WASHINGTON – Despite reports of “closed” signs, there are still signs of life left in the commissary at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, say Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

The Maine Republicans said in a statement this afternoon that they have received confirmation from the Department of Defense that no decision has been made on the future of the popular commissary in Topsham, which sells low-cost groceries.

In the release issued by the senators today, they said that signs posted at the store announcing a Sept. 15 closure date and new policies regarding product orders “were inappropriate. The closure signs will be immediately removed and the policies have been rescinded,” the senators said.

The lawmakers say families can save several thousand dollars a year by shopping at the commissary, and that it’s a benefit that should be kept alive for the many active duty and retired service members and their families in the Brunswick-Topsham area.

The Maine lawmakers have been fighting to keep the commissary open. It originally was scheduled to close in March, but legislation pushed through last year by the Maine delegation kept it open until at least Sept. 15.

In June, Collins, Snowe and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st, wrote a letter to a top Department of Defense official.

In the June letter to Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, the lawmakers noted they have introduced in the House and Senate similar versions of a proposal to keep open the popular commissary, by permitting the commissary to sell tobacco and alcohol as a way to boost profits. They told Stanley they want him to take that proposal into account as he considers the fate of the commissary.

But on Thursday, Snowe and Collins sent another letter to Stanley, asking him to respond to their previous letters urging him to retain the Topsham commissary and not to close any commissary stores until the Defense Department revised its policies regarding commissary closures.

The Defense Department said its policy is not to comment “on correspondence between DOD senior leaders and members of Congress.”

Collins and Snowe said in their joint release this afternoon that they did get a response today. They said they had requested the Defense Commissary Agency investigate the matter, charging the reports of closure signs and policy changes “appeared to violate the legal requirements of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 that require continued operation of the commissary until at least 60 days after the Secretary of Defense makes a decision about the fate of the store.”

The senators added that, “As the ultimate decision on the fate of the commissary has not been made, we are grateful for the (defense commissary) agency’s timely clarification.  This store is a vital benefit for active duty military personnel, retirees, Guardsmen and reservists stationed in Maine’s Mid-Coast region, and it is critical the Department of Defense take the utmost care in its handling of this facility.”

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: [email protected]