A low-profile military base first established during World War II is being eyed as a potential site for future economic development projects in northern Arizona.
Pending legislation in Congress would allow the U.S. Army to transfer about 4.7 square miles of land at Camp Navajo to the state Department of Emergency and Military Affairs.
The sprawling installation at Bellemont about 11 miles west of Flagstaff is currently used and run by the Arizona National Guard, which is part of the state Department of Emergency and Military Affairs.
The transfer is a provision in the annual defense authorization bills approved by the House and Senate. Those bills essentially must be melded on the final version to be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.
A bipartisan trio of Arizona lawmakers — Republican Sen. Martha McSally and Democratic Reps. Tom O’Halleran and Ruben Gallego — worked to include the Camp Navajo transfer in each chamber’s bill.
Transfer supporters say management of the land by the state would make it easier for businesses to locate in and around Camp Navajo.
The legislative process has taken nearly five years after originally starting with the help of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.
“This is like a miracle to have this happen,” said Julie Pastrick, president of the Northern Arizona Military Affairs Council and CEO of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce.
The land transfer would encourage private investment in the area “and that will definitely shape the future and that landscape,” Pastrick said. “We have fought for economic diversifications for so long.”
Arizona already has a large defense industry, but most of its jobs are centered in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas.
Camp Navajo’s location along a both a major rail line and Interstate 40 makes it an attractive location for many businesses.
Camp Navajo itself could be an asset because many of its nearly 800 concrete igloo bunkers built to store munitions and other sensitive material could be useful to defense industries.
Travis Schulte, legislative liaison with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, said the transfer also could contribute to forest restoration.
Last year, Northern Arizona University tested the viability of a wood chipping operation at Camp Navajo and showed that it could be profitable. The college took materials from local forest thinning efforts and shipped and sold them to a company in South Korea.
Schulte said authorization of the land transfer would be followed by surveying , finalization of exactly which acres would be included and a detailed study of environmental factors and economic development opportunities.
According to the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, Camp Navajo was established in 1942 as the Navajo Ordnance Depot to support U.S. forces fighting Japan in the Pacific during World War II. Its name changed to the Navajo Army Depot in 1965, Navajo Depot Activity in 1982 and Camp Navajo in 1993.
The installation has been under the Arizona National Guard’s operational control since 1992. The Guard and other military service branches use the site for training.