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Tampa Bay task force says closing MacDill wouldn't pay

The Tampa Bay area task force trying to save MacDill Air Force Base managed to find good news in the bad Friday. While recognizing the economic disaster a shutdown might mean for the bay area, members of the MacDill Response Team said a comprehensive closure study of the 5,767-acre base might be the best way to convince the presidential commission to keep it open.

A shutdown would mean the loss of 8,912 base jobs, the loss of medical facilities used by up to 250,000 military retirees and their dependents and the loss of the base's $808-million annual economic impact.

"Closure would have a devastating effect on the whole economy," said Al Austin, chairman of the response team. "This is something everybody in the whole community must be concerned about."

But the good part, Austin added, "is that a full study might work to our advantage, especially when they find out there are no economic benefits to closure."

Another response team member, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. C. C. "Buck" Rogers, said he saw a positive sign in the fact that Homestead Air Force Base and MacDill Air Force Base were both added to the list of bases to be studied for closure by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

Because of the strategic importance of keeping a U.S. base as a staging area near Cuba and Latin America, Rogers said, "it would certainly be my opinion" that the commission would not recommend closing both Florida installations at once.

Rogers, the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command at MacDill until he retired in April, said he received a hint just days ago that closure commission members are at least considering the option of moving Homestead's Fighting Falcon jets to MacDill. When he made a presentation to the commission in Jacksonville last week, Rogers explained, a commission member asked if MacDill would be comfortable in an operational role.

The response team, a 22-member task form of civic and business leaders, was formed after Defense Secretary Dick Cheney's announcement April 12 that MacDill would be realigned and others would be closed or cut back to reduce Pentagon spending by 25 percent.

Austin's group quickly formed plans to try to convince the commission that an Air Force analysis was flawed when it suggested closing MacDill would be economical.

The Air Force saw MacDill as prime waterfront property ripe for selling off for development. But the response team believes the base could be a money pit for the Pentagon because of its secluded location, Florida Growth Management laws that require infrastructure to be set up before development and pollution that may require a cleanup costing as much as $400-million.

That's why the response team welcomes a full examination of the base by the closure commission.

"We hope when they get the full study, they'll recognize mistakes have been made, that the savings they anticipated aren't there," Austin said.

He said the response team would now look ahead to June 10, the scheduled date of the inspection of MacDill by closure commission chairman Jim Courter. Austin will try to have Tampa Bay congressional leadership present for "a show of force" when the tour is made.

A chronology

Feb. 15, 1991. Defense Department announces eight evaluation criteria that will be used to determine military base closures and realignments: four of the eight involve military values and the ability of a base to support its military mission; one standard covers the potential savings expected; three others cover environmental and economic impacts.

April 12. On the eve of MacDill's 50th anniversary celebration, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney recommends partial closure of the base. It's the second time in the base's history it has been threatened with a major closure.

April 15. The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission hearing reveals MacDill was the last base to be added to the list of partial closures so a "capacity goal of five closures" could be met. (This came from testimony presented by Donald Rice, secretary of the Air Force.)

May 22. Rep. C.

W. Bill Young, R-Fla., tells the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission it would be hard to imagine a Tampa Bay area without MacDill and its hospital.

May 23. A nine-member Tampa group testifies before the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission with a four-paragraph letter to argue why MacDill should not be partially closed.

May 31. A new list targets MacDill for full closure.

_ Compiled by Debbie Wolfe, Times news researcher