Panel recommends keeping New London, Conn., submarine base open(Photo by U.S. Navy)

An independent review panel added Ellsworth Air Force Base to the short list of U.S. military installations that should remain open, in opposition to the Dept. of Defense recommendations laid out last May. By an 8-1 vote Aug. 26, panel agreed with South Dakota�s governor and congressmen that the base, one of two that houses B-1 bombers, should remain open. Earlier, the commission voted to spare two New England Navy installations in the pending round of military base closures. But in its first day of votes, held Aug. 24, the Base Closure and Realignment Commission generally followed the blueprint that DOD laid out last spring.

Whatever the shape of the final closure list, construction officials expect substantial work to follow, both in environmental cleanup at bases to be shut and new building at installations that will gain workers transferred from those closed posts. Additional construction also should take place when closed bases are converted to other uses.

The South Dakota delegation had argued that the base should remain open because putting all B-1 bombers at Dyess AFB in Texas is poor military strategy. The Texas base also faces legal challenges regarding air space access there. Eliminating 6,800 jobs from the Rapid City area would have a ruinous economic impact there, as well, the delegation claims. The base is the state�s second largest employer.

The BRAC panel voted to keep open the New London Submarine Base in Groton, Conn., and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. DOD had recommended closing both posts, which have a combined work force of nearly 13,000.

But the nine-member panel agreed with most of the Pentagon's recommendations and approved closing such other installations as Fort Monroe, Va., and Naval Station Pascagoula in Mississippi

The commission also voted to close Fort Monmouth, N.J., but attached a condition, saying a shutdown there couldn't proceed until DOD ensures that the base's program or support for U.S. anti-terrorist efforts won't be diminished. The New Jersey post employs more than 5,200 workers.

In May, DOD recommended closing 33 of its 318 major bases and 775 smaller facilities. The Pentagon estimated a net saving of $50 billion over 20 years if its entire plan were adopted.

The BRAC panel cautions that none of its votes is final until the end of its deliberations, on Aug. 27. Still to come are commission votes on Air Force bases on DOD's list.

The commission is slated to finish its voting on Aug. 27 and is to submit its final report by Sept. 8. President Bush then has until Sept. 23 to approve or reject those recommendations and Congress has 45 legislative days after that to turn down the entire list.