm, where Mary visits the farmers’ market every Saturday), and back to the parking lot off Pleasant Street, near downtown. We rode just under 20 miles and saw Brunswick in a totally different manner than the usual way, behind the wheel of a car.

Once our bikes were loaded on the back of the RAV4, we were set on lobster rolls and seafood chowder at Erica’s Seafood, off Basin Point in Harpswell. A perfect October Sunday adventure, now in the books.

Lobster rolls and seafood, at Erica's Seafood, in Harpswell.

Lobster rolls and seafood, at Erica’s Seafood, in Harpswell.

5 thoughts on “On the Base

  1. I enjoyed reading this. I used to go to the base occasionally, way back. I especially enjoyed seeing you and Mary out and about on such lovely day. Harpswell and the Bailey Island area are one of my favorite places in the state.

    It’s a changing world, hopefully there will always be lobster rolls in Maine.

  2. Hi Jim…. your spot on as usual. If you think BNAS is deserted community. Loring Air Force Base has over 20 years on it. Forbodding is the word that comes to my mind.

  3. Most BRAC’d bases are never completely closed exactly for the HAZMAT waste problems you mentioned. My father remembers in the 1950s and 1960s, before toxic waste became a concern, that the solution to spills and leaks of any kind was to just hose it off the runway. That stuff never goes away on its own. Nor should one forget that the Navy could never confirm or deny that nuclear weapons were held at the base, another contamination problem of a whole other stripe.

    When the bean counters estimate the savings from closing a base, the savings are never immediate. A friend of mine who had to move his command from one base to another due to BRAC found out that it would take 40 years to realize any savings, if then. When a base closes, it costs money to move the planes, move the tanks, move the people, move the medical center, clean up what has to be cleaned up, remove or destroy what has to be gone; these always require new buildings to be built elsewhere, new housing, new supply lines established. The operating costs of an established base are thin compared to moving and clean-up costs. What really happened, then, was that NAS Jacksonville and the surrounding urban areas got a big taxpayer gift at the expense of Brunswick and Maine.

    Nor did the move benefit all the military retirees in the area. Nearest medical? Coast Guard in Portland. Nearest commissary? Bangor or Portsmouth. Nearest place to update your records? Bangor or Portsmouth, again.

  4. I can’t speak to the scenery of the BNAS, but the area around Crystal Springs and up Flying Point Rd. into Freeport is such a beautiful ride! And I have always heard good things about Erica’s – I spotted it when we sailed up there 2 summers ago and docked at Dolphin Marina, but alas, did not partake.

  5. @Sally I can’t imagine a Maine without lobster rolls, can you?

    @Patti Not sure what we do with these places. Do you know, I’ve never been to Loring? These remnants of the Cold War haven’t fared too well. BNAS will do okay, but it will never be as vibrant as when it was a Navy base.

    @LP There’s more to the contamination story. Nobody even cared to look into it. Of course, there are no publications, like The Maine Times that would take on that story and pay a fraction of what it would cost a writer to piece it together. And we wonder why corruption continues unchecked.

    @Kate Gotta’ have an Erica’s lobster roll next season; they open on Mother’s Day. Lots of great day trips, not too far from Portland. Brunswick to Damariscotta, and then down to Bristol/Pemaquid Point is a journey worth considering next year.

    Hoping to get out to the booze/book event in Yarmouth on Friday if I can end my day at a reasonable time. Cheers!

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