WASHINGTON - BankAmerica Corp. won regulatory approval Friday to become the first 50-state bank.

The Office of Thrift Supervision approved the company's applications to open 279 branches of its Oregon-based thrift subsidiary in 49 states.

"We're pleased, of course," said BankAmerica spokesman Peter Magnani. "Since we don't have business plans ready, there's nothing else we can say."

BankAmerica has a year to open the branches before the approvals expire. If it does open them all, it will have retail banking operations in 50 states.

Several state bank regulators formally protested the applications last month, and the Independent Bankers Association of America weighed in Friday with a letter of opposition.

But "none of the protests were deemed substantial," OTS spokesman William Fulwider said. In fact, the approvals were made in the agency's San Francisco office - not in Washington, where controversial applications are usually handled.

Most of the branches - 182 - would be in Osco/Jewel supermarkets in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Another 80 would be in existing Bank of America mortgage lending, community development, and housing services offices in 36 states. Seventeen new branches would be built in 12 states.

Critics have complained that BankAmerica was using the liberal interstate branching powers of the federal thrift charter to get around the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Act of 1994, which gives states some power to restrict branching. On Friday, they blasted OTS for giving its approval.

"It's a regulatory action that preempts states' rights," said Kenneth Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America. "We find it highly regrettable."

"We've been confronted with this type of federal intervention for some time," said Wyoming Banking Commissioner Sue E. Mecca. "It's becoming very evident on more than just the banking level that states are tired of it."

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