By LISA HOFFMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
August 24, 2005
If past base-closing rounds are a predictor, several of the more than 800 major and minor facilities targeted this year to close or shrink will be saved by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which this week is holding marathon public voting sessions that could stretch to Saturday at a hotel in Arlington, Va.
In 1995, the last time the wrenching base-closing process occurred, commissioners voted to keep open at least seven facilities the Pentagon had requested to close. In each case, the members disagreed with the analysis provided by the military on the future worth of the installation.
Among the lucky installations then: the Army's Fort Hamilton in New York, the Naval Air Station in Meridian, Miss.; the Red River Distribution Depot in Texas; and the Naval Air Warfare Center in Lakehurst, N.J.
The Naval Air Station and the Red River facility are back on the current Pentagon hit list.
In 1993, the commission rescued Fort McClellan in Alabama, the Naval Supply Center in Oakland, Calif., and the Defense Distribution Depot in Letterkenny, Pa., among other bases.
"(The panel members this year) by and large feel pretty comfortable with a majority of the (Pentagon's) recommendations," said Chris Hellman, a base-closing expert at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation think tank in Washington.
Statistically, about 10 percent to 15 percent of facilities targeted by the Pentagon have been saved by commissions past. Base-closing analysts predict the same result this year, although the outcome of a firestorm over the Defense Department's desire to gut about two-dozen Air National Guard posts could change that proportion.
Commission members have pressed the Air Force and states to come up with a compromise plan that would save some of the facilities but also cut costs.
"If you leave aside the National Guard (outfits), I predict the result will be pretty consistent with previous rounds in terms of changes," said Robert Gillcash, a senior adviser at McKenna, Long & Aldridge law firm in Washington, who as an aide to Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., led the ultimately successful effort to remove the Naval Submarine Base in New London, Conn., from the 1993 closing list. (The facility is back on this year's list.)
In comments made during weeks of public hearings, and in an interview Monday with the publications Congressional Quarterly and Military Times, panel chairman Anthony Principi hinted at those facilities in the bull's-eye that might have a shot at survival.
Among those were Maine's Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the New London submarine base and Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.
But while proponents of those facilities might be breathing a bit easier as the voting begins, other communities that thought they had dodged the Pentagon's base-closing bullet are bracing for bad news.
As commissions have done in the past, the current panel is considering killing, shrinking or moving a host of installations that the Pentagon did not target this year.
They include the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia, Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine, and Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, according to the commission.
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