Congress refuses to stop base closures. Fort Monroe will be shut down and Fort Eustis faces changes.
The House refused to block proposed military base closures by an overwhelming margin Thursday. That cleared the way for the closure of Hampton's Fort Monroe and a big restructuring of Fort Eustis in Newport News.
The decisive vote means the Pentagon will be allowed to close 22 major bases and close or realign hundreds of smaller ones nationwide beginning next month. Closing a base will take two to six years to complete.
The first base closure law in a decade, which President Bush signed last month, was scheduled to take effect automatically -- unless both houses of Congress approved a resolution rejecting the initiative. The House defeated the resolution Thursday 324-85, and the Senate has no plans to act on one.
The law will have a profound effect on Hampton Roads, which boasts one of the country's largest concentrations of military personnel.
The closure of historic Fort Monroe -- a moat-encircled Army post that dates to 1823 -- will free up an estimated 500 acres of prime waterfront property for redevelopment. But the shutdown will cost the Peninsula about 1,000 jobs.
The law also puts the future of Oceana Naval Air Station in jeopardy. It requires Virginia Beach to curb suburban development around the base, as well as buy an estimated 1,800 homes to improve flight safety and training. If such steps aren't taken by next year, the future of Oceana and its 12,000 jobs could be revisited.
All four House members from Hampton Roads voted to block the base closure law. Local lawmakers complained from the beginning that base closures saved little money and shouldn't be conducted in a time of war.
Rep. Thelma Drake, R-Norfolk, initially supported the Pentagon's desire to shed excess infrastructure to better match a more streamlined fighting force. But Drake said she felt compelled to oppose the initiative based on what she described as the unfair treatment of Oceana from the independent closure commission that revised Defense Department recommendations.
Drake said, "I cannot, in good conscience, vote to allow the process to move forward."
The commission had recommended that Florida's Cecil Field Naval Air Station be reopened as an alternative for Oceana, even though some data used by Florida officials to propose that proved to be inaccurate. In a move that could help save Oceana, the mayor of Jacksonville, Fla., said last week that he was abandoning the effort to reopen Cecil Field.
Despite such protests, the outcome of Thursday's vote was never seriously in doubt. Opposition to base closures had weakened substantially in recent months, particularly after the base closure commission voted to save several large bases that the Pentagon tried to close. Chief among them were a submarine base in Connecticut, a big Navy shipyard in Maine and an Air Force base in South Dakota.
Even some longtime House critics of base closure said they were prepared to accept the commission's recommendations, if only to get the matter behind them and avoid another fight over military bases next year.
"I don't want to go through this again," said Rep. Joel Hefley, R- Colo. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee who voted to accept the base closure law. "Any of us with military bases don't want to go through this agony again."
The Pentagon initially estimated $48 billion in savings from base closures over 20 years, but lawmakers said the commission's actions to save some bases, as well as revisions in estimates, meant that the real savings would be much smaller -- though still substantial.
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee -- Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. -- said the measure would save $15 billion over 20 years. There would be annual savings of more than $2.5 billion upon completion of all closures and realignments, he said. *Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun