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Navy nixes Pa. base transfer

Denial foils pols' hopes for Willow Grove air station

WASHINGTON - The Navy appears to have stymied a plan that would have allowed a suburban Philadelphia military base slated for closure by the federal government to be eventually transferred to state ownership.

Under a plan proposed by Pennsylvania, the Navy was to transfer the Willow Grove Naval Air Station land to the Air Force, which in turn would lease it to the state. The base, home to Air Force and Navy reserve units, would then have been transferred to state ownership.

But the Navy said Tuesday that regulations do not allow it to transfer the land, according to a memo obtained yesterday by the Associated Press. The memo was written by B.J. Penn, assistant secretary of the Navy.

"Your application is not legally supportable by existing property disposal and base closure regulations and is therefore denied," the memo said.

Gov. Rendell, along with Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, each expressed disappointment at the decision.

"Willow Grove and its airfield and flight facilities are too vital a military and homeland security resource to be abandoned," Rendell said in a statement. "We will continue to pursue our efforts to maintain this installation for military use."

Rendell, Specter and Casey announced April 13 that the Air Force had agreed to accept the land from the Navy and then eventually lease and sell it to the state for operations by the Pennsylvania National Guard and reserve units.

The Air Force had notified them that the arrangement would allow Pennsylvania to preserve the military capability of the installation, to permit possible joint use as a civilian airport, and to allow the state to attract other government users to the site.

The federal government's Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted in August 2005 to close the air station, which is about 15 miles north of Philadelphia. Despite its name, the base is in Horsham, not Willow Grove. *