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Community Again Fighting to Save Army Fort, Chemical Weapons Site

February 28, 1995

ANNISTON, Ala. (AP) _ Residents took it personally when the Pentagon said Tuesday it was trying for a fourth time to shut down the Army’s Fort McClellan, a post that supports more than 10,000 jobs.

``I feel like an abused child. It’s inconceivable to me that they would keep pounding and pounding on the same community,″ said Gerald Powell, chairman of a local task force working to save the fort.

``We’re going to fight. We’re going to win again,″ said Richard Cater, chairman of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce.

Fort McClellan resembles a college campus with white stucco buildings and red-tile roofs sitting in a heavily wooded area.

But it is the home of the military’s only facility where soldiers train with real chemical agents, inside a heavily guarded building-within-a-building.

The fort also employs 8,536 military and civilian workers and supports an additional 2,184 jobs indirectly _ nearly one-fifth of the area’s total workforce.

Under the Pentagon recommendations, McClellan’s Army Chemical and Military Police schools would be relocated to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. The Defense Polygraph Institute would be moved to Fort Jackson at Columbia, S.C.

The Pentagon estimated the net cost of closing Fort McClellan at $212 million, with expected savings over two decades of $316 million.

Supporters of the base said moving the chemical training school to Missouri would cost it many experienced civilian employees, who would not make the move.

They also questioned the Defense Department’s claim that officials in Missouri had promised an ``expeditious review″ of permits needed to open a chemical training facility there.

``I’ll bet it will be two or three years before any permit is granted,″ said Walt Phillips, who handles military issues for the chamber of commerce.

The commander of Fort McClellan, Maj. Gen. Alfonso Lenhardt, disagreed with claims it would be impossible to shift chemical training away from the fort.

``All problems could be worked through,″ he said.

Fort McClellan opened in 1917.

The Pentagon first sought to close it in 1990. Congress voided the recommendation and established the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to review all proposed military base changes in hopes of removing political considerations.

In 1991, the panel rejected a second Pentagon recommendation to close Fort McClellan, primarily because of the chemical weapons training facility.

A third Pentagon effort to close Fort McClellan was shot down in 1993 by the commission, which told the military not to try again unless it received permits to build a new chemical training facility elsewhere.

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