Subase Coalition begins digging in

New London Even though many members of Congress have said publicly they would not support the Pentagon's request for military base closures, the group that fought to keep the Naval Submarine Base open in 2005 is nevertheless taking the threat seriously.

More than 30 people attended a meeting of the
Subase Coalition Thursday at the Fort Trumbull conference facility to talk about how to keep the Groton base from being targeted once again.

And while many agreed that the base is in a much better position now than it was seven years ago — with $150 million having been spent on infrastructure improvements since then — they said it's important to be prepared when, not if, the next Base Realignment and Closure process begins.

Several members of the coalition said the sub base would be on the list if the Defense Department once again discounts the synergy between the base and Electric Boat when recommending bases for closure.

"We have seen how the deck of cards was stacked against the Groton base before," Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger said.

"We have to change those parameters," Bill Sheehan added.

The synergy argument helped convince the 2005 BRAC panel to spare the base.

Some members at Thursday's meeting suggested researching how much the Navy would save by closing the base and asking the state to set aside money for the coalition's operations, such as data collection and travel.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, discussed the BRAC developments in Washington, D.C., while Bob Ross, executive director of the state's Office of Military Affairs, updated the group on the ongoing efforts to improve the base. Connecticut was the first state to give the Navy money to fully fund construction projects at a military base.

The state has retained the same consultant used in 2005, which since then has merged to become Mercury/Clark & Weinstock.

Ross said two projects to help the base mitigate future encroachment will be on the next state Bond Commission agenda. "We're starting from a better position this time around," he said. "We're not starting from a dead stop."

Courtney said that after the Defense Department announced earlier this month that it would ask Congress to authorize base closures, he met with Anthony Principi, the former head of the federal base closure commission. The Defense Department is calling for two new rounds of closures, in 2013 and again in 2015.

The coalition's meeting Thursday was "really so important," Courtney said, because Principi advised that "nothing is safe" and to "start preparing now."

"It'll be just a hell of a fight in both the House and Senate in terms of giving the Pentagon the green light to move forward with BRAC," Courtney said. "But no question, coming from Tony Principi, it does behoove this group to start to meet on a regular basis and target issues we know occurred in 2005."

Former Congressman Rob Simmons said he wasn't optimistic that Congress would deny the Pentagon requests. He said he and others who argued against the last BRAC were "overwhelmed by fiscal conservatives," adding that there are more representatives who adhere to that philosophy in the House today.

"They want cuts, and most of those people don't understand the role of the Submarine Force. They think two sub bases on the East Coast is enough," Simmons said, referring to Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, two states that he says have more influential congressional delegations.

Simmons also said the Pentagon has asked for two rounds of BRAC to ensure there will be at least one. "In Washington, if you want something, ask for two," he said. "We'll get one."

John Markowicz, who helped lead the Subase Coalition in battling the Pentagon's proposal in 2005, said Thursday's meeting was interesting since so many old faces were there. He said he couldn't say for sure that the base is better positioned to survive a BRAC in the near future.

The coalition plans to meet again in the coming weeks to discuss how it should organize and form committees. Bill Moore, a former president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut and of the Subase Coalition, stressed that the coalition needs to remain nonpartisan and independent from state government, otherwise "we lose."

Moore told the local legislators the coalition needs money now for the BRAC fight. State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said she would look into it.

"The team's here," she said. "We're ready to work."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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