Base closure process could begin this spring

Tuesday, February 10th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The first step in the 2005 base realignment and closure process could come as early as next month.

Congress is scheduled to approve on March 15th, the final selection criteria for military bases that will be shut down or restructured.

``This is a gigantic deal,'' said state Rep. David Braddock, D-Altus. ``Sometimes I don't think people realize just how big a deal this is. This is so big, it will define southwest Oklahoma for the next 100 years.''

President Bush is expected to approve the cuts next spring, if he wins re-election.

Oklahoma has four military posts and an ammunition plant in the state.

Altus Air Force Base, Fort Sill, Tinker Air Force Base, Vance Air Force Base and the U.S. Army Ammunition Depot in McAlester could be affected as the Defense Department plans to slash 25 percent of the country's domestic military infrastructure.

``It's imperative to us that economic impact be one of those criteria,'' said Bill Wilson, Altus Military Affairs Committee chairman. ``For the longest time, we heard people say, 'Well, everyone could claim economic impact.' And that's true.

``But our stance has been all along that there should be criteria for catastrophic economic impact. That would certainly apply to our situation. Finally, that was put into the criteria draft. I just hope it's in the final selection criteria.''

Altus and Enid, home of Vance Air Force Base, likely will benefit if the commissioners appointed by the president consider economic impact when they tour the country this fall.

A 2002 economic study showed more than 5,000 of Jackson County's 15,000 laborers work at Altus Air Force Base, with a combined annual payroll of $135 million.

Indirect jobs are estimated to account for $45 million, suggesting the base contributes $180 million to the Jackson County area each year.

The report estimates total economic impact of the base at $226 million a year when outside businesses are considered.

``If we lost the base, we'd have 34 percent unemployment instantly,'' Braddock said. ``That would be devastating.''

The economic numbers are similarly powerful in Enid. Vance Air Force Base accounts for a civilian and military work force of 2,500 people, nearly double Garfield County's next-largest employer. A recent study calculates Vance's annual economic impact at $200 million.

``You can't fret about it and sit around and cry,'' said Irv Honigsberg, Enid mayor. ``You just have to get out and work hard to make sure it doesn't happen. And that's what I believe we have done.''