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BRAC will get a battle in Kitsap

“This is going to be the grandfather of all base closures,” said Will Lent, a retired U.S. Navy captain and community activist, as he stood before the Kitsap County Commissioners Monday morning.

The commissioners officially established a local Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) and Response Task Force at their regular meeting May 19.

They appointed Lent as its chairman.

The goal of the volunteer committee is to protect Kitsap’s Navy bases from the next — and last — round of closures set for 2005 under the BRAC Act.

“We want to show the people involved in making the closure list all the things that the people of Kitsap County do in support of the military bases,” Lent said.

Lent said examples of such support are easy to find.

In the 1980s, the Kitsap County community raised an eye-popping $12 million which, in turn, was handed over to the U.S. Navy with complete trust in order to help build an undersea museum. Today, Kitsap County is home to the Naval Undersea Museum at Keyport.

The Puget Sound Naval Bases Association (PSNBA) asked the county this year to step in and create such a task force to lead that effort, since rules guiding the BRAC program now prohibit the involvement of active-duty personnel. Many of the members of PSNBA are associated with the Department of Defense (DoD).

In previous rounds, the PSNBA was largely successful in making the case for keeping Kitsap County’s military bases open and operational.

Lent is a past president of PSNBA and current member.

Lent said there is no argument against the BRAC Act itself, but the study to be put together by the local volunteer committee, he said, should go a long way toward showing why Kitsap’s bases are vital and should be kept from the closure list.

The local BRAC committee plans to set up an independent trust in order to accept donations from the community — the project shouldn’t tap Kitsap County’s budget.

Members of the PSNBA have talked about donating an estimated $10,000 to the trust.

That number represents donations the association collected for the BRAC effort before it was announced the association couldn’t be involved during the next round.

Lent said the decision to remove PSNBA from the process was a sound business decision.

“If I was (Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld, I wouldn’t want people who are on my payroll second-guessing my decisions,” Lent said.

By donating that amount to the local committee, PSNBA is highlighting its complete break from the BRAC process as outlined under the new rules, officials say.

The volunteer committee consists of 29 volunteers with ties to the business, education, medical, transportation, naval and government sectors.

All three county commissioners are members of the executive committee. Other members include Dave Gitch, president of Harrison Hospital; Sen. Betti Sheldon, D-Bremerton; Richard Hayes, director of Kitsap Transit; Norm McLoughlin, director of the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority; and Mike Levi, president of the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce.

The committee plans to kick off its task force during a meeting scheduled for 10 a.m., June 6 at Givens Center in Port Orchard.

Throughout the summer, the committee plans to meet weekly, with the completion of a preliminary report scheduled for late September.

The final report is expected to be complete by fall 2004.

In five previous rounds of closures under BRAC, 97 major bases were closed in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1997.

This last round is anticipated to be the largest BRAC authorized by congress, and the DoD announced plans to reduce facilities by the same magnitude that forces were reduced over the past decade.

In 1990 forces were reduced by 40 percent while facilities were chopped by 26 percent, according to a county report.

According to a county document, the committee will be tasked with following the BRAC process, preparing to respond to DoD expectations, and evaluating new opportunities that could come out of closures of other bases.

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