Closing of Base Will Hurt Jobs, Businesses

The demise of US submarine base in Scotland is expected to hit the local town's economy hard

THE 9,000 citizens of the little town of Dunoon, in western Scotland, are beginning to realize that the end of the cold war can be a mixed blessing. The United States has decided to close the nearby Poseidon nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch next year.

This means that more than 2,000 local people will lose their jobs, and the economy of the surrounding area will be poorer by as much as $100 million a year as about 2,000 US servicemen and 1,600 dependents return home.

The Pentagon's decision to close the Holy Loch base - part of its worldwide ``peace dividend'' military restructuring program - will bring an end to an American ``occupation'' that has lasted for 30 years.

To antinuclear protesters of the 1960s and '70s Holy Loch (the Gaelic word for ``lake'') was a place of angry pilgrimage. But to most of the local people things looked very different.

In 1961, when the first Polaris submarines began arriving, many of them welcomed the US service personnel and the dollars they brought with them, and were upset by antinuclear demonstrators who took to picketing the shores of Holy Loch.

Ray Michie, the local member of Parliament, says hotels, bed- and-breakfast houses, and shops are likely to go out of business. James Walsh, a local councillor, forecasts ``horrific consequences'' for the Dunoon economy. The future of the area around Dunoon - officially designated ``economically fragile'' - looks bleak.

Officials at the Highlands and Islands Development Board say they hope the US and British governments will come up with cash to help Dunoon recover from the US withdrawal and rebuild a new future, but no official promises have been forthcoming so far.

News of the base's impending closure coincided with an announcement that the numbers of US F-111 fighter bombers based at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, 100 miles north of London, and at Lakenheath, Suffolk, are to be halved within three years.

A British casualty of the cutbacks is likely to be the large naval base at Rosyth, also in Scotland. The Labour Party opposition claims to have a leaked government paper earmarking Rosyth for closure with the loss of more than 5,000 naval and civilian jobs.

Holy Loch is the last remaining American ballistic missile submarine base outside the US. Seven boats carrying in all 1,120 40-kiloton warheads are stationed there. At the height of the cold war 19 submarines operated from Holy Loch.

Tom King, Britain's defense secretary, told the House of Commons on Feb. 5 the Poseidons stationed there are being replaced by Trident boats whose longer range means that a forward base in the North Atlantic is no longer necessary.

Departure of the Americans is going to hit Dunoon's taxi drivers very hard. Numbering 150, they expect a lean time as up to half of their business disappears.

Cabs driving to and from a wharf giving access to the Simon Lake, the US Navy support vessel moored in the middle of Holy Loch, are a common sight.

Closure of the base almost certainly will end Dunoon's status as the British town with the highest proportion of taxis per head of population.

Another by-product of closure will be the ending of Dunoon's ``bride drain.'' Each year about 200 US servicemen stationed at Holy Loch have married Scottish women and taken them back home to America.

Male youths in the area are delighted that ``unfair'' competition for the affections of young women is about to cease. The young women, with due Scottish circumspection, are still pondering the matter.

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