Archive for Thursday, May 19, 2005

Fort’s gains praised but fall short of desires

May 19, 2005, 12:00 a.m.

Updated: May 19, 2005, 8:17 a.m.

— Area officials hoping for huge growth at Fort Leavenworth in the latest round of military base closings and realignment saw a silver lining in last week's announcement that an additional 217 jobs were coming to the local base.

Sure, they were expecting more - rumors had circulated that either the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., or the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, might be moved to Fort Leavenworth. Neither were recommended by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who proposed to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission closing about 150 military installations across the country, including 33 major bases.

Rumsfeld's proposal locally is to consolidate Midwest military correctional facilities, now spread in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, at Fort Leavenworth. The recommendation would mean a net gain of 212 military and five civilian positions at the fort.

"We'd have liked to have seen more than the 200-plus folks," Lansing city administrator Mike Smith said. "At the same time, we're pleased they saw fit to expand a little rather than close down the fort."

Charlie Gregor, executive vice president of the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce, served on Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' Strategic Military Planning Commission, which was charged with promoting the interests of the state's military installations. Friday's announcement, Gregor said, "was very good news, not simply for Fort Leavenworth, but for the entire state of Kansas."

Gregor said he wasn't disheartened by the news that the War College wouldn't be relocating to Leavenworth.

"We weren't disappointed, but we did note some installations that had been rumored to be eligible for relocation weren't moved," he said. "That's fine. We'll continue to make ourselves available as possible for any Department of Defense or Army facility that is deemed important here."

Andi Pawlowski, a Lansing City Council member and a realtor, said the announcement may stem some area home-buying that has been taking place in anticipation that the War College and many of its 1,800 employees might be moving to Lansing and Leavenworth from Pennsylvania.

"I wonder, professionally, what this (announcement) will do to the market," she said.

Bob Ulin, a Lansing City Council member, cautioned that just because Rumsfeld has made his recommendations, Fort Leavenworth's future -and the fuel it provides to the local economy - is not guaranteed.

Rumsfeld's recommendations now will be examined by the BRAC Commission before being sent on to Congress and, ultimately, President Bush.

"The key is, it ain't over. If anyone thinks it's over, they're dead wrong," Ulin said, noting there will be enormous political pressure put on the BRAC Commission by states and communities that would lose their military installations.

Ulin said now would be when the Washington legal firm assisting the Governor's Strategic Military Planning Commission would earn its keep. The state and Kansas communities in which military bases are located raised $1 million to keep the bases open. Lansing contributed $15,000 to the effort.

"Now the lobbying firm the state hired, and we helped pay for, will really earn their pay because we do not want our favorable position changed," Ulin said.

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