Kenedy County Range, Texas
Im mid-2001 A 222,000-acre area in Kenedy County, TX was among several under consideration to replace the training range in Vieques, Puerto Rico. The Navy is expected to leave Vieques by 2003 because of continued protests and controversy. The area under consideration is bounded by Baffin Bay to the north and the Laguna Madre to the east. The site on parcels of land located 45 and 55 nautical miles south of Corpus Christi Bay, covering 225,000 acres along the Padre Island National Seashore, would have occupied a quarter of Kenedy County.
In July 2001 Navy Secretary Gordon England said the site had been ruled out because it could not be made ready by 2003, when the Navy is scheduled to terminate operations on the island of Vieques.
The Kenedy County area would be used to support large-scale land, air and sea assaults four to five times a year. The training area would stretch south about 20 miles along the coastline from Baffin Bay. Three 2-km wide corridors were planned so amphibious landing vehicles could cross the Padre Island National Seashore and the Laguna Madre to reach the mainland. With destroyers, cruisers and frigates firing live shells over South Padre Island, the Intracoastal Waterway would have to be closed and the beach cleared. The 20 mile strech of the Intracoastal Waterway and the Padre Island National Seashore would have to be closed to public access during amphibious operations. The closures would probably last about a day, but operations on the mainland could last about a week at a time.
A coalition of 10 environmental groups publicly opposed the Kenedy County training range. Opponents included the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the Audubon Society, the Texas Center for Policy Studies, the Environmental Defense Fund, the American Farmland Trust, the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, the Texas Clean Water Fund, the National Parks and Conservation Association and the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation. The Laguna Madre is home to 15 endangered or threatened species, and many migratory birds in North America pass through Kenedy County.
A report from the Center for Naval Analysis completed in August 2000 indicated that Kenedy County compared unfavorably to dozens of other sites under consideration. Since Kenedy County is 1,700 nautical miles from the Norfolk, VA, Navy complex, where many ships will come from, the site would be more costly and time consuming when compared to other potential areas. The study concluded that acquisition and development of a new range in Kenedy County would take over five years, while the Navy needed a replacement for Vieques in about two years time. The Center for Naval Analysis recommended the Virginia Capes cluster of military facilities in North Carolina and an Air Force base in Florida.
The 222,000 acre area, which contains the San Pedro Kenedy Ranch, one of Kenedy County's largest employers, includes oil and gas drilling operations and cattle. The federal government would have to use its power of eminent domain to acquire the ranchland. The land is owned by the John G. Kenedy Jr., Charitable Trust and the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation, which cannot sell the land. Estimates of the land's worth run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
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