Potomac News Online | ‘Crunch time’ for bases

FREDERICKSBURG – Gov. Mark R. Warner urged members of the Virginia Commission on Military Bases on Thursday to employ personal contacts as the Pentagon prepares to release in mid-May its recommended list of base closures.

“The juice in this room needs to be brought to bear,” the governor told the panel during its last meeting before the Defense Department forwards its list to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

“The rumors are fast and furious,” Warner, a Democrat, told the state commission. The panel was expected to discuss some of those rumors during a closed session.

Speaking earlier with reporters, the governor would not name any Virginia military installation that he considered especially vulnerable. “I’m not going to add to that speculation,” he said before the meeting at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.

Warner reiterated that he believes Virginia, home to the Pentagon and the world’s largest naval base, in Norfolk, is “the cornerstone of our nation’s military.”

He cited the presence of more than two dozen high-ranking military commands, the existence of “robust” training areas and Virginia’s location as a “jumping-off point” for war-fighting operations around the world.

Virginia has 100 military installations and counts 170,000 military and civilian personnel as residents, second only to California. The state reaps more than $25 billion a year in economic benefits as a direct result of federal defense spending, the governor has said.

“Virginia can make the case that all of its institutions ought to be preserved,” he said yesterday.

The governor directed the state panel, which he created in mid-2003, to press decision-makers and to forward him last-minute ideas in the days and weeks ahead.

“We’re down now . . . to crunch time,” he said.

Once the Defense Department releases its list, he said, he wants state commission members to meet as quickly as possible to discuss the implications of the recommendations.

The national base-closing commission is scheduled to make its recommendation to President Bush by early September, and the president forwards his list to Congress in early November.

Warner planned to travel to the Pentagon after leaving the meeting.

A legislative aide to U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., told the panel that the Pentagon might release its recommendations slightly earlier than the May 16 deadline, but he deemed it unlikely.

The aide, Cord A. Sterling, also said he does not foresee much change in the base closure list once the Pentagon makes its recommendations.

“I just don’t see [the BRAC commission] saying, ‘You’ve made a dramatic mistake, Department of Defense,’ ” he said.

Sterling said the Pentagon’s focus, at least in part, appears to be on ways different military branches can function and possibly locate together, a concept some officials refer to as “jointness.” For that reason, he said he expects realignments to be “far more significant” than base closures.

Though not much mention was made of specific installations, Sterling cited Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline County as having “excellent training ranges” and large expanses of land that are not encroached upon by outside development.

“Things like that are optimum,” he told the state panel.

The Virginia commission also heard from Northern Virginia officials about the possible economic implications of the defense department’s planned new security standards for buildings, including 10 million square feet of leased space in the region.

The officials say they don’t know whether, or to what extent, the Pentagon’s recommendations might reflect additional security measures such as increasing the distance required for a defense building to be set back from a street to protect employees from a truck bomb or other attack.

Defense officials might decide to move operations from leased space in urban areas such as Arlington to more suburban locations with greater opportunity for a broader security perimeter, said James Van Zee of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission.

Officials say an estimated $800 million in annual retail sales in Northern Virginia are at stake, as well as more than 50,000 jobs.

Kiran Krishnamurthy is a staff writer at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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