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Preparing for Closure: Seneca Depot Faces Huge Task

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

ROMULUS, N.Y., March 18, 1997 – Large flatbed trucks daily continue to enter and exit the Seneca Army Depot here. Drivers pass through security gates, then wend their way along the narrow, two-lane roads to either heavy equipment warehouses or ammunition storage areas.

In years past, these trucks would transport a variety of cargo -- ammunition, heavy equipment and household goods -- into Seneca, located an hour southwest of Syracuse. Today, however, those trucks enter the base empty and leave loaded with freight destined mainly for other defense storage depots.

Two years ago, Seneca joined the ranks of stateside military bases caught by the Base Closure and Realignment process. In February 1995, the BRAC commission recommended DoD close the 11,000-acre depot -- a recommendation that became law.

"It took about a year to come to grips with the results of the BRAC commission," said Army Lt. Col. Stephen Brooks, the depot commander now responsible for closing Seneca. "This is a very small community in a rural part of upstate New York. A lot of people -- a couple of generations -- relied on Seneca for their livelihood, and that's going to disappear."

Still, Brooks said most have now accepted the base will close. "They know we now have the mission of closing this depot," he said, "and we must do it in a manner that will let our folks leave with dignity."

The BRAC commission said closing Seneca would cost taxpayers $15 million, but ultimately save DoD $21 million annually once Seneca finally closes in 2001.

The closure announcement came as no surprise to many Seneca Depot workers. Its 54-year mission as an ammunition and storage supply facility saw a drastic change five years ago. That's when the Army eliminated Seneca's special weapons mission and transferred many of its logistics missions to the Defense Logistics Agency. Warehouse workers like Joe Tomanek saw the closing as inevitable.

"A lot of us knew back when we had the RIFs [reduction-in-force] that we didn't have much longer here to work," said Tomanek, who plans on retiring from federal service once Seneca closes. "The ones who are here now are fortunate ... there were a lot of people who weren't as lucky as we were in staying this long. All a lot of us hoped for was to be able to stay, work until we could reach 25 years and retire from federal service."

Because of those mission changes, the depot -- Seneca County's largest employer at the time -- lost over 550 civilian positions through RIFs, as well as 500 military members. Currently, the depot employs about 200 civilians -- a number slowly reducing as more federal workers search for jobs in and around the county. Still, Brooks said he hopes to keep much of his remaining work force to close Seneca.

Although inbound shipments stopped months ago, there are still tons of materials -- mainly ammunition and heavy industrial equipment -- awaiting shipment to DoD storage depots. Brooks said there are 70,000 tons of ammunition still in Seneca's 519 storage "igloos."

However, because DoD depot facilities cannot take Seneca's entire stockpile at once, Brooks said they must ship on a timetable that parallels Seneca's closure schedule. "We've still got plenty of time to clear the igloos, but we also want to do this when we can," he said. "So whenever we have a depot with some open space, we'll try to ship materials."

The same restrictions also apply to Seneca's heavy equipment stockpile. Currently, Seneca has nine warehouses filled with machines ranging from heating and cooling units to large turbine engines. The Army maintains some of this industrial plant equipment in support of mobilization plans. Other older equipment is being sold as scrap metal to commercial merchants.

Clearing the warehouses and igloos and turning the depot over to Seneca County will not end DoD's presence in the area. The BRAC commission is allowing the military to retain a small warehouse enclave that will store mineral ores and chemical decontamination materials.

Plans also call for the U.S. Coast Guard to maintain its Finger Lakes communications station -- a 170-acre site on the depot's southeast corner. However, those plans are subject to approval by DoD, the Department of Transportation and Seneca County's Local Redevelopment Authority.

But while developers are planning for the depot's future, Seneca employees are focusing more on getting those warehouses cleared. Gazing at the long rows of equipment in one warehouse, Tomanek just shrugs.

"There are eight other warehouses just like this one and it's not an easy job moving this stuff," said Tomanek. "We just had a job here where we needed a couple of forklifts to load equipment on a flatbed -- and that was a small piece. We've got tons of machines here that have to go and we're going need all the time we have left here [at Seneca] to get the job done."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJerry Whitaker, Seneca Army Depot's base closure transition coordinator, shows piles of chromium ore that will remain at Seneca after the base closes in 2001. The material can be used to make ball bearings. Although the Army is returning the depot for development, it will retain a small enclave to store materials. Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCliff Irwin guides forklift operators in loading scrap metal from Seneca Army Depot warehouses for shipment off the depot. The depot, in Romulus, N.Y., will close by 2001 as part of the 1995 Base Closure and Realignment Act. Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSeneca Army Depot worker Joe Tomanek pulls plastic off a piece of industrial plant equipment to prepare it shipment to its new storage facility. Between now and 2001, the contents of nine warehouses must go to other DoD depots as Seneca prepares to close. Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett  
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