Law requires cost & security assessment of base housing

President Barrack Obama has signed into law legislation written by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) to require a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the U.S. Navy’s proposal to open the Laurelwood military housing complex on Naval Weapons Station Earle, Colts Neck, to the general public.

A press release from Smith’s office states that NWS Earle is the largest munitions depot on the East Coast.

“My amendment directs GAO to analyze the specific situation of the Laurelwood housing complex to determine whether or not the security measures will be effective and if they will be sufficient to protect the base personnel and surrounding community,” Smith said.

In June, the House of Representatives adopted and passed an amendment Smith offered to the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647), a wide-ranging bill that authorizes most of the operations of the Department of Defense. The legislation passed the full House 389-22 in June, and was signed into law on Oct. 28, according to the press release.

“The amendment will ensure that the Department of Defense does a thorough job in collecting the financial information it needs before it makes what many believe is a big mistake,” Smith said. “Making a highly secure military weapons depot accessible to anyone with a month-and-ahalf’s rent is a bad idea. This is an egregiously flawed plan that will significantly and adversely impact security on an important military installation that is closed now to the public. It’s time we got realistic numbers on the cost to the taxpayers.”

According to the press release, in the late 1980s Navy officials entered into a Section 801 Housing agreement to build 300 privatized homes on Earle in exchange for payment to the developer (estimated now to be $3.5 million a year) regardless of occupancy. Because the Navy reduced its personnel at Earle since the agreement was signed, there are currently less than 10 Navy families who live in Laurelwood.

The Smith amendment directs the comptroller general to “provide full cost estimates for the impact on local communities (including but not limited to impact costs in the areas of security, education, transportation, environment) resulting from the transfer” and determine “the sufficiency and costs of proposed security measures to the Department of Defense.”

“The Navy should have done this on its own,” Smith said. “Now, for the first time, a single report will be issued that shows the total costs to all interested parties affected by this plan.”

The Navy included limited cost estimates that it will incur when it issued its Record of Decision (ROD) earlier this year, but failed to take into account any cost estimates to other federal agencies, state and local governments or taxpayers in the surrounding areas, according to the press release from the congressman.

“Until now, the security of our local community and the costs we will bear when this proposal is implemented has been deferred to the one interest that has a conflict of interest: the Navy,” Smith said. “My amendment will change that and provide the independent review and assessment this serious matter deserves.”