SouthCom takes notice as US begins work on consolidation project
By Shannon Pettypiece
South Florida's military institutions will try to weather a storm during the next year as the federal government begins its process to determine what bases will be cut.
The Department of Defense has issued a draft of criteria it will use to determine what bases will be closed, relocated or scaled back at the end of December.
Public comment on the draft is being sought until Jan. 28. The Defense Department will study the feedback and publish a final set of criteria by Feb. 16 and seek congressional approval in March.
"It is an ongoing process that has literally just begun," said Defense spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin.
Officials have not determined the number of bases to be closed. Defense capacity was trimmed 20% during a round of base closures in 1991.
Proposed criteria for determining base closures include:
Condition of a base and amount of land, facilities and air space.
Costs of operations and manpower.
Economic impact on the community.
How a base fits into the department's needs and demands.
The ability of a base to support, accommodate and mobilize operations.
The surrounding community's ability to support forces and personnel.
Cost of environmental restoration, waste management and environmental compliance activities.
Officials at US Southern Command in Doral said they see Miami as an ideal location but would not comment on the criteria that could determine their fate here.
"Miami is the ideal location for the headquarters due to the social, economic and cultural ties with the region we oversee," SouthCom spokesman Raul Duany said. "If the (Department of Defense) decides that there is a better location, then we would have to take that into consideration."
SouthCom employs 1,500 joint-military personnel who oversee operations in Latin America and the Caribbean and contribute $321 million annually to the local economy.
SouthCom may be especially vulnerable because the lease on its facility, at 3511 NW 91st Ave., runs out in 2007 and several other cities are rumored to be vying for unit.
Although the impact on the community will be taken into account, military value will be the top priority, according to the published draft.
Homestead Air Force Base, ravaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, was downgraded to an Air Reserve base in 1991. According to the Defense Department, previously closed bases will not be given special consideration.
Miami-Dade County officials are trying to lure other military installations to the Homestead base and investing in infrastructure improvements.
US Special Operations Command South, in Puerto Rico, will relocate 150 employees and their families to the Homestead base in March.
Ed Bandas, chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee, said Tuesday he has not seen the Department of Defense criteria, but that his organization will respond if necessary and do what is needed to lobby to retain the area's bases.
Military presence in Miami-Dade has shrunk 45% since 1970, more than state and national averages.
In 2002, defense spending in the county created 46,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to a University of West Florida study released last month. Statewide, defense spending makes up 9.8 % of Florida's gross state product, according to the study.