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Utah's leading supporters of Hill Air Force Base have said privately that the base will be the prime closure candidate in 1995 hearings.

That despondent prediction, the first to surface from those leading an effort to keep the base open, is contained in a July 7 letter from the board chairman of Hill/DDO '95 to the Center for the New West, a Denver-based think tank."We are convinced that because (the air logistics center at the base) is one of the smallest Air Force depots and because Utah will be able to cause the least political pain, that Hill AFB will be the prime closure candidate regardless of the economic situation," wrote chairwoman Vickie McCall.

State and local governments have given Hill/DDO '95 more than $215,000 to help save the base and Defense Depot Ogden. The group has lobbied defense leaders in Washington and helped push a bill that would have delayed base-closure hearings until 1997.

Supporters have said since the group was organized that Hill stood a fair chance of surviving the closure hearings because it was the most cost-efficient maintenance depot in the military. And they were encouraged that their plan to build a joint Army/Navy depot at Hill would strengthen the base's position.

But the group returned from a June visit to Washington "frustrated" by the politics of the process.

"Given all of this, we believe our only chance is to concentrate on the internal Base Realignment and Closure process and make our case there," McCall wrote. "This is the least politically influenced forum and has some foundation in logic and data presentation."

Hill/DDO president Mike Pavich downplayed the letter Wednesday, saying it was not an admittance that Utah was losing its battle to protect the base.

"It's a very complex situation, and you can't sum up all of our efforts with that one letter," he said.

He acknowledged that the group was turning its focus from an attempt to influence the national debate on depot maintenance work-loads and emphasized that the letter was more of an attempt to communicate that change to the Center for the New West.

Hill/DDO wrote the letter to cancel part of its contract with the center, he said.

"The base still has a lot of good things going for it . . . That letter was written just to justify our position with (the center)," he said.

He said the group will now concentrate on building a technical case for Hill and its air logistics center and is considering hiring a Washington, D.C., firm that can work directly with the staff of the closure commission.