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LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The Navy gave its blessing Tuesday to plans to turn the closed El Toro Marine base into a park instead of a commercial airport.

The decision to sell the 4,700-acre base to local officials who support the park ends an eight-year battle over whether to build Orange County's second airport.

``This really puts air transport planning in the Los Angeles area in the Dumpster,'' said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. ``Where do we find capacity now?''

Voters last month approved a plan to turn the base, about 45 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, into an urban park with some housing and office development.

All the region's airports are operating at strained capacity. Los Angeles International Airport, for example, handled 61.6 million passengers in 2001, though it was designed for only 40 million annually.

Last week, a delegation of local officials, including Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn and Rep. Maxine Waters, petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration to intervene.

The letter urged the agencies to ``carefully consider the consequences of eliminating a viable airport resource in the midst of a nationwide airport capacity crisis.''

Real estate analysts said the base is considered prime property and could fetch more than $1 million per acre. It closed in 1999 after 50 years of operation.

Navy Secretary Gordon England said the sale to local officials best follows base-closure laws that say military property must be returned to productive local use.