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Senator Nelson: Local Military Bases Safe From Budget Cuts

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson visited Pensacola State College on Monday, meeting with local officials and residents on a number of issues. While there, Nelson had one bit of good news for the area’s military bases.

“BRAC’s not coming; it’s not going to pass in the next [election] cycle,” said Nelson. “So y'all can stop worrying about that.”

Out of the half dozen BRACs, Base Realignment and Closure, since 1988, two have impacted Naval Air Station Pensacola. The Aviation Depot left in 1993, and a decade later the Naval Air Basic Training Command moved to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. The latter was replaced by NET-C, the Naval Education and Training Command.

“I am very senior leadership on the [Senate] Armed Services Committee; it’s not going to come out of that committee,” Nelson said. “But even if you were facing BRAC, say ten years down the road, this area is absolutely critical in all of this military infrastructure.”

That includes Naval Air Stations Pensacola and Whiting Field, along with Corry Station, Saufley Field, and Eglin Air Force Base.

“Even if we had a BRAC, do you think we’re going to get rid of Pensacola Naval Station (sic)? The one that in the past that I had to protect was Whiting [Field}, because of the fight between the Army at Fort Rucker and the Navy over here.”

Whiting Field’s unique layout appears to be a big plus in its favor.

“You have this dozen or so airfields, spread all over, where they can expand that training,” said Nelson. “This is too much of a national asset.”

Santa Rosa County Commissioner Don Salter has been, and still is, leading the way in the purchase of land adjacent to Whiting, to avoid encroachment by the civilian population. But he cautions that as leadership changes in Washington, D.C., you never know what’s going to happen next.

Credit Santa Rosa County
Santa Rosa County Commissioner Don Salter.

“I remember Congress and the President said ‘BRAC ’95 was going to be the mother of all BRACs, and there wouldn’t be anymore,’” Salter said. “Ten years later, 2005, they had another BRAC. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, because you never know what the next election will hold.”

Going back more than a decade, Santa Rosa County has acquired about 3,000 acres of land and conservation easements around Whiting Field. An update on the county’s Joint Land Use Study six months ago is expanding the Whiting project.

“We just recently purchased about 300 acres of conservation easement around [Outlying Landing Field] Pace, which is about eight miles north of [U.S.] Highway 90,” said Salter. “So we’re going to start doing more work around those outlying fields, as well as the main base.”

Another reason Panhandle bases may not feel the next BRAC axe,vif there is another one, is the eastern Gulf of Mexico – called by Sen. Bill Nelson the U.S. military’s single largest testing and training range.

“You take a testing area that you hear a lot about like the Nevada Testing Range, specifically the super-secret Area 51, you overlay that onto the Gulf testing range and it’s just a little smidgen,” said Nelson.

Meanwhile, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who’s seeking next year’s Republican gubernatorial nomination, is calling for using state conservation funds to help protect the state’s bases from any future BRAC.