Military Base Closures and the Towns They Leave Behind

Military, U.S. Army, marching, Dover Air Force BaseOn Sept. 8, 2005, the Department of Defense's Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) gave President George W. Bush a list of 20 major military installations that it had determined were no longer necessary for the nation's defense. The president signed off on the list, and despite tepid opposition, it passed through the House of Representatives. By the end of the year, it was enacted, and a deadline was set: On or before Sept. 15, 2011, the 20 bases would shut their doors.

When a military facility closes, the effects ripple throughout the surrounding community as families lose their neighbors, businesses lose their customers and workers lose their jobs. In a thriving city, a closure can be an adrenalin shot to the local economy as hundreds of acres of land are suddenly made available for municipal growth and expansion. But for many communities -- especially in rural or suburban areas -- closure can translate into years of struggle, as municipal planners strain to fill the empty spaces that the military leaves behind.

A Change in Identity

In addition to empty buildings and abandoned property, the military often leaves behind extensive environmental damage. The Air Force and Navy both rank among the nation's top 100 polluters, and many former bases have become Superfund sites. Even among those that aren't placed on the national cleanup priority list, extensive remediation is often required, with the military, the Environmental Protection Agency or private cleanup groups required to step in to remove or remediate contaminated soil and groundwater.

The identity and character of base areas can also be transformed by the arrival of new companies, employers and organizations. One of the first steps in closure is what's known as "public benefit conveyance," in which government agencies and nonprofit groups may be given large swaths of the former base. These can be turned into a variety of facilities, from wildlife refuges to vocational schools, homeless shelters to prisons.

For communities facing a sudden spike in unemployment, the new jobs can mean the difference between prosperity and oblivion. Yet, they often come with a high price: Prison jobs or the sudden arrival of hundreds of homeless people can permanently change the personality of a community.

The same goes for private industries. Communities that once boasted about being an Army or Navy town may find themselves transformed into university towns, call-center towns or industry towns. In addition to economic impact, this can also change the way that a community sees itself, its mission and its basic character.

Focusing on the Costs of Closures

Starting today and continuing over the following weeks, DailyFinance will take an in-depth look at the economic and social impacts of base closures on the civilian communities that surround them. From Maine to California, Georgia to Colorado, we'll talk to planners on both sides of the town/base divide and explore the effects of closures in the past. For those bases about to close, we'll take a look at what might happen in terms of job losses, the impact on surrounding businesses and what might happen to the property and the people left behind.

Most of all, we'll focus on the costs -- emotional, economic and environmental -- that a base closure can have on a town whose identity is inextricably tied to a military facility that no longer exists.

See also:
Denver's Lowry Air Force Base Defies the Odds
A Maine Town's Long Recovery After Losing Loring AFB
Will Military Base Closures Mortally Wound Local Real Estate Markets?
Military Families Face Harsh Realities When Forced to Relocate
Cleaning Up the Toxic Legacy of Closed Military Bases
California's Castle Air Force Base Learns a Hard Lesson in Reinvention

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why don't they use the housing at closed bases to house vets, especially HOMELESS vets who comprise 1/5th of the homeless population?

July 18 2011 at 2:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

jocahollis There are plenty of bases and camps that could be closed overseas that we spend billions a year to maintain,for example 11-Germany,12-Japan,8-England,21-South Korea and others,thing of it is when we do close a base over there they get to keep the housing and other improvements we have made on them over the years,another example the hundreds of millions going into Kunsan AFB to improve living quarters for accompanied/unaccompanied troops. So DOD why don't you wake up and close most or all of that 20 overseas and to help keep our economy going in the USA???? It isn't like we can't use the money here!!!!

September 12 2010 at 9:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One base they closed was Otis ANG the first responders for 9-11. Thanks to Mitt and Teddy for tossing the 102ANG FIW under the bus. Gutless a-holes. That wing lost so many great maintainers (gone out of state to other units or retired) for what? Gave the 15's to Westfield who cant even fix them. Now their rotting on the runway because they cant even fit in the tube the A-10 were in?? omg and to think that not one of the BRAC members who made the decision was ever in the mil. haha Shame on them but the up side is Ted is gone FINALLY. whew !

August 23 2010 at 10:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I was stationed at Castle AFB 1960 to 1967. I love Atwater CA & Merced trained a lot of Merced's Fier Dept in Scuba Diving and also set up an air cascade system for filling their tanks. They used us for a lot of recovery work in the County. I can't recall how to pronounce the Chief's name at that time,I want to say (Lagena) Those where the good ald days. I sure would like to locate all our divers that where members of the Castle AFB Aquanauts 1960 1967. Cris Pemberton

August 23 2010 at 1:48 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Closing a base down does in fact take a huge toll. And here it took 30 yrs to recover but they left lasting effects. Such as waste that for years was left untouched. But when it polluted the wells in the area they started a so called cleanup. They used up a stock pile of agent orange to spray miles median roadways. And even live ammo has been found in the area. I hope they do a better job of cleaning up instead of covering up.

August 23 2010 at 7:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How many bases were closed by Mr Clinton??? We have airbases in Michigan that were closed by Mr Clinton. I don't see his name mentioned in this article. Seems like you have the BIB blues!

August 18 2010 at 8:20 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The USA goverment has been the worst enviramental polliter for years now, many of you young people don,t remember when the USA set off atomic blasts under the oceans and hundreads of them, and letting people dig uramium out of the deserts to make nuke weapons out of in the 60,s many were killed, and the list is long. The atomic blasts the USA set off in our oceans and in the deserts of America, makes the PB mess look like a kids tea party to the damage they did on testing. After the Viet-nam war the dumped thousands of tons of agent orange in drums in the oceans outside the USA also, and the list goes on.

August 18 2010 at 1:39 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

BRAC is a good thing, military bases should not be retained for civillian employment and businesses in the local community. On the other hand, they should not be closed in one area and opened in another for political purposes either. Everybody wants a piece of the Military Industrial Complex, not for the purpose of national defense, but rather, for national greed. I have to give Bill Gates credit for trying to clean up some of this mess during his stewardship... not an easy undertaking with Congressmen and Senators beating him over the head every step of the way. Clearly, it is this same thinking that keeps this country in eternal wars all over the globe... Putting greed ahead of the lives of our service personal, is a sad, but true thought.

August 18 2010 at 1:32 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to SKCRCPUSCG's comment

closing bases is not about greed-obviously it was about saving money, but sadly it didn't, it created chaos and didn't help. New facilities were built elsewhere and yes it was political. Keep the bases put--as the populations increase we will have a need for them later down the road. Lock 'em up if you have to, but keep the bases intact.

August 23 2010 at 10:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

psychopaths love war and madness and confusion paths that is now us normies,normal people want peace ,like jfk ,mlk, rfk etc but the evil psychopaths nixon johnson hoover cia oilmen jews are all psychopaths lie trick steal backstab ,murder ... thats the motto. look it up psychopath thats the problem .really you have been so fooled just look up psychopath and then get back to me lol sad but true,union brotherhood repels psychopaths .

August 18 2010 at 1:10 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to l28boilermaker80's comment

As a military retiree and a Cold War/Desert Storm Veteran.....I can tell you how Republican Administrations act vs. Democratic Administrations and how our nation's defense and security suffers depending on who is in office......Oct 1 is the beginning of the first day of every military fiscal year.....On September 30th, starting with the East the clock ticks its way towards each time zone, military installations will try to spend as much money as DOD has left before it rolls to installations in the next time zone. Military fiance offices stay open 24 hours processsing those requests....Even bases that are being BRAC-ed will be able to spend that money. Defense contracts on BRAC-ed bases will be honored to complete work even if the base is closing down! Your taxdollars will continue to be wasted!

August 18 2010 at 12:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mesager42's comment

you are absolutely right on! you would think, by now that they would stop this madness????

August 23 2010 at 10:48 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply