BRAC panel relents on closing Pearl Harbor

Hawaii lawmakers are breathing a sigh of relief at the vote of the independent Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission not to add Pearl Harbor to the Pentagon’s closure list.

State lawmakers have fought to convince the commission to keep Pearl Harbor open, since Commission Chairman Anthony Principi sent a letter to the Pentagon on July 1 asking why it was not considered for closing instead of the naval shipyard at Portsmouth, Maine, that is on the chopping block.

The entire Hawaii congressional delegation together with Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R) and the mayor of Honolulu, Mufi Hannemann, met BRAC commissioners on Monday to make the case against adding the historic Hawaiian yard, site of the Japanese “sneak attack” in 1941, to the list. A decision to add the shipyard to the closure and realignment list would be wrong, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said before the commission’s vote yesterday.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, ranking member of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, said a decision to close Pearl Harbor would be absurd because of its strategic placement in the Pacific. “We cited the strategic value,” he said of the state’s lobbying case in front of the BRAC Commission. “It has not occurred to anyone that it could be closed or realigned.”

Pearl Harbor was one of the largest military installations the commission considered for the BRAC list. But the nine-member commissioner voted 5-4 yesterday to save it.

The Pentagon had not included Pearl Harbor, with its multifunctional repair and maintenance facility, on the closure list because of its strategic location in the Pacific and its capability to dock nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

Meanwhile, Abercrombie said he strongly supported keeping Portsmouth open, and while the Pentagon cited excess capacity at its four naval shipyards Abercrombie said, “We need to invest more in shipbuilding and shipyards, and expand them.” He wants the commission to reverse the Portsmouth closure recommendations and to leave all of the four Navy shipyards open.

In several hearings so far, commissioners have indicated that they are not convinced that Portsmouth should be closed.

Another installation that, if listed for closure, would have stoked controversy was the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego. It escaped the ax after strong lobbying by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Unlike the Air Force and Navy, which have only one recruiting depot, the Marines have one in San Diego and another at Parris Island, S.C. The commission was weighing whether it needed both.

While the recruiting depot falls in his district, Hunter argued that many of the Marine Corps’s recruits come from California and that the Corps, heavily deployed in Iraq, has rigorous training requirements, according to Commissioner James Hansen, one of the Commissioners who talked to Hunter on Monday.

While the BRAC Commission voted to add other facilities to the Pentagon’s list yesterday, it is not an indication that these facilities will be closed when the commission makes its final decisions.