WASHINGTON - The president's base-closing commission voted yesterday to keep the Everett Navy home port alive.
By the narrowest of margins, the Defense Base Closure Commission decided to close another home port at Alameda, Calif., on San Francisco Bay, and relocate its planes and ships to San Diego and Puget Sound.
The commission's 7-0 vote on Naval Station Everett assures that $190 million will be spent over the next two years to complete the proposed home port for one nuclear aircraft carrier and six support ships.
Pat McClain, chairman of Homeport Northwest, a coalition of Everett business, labor and government groups, watched yesterday's vote from a conference room in Rep. Al Swift's office.
"We are relieved," he said. "This is a project that's gone on for 10 1/2 years, and has passed so many tests . . . . To see that go down the drain would certainly be disheartening."
In voting to close an existing Navy complex in favor of one that hasn't been finished, commissioners relied on Navy estimates that it would cost $60 million a year more to operate in Alameda rather than in Everett.
Such figures eventually won over reluctant commissioners, some of whom weren't sure how they would vote when they entered the hearing room in Washington, D.C..
One of them was Chairman Jim Courter, a former New Jersey congressman.
Just before voting to close Alameda and remove Naval Station Everett from the list of proposed base closures, Courter delivered a warning to the Navy that would seem to guarantee that the Everett base won't wind up back on the closure list two years from now.
"I think we would love to keep Alameda open, but it's so darned expensive," said Courter. "But if the Navy comes back in two years and proposes closing Everett, you'll hear me scream all the way from New Jersey."
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, who canceled a trip home this weekend so he could attend yesterday's hearing, sat through it with his hands clenched around a chair, then breathed a sigh of relief when the vote went in Everett's favor.
"The whole thing changes now," said Dicks. "It will be finished in 1995" (at the time of the next round of base closures). "We'll have ships there, and I'll be reminding the Navy of what Mr. Courter said."
Dicks credited supporters in Snohomish County and the Navy for "pounding away at the commission" with financial figures that made the case for Everett.
Everett Mayor Pete Kinch cautioned that the home port won't be safe until the Clinton administration decides how big the post-Cold War Navy should be. But McClain said he doubts the Navy will change its mind about Everett.
"The Navy frankly has confided in us they don't think the Puget Sound will ever approach the cost (of living) in the Bay Area, and that's one of their biggest concerns," he said.
County Executive Bob Drewel said the Navy's presence in Snohomish County will make for "a much brighter course."
"There will be more certainty on where to make investments," he said. "To the extent some people were nervous what the future would hold, it takes away that uncertainty."
But Steve Burr, head of the anti-Navy Port Gardner Information League, said he doubts the community fully understands how much the base will adversely affect housing prices and social services.
Burr, who testified on behalf of Washington State Sane/Freeze at the commission's June 4 hearing in Spokane, also is skeptical about the Navy's cost estimates for completing the Everett base.
"It seemed like (closure commissioners) almost exclusively made the decision they did on the financial impact," he said, "and that means that the validity of those numbers is all-important."
The San Francisco Bay area suffered a triple hit when the commission finished its work. In addition to Alameda, the panel also voted to close the Treasure Island Naval Station and Mare Island Naval Shipyard there.
The base-closing commission also struck hard at Charleston, S.C., by recommending its huge Naval Station and associated Naval Shipyard be shut down. In addition, it voted to close a Navy base at Staten Island, N.Y., and an Air Force base at Newark, Ohio.
The panel has until July 1 to submit recommendations to Clinton, who has until July 15 to accept them or return the proposals with recommendations of his own.
Congress has the final say, but can only accept or reject all the proposals as a package submitted by Clinton.
---------------------- A HOME-PORT CHRONOLOGY ----------------------
Here are the key events in development of the Everett Navy home port: -- April 17, 1984: The Navy selects Everett as its preferred site for the base. -- January 1986: $17.6 million to acquire land for the base survives Gramm-Rudman budget cuts. -- Oct. 2, 1986: Congress appropriates $43.5 million more to begin dredging and preparing the site for the Everett base. But this is less than half what the Navy requested for fiscal 1987, and Congress says it cannot be spent until state environmental permits are obtained and the Legislature provides money for access roads, schools and social services. -- December 1986: Then-Gov. Booth Gardner asks for more than $10 million in state spending to snare the base. -- Sept. 24, 1987: The Army Corps of Engineers says it will issue the Navy a dredging permit for the home-port project despite protests from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services. -- March 7, 1988: A federal appeals court blocks work on the port, saying the Navy violated federal and state law by starting to build before the appeal of a state shorelines permit is decided. -- April 25, 1988: The Senate Armed Service Committee votes to eliminate all money for the home port from the 1989 defense budget, saying money should await resolution of environmental challenges. -- Sept. 5, 1989: After more than five years of study, the Navy receives its environmental permit to build pier. -- May 21, 1993: The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission places the home port on a list of potential base closures. -- June 25, 1993: The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission votes to close Alameda and proceed with Everett home port.