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Report urges steps to keep bases

Florida will have a better chance of keeping its military bases if it prevents offshore oil drilling, gets a Floridian appointed to a base closure panel and passes laws to block encroaching development, a new analysis says.

Those are among dozens of recommendations included in the $475,000 report delivered this week to the Governor's Advisory Council on Base Realignment and Closure.

The analysis is designed to help Florida protect its military installations during the next round of base closing and downsizing scheduled next year.

"Individually, Florida's bases are strong," the report states. "They become even stronger when taken as a whole."

Regarding MacDill Air Force Base at Tampa, the report suggests limiting density of development in potential accident zones, supporting Air Force efforts to procure new aircraft to replace older ones stationed there, and constructing public-private housing for military personnel.

One recommendation urges Gov. Jeb Bush to write a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld outlining Florida's assets and stressing the synergy gained from the 21 bases around the state.

The analysis was conducted by the Holland & Knight law firm, two consulting companies and retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner, of Shalimar, architect of the air campaign in the first Persian Gulf War.

Congress has ordered the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission to give special consideration to preserving training and staging areas and bases with joint activities involving more than one branch of the military. The report says those criteria work in Florida's favor.

It also urges state officials to push for the appointment of a Floridian to the nine-member commission. Bush's brother, President Bush, will make three appointments; congressional leaders will make the others.

One of Florida's primary military assets is the Joint Gulf Range Complex that covers most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It is operated by Eglin Air Force Base but also used by other Navy and Air Force bases and units for training and weapons testing.

The report urges officials to market the complex as being irreplaceable and take steps to preserve it for military use.

"Offshore oil drilling and/or increased commercial airline traffic could negatively impact a wide variety of military activity, from carrier strike group exercises and missile testing to submarine operations and supersonic flight training," it states.

The gulf complex and Florida bases, including Eglin, Key West Naval Air Station and Avon Park Air Force Range, have taken on added importance for training with the closure last year of a Navy bombing range on Vieques Island in Puerto Rico.

The report says state laws are needed to limit development from encroaching into safety and flight zones around bases, which can make them ripe for closure.