Base closure: Keep guard up

By By Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
March 23, 2001
JACKSON There is no reason today to think Naval Air Station Meridian will be threatened by a new base realignment and closure (BRAC) round. However, state legislators were advised Thursday by their Washington D.C.-based consultant to never to let down their guard.
Rhoads' presentation here was meant to update lawmakers about possible BRAC hearings in the future and where the state's military bases stand.
Counting military and civilian jobs, 31,000 people are employed at Mississippi's seven active military bases with a payroll of more than $1 billion, according to last year's figures.
NAS Meridian, along with the Columbus Air Force Base and the Pascagoula Navy Base, have been on the cutting block in one or all of the three previous BRAC hearings, and have survived.
Rhoads told lawmakers they must do everything they can to help modernize and improve the bases. Recruiting is a problem for the military and issues such as off-base and on-base housing for families, as well as jobs for spouses in the community, are serious.
These are community issues, he said, and organizations like Navy Meridian Team must take a leadership role in helping solve them.
Most of the state's bases are in good shape. Rhoads said projects such as the new sewer line from the city of Meridian to NAS Meridian is important.
It was generally agreed that the Pascagoula Navy Base is in the most vulnerable of Mississippi's bases. Problems there include: 1) the Navy has fewer ships in service today, and similar ports on the East Coast are not operating at capacity; and 2) there has been a housing problem and lack of jobs for spouses.
It all comes down to money, Rhoads said. The U.S. Defense Department has ordered about $8 billion worth of new weapons and equipment which should be delivered in a few years, and there is no money to pay for them.
There are no actions being taken by a BRAC commission at this time. There is, however, a bill sponsored by U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., to create two new rounds in 2003 and 2005.
One interesting twist to this bill states that no bases the BRAC commission votes to close can be privatized by the president to be kept open. After the last committee finished its work in 1995, a few bases in California were "privatized" by the Clinton administration and remained opened.
It is unlikely that a BRAC bill will be proposed in the House of Representatives, Rhoads said. However, it will likely be attached to another bill and come up during conference committee meetings.
Rhoads said the next developments should come in June or July.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridianstar.com.

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