SUBCOMMITTEE ON MILITARY BASE CLOSINGS TRAVELS TO CORPUS CHRISTI
The Senate Subcommittee on Base Realignment and Closure traveled to Corpus Christi today to hear issues regarding the Naval Station at Ingleside and other military facilities in south Texas. Chaired by Senator Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, the Subcommittee works to assist communities that have been affected by the closure of military installations. In his opening remarks, Senator Shapleigh mentioned the redevelopment of the former Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio as an example of how a closed military facility can become a vital commercial resource. "These historic times turn out to be opportunities", the Senator told the guests in attendance.
A year ago, the Pentagon recommended the closure of Naval Station Ingleside, Brooks City Base, Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant, Red River Army Depot and several smaller military installations in Texas.
Local officials from Ingleside have said this would cost the area approximately seven thousand jobs when the base begins to close at the end of 2009.
Mayor Henry Garrett of Corpus Christi led off the invited testimony and called the closure of the Ingleside facility a "heavy blow". Garrett called for all local officials to work for the area's redevelopment, and to protect the remaining military facilities in the Coastal Bend.
Loyd Neal, Commissioner of the Texas Military Preparedness Commission (TMPC), told the subcommittee that the City of Corpus Christi was working to ensure that bond money would be available for development of the area's military facilities and that the TMPC was in full agreement with those plans. Fernando Gomez from the office of Congressman Solomon Ortiz, reiterated the Congressman's support for redevelopment of the area, saying the closures would "profoundly change" the character of the area. He also called for protection of the sea lanes off the Coastal Bend, given the current heightened needs for national security.
Oscar Ortiz, Nueces County Commissioner, said while the county remains committed to working through a single entity to assist the area, the current body, led by the Corpus Christi Port Authority does not properly represent everyone outside of the port, saying "The way that the present committee is stacked, it's not conducive to redevelopment of the entire area of Corpus Christi...we have a very minor role."
Judy Hawley, Commissioner of the Port Authority of Corpus Christi, described its efforts to date regarding the process of transferring the property from the military. She said that there was broad-based community input on how the property should be used and that... "the committee had been set up not based upon political jurisdiction, but upon expertise..." and that what happens to the Ingleside facility "will be market-driven".
San Patricio County Judge Terry Simpson, who is chairman of the Coastal Bend Regional Development Commission said he took offense that it might be suggested that there was any sort of collusion or financial incentive being given to any member of his committee. He also testified that the Ingleside facility had been given back to the community at no cost and that it would make an ideal facility for the Coast Guard. But he was convinced that the overall redevelopment should be diversified, so that "we wouldn't again put all out eggs in one basket".
Roland Mower, CEO of the Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation, said that his agency had, at an economic summit, discovered that the quality of jobs in the Coastal Bend had declined over the past decade. While the number of jobs was increasing, the wages those jobs paid were not. He recommended that government incentive programs emphasize attracting higher paying jobs, as opposed to any and all jobs.
Juan Garcia, Attorney and Reserve Naval Aviator testified that the Ingleside Naval center would be an excellent place for Texas A&M University to establish a Health-Sciences Center that could serve not only for training, but as a treatment center as well. Carlos Garcia, President of Del Mar College, said Del Mar was working to address the economic development needs of the area.
The Texas Senate Subcommittee on Base Realignment and Closure is composed of Senator Eliot Shapleigh of San Antonio as Chairman, and Senators Craig Estes of Wichita Falls and Todd Staples of Palestine. Also at today's hearing was Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, representing Corpus Christi. The Subcommittee recessed subject to call of the chair.