The vote was 7-0, with two recusals, to overturn Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recommendation to shut down the base. Rumsfeld had wanted to relocate the base's mission and jobs to Tooele Army Depot in Utah. But commissioners said the Pentagon overstated savings and military value, and understated economic impact to the region in Mineral County.
"This is a site with high military value for its mission, the cost savings have been overstated," said Commissioner Philip Coyle.
Commissioners also noted that troops used the depot to train in desert-like conditions similar to those found in Iraq and Afghanistan. "There is an important amount of training going on at this site," Coyle said. The Pentagon had projected that 199 jobs would be directly lost through closure of the ammunition depot in the small desert town of Hawthorne. But local officials said the closure would actually cost about 1,200 jobs at the depot and elsewhere in the community, two-thirds of all jobs in Mineral County.
After touring the ammunition depot in July, Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission Chairman Anthony Principi said that closure "would be devastating to the town of Hawthorne."
Some 300,000 tons of bombs and other munitions are stored at Hawthorne. Commission staff members said the depot is filled to about 56 percent capacity, and said the extra space might be needed for surplus munitions being returned from Korea and Southwest Asia, another consideration the Pentagon didn't sufficiently weigh, they said.
Nevada officials praised the decision. "Hawthorne Army Depot has unique qualities that are vital to our national security," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"They do work in Hawthorne that can’t be done at any other base. I'm thrilled the BRAC commissioners saw the importance of keeping Hawthorne open."
Base closing staff members also said the depot in Tooele doesn't have enough capacity to take the additional munitions if Hawthorne were closed.