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Panel Votes To Close Naval Facilities In South Carolina And California

June 26, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two Navy facilities in Charleston, S.C., three in the San Francisco bay area and single installations in New York and Alabama were selected by a federal commission Friday to be closed.

Naval installations in Virginia, California, Mississippi, Texas, Connecticut, Washington state and the Maine-New Hampshire border were among those spared.

″I feel like Abraham bringing Isaac up to the altar,″ commission member Harry C. McPherson Jr. said, after reluctantly making the successful motion to close the Charleston Naval Station.

Only hours earlier, the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission voted to close the Charleston Naval Shipyard. Commission members said they would try to move naval facilities into Charleston ″to some significant degree″ by Sunday - their fifth and final day of voting on military reductions and mission changes.

The commission on Friday departed from the Pentagon’s recommendations only twice. Once was to save the Navy’s New London submarine base at Groton, Conn. The Pentagon sought to end its mission as a submarine base, but the seven- member commission decided to keep the subs, a move that would save 4,600 jobs.

The commission also voted to keep open the naval air station at Meridian, Miss. The Pentagon wanted it closed.

California has been devastated by defense cutbacks and Friday’s decisions will make the situation only worse. The commission voted to close the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, the Naval Air Station at Alameda and the Naval Station at Treasure Island - all in the San Francisco Bay area.

The decision to close Alameda by a 4-3 vote meant that the still unfinished Naval Station Everett, in Washington state’s Puget Sound, would be completed and receive an aircraft carrier from Alameda. Commissioners said Alameda was too expensive to operate.

The decision to close Mare Island, in Northern California, brought one commission member, retired naval officer Peter B. Bowman, to tears.

″My family history to Mare Island goes back almost 50 years,″ Bowman said as he joined in the unanimous vote to close the base.

The day was just as emotional for 90-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who said of the Charleston decisions, ″This is probably the worst disaster to happen to Charleston in my lifetime.″

Communities and politicians from east and west coast Navy bases fought ferociously to retain their shipyards. Senators from every affected state watched intently as the commission voted.

Also selected for closure were the naval stations at Mobile, Ala., and Staten Island, N.Y., which will retain some housing.

The commission decided to keep open the Norfolk shipyard at Portsmouth, Va., the Portsmouth shipyard on the Maine-New Hampshire border and the Long Beach, Calif. naval shipyard.

To cheers from its supporters, Long Beach survived barely on a 4-3 vote. The other shipyards were either closed or kept open by unanimous votes. The panel’s split votes came on closing other types of bases.

The commission also voted to keep open the naval stations at Pascagoula, Miss., and Ingleside, Texas.

Before tackling the naval facilities, the seven-member commission voted to close Newark Air Force Base in Ohio but saved McClellan Air Force Base in California and logistics centers at three bases: Kelly in Texas, Tinker in Oklahoma and Robins in Georgia.

The job losses for Charleston and Mare Island will be large. Charleston has 5,771 civilian and 58 military workers while Mare Island’s work force includes 6,369 civilians and 181 military.

But the Pentagon said it wanted closed to close these bases to eliminate excess capacity as the Navy reduces its fleet.

″We’re looking at a new world where the Soviet navy is not the threat it was,″ said commissioner McPherson before the votes. He said the Navy told him that the newest submarines could go 15 to 20 years without an overhaul. He said the number of attack subs needed in the Atlantic is being reduced from more than 80, to between 50 and 60 and possibly lower.

″There’s just a huge over-capacity,″ Commission Chairman Jim Courter said before the Charleston vote. ″... Shipyards are the most difficult things to close. We talked to workers whose grandfathers worked at shipyards. These are terrible decisions.″

The commissioners left open the possibility that Charleston could be revived in a limited way if other Navy facilities are moved to the area as part of an overall realignment.

In voting 6-1 to spare McClellan Air Force Base, the commission went along with a last-minute decision by Defense Secretary Les Aspin to spare the facility. Aspin said he was worried about the cumulative economic impact of military cutbacks in California.

The closure at Newark in Ohio will cost 1,700 workers their jobs, although private contractors may take over some of the work.

The list of changes compiled by the commission in meetings through Sunday will go to the White House. President Clinton will have until July 15 to accept or reject the list. If he turns it down, the panel has an additional month to change the list and submit it to Clinton a final time.

If the president accepts a list, he sends it to Congress, where lawmakers have 45 working days to vote it up or down with no changes permitted.

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