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Group grapples with base closure prospects

Kitsap County is doing its best to avoid a BRAC-ache.

BRAC is an acronym for Base Realignment and Closure, which has become a four-letter word in a county with three thriving military bases.

“We need to do what we can as a community to keep the bases here,” said retired submarine Capt. Will Lent, chairman of the Kitsap County BRAC task force. “At the same time, we don’t want to be telling the military their business.”

So instead of emphasizing Kitsap bases’ importance to the defense community, Lent and his crew — which includes business and political leaders throughout the community — have assembled a report outlining exactly what the region has to offer.

The 54-page Kitsap County Community Summary Assessment cites strengths in technology, transportation, economy and other areas, demonstrating why the region provides the ideal support structure for the military.

Ed Stern, who contributed an essay about infrastructure possibilities to the report, said the impact of a base closure would be huge on two levels — the loss of military personnel themselves along with the people who provide service and support for their needs.

Stern said Keyport is the most vulnerable Kitsap base, but a realignment strategy could keep it open. For instance, he has heard of a proposal to turn the base into the Northwest installation of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Not everyone knows Keyport has a strong information technology component,” he said. “This will help it diversify into other areas.”

The first BRAC round occurred in 1994, with a gradual scheduled closures of bases determined to be least necessary by the Department of Defense’s BRAC commission.

The BRAC cycle was never completed as planned. According to Lent, President Bill Clinton did not follow the commission’s recommendations about base closures, and essentially halted the BRAC process. Proponents, like former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA), waited to revive BRAC until Clinton was out of office.

President George W. Bush has indicated support for the BRAC process, and intends to follow through on base closure recommendations when they are put forth next year.

Lent said the commission is scheduled to meet March 5 to consider all the material, but the results won’t be published until after this fall’s presidential election. He said the objective is to keep Kitsap bases off of this list because, “Once you’re on it, you can never be removed.”

Lent said there is no doubt BRAC is needed, but it needs to happen somewhere else.

“I can’t see anyone not wanting this. It’s designed to save money, so we can build ships and defend our country,” he said. “But Kitsap County’s bases are all prime contributors to the defense of the nation. None of the others aren’t as good.”

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