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US towns brace for base-closing wave

The Pentagon is expected to announce a large number of closings among its 425 domestic bases.

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As a young boy Dennis Estes relied on the late afternoon whistle that sounded from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to know that dinnertime was approaching. Decades later, the whistle still sounds several times a day from the Piscataqua River between Maine and New Hampshire. But it could soon fall silent.

The shipyard may be one of the military installations across the country included in the Pentagon's newest wave of base closings - the first in a decade. Residents here are bracing for a possibility that would impact them in ways both big and small - from more than 4,500 lost jobs to discarded rituals, such as the trill of a whistle, that are the fabric of daily life in this coastal community.

"I don't know what this town is going to do," says Mr. Estes, a former town councilor whose family has worked at the shipyard for at least three generations.

Friday morning, the wait is expected to be over. After months of speculation, the Pentagon is set to release the roster of bases scheduled for closure as part of an ambitious - and controversial - plan for a leaner and more flexible military in the 21st century.

For communities on the list, it will mark the start of a summer of frantic lobbying to save the jobs, money, and prestige that a US base brings.

Yet for the wisest towns, experts say, the shift marks the beginning of something else altogether - planning for life after the installation is gone. From Colorado plains to Indiana cornfields, history suggests that communities have suffered less when they have been willing to let go and move forward - in many cases coming up with new plans for the site even before the base-closing list is finalized.

"The process should really begin on Friday," says Tim Ford, executive director of the Association for Defense Communities in Washington. Communities on the list "need to start putting together a Plan B."


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