- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

HAMPTON, Va. — A federal panel charged with realigning the nation’s military bases voted yesterday to close historic Fort Monroe, prompting mixed reactions here from residents and business owners who either lament the loss of jobs or covet the development opportunities.

The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) voted unanimously to close Fort Monroe, which dates to the early 1800s and serves as the headquarters for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

The base, located on a peninsula stretching into the Chesapeake Bay, employs 4,175 persons, including more than 2,700 civilians. It has an annual payroll of more than $182 million.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, said the closure was “expected” because Fort Monroe had been “in the cross hairs for some time.”

In Phoebus, a quaint dustytown near the base, residents took news of the closure in stride. At the local VFW Post 3219, locals lamented the loss of the historic site, but said the decision is ultimately beneficial for the town.

“The property value can only go up, not down,” said Bob Johnson, 51, a retired Air Force officer from Hampton. “There’s no way this’ll be a bad thing. The cost of property here is going to be extravagant…. There [are] builders just dripping at the mouth. They can’t wait.”

Keith Brown, 75, said he, his two brothers, his father and both of his grandfathers, were stationed at Fort Monroe at one time or another. Despite his family ties to the base, he agreed that the closing would benefit Phoebus’ economy.

“Everybody in Phoebus, in some way or another, is tied to Fort Monroe,” Mr. Brown said. “It’s a lot of history there. But it doesn’t sadden me to see that it’s closing.”

Tieshe Thomas, who owns Spoonio’s Hair Salon on East Mellen Street, said the closing would initially have a negative effect on her business, but she was cautiously optimistic about the long term.

“Nearly half of my clients are from Fort Monroe,” said Miss Thomas, 29, as she styled a woman’s hair yesterday afternoon. “So it will impact my business. We’ve got God, though. We’ll be all right.”

Other business owners weren’t so sure.

“I was praying that they wouldn’t close it,” said Doris L. James, 51, who owns D.J.’s Cut & Curl on South Mallory Street. “I’m hoping I won’t have to let anyone go. Most of our clientele is regulars, but we had quite a bit of walk-ins from Fort Monroe. We’ll have to just hope for the best.”

The news was better in nearby Virginia Beach.

BRAC voted 7-0, with two abstentions, not to close a master jet base at Oceana Naval Air Station only on the condition that local and state officials take steps to stop growth around the base within six months.

Under the Oceana action, the city of Virginia Beach must condemn and acquire property located in a potential crash zone.

“We’re going to step up and meet the challenge of reducing encroachment,” Mr. Warner said. He said that about 1,800 residences would have to be acquired, but he did not know the cost.

Oceana is Virginia Beach’s largest employer, with a military and civilian staff of nearly 12,000. It is home to about 140 F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets and about 50 F-14 Tomcats.

Virginia also gained employees as a result of other BRAC actions yesterday.

BRAC voted to move the National Geospatial Institute, which drafts top-secret maps for the military and employs about 2,800 people in Bethesda, to Fort Belvoir in Virginia for security reasons.

Maryland gained about 2,000 jobs when BRAC voted to close Fort Monmouth in New Jersey and move its staff to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County.

BRAC has yet to decide the fate of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest. Under the proposal, officials would create a new military medical facility at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

The commission also will decide whether to relocate almost 23,000 defense workers housed in leased office space in Arlington and Alexandria.

The BRAC recommendations will be sent to President Bush, who can accept them or reject them, but only in their entirety. Congress also will have a chance to veto the plan, but has not taken that step in four previous rounds of closures.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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