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Norwich Bulletin June 5, 2005

Groton base lacks room to grow

By Katherine Hutt Scott

 

WASHINGTON-- The Naval Submarine Base New London has far less room to expand than its competitor bases in Virginia and Georgia, according to data the Pentagon released Saturday. But it's debatable whether that's an advantage or disadvantage for the base.

The new information came two days after demographic reports that presented a mixed picture of the quality of life for sailors and their families in Connecticut compared to Virginia and Georgia.

The Pentagon recommended last month shutting the Groton base and sending its submarines and sailors to bases in Norfolk, Va., and Kings Bay, Ga. Nationwide, the Pentagon recommended closing 33 major U.S. bases and restructuring 29 others as part of a modernization plan.

One of the four key military criteria the Pentagon considered was a base's ability to accommodate the military's needs for space in the future.

The Groton base has 98 acres "available for development," according to an environmental profile of Navy facilities posted on the Department of Defense Web site. The Naval Station Norfolk has 175 acres available and the Submarine Base Kings Bay has 2,507 acres available, according to the document.

John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense analysis firm, said Saturday in general the Pentagon wants to consolidate its operations on a smaller number of larger bases so it can reduce its operating costs. But it wants to be able to expand those remaining bases in the future to respond to new security threats.

"It's an issue right now because we're at war," Pike said. "That's also true in the longer term for submarines because we don't know what China is going to look like 15 years from now. If China looks like the Soviet Union did 15 years ago, we're going to need more attack submarines and we will need some place to put them."

But John Markowicz, chairman of a southeastern Connecticut group trying to save the sub base, noted another Pentagon goal in this year's base-closure process is to get rid of excess infrastructure. The Connecticut base uses nearly all of its available space, he said.

"If you have an existing facility that is highly concentrated and being used to its maximum capacity, you could make the argument that that facility ought to be retained and other facilities with excess capacity ought to be closed," Markowicz said.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon released demographic information on the areas that house its bases. Another consideration in the base-closure process -- but according to the Pentagon not as important as the military considerations -- is the ability of a local community to support the people who work at a base.

The demographic information was mixed for Connecticut. It showed the New London-Norwich area has more child-care facilities, a lower crime rate and high school students with higher average SAT scores than the Norfolk or Kings Bay areas.

On the other hand, the New London-Norwich area had a higher unemployment rate, more expensive homes and less housing available for rent or purchase, according to the Pentagon document.

Leslie Phillips, a spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said the data should work in Connecticut's favor during the base-closure process.

"The area has unique features that have produced a flourishing and cohesive community," Phillips said. "It has good schools, great youth services and lower crime that allow families to thrive in the area."

Members of Congress, governors and communities that would be affected by the base-closure recommendations still are waiting for the Pentagon to release detailed data about the bases that will help explain why certain bases were targeted for closure.

An independent base realignment and closure commission will review the Pentagon's base closure list and come up with a final list by Sept. 8.


Copyright 2005, Norwich Bulletin