County freeholders get into act to save fort

Board will seek reversal of Pentagon decision by Bush

BY SUE M. MORGAN Staff Writer

Staff Writer

FREEHOLD — With more than 22,000 Fort Monmouth jobs hanging in the balance, many held by constituents, the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders will be in touch with area representatives in Washington, D.C., to see if President George W. Bush can reverse a decision rendered last week to shutter the 88-year-old post.

Just hours after the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission voted 7-1 to adhere to the Pentagon’s recommendation that the U.S. Army installation be mothballed, the freeholder board issued an official statement announcing its plan to preserve the fort and the thousands of civilian, military and independent contract jobs there.

“The Board of Chosen Freeholders will be contacting Monmouth County’s representatives in Washington, urging them to prevail upon President Bush to revise the BRAC commission’s list,” the statement read.

History has shown that previous lobbying efforts by local, county and federal officials have been successful twice before in saving Fort Monmouth during BRAC rounds initiated by the Pentagon, the freeholders said.

Under the Pentagon plan approved by the Aug. 24 vote of the nine BRAC commissioners, most of the fort’s more than 5,000 civilian employees and 467 military personnel would be transferred to the Aberdeen (Md.) Proving Ground.

Other employees would be asked to transfer to bases elsewhere in Maryland, Virginia and New York State.

“Fort Monmouth has been a vital part of the area’s economy since World War II and is one of Monmouth’s County’s largest employers,” the freeholders said.

“Closing the fort will have a devastating impact on our local economy and our local schools, as well as the thousands of employees and contractors who work in and around Fort Monmouth,” the statement went on. “It will affect 5,300 employees who will lose their jobs or be forced to relocate, plus thousands of other contract workers and local businesses who depend on the fort for their livelihood.”

Located inside the boundaries of Eatontown, Tinton Falls and Oceanport, Fort Monmouth occupies a total of 1,126 acres. It is bordered also by Shrewsbury and Little Silver.

A state-funded Smart Growth study conducted by the governments of those five municipalities and released in May showed that about 1,325 or about 26 percent of the fort’s civilian workers reside in the host or bordering communities.

To date, the mayors of those five municipalities as well as business and community leaders have joined forces with U.S. Reps. Rush Holt (D-12) and Frank Pallone (D-6) to keep Fort Monmouth open.

As co-chairs of the Save Our Fort Committee, both Holt and Pallone stated after the BRAC vote that the Pentagon should be held accountable to fulfill its pledge to close the fort only after its technical operations are duplicated at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The expected transfer of Fort Monmouth’s Communications and Electronics Command (CECOM) and other missions is expected to take two to six years, post officials have said.

Many of the civilian engineers and scientists and their staffers are assigned to CECOM, which the Pentagon hopes to rebuild at the 7,000-acre-plus Aberdeen base.

Seven other county communities, Fair Haven, Long Branch, Monmouth Beach, Red Bank, Rumson, Sea Bright and West Long Branch, serve as the hometowns of about 614 civilian fort workers, the study showed.

After voting on the fate of hundreds of military installations nationwide, the BRAC commissioners are required to submit those results to Bush by Sept. 8. The president can then return the list to the BRAC commissioners for revisions, at his discretion, by Sept. 23.

By Nov. 7, the president must submit a finalized BRAC list of installations chosen for closing or downsizing to Congress, which must either accept or reject the list in its entirety.