BRUNSWICK, Maine — State Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, on Tuesday sponsored a joint resolution of the Maine Legislature imploring U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to keep the midcoast region’s commissary and Navy Exchange open permanently, even though the associated Brunswick Naval Air Station will close on May 31.
The gesture adds to political pressure already being applied to Defense Department officials by members of Maine’s four-person congressional delegation.
The low-cost shopping options for veterans, military retirees and active duty service personnel and their families initially were scheduled for closure last month. However, a six-month extension was granted as part of the fiscal year 2011 Defense Appropriations Act, allowing Gates more time to make a determination on whether the stores can remain financially viable in the months after the nearby Navy base closes.
The joint resolution sponsored Tuesday by Goodall lends the Legislature’s collective voice to the argument that the stores can, indeed, stay afloat beyond September.
According to the language in the resolution, more than 300 active duty personnel will remain within a 20-mile radius of the commissary and exchange after the base closes, thanks in part to the Navy’s Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair Office located near Bath Iron Works.
The resolution also notes that more than 11,000 “eligible patrons” will reside within that same 20-mile circle, and sales at the military stores “are projected to increase” after a proposed Armed Forces Reserve Center opens up on redeveloped air station property next year.
“The commissary and exchange are very important to active military and their families, as well as eligible retirees in the region,” Goodall said this morning. “It’s important to keep it open both for financial reasons for those families, as well as to recognize the sacrifices our current military members and retirees have made. The savings is about $4,000 per year per family, according to studies.”
Goodall said Republican Sens. Earle McCormick of West Gardiner and Nichi Farnham of Bangor spoke in favor of the resolution Tuesday on the Senate floor.
“This has been a bipartisan effort at the federal level with our delegation as it was for the state Senate [Tuesday],” he said.
The news of the Legislature’s joint resolution was well received by Julie Mackie, a Woolwich woman who has been among the midcoast residents actively seeking to make the commissary and exchange permanent fixtures here. Mackie, whose husband retired from the Navy after 20 years, launched a letter-writing campaign to impress upon Pentagon officials the local interest in keeping the stores here open.
“I think that one more log on the fire makes a difference,” Mackie said of Goodall’s resolution in the Maine Legislature. “I honestly think it’s a fight we can win if we help [our delegation in Washington] and let [the Pentagon] know how serious we are and how determined we are.”
Mackie said that, because of the difficult economy, the commissary and exchange are more important than ever for veterans, retirees and military personnel.
“Because of rising fuel prices and because of rising food prices, we need the commissary to keep our costs down,” she said.