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Commander Confident Seal Beach Base Won't Close


SEAL BEACH — The commanding officer of the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station on Sunday downplayed reports that the 5,000-acre base was facing closure, saying that the facility is too valuable to the Navy's West Coast operations.

Capt. W. Robert Hampe, who has been at the helm of the weapons facility since 1991, was joined by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) in dismissing speculation that the base is in jeopardy of being closed.

City leaders reacted with alarm almost immediately after the federal base closure commission announced Saturday that it had included the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station on a list of 60 more sites added for consideration. The base, built in 1944, employs 1,120 people. It has an annual budget of about $38 million.

The commission is due to release its list of options today and is expected to announce in June which installations it feels should be closed. Final recommendations to President Clinton and Congress are due July 1.

The weapons station was one of seven California military depots added to the base closure list after a 15-hour commission meeting in Washington that went into early Saturday.

Rohrabacher and Hampe said being put on the list did not necessarily mean the facility would be closed.

"This was right out of the blue," said Rohrabacher, who attended the press conference in Hampe's office after attending a surfing contest at Bolsa Chica State Beach. "I think there's a reason for us to be concerned, but I don't believe there are reasons for excessive alarm.

"If closing this base is the most efficient way for the Navy to spend its money while protecting our shores, then it shouldn't be open," Rohrabacher said. "However, I don't think that's the case."

Hampe was more confident that the base will remain open.

"The congressman may not be 100% confident, but I'm saying our base is essential to the Navy's effort to maintain the protection of the Pacific," Hampe said. "There is no other place to do it."

In recent months, Navy and Seal Beach officials have maintained that the 49-year-old base would not be on any closure list, particularly because it is one of only three weapons-loading facilities on the West Coast.

And the base will soon be headquarters for the two others--one in Concord, Calif.; the other in Bremerton, Wash. Starting Oct. 1, "we'll be responsible for all (weapons) on the West Coast," Hampe said.

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