Panel adds 5 bases to list of facilities that may close

Navy post in Oceana, Va., among those that face closure or realignment

July 20, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - An independent base-closing panel voted yesterday to add five bases to the list of dozens of facilities that the Pentagon wants to close or scale back.

Those voted onto the list for possible closure or realignment were Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine; the Navy's Broadway Complex in San Diego; the Navy's Master Jet Base in Oceana, Va.; Pope Air Force Base, N.C.; and Galena Airport Forward Operating Location in Alaska.

Considered but kept off the list were Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D.; Moody Air Force Base, Ga.; the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego; and the Navy's repair shipyard at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Adding bases to the list doesn't necessarily mean they will be closed or scaled back, said Anthony Principi, chairman of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

"Our deliberations today may add further bases for further consideration and consideration only," Principi said, "not because we have determined that we need to realign or close more bases than the secretary of defense has recommended, but because we want to make sure the best closure and realignment choices are made consistent with the criteria established by law."

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld in May sent the commission a list of 33 major bases to be closed and 29 to be realigned.

The Pentagon says that closing or scaling back the bases will save $49 billion over the next 20 years and help shift the military from a Cold War structure to a more streamlined force better suited for the demands of the war on terrorism.

If the full plan goes through, more than 26,000 jobs would be lost.

Principi said the nine-member commission was "acutely aware of the anxieties communities experience" when faced with the prospect of losing a base. At least two commissioners from the nine-member panel will visit the five bases added to the list to determine whether they should be added to the final selection of closures.

The commission also will hold community meetings to hear concerns about the economic impact.

The commission is expected to complete deliberations in late August and then forward the closure list to President Bush by Sept. 8.

Bush could send the list back to the commission for revisions or approve it and send it to Congress. Congress must vote to accept or reject the list in its entirety.

The commission voted 6-3 to keep Grand Forks Air Force Base off the list. Several commissioners voiced concern about the Air Force's plan to move 44 KC-135 air-refueling tankers out of the base while keeping it open for an unspecified number of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Defense officials told the panel Monday that the Pentagon originally planned to close the base, but then decided to keep it open for Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aircraft that would be operated by a nearby Air National Guard unit.

"It seems to me there's a good argument not to close it," said commissioner Samuel K. Skinner.

Closing the base would have saved $674 million but would have meant losing more than 6,600 military and civilian positions - more than 10 percent of jobs in the Grand Forks area, according to an Air Force analysis.

The Navy's Oceana jet training base, which was added to the list, is the Navy's primary jet training facility on the East Coast.

The commission rejected an alternative proposal that involved shifting 240 jets to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., and shifting Air Force assets out of Moody. But the plan faced opposition from both communities.

The cost of building new hangars, runways and other facilities was more than $500 million.

Commissioner James T. Hill, a retired Army general, pointed out that the Navy has wanted to close Oceana base because of encroaching development from surrounding Virginia Beach, Va., but doesn't have a feasible alternative.

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