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Release No: 461-97
September 08, 1997

Remarks prepared for Delivery Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen Naval Training Center Orlando, Fla September 4, 1997

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Mayor Hood and Congressman McCollum and Secretary Cassidy.

I appreciate having a chance to be here. I came to Orlando to deliver an address to the American Legion convention but, while here, I wanted to take the opportunity to meet up with my friend, Bill McCollum -- he and I served together on a joint committee some, well, more than 10 years ago, almost 12 years ago now, when we first started -- and to renew that friendship and to see the progress that has been made here.

I have watched the impact that base closures have had on the communities. I share something in common with your mayor. I used to be the mayor of the third largest city in Maine, population 38,000, so a very small city that witnessed the closure of a major installation, posing significant problems for the community.

We've also had a major based closed in northern Maine, again posing significant problems for the local community. So I'm very sensitive and aware of the impact that the closure of any military facility will have on a community, particularly those that might be located in more rural and less developed areas.

I needed to come here. As I've traveled around the country, I wanted to see a success story. This has been a success story, as a result of great leadership that you have had, community leadership, obviously, in the form of your distinguished mayor. She and I have something else in common, not only on mayorships, but I also attended the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics, where I believe you also spent some time. But, to look at the leadership she has exhibited, Bill McCollum has been an absolutely avid, staunch advocate for a proper reuse of this facility, and to be able to use this an example of what can take place in other communities.

We have gone through a process in the Defense Department of downsizing. We, in fact, have downsized our military by some 36 percent over the past decade. We have only reduced our infrastructure by approximately 22 percent. So we are carrying a significant level of overhead.

To the extent that we have more overhead, that means that we can't meet our bottom lines of meeting our obligations in defending this country's interests. So this has become part of a process that has been essential in order to match our resources with our requirements, and to examine ways in which the Defense Department can help communities adjust.

Orlando presents, I think, a unique picture to the rest of the country, to say that a BRAC process need not be a death knell, but can be a starting bell for reuse.

I understand that you've already replaced all the jobs that have been lost as a result of the closure, those have already been replaced; that you're now looking at a reuse plan that will achieve some 14,000 jobs, create some 14,000 jobs in the next decade and a half. I've been enormously impressed to see the innovation, the creativity that has been exhibited in terms of the redevelopment plan itself.

Orlando, of course, has the reputation of being the Magic Kingdom, but it's not magic when it comes to redeveloping a facility that's been closed. It takes strong leadership, which you have. It takes community involvement, which you've had, some 200 meetings with the community, involving the community in its entirety. That takes a great deal of effort.

It takes strong reuse planning, which you have also had. And it takes persistence and perseverance and can-doism. And you also have demonstrated that.

So, for me, this is an opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge, information about how a community can, in fact, cope with adversity, and turn that adversity into advantage, to turn an issue of what was once national security into economic security.

For me, it's a pleasure to be here, to look forward to trying to answer any questions you might have, and to pledge to you to continue work with the community, with Mayor Hood and others, to make sure that this is, in fact, one of the shining examples that we can demonstrate to other communities who will be faced in the future with other BRAC processes, which are inevitable if, in fact, we're going to meet our national security requirements.

Thank you very much.

Yes, ma'am.

  Q: (Inaudible?)
  A: From my perspective, it's probably a moot point, in view of the fact that I don't have the authority to reverse a BRAC decision. The BRAC process is over. There is no statutory authority for me to exercise any kind of discretion that would reverse that.

I understand there has been a lawsuit filed that would seek to reverse that. It might be up to the courts. But from a legislative point of view, the BRAC decision in fact has been finalized, and my understanding is, in talking with counsel and others, that I would not have the authority to overturn that.

  Q: (Inaudible?)
  A: Well, things have gone well. I know there's been some concern about the time frame involved. Part of that is due to the fact that you have some use in which you're trying to attract more facilities, more activities on the installation itself. Some portions of the activities are being transferred out, so that's complicated it somewhat.

But I must say that this can serve as a model. I would say that there have been very few problems that have been encountered that you have not dealt with in a most expeditious fashion.

I would use this as a model example, rather than to point to any deficiencies. Perhaps the Mayor and Congressman McCollum might point to areas that they might like to see improved in the future.

Our goal has always been, in the BRAC process, to try to speed up the reuse. By the same token, you don't want to move so quickly that you don't have adequate planning.

Part of the problem is, you want to make sure that you have a very visionary, long-range plan, and it's fully integrated, so you're not simply trying to get some reuse started, so you can get some revenues generated, then you find five or 10 years from now, there's been a misuse.

I think that it's a balance that has to be struck to make sure you get really good, solid reuse planners in, and you've got that. You've got strong leadership from Mayor Hood, Congressman McCollum, and others, and you've got the very active involvement of the Navy and the Department of Defense. So I think this can be used as a model for other communities.

  Q: (Inaudible?)
  A: It's taken me about eight months to get to this point.


  Q: (Inaudible?)
  A: Well, many of the buildings, in fact, will be taken down. My understanding is that part of that reuse plan, again, would be to eliminate most of the buildings, because of their state.
  Q: (Inaudible?)
  A: Well, that's also part of the process that we're trying to speed up, to make sure that we can get the transfer underway.

I would say, for example, that you've had fewer environmental problems than most communities would have in the reuse of a facility. The remediation here would be rather minimal, compared to many of the other communities. But that also, perhaps, has contributed somewhat to the problem.

We hope to have that completed, I think, by the year 2001, but that may be part of the problem. The Mayor may want to address that.

Mayor Hood: Yeah. And I think what it just shows is, as the Secretary said, the timing has been of concern to all of us. As I said, it's been uncharted waters that we have all been moving through.

So I think that that's part of what the Secretary and all the different branches of the armed forces are going to be looking at -- how we can speed up the process, once the community has that very solid plan in hand.

  Q: One more question, Mr. Secretary. (Inaudible?)
  A: I think that is still a matter under review. My understanding is that once the transfer to the city has been completed, that the Navy Exchange would then be free to enter negotiations at that point for whether it would stay or leave. But I don't think that's been finally resolved, yet.
  Q: (Inaudible?)

Mayor Hood: I just want to say on that issue that it has always been our understanding from the city that the negotiations were between the Navy and the Exchange, so that's why it's being held out as a separate issue. That's still our position.

We're just supporting those people who utilize the Exchange here in our community, and I know that the Secretary is very sensitive about this.

Q: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

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