Commission Votes to Close Bases Nationwide
By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 24, 2005; 4:15 PM
A federal panel voted today to keep open the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, close historic Fort Monroe in Virginia and move more than 2,000 jobs to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland from New Jersey as part of the Pentagon's restructuring of hundreds of U.S. military bases and facilities across the country.
The nine-member Base Closure and Realignment Commission also voted to shut Army bases in Georgia and Michigan and to close nearly 400 Army Reserve and National Guard facilities in dozens of states.
Southeast Virginia took a hit with the closing of Fort Monroe and the panel's decision to spare a Navy submarine base in New London, Conn., and a shipyard in Kittery, Maine. Those closings would have benefited the Tidewater region, with Norfolk Naval Station gaining 4,000 personnel and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, 2,000.
But 15,000 jobs in the area were saved with the decision to keep open the Oceana Naval Air Station. The commission, however, voted to keep the facility open with the caveat that state and local officials take steps to reduce encroaching development on the base. The development had raised concerns that pilots in training couldn't take off and land like they would off aircraft carriers.
If those steps are not taken, the "master jet base" at Oceana will be moved back to Cecil Field in Florida, where it was before moving to Virginia Beach in 1999. The air station is Virginia Beach's largest employer.
Virginia state officials quickly announced they will introduce legislation to allow the city of Virginia Beach to keep critical areas of the base free from development.
Still to be decided is the fate of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest Washington, which the Pentagon wants to close, and whether Arlington and Alexandria will lose almost 23,000 defense workers housed in leased office space.
The commission is reviewing a plan proposed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to close about 180 military installations nationwide. His plan will save $49 billion over 20 years, he has said.
Once the commission has finished its review of the plan, it goes to President Bush for approval.
Most of the Army's proposals were quickly approved. The commission did overrule the Pentagon on two of its biggest requests, however, with the decision to keep open the Maine shipyard and the Connecticut submarine base. It also spared an army depot in Texas.
Seven of the nine commission members voted to close Fort Monmouth in New Jersey and move more than 2,000 of its jobs to Maryland. But at the same time, the members said Fort Monmouth should not close if that would cause any disruption of the war on terror. That caveat meant it was not immediately clear when the New Jersey base would actually close.
Several members of New Jersey's congressional delegation had banded together with a citizens' coalition to try to save the Army research and development facility at Fort Monmouth, saying the work conducted there was vital to U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon officials argued that consolidating the work in Maryland made more sense than having it scattered in various states.
Maryland officials hailed the new jobs coming to Aberdeen, which is about 140 miles south of Fort Monmouth in the northeastern corner of Maryland.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said the move was "not about New Jersey or about Maryland. It is about doing what is right, what is most efficient, and what will best protect the warfighter as we continue to fight the war on terror."
The commission voted unanimously to accept the Pentagon's recommendation to close Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., which dates to the early 1800s. Fort Monroe, situated on a peninsula jutting into the Chesapeake Bay and surrounded by a moat, is the headquarters for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, one of the Army's largest commands.
The base employs 4,175 people with an annual payroll of more than $182 million. Among the employees are 2,700 civilians.
According to the deed of the fort, after it closes it will revert to the state. The Army has said the one-time cost to close the base is about $72.4 million, but the net savings over 20 years would amount to $686.6 million. Hampton Mayor Ross A. Kearney II has said that disposing of the fort would be expensive.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned in the fort during the Civil War. President Lincoln visited the highly-secure fort during the height of that war.
Before voting started, the commission chairman, Anthony Principi, said reviewing the Pentagon's proposals presented the commission with "unprecedented challenges." He said the proposals included almost 900 separate actions affecting military installations, "more than double the combined total of actions considered by all prior
BRAC commissions combined."
The Pentagon's proposals, the most ambitious ever, marked the first effort to reconfigure domestic military bases in a decade.
"We went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the soundness, correctness, and integrity of the base realignment and closure process and to fulfill our commitment to transparency, honesty, and fairness for all," Principi said.
He said, however, that the commission was well aware "that the decision we reach will have a profound impact on the communities hosting our military installations and, more importantly, on the people who bring those communities to life."
The commission also voted to close Fort Gillem and Fort McPherson in Georgia and the U.S. Army Garrison in Selfridge, Mich. The panel chose to restrict rather than close the Red River Army Depot in Texas, which repairs Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
The Oceana Naval Air Station, which hosts F-14 Tomcats and F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets deployed aboard aircraft carriers, was added to the list by the commission.
The Navy has been talking for some time about its need for training space somewhere with more room than Oceana, which is 3,000 acres. Officials have said they would like 30,000 acres and have been trying to purchase property in North Carolina. But the Navy has been saying it would keep Oceana open for now and pair it with a training facility.
In the long term, the Pentagon has said it wants to replace Oceana with a new master base on the East Coast --but not during the current round of base closings.
Staff writer Michelle Boorstein and news agencies contributed to this report.