The United States Department of Defense (DOD) has an ongoing policy to identify military installations that are not essential to national security objectives. This policy, the perceived reduction of the Soviet military threat, and fiscal policies adopted by the United States Congress, led Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci's Commission on Base Realignment and Closure to recommend, on December 29, 1988, the closing of 86 U.S. military installations, five of them United States Air Force (USAF) bases.
The first major installation slated for closure on the list was 35-year-old Pease Air Force Base (AFB), New Hampshire, "primarily due to quality and availability of facilities, and because of excess capacity within the category" of Strategic Air Command (SAC) bomber bases. The Commission's recommendations were approved January 5, 1989, in accordance with the Base Closure and Realignment Act (Public Law 100-526).
Pease AFB, the 4,255-acre home of SAC's 509th Bomb Wing (BMW), closed March 31, 1991. Closure activities which preceded that date included the transfer of both personnel and military assets to other military installations.
509th BMW aircraft were withdrawn in phases beginning in June, 1990, and ending in September, 1990. The 13 KC-135A aerial refueling tankers assigned to the 509th BMW were transferred to Wurtsmith AFB, Michigan (2 aircraft), Plattsburgh AFB, New York (2 aircraft), Eaker AFB, Arkansas (1 aircraft), Carswell AFB, Texas (2 aircraft), and Fairchild AFB, Washington (6 aircraft).
The transfer of the 509th BMW's Pease-based fleet of FB-111A fighter-bombers to Tactical Air Command also occurred during this period, although their transfer and subsequent re-designation as F-111Gs had been planned as part of a force modernization program prior to the base closure announcement. The anticipated loss of the FB-111s may have been a factor in Pease's selection for closure, in that the base would have been left with only the KC-135A, and the Air Force had "sufficient capacity" to absorb the remaining units at other locations.
The 541st Air Force Band of New England relocated to Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts in !ate 1990, and all other tenant units, except one, left by July 1990. The 157th Air Refueling Group, New Hampshire Air National Guard (NHANG), retained a 229-acre cantonment area (Pease Air National Guard Base) for continued operation of their fleet of 10 KC-135E tankers.
The four aircraft mounted on static display in the Pease Air Park at the front gate were dismantled and transferred to other bases. Three of these- the B-47, KC-97, and B-52- had represented aircraft from both the 509th and 100th BMW's Pease history, while the B-29's presence symbolized the 509th BMW's role bringing an end to World War IL The B-47 went to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota in the summer of 1990, and the other three joined the 509th BMW at the wing's new home at Whiteman AFB, Missouri in the summer of 1991.
The impact of personnel transfers and losses, including military, civilian, and dependents, is accounted for in the Pease AFB fiscal year 1989 Economic Resource Impact Statement (ERIS), prepared by the USAF. The ERIS showed approximately 3,460 military employees and 1,090 civilian employees working at Pease. With dependents, the total base-related population numbered approximately 10,715. The military population residing on base numbered 4,666 (2,092 military and 2,574 dependents). The majority of military and civilian personnel and their dependents living off base resided in southeastern New Hampshire and southeastern Maine.
Portsmouth Airport Becomes an Air Force Base
Aviation first came to the seacoast area shortly after World War I, when in 1919 pilots barnstormed their way into the area, providing airplane rides to local residents. The Portsmouth Fairgrounds was their airport. Early in the 1930s, Portsmouth built a 300-acre airport. One of its first commercial users was Northeast Airlines. With the onset of World War II, the airport was used by the U.S. Navy.
In early 1951, Senator Styles H. Bridges announced that the Air Force wanted to build a bomber base in New Hampshire's seacoast area, with Portsmouth Airport as the prime location. In May of 1952, the House Armed Services Committee approved construction of the air base. Shortly thereafter the Army Corps of Engineers began to acquire land from the state, cities, and private property owners. The new base was situated in the middle of a peninsula formed by the Piscataqua River, the Little Bay, and the Great Bay. It lay in Rockingham County, and was abutted by the City of Portsmouth, and the Towns of Newington and Greenland. Land from Portsmouth represented roughly 40% of the base, and land from Newington represented roughly 60% of the base. Clearing of the land began in December of 1952, and construction of the base was completed in 1956.
Officially active since January 1, 1956, Portsmouth AFB (as it was known then) was formally opened June 30 of that same year. On September 7, 1957 the Air Force dedicated and renamed the base in honor of Captain Harl Pease, Jr., a native of Plymouth, New Hampshire. Captain Pease had posthumously earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism as a 15-17 pilot during a bombing raid against the Japanese in Rabaul, New Britain, in August of 1942.
Over the years, Pease AFB was host to two SAC operational units. The 100th BMW, which flew the 13-47 bomber and the KC-97 tanker, was at Pease from 1956 to 1966. The 509th BMW came to Pease in 1958, and replaced B-47s and KC-97s in 1966 with the B-52 Stratofortress and the KC-135 Stratotanker. The B-52s were replaced, in turn, by the FB-111A in 1970.
Civil Redevelopment - The Planning Begins
When Pease was first announced for closure by the DOD, there was much debate at the local, regional, and state levels as to how civilian redevelopment should be organized, planned for, and implemented. Some argued for local control over redevelopment. Others argued for significant state involvement. Advocates for state control felt that the economic impacts of the closure and conversion would be felt not only locally but throughout the state; further, they felt that the costs of redevelopment would be better supported by the state than the smaller political subdivisions - counties or municipalities.
Based on public input such as that just described, on April of 1989 the legislature of the State of New Hampshire enacted a law establishing the Pease Redevelopment Commission (PRC). The PRC was an eight-member body consisting of four members appointed by officials of the state government and four members appointed by local governing bodies. The state-appointed members were citizens of southeastern New Hampshire, and the local-appointed members were officials from the governing bodies of the town of Newington and the city of Portsmouth. The primary responsibility of the PRC was to plan for the closure and redevelopment of Pease AFB.
Significant PRC decisions included resolutions that all reuse planning include an airport with a permanent home for the NHANG (August 1, 1989) and that reuse planning for the area west of McIntire Road (primarily undeveloped land abutting Great Bay) would be limited to conservation uses such as a wildlife refuge.
To accomplish base reuse plans for the remainder of the site, the PRC hired and was assisted by a planning consultant, the Bechtel Corporation. In addition, the PRC established and was assisted by six citizen advisory committees, with eight volunteer members per committee. The committees studied and provided input on aviation, environmental conditions (e.g. hazardous waste), economic issues, governmental affairs, natural resources, and the Pease facilities.
In developing the plan, it became evident that there was widespread state and local support for four criteria that any redevelopment at the base should meet. These became the guiding principles of the planning process. They were: Job creation, environmental quality, fiscal responsibility, and economic viability.
At the last meeting of the PRC, on May 22, 1990, the commission approved the first phase of the three-phase planning process. This process had taken 9 months and involved numerous public meetings with the advisory committees, local citizens, the planning consultant, the PRC staff, and local, state, and federal government officials.
The approved Phase I development concept envisioned an international aviation hub in concert with high-technology industrial development, making the best use of the assets of an 11,300-foot runway (one of the longest in the nation) and easy access to an excellent multi-modal transportation system. Pease has direct access to Interstate 95 and U.S. Route 16 (the Spaulding Turnpike) and Route 4. The site is also within two miles of the deep water port of Portsmouth, and has potential rail access.
Another significant PRC accomplishment was to recognize that the law that created the PRC did not provide the necessary authority to implement a base reuse plan. The PRC needed the authority to acquire the base from the Air Force, and to develop and market the property.
Civil Redevelopment - Implementing the Plan
The New Hampshire legislature, with the assistance of the Associate Attorney General's office, and with input from the PRC, Portsmouth, and Newington, drafted a law creating the Pease Development Authority (PDA). The law was enacted by the legislature, effective June 1, 1990. The PDA was granted those powers needed to implement the base redevelopment plan: The authority to accept title of land disposed of by the Air Force, the authority to market and develop the land, and so forth. In addition, the law provided a $250 million bonding capacity ($50 million obligation bonds and $200 million of revenue bonds).
The PDA consists of a seven-member board, comprised of four members appointed by officials of state government, and three members appointed by the governing bodies of Portsmouth and Newington. The state appointees consist of a single appointee each by the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House, plus an appointee unanimously agreed upon by each of the aforementioned state officials. This appointee had to be selected from Strafford County, which is adjacent to Rockingham County.
Two original members of the PRC were carried over by their appointing authorities to the PDA, and they became the first Chairman and Vice-Chair of the PDA. The original PRC chairman became the PDA staff's Executive Director. The board's mission was and is "to capitalize on the unique opportunities the Pease facility affords for economic benefit while preserving New Hampshire's quality of life and environment."
Thus, the PDA began its existence at the juncture between Phase I's approval of the Preferred Development Concept and the implementation focus of Phases II and III. Work on Phases II and III resulted in the Pease Development Plan, which was unanimously approved by the PDA in October of 1990.
In spring of the following year, on March 20, 1991, the USAF leased the 150-acre 18-hole Pease Golf Course to the PDA at no cost. The goal was two-fold: To maintain the facility in top condition, making improvements as needed; and to develop a solid revenue stream for the PDA by allowing the PDA to operate the facility for use by the general public.
Pease Airport opened for civilian use through an Airfield Joint Use Agreement (AJUA) with the USAF July 19, 1991, with a fixed-base operator offering service to general aviation.
During this time, negotiations which had begun in December of 1989 were completed on the development of a Federal Facilities Agreement (FFA) between the USAF, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and New Hampshire's Department of Environmental Services. The FFA, signed April 24, 1991, has three general purposes: To ensure that environmental impacts associated with activities at the site are investigated and remedied; to establish a framework and schedule for actions at the site in accordance with Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and other applicable laws; and to facilitate cooperation and exchange of information between the signing agencies. One of the practical effects of the FFA was to coordinate cleanup of the 43 hazardous waste sites identified by the USAF as part of their ongoing Installation Restoration Program (IRP) with redevelopment efforts, allowing both processes to occur simultaneously.
Federal law governing the closure of an Air Force Base requires an impact analysis process, i.e., an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), prior to disposal of the property and transfer of title. The draft of the EIS, released for public review December 29, 1989, was completed June 14, 1991.
The USAF'S final Record of Decision (ROD) on the ElS was issued August 20, 1991, documenting the USAF'S decision to dispose of Pease AFB in a manner enabling the PDA to implement a plan to develop an aviation center for world trade and a high technology business center. The ROD detailed property to be transferred and addressed various environmental issues such as air quality, contamination, and asbestos. At that point the PDA (the only agency in the state other than the Adjutant General of New Hampshire authorized to negotiate with the Air Force for Pease property) was able to begin negotiations for transfer.
The PDA hired a marketing consultant in August of 1991, and in September authorized production of brochures and a video in five languages for both domestic and international distribution. When these materials became available in February of 1992, they served to christen the facility as Pease International Tradeport.
In December of 1991 the PDA submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the USAF a proposed Airport Layout Plan (ALP), prepared by the PDA staff and its consultant, Hoyle, Tanner, and Associates. This plan would be used as a framework for the physical development of Pease.
Zoning at the tradeport was adopted by the PDA on December 20, 1991. It provided for four different types of development; a 797-acre airport zone, a 448-acre airport industrial zone, a 333-acre industrial zone, and a 466-acre business/commercial zone. The ordinance also set aside 781 acres for natural resource protection and wetlands mitigation.
The NH Department of Transportation (DOT), through a Public Benefit Transfer for highway construction, received 50 acres of Pease property from the USAF in February of 1992. Approximately 19 acres in direct transfer, and approximately 31 acres in easement would eventually be associated with highway widening and construction of a new diamond interchange between Gosling Road at the entrance to Pease AFB and the Spaulding Turnpike.
On April 14,1992 the USAF and the PDA signed the Airport Public Benefit Transfer (PBT) Application (Contract for Sale) and Lease of Airport Property (55-year "master" lease) of 1,702 acres for the purpose of developing a public airport. The PBT application and lease, sponsored and approved by the FAA through approval of the ALP, enable economic redevelopment to occur concurrently with environmental remediation. The lease will convert to a quit claim deed upon fulfilling CERCLA requirements. The PBT area consists of primarily the airport facility and property around the main entrance to the base. The latter acreage is intended to be revenue-producing, to support development of the airport.
Also on April 14th, the USAF and the PDA signed a new AJUA allowing for continued use of the Pease airfield by the NHANG, effectively securing the NHANG's presence at Pease Air National Guard Base. And on August 12, 1992, approximately 1,100 acres of land west of Mclntire Road (primarily undeveloped land abutting Great Bay) were transferred from the USAF to the U.S. Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service for creation of Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
In June of 1997 the remaining 1,300 acres of the Pease property was transferred to the PDA via a PBT similar to the transfer in 1992. Since the original transfer in April of 1992, 2,100 new jobs have been created with a projected number of 3,745 by the year 2000. Over 510,000sq ft of new construction has been built and approximately 1,000,000 sq. ft of existing buildings have been occupied.