Base Closure Commission Members Visit Utah Monday

Base Closure Commission Members Visit Utah Monday

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John Hollenhorst ReportingAs the battle heats up over closure of military bases, some interesting proposals are floating around in Utah. Among the ideas: turn one base into an oil refinery or make it a destination for chemical weapons from out-of-state.

It's all about saving jobs, according to those in the fray, and tomorrow is an important day in the process. Three members of BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, will tour Hill Air Force Base. Then they'll be lobbied by our state's Governor and two U.S. Senators.

Hill Air Force Base seems secure. The Pentagon recommended only minor changes. Employment should stay relatively stable. But Hill's future is intertwined with controversial recommendations elsewhere, such as proposed closure of Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Vickie McCall, Pres., Utah Defense Alliance: "Their F-16's are supposed to come to Hill. If they don't come to Hill, and we lose our reserve planes, then we'd also probably lose the reserve wing. Now that's 400 or 500 people."

As a member of the B.R.A.C. commission, former Utah Congressman Jim Hansen will be looking out for Hill's interests. But he's required to recuse himself on Utah-specific issues.

Jim Hansen, B.R.A.C. Commissioner: “I can pontificate all I want. It’s that I can’t vote.”

In Tooele County, BRAC will consider the Pentagon proposal to close the Deseret Chemical Depot. That would be in a few years, after its nerve-gas incinerator finishes burning chemical weapons stored in Utah. Local residents hope jobs will be saved.

Valerie Hadfield, Tooele Resident: “If they’ve got families they’ve got to support, they’ve got to have a job.”

Calvert Priest, Tooele Resident: “Need to cut back where we can, but closing all these bases makes it hard on the communities that have grown up around the bases.”

Congressman Rob Bishop has suggested turning the incinerator into an oil refinery. It's controversial with some.

Valerie Hadfield: “Well, we’ve got enough chemicals around here.”

But for real controversy, how about importing chemical weapons to keep the incinerator busy, such as mustard agents stored in Colorado.

Jim Hansen, B.R.A.C. Commissioner: “(It would) be eleven trainloads from Pueblo to Salt Lake. I'm not the guy that makes the decisions. If the state of Utah doesn't want to do it, that's their privilege, even though I think they just kissed off 600 million dollars for nothing predicated on science, only predicated on emotion."

Jason Groenewold, Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah: "I think it's a dumb idea. I mean we've already had nearly half the nation's stockpile of chemical weapons here. And why do want to take the risk of transporting these dangerous weapons through our communities just to add to our overall burden?"

The BRAC commission recommendations will go to the President in September. It's a quick time-lime; Congress should take final action by the end of the year.

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