Willow Grove base controversy

May 29, 2009 12:21:05 PM PDT
Residents living near Willow Grove Naval Air Base are nervous about what could happen once the state takes over the site.The state of Pennsylvania will take over Willow Grove Naval Air Base Willow and its 8,000 foot runway once the Navy exits.

The state is looking to turn into a homeland security base for government agencies and private associated users.

Many packed a hearing Thursday to convey their thoughts and suspicions that those private users will bring a big increase in commercial air traffic.

"[It] will be a regional airport to reduce traffic at Philadelphia International," Pete Choate of Horsham said.

Horsham residents argue a commercial airport would hurt this suburb's quality of life by bringing, they say, noise, air pollution, and traffic congestion.

Existing federal law actually prohibits Willow Grove from becoming a commercial airport, but some state lawmakers who testified worry that could change. They are proposing changes in state laws.

"So if federal law gets repealed, the state law would still be in full effect," State Representative Rick Taylor (D) of Horsham said.

The Rendell administration signaled new state restrictions are not needed and could hurt Willow Grove. The state is adamant despite wide spread suspicions a commercial airport is not its intent.

"I can say with 100 percent certainty that that's not the end result game here that the commonwealth and the nation is proposing or trying to achieve," Donald Carmeans of the Pennsylvania Military and Veterans Affairs said.

Harrisburg is to take over in 2011. It says its mission will be defense, security, and preparedness. It says this will no way become an air express package hub or a place to pick up a cheap flight to Florida.

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