Pentagon Proposal Seen as Fresh Threat to Sub Base
By Jennifer McDermott
August 24, 2010
Bob Walker of Groton, a member of Sub Vets and also employed on base at the Navy College, waves his sign and flag as the motorcade with the members of BRAC passes by on Route 12. People lined Route 12 in Groton to show support for saving the submarine base Wednesday, June 1, 2005. The BRAC members passed through the area after touring the submarine base and then moving on to the Groton-New London Airport for a press conference.
Some fear facility could be jeopardized again - with or without conventional BRAC process.
Groton - Five years ago today, supporters of the Naval Submarine Base rejoiced when a federal commission rejected a Pentagon request to close it down.
Now they fear it could be in jeopardy again.
The federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission, or BRAC, voted Aug. 24, 2005, to take the submarine base off the list of closures the Pentagon had prepared. The local group that had been fighting to save the base watched the hearing on C-SPAN2 at the Hampton Inn in Groton. They whooped, pumped fists and popped bottles of champagne when the commission voted 7 to 1 to spare the base.
Now, citing a recommendation by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to close a command in Virginia and a charge to the military to save $100 billion, some fear a "BRAC-less BRAC."
Gates has recommended eliminating the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., a move that Virginia politicians say sidesteps the Defense Base Closure and Realignment process. He has also tasked the military services with finding more than $100 billion in savings over the next five years and has authorized each department to consider consolidating or closing excess bases and other facilities.
And a member of a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, has said that another BRAC may be needed to trim the government's mounting debt.
"There is activity within the executive branch and now within the legislative branch to achieve savings by closing bases," said John C. Markowicz, chairman of the Subase Coalition that fought to save the base five years ago. "When that has happened in the past, it has never been good news for southeastern Connecticut."
Markowicz described Gates' recommendation that President Barack Obama close the U.S. Joint Forces Command as a "BRAC-less BRAC."
In the BRAC process, Congress authorizes rounds of base closings. There have been five -in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005.
A delegation of Virginia lawmakers wrote a letter to Gates calling for a more complete review of the command's missions and stating that any recommendation to close it should only be made as part of a BRAC process.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said there are clearly "warning flags out there" but added that he was bothered more by Gregg's comments than the potential closure of the Joint Forces Command.
Gates is reorganizing the command so it is not a "bricks and mortar closing" that would require a BRAC, Courtney said. The Joint Chiefs of Staff would take on most of the command's work.
"If there's going to be a push toward congressional authorization for another BRAC, it could be in the deficit commission's findings or report to Congress," Courtney said, adding that it is important to "remain vigilant" in guarding against threats to the base.
Both the House and Senate have included money in the fiscal 2011 budget to start work on a new Submarine Group Two Headquarters at the base earlier than planned. About $85 million has been approved for new military construction projects at the base since 2007, Courtney said.
These investments strengthen "our argument in the event of another BRAC round or any talk of base closures," U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said in a statement Monday.
The state Bond Commission recently approved $3.22 million for projects that will improve training for officers and sailors at the Naval Submarine School. One of the primary reasons the Pentagon proposed closing the base in 2005 was its aging infrastructure.
Connecticut became the first state to fully fund a construction project on a base last year when Gov. M. Jodi Rell gave Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus $7.65 million to make improvements at the submarine base. The legislature authorized $40 million for improvements to the base in 2007.
The base has an annual impact of $3 billion to the state's economy, with thousands of jobs linked to the installation, according to Rell. Mabus returned to the base in July for a commissioning ceremony and he said that there is not any talk of another BRAC process.
But Bob Ross, executive director of the state's Office of Military Affairs, said the next BRAC "most certainly looms on a not-too-distant horizon." Gates has characterized base closures as politically difficult but not impossible, Ross said. "So Team Connecticut must not rest," he wrote in an opinion piece that ran in The Day on Sunday.
Team Connecticut, as it was called, helped fight the Pentagon's attempt to close the Groton base in 2005. U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who was part of the effort, said Monday that Gates is trying to look for cost-saving measures to try to "protect critical defense programs from being underfunded."
Lieberman said he had not heard any talk of a "full-fledged BRAC" since the 2005 round was "recent enough." That round was widely criticized for being the most complex and costliest ever, with the DOD spending more to implement the decisions, saving less, and taking longer than expected to recoup up-front costs.
Lieberman said the commission's vote to save the base five years ago was "one of the great days of my Senate career."
Rell said in a statement that "Aug. 24, 2005, for many of us, was a day that changed the face of Connecticut forever, for the better.