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Ellsworth officials react to loss of Army Reserve unit

ELLSWORTH - Gerry DeWolfe once served in the U.S. Army's reserve's 652nd Engineering Company and still knows people connected with the unit.

That's why the announcement that the Army intends to move the unit from its headquarters in Ellsworth to a new location outside of Hammond makes DeWolfe's disappointment a little more personal along with his concerns for the village as its president.

"It's going to have a big impact on the village no question about it," DeWolfe said. "The unit has been located here since 1958. They've been a part of our community and a part of our family for all those years. I was a member of it and I know people in it. It's like losing a friend."

Village trustee Dave Deiss said DeWolfe worked hard to accommodate the Army as it was looking for a new headquarters for the 652nd. A plan for a new facility in the Crossing Meadows development just north of the village on Hwy. 65 had been submitted and approved three years ago.

"That was the whole point for going ahead with the development," Deiss said. "We knew they wanted bigger and better facilities we had 8 to 10 acres for them there. Gerry worked tirelessly to meet the Army's needs and accommodated them at every step of the process. But it looks like their thinking has gone 180 degrees in the opposite direction."

The plan submitted to the Army three years ago was turned down by the Pentagon due to lack of funding, according to DeWolfe. Now that the Army has those funds it has decided to look elsewhere.

"There's politics involved with this decision no doubt," DeWolfe said. "But I think the main reason for the move is they want a facility that's close to the freeway even though we offered them the land they wanted plus access to rivers where they could train."

The new site the Army's ended up choosing is south of County Road J and immediately west of St. Croix Electric's headquarters.

Also suprised is Ellsworth's American Legion Post 204 Commander Richard DeCosta. The property is owned by the Post and it leases the buildings to the Army. The lease is a major source of income to Post 204.

De Costa said the Legion just recently signed a five-year agreement with the Army.

"We haven't heard anything official yet and we weren't aware of any planned move," DeCosta said. "After all we just signed a five-year deal with them so this comes as a suprise. Now, there is a 120-day out clause in the contract. Maybe they intend to exercise it or maybe they think it's going to take five years to build their new facility and move everything there."

But when that does eventually happen the village will be saddled with more empty buildings. DeWolfe hopes the property's prime location will attract a developer there.

"It's right on major highway near other commercial property," DeWolfe said. "Hopefully a developer will come along to make something good out of the property when the 652nd leaves and hopefully the economic times will be better to do so."