A new $110 million, assembly-line truck repair plant that saved Tooele Army Depot from base closure lists two years ago appears to have helped make it a target this year.

Because it is used at a relatively low capacity, it made Tooele's overhead costs relatively high - which Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said hurt in formulas this year. Two years ago, the desire for such a high-tech facility saved the base.Ironically, had the Pentagon closed the base two years ago, it could have saved $99 million or so of that plant's $110 million cost because it was only partially built at the time, and none of its expensive equipment had been ordered.

More ironically, the Pentagon estimates proposals to close major Tooele operations now will have a one-time cost of $74 million but will bring annual savings of $51 million - which it describes as "an immediate return on investment." It would still take two years just to recoup the money that could have been saved by not building the new plant when it had the chance.

But both Hansen and former Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, have said that without the plant, they had been told Tooele would have almost surely been closed two years ago. Their statements are backed up by documents from the Defense Department inspector general and the U.S. General Accounting Office.

A report by the GAO, an investigative arm of Congress, said the new facility led the Army for two years to rank Tooele in a tie for first place in importance among the 10 depots the Army then had nationwide.

With that, the GAO said Tooele was excluded quickly from consideration for closure "because of its sole responsibility for the Army's tactical wheeled vehicle and power generation equipment."

But the Defense Department inspector general said the facility had just barely survived mid-construction attacks from critics - and had it not, Tooele would have had a low-importance ranking.

To show how close it came to being axed, the inspector noted the Pentagon had ordered its construction temporarily halted when its shell was about half complete while the inspector general decided whether it was truly needed.

He later ruled it should never have been ordered because of a low projected workload, but said because of the construction costs already spent, the building should be completed.

In this year's round of closures, Hansen said the Army was concerned about high overhead costs at Tooele.

"That's because we have the new $110 million consolidated maintenance facility that has been running at only maybe 40 percent of capacity," he said.

"You might have old clapboard sheds at other bases built in 1942 or 1952 that operate at 100 percent capacity and appear to have lower overhead. That's how these older facilities manage to survive.

"It defies logic as to why a brand new facility would close and yet the Marine Corps would be allowed to keep its two World War II vintage, antiquated truck depots in Barstow, Calif., and Albany, Ga. The taxpayers ought to be outraged, and I will do all that I can to get the maximum public exposure on Tooele's merits."

In documents released Friday, the Pentagon said criteria it examined before proposing to close Tooele included "relative military value of the depots; the future heavy force mix; reduced budget; work force skills; excess capacity; ability of the depots to accommodate new workload levels . . . and the resulting savings."

Other reports by the GAO and inspector general had recently given Tooele bad marks in many of those areas - even though the base and Utah politicians disputed the findings.

For example, the GAO complained last year that Tooele often took trucks sent to it for minor repairs and gave them major overhauls instead, and suggested consumer complaints were high because of it.

However, Freedom of Information Act requests by the Deseret News showed the base had a relatively low incidence of complaints, and that the base went the extra mile to resolve them - including fixing at no cost parts that customers ruined by negligence, vehicles it hadn't repaired and engines overhauled 10 years earlier.

Other GAO or inspector general reports in recent years also blasted Tooele for ruining many items by storing them without protection outside, and by not keeping good inventory records that could lead to theft, loss or duplicative purchases.