Saturday, November 28, 2009

Turning swords into plowshares

The last two planes lumbered out of Brunswick Naval Air Station today. For some, the complete closing of the base in 2011 will mean hardship, as the area loses 5,000 jobs. For others, it represents opportunity, as that marvelous capacity of Mainers to meet challenges and accomplish things as communities gets into full swing with the plans for the base's redevelopment.

For me, the sight of those awkward, low- and slow-flying planes in the skies over Brunswick was bothersome. They seemed to be on perpetual training missions, or up there just for the hell of it, burning gas in pointless loops over the Androscoggin River, the islands, the ocean, the woods. They were incongruous in these settings, warbirds where there should only have been eagles and egrets. The implements of war seem especially out of place in a place of such beauty.

So there will be more than 3,000 acres freed of the Pentagon's grip. From what I've heard of the plans, considerable open space will be preserved, nearly half the base. The remaining will be mixed-use, housing and offices and light industry and, naturally, aviation industries, given the existing buildings and experience, not to mention twin 8,000-foot runways that the Navy (a parting gift?) recently resurfaced. A better parting gift might have been to return the runways to meadows, but one can't expect everything.

If the redevelopment is successful, it will soak up a lot of capital and ambition that might otherwise have looked elsewhere in Maine to slake its thirst and destroy the land. A couple of thousand acres in Brunswick should save trees for a few years in Moosehead, don't you think?

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