Hawthorne Army Depot, the storage and processing facility for thousands of tons of bombs and other munitions, is on the Defense Department's 2006 closure list.
While Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., promised to fight to keep the depot open saying it is Mineral County's largest employer, the depot commander and the county's economic- development director said it could end up being a positive for the Hawthorne area.
And Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., termed Hawthorne's role as "critical and historic." He said the facility is unique and serves a vital purpose for the nation and its military.
Lt. Col. John Summers said no decision will become final until December. If Hawthorne is slated for closure at that time, they would have two years to begin moving material out and six years to complete the process.
That would mean moving or de-activating 300,000 tons of munitions.
While that could mean the loss of some 500 jobs, he and Economic Development Authority Director Shelley Hartmann said it should initially mean more employees because of the volume of work in shutting down Hawthorne's Depot.
"Staff would increase by 100 immediately," she said.
Summers said there are now 30 government civilians, 30 U.S. Marine and U.S. Navy tenants and the 488 people employed by Hawthorne Corp., the contractor which has been de-activating and reclaiming materials from old munitions.
He said those jobs would largely go away over the next decade but Hartmann said she was hopeful the contractor might be able to expand his business into more commercial operations.
Both Summers and Hartmann said the millions of square feet of warehouse space now occupied by the Army would be opened up to commercial businesses.
"Instead of the Army owning 2,700 storage buildings, they could be owned by 12 different companies, all of which pay taxes," Summers said.
As part of the Base Re-alignment and Closure process, Hartmann and Summers said money is available to help communities which lose a major military base.
"The Army is committed that, if they remain on the list, they will have an economic development team available to assist the community to plan economic utilization of these bunkers and warehouses."
Hartmann said there is nearly 8 million square feet of empty warehouse space Mineral County would have available for businesses.
"They've assured us there's going to be grant money available," she said.
But she added that doesn't mean they don't need state help if the closure goes ahead. She urged lawmakers to approve the legislation that would put $8 million into economic development for rural Nevada and $2 million to handle urban blight.
News of the planned closure comes just as Mineral County officials say they were beginning to see some growth in Hawthorne's economy. Hartmann said the area lost 1,300 jobs in the 1980s when Hawthorne's operations were cut back sharply and two major mines closed.
Now Borealis Mine is reopening and DCL Mining is opening a marble quarry in Mineral County. She said a military training operation is moving to the area along with a program for at-risk kids.
Hawthorne still has those developments coming to town and that she believes the community will grow even if the Depot closes, she said Friday.
"We're going to look on the bright side."
- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.