Closing reserve center should be a top priority

Opinion

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Carl Nyberg

The Village of Forest Park should make completely closing the naval reserve center at 7410 Roosevelt Road a top priority. It's simple economics. Currently, reservists only drill there every other weekend. It's hard to imagine a use of the property that would generate less economic activity. Managing the 6.5 acres as commercial property, on the other hand, could generate more economic activity and more taxes and help revitalize Roosevelt Rd.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRACC or BRAC Commission) evaluates what military facilities to close every three years. It was conceived to make it more politically palatable to close facilities. Before BRACC, when the military would submit a list of facilities to close to Congress each member would fight to keep his/her facilities open. By the time the list had been amended few if any facilities would be closed, and the military would lose the potential savings of consolidating or eliminating the unnecessary.

Recently, the Navy decided to consolidate reserve activities to one location in each state. In Illinois all Navy reservists will drill at Naval Training Center Great Lakes. Apparently BRACC overlooked the five Army Reserve units that call Forest Park home in addition to the fifteen Navy units. BRACC closed the Forest Park reserve center for the Navy, but didn't say what to do about the Army units.

The commander of one of these Army Reserve units has petitioned to keep the Forest Park reserve center open. This would involve adding one or more units.

If there are any Forest Parkers in the Army Reserves who drill in Forest Park, keeping the reserve center is a good deal for them. But for the rest of us, it's a bad deal. Six and a half acres of commercial or residential development would generate significant property tax revenue.

Though typically local officials are the first lined up to keep military facilities in their towns, our naval reserve center's prime location and large size mixed with its lack of activity and irrelevance to the local job market make it an exception. The departure of the Navy, of course, would make its presence in town even less productive. During a recent visit to the center on a weekday afternoon, I came across a total of four employees on the entire Army side of the facility.

Wisely developing the land could be the catalyst for significant economic development all along Roosevelt. Some people may have fond memories of when the facility that is now the reserve center was producing torpedoes during World War II. I have fond memories of serving in the Navy myself. But the days of manufacturing torpedoes to fight the Japanese have passed; closing the reserve center will be good for business.

Some lieutenant colonel who likely has no vested interest in the long term betterment of this village wants to keep the Army Reserves in Forest Park. It's his right to work the system to get what he wants.

However, the Village of Forest Park has a right to work the system too.

Lieutenant colonel "I don't want to commute farther than I do now" has the advantage of being inside the Department of Defense bureaucracy. But in this bureaucracy a lieutenant colonel isn't a big playerâ€"especially a reserve lieutenant colonel not stationed at the Pentagon.

The Village of Forest Park should pursue at least two plans to close the reserve center. First, Forest Park should map the bureaucracy and dance with the players. The reserves are complicated, no doubt. They have a reserve chain of command. They have the units they are affiliated with. They have operational and administrative chains of command. Entities not in the chain of command play a role in managing the facilities.

It's going to take hard work for the Village of Forest Park to learn enough to know to whom to talk. Once the decision makers are identified Forest Park will have to be politely persistent.

The second plan is something our elected officials will find more familiar. Forest Park's leadership should work the Illinois Congressional delegation for help dealing with the Department of Defense. Forest Park is represented by four Democrats: Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama and Representatives Danny Davis and Dan Lipinski.

In addition to actively lobbying these four, Forest Park should be lobbying Republican Representatives Ray LaHood and Mark Kirk. LaHood represents Peoria and surrounding areas; Kirk represents the North Shore. Both LaHood and Kirk sit on the Appropriations Committee and both have subcommittee assignments that oversee portions of the Department of Defense. Of course, if Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert were to take up the cause of closing the Forest Park reserve center it would be a done deal.

Even if the reserve center survives this round of BRACC closings, Forest Park should be better prepared for the next round in three years.

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