If closed, could Beale Air Force Base have a second life?
The buzz about base closure hasn’t made it though the gates of Beale Air Force Base, says Capt. Mike Andrews, base spokesman.
“We’re not focusing on (base closure) like you guys are,” Andrews said of media reports about Beale’s future. “We’re focused on our mission. We’re focused on the global war on terrorism. Honestly, we can’t worry about what happens seven (or) eight months down the road.”
But beyond Beale’s 23,000 acres near Nevada County’s western border, residents and civic leaders are concerned about the base’s fate, which could be decided in May. That’s when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is expected to announce nearly 100 U.S. military bases to be closed or realigned. It’s the fifth round of military belt-tightening and restructuring since the Cold War.
Beale has nearly unanimous local support – it employs more than 5,000 people and funnels about $1 billion into the eight-county Sacramento region, said John Fleming, the economic development coordinator for Yuba County.
But what would happen to the sprawling base and surrounding military lands if Beale becomes slated for closure?
That scenario is “ugly, absolutely ugly,” said Tim Johnson, executive director of the Yuba-Sutter Economic Development Corp.
The pecking order
Military base reuse is a complicated process that involves scores of federal and state agencies and local groups.
The steps are partially spelled out in a 449-page manual, which explains how first dibs on the property go to other military branches or federal agencies.
“They review and potentially cherry-pick the very best property of the military base,” Johnson said.
Then the land is offered, in order, to homeless advocates, Native Americans, state and local agencies, and small businesses.
Before the property is distributed, however, a local group, potentially headed by Yuba County or the Yuba-Sutter Economic Development Corp. would want to form an “authority” that would represent local interests and negotiate with the military.
The local authority would be responsible for creating an all-encompassing land use plan that would need county approval. The plan would also require an environmental analysis.
Local groups could opt out of the process, citing financial concerns, but that isn’t a choice Johnson would recommend.
“If you want to be the director of your own destiny, you have to get in and you have to play the game – and that’s not cheap,” Johnson said.
A costly process
While the local authority is planning, the military would continue caring for unused property on the base and preparing for environmental cleanup.
Once the authority’s plan is approved by the military, the property could be transferred to a variety of new owners.
This process of reviving the base wouldn’t come cheap.
“(Closing the base would be) a huge financial challenge for Yuba County,” Fleming said, noting the county lacks enough staff and money to coordinate base’s reuse.
“There is a huge lag time,” Johnson said. “(The forces) move out quick. You’ll hear a sucking sound.”
It takes much longer to complete plans and environmental studies, Johnson said.
But then, after government agencies, homeless groups, and other special organizations have made their selections, what would become of Beale?
“I just can’t hardly say. I’d need a crystal ball,” said Laura Nicholson, executive director of the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce.
It’s possible to make some educated guesses about Beale’s post-closure future.
With the high demand for housing in the region, some portion of the base likely will be developed. Beale could also harbor a business or industrial park like those found on the former McClellan and Mather Air Force bases in Sacramento.
However, Beale advocates worry that the economic damage of Beale’s closure could land heavily on Yuba County, limiting the number of developers who would want to take on the site.
Economic-development advocates already have begun planning for the day they hope will never come.
They’ve obtained $70,000 from the Department of Defense to reduce the region’s dependence on Beale, Johnson said.
“It’s probably wise for all communities to get an understanding … of what plan B might be if (a major) company or base went away,” Fleming said.
Like Capt. Andrews, however, most of those affiliated with Beale don’t want to give much thought to “Plan B.”
Instead, they’re hustling to generate support for the base, pointing to its great weather for aircraft, helpful mission, and importance to Northern California.
On the Net
• Beale Regional Alliance Committee
• About Base Realignment and Closure
How Beale Air Force Base’s fate could be determined:
• On or before May 16: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will publish a list of installations recommended for closure or transformation.
• July 1: The Government Accountability Office will publish an analysis of listed bases.
• Sept. 8: A base closure commission will make a recommendation to President Bush based on the Defense Department’s list.
• Sept. 23 – The president must decide whether to accept the recommended list. If the list of bases is accepted, the decision is formalized 45 days later, unless both houses of Congress disapprove.
• October – If Beale is picked for closure in September, the Department of Defense will notify other military and federal agencies of the availability of the base. They may apply to use all or part of the base. Local groups would form a “Local Redevelopment Authority” to plan for the base’s reuse and negotiate with the Department of Defense.
• February 2006 – Property not taken by a federal agency is listed as “surplus” by the Department of Defense.
• May 2007 – The local redevelopment authority must have an official plan on the base’s reuse, which the military will use to plan for environmental cleanup. The military will also rely on the plan to decide how to dispose of the property.
First priority is then given to state and local agencies, organizations that help the homeless, small businesses, and other entities capable of kick-starting the region’s economy.
– Becky Trout
Life after closure
Base closure isn’t new to California – 29 installations were closed over the past two decades. Two former Air Force bases in the Sacramento area now house a variety of other organizations and individuals.
• Mather Air Force Base: Closure of the 5,845-acre base, 12 miles east of Sacramento, was announced in 1988, but the base remained open until 1993.
Now, the site consists of a county airport, a park with an 18-hole golf course, trails and a lake, 1,300 houses, a 747-acre business park, and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center for Northern California.
• McClellan Air Force Base: Closure of the 2,900-acre base, about five miles north of Sacramento, was announced in 1995. But the base, an aircraft maintenance and repair hub employing 13,000 people, operated until 2001.
Some areas remain contaminated from Air Force use, but the base houses McClellan Park, a business park with 16 million square feet of industrial, office and other space. There is also a county airfield and the McClellan Aviation Museum.
– Becky Trout
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