Village Administrator Michael Sturino recently had a chance to review the Army's appeal to keep the Forest Park Naval Reserve Center at 7410 Roosevelt Road open, and was not at all impressed with what he saw.
"In my eyes, this is a pure land grab," said Sturino after returning from a conference in Atlanta for communities affected by the military facility closures recommended by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) last year.
According to Sturino, the village was advised by Lynn Boese, a representative from the Department of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment that there was nothing to the appeal, which was first reported by the Review early last month. At the conference, however, he and Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Michael Curry were informed otherwise.
"I did find out that in fact there is something to this story," he said. He attributed the misinformation the village received, which was repeated in a recent column by Mayor Anthony Calderone in the Forest Park Post, to the lateness of the Army's appeal.
"It's such a large bureaucracy, and it's very unusual for the Army to put in a request at the late date they did. Our rep did not know about the appeal because of the lateness of the request," said Sturino.
Calderone said that Boese first learned of the appeal at the same conference Sturino and Curry attended. The appeal, sources have said, was just finalized on March 24, narrowly beating the deadline for the submission of such requests.
The center is currently home to 12 Navy Reserve units and five Army units, with around 500 reservists stationed there at any given time.
Though the Navy will be complying with the BRAC recommendation and moving its units elsewhere, the Army's appeal asks that its current units remain in place and that at least two more Army units be transferred to Forest Park. If the Navy accepts the Army's request, the decision can still be undone by the U.S. Congress, according to Sturino.
Calderone seemed a bit conflicted regarding how the village should react to the Army's appeal. "It seems a little un-American to kick out the Army," he said.
On the other hand, he noted, "I want to take the rational decision-making of the Army to task and make sure we don't miss out on a development opportunity...I don't want to easily back off just because th Army has some interest."
Calderone said that his priority is to ensure that all decisions regarding the center's future are made carefully and with their implications for Forest Park in mind.
"I want to make sure that they know the units here can't be stationed somewhere else, maybe somewhere not in a high use commercial district," he said.
Not much is known at this time regarding the chances of the Army's request being approved. US Navy public affairs officer Kathy Sandoz said last week that the request was still being processed. Sources have estimated that an answer should be available by September.
Sturino said he feels that the appeal contradicts the reasoning that motivated the BRAC closing in the first place.
"It's clear from the request that they don't have enough going on at the facility to keep it running. That's the reason Congress requested that it be closed in the first place. [The appeal] violates the spirit of the BRAC, which was intended to close facilities that are, in fact, surplus," he said.
At Monday's budget hearing, Calderone mentioned that though the village does not currently employ a lobbyist, it is leaving space in the budget for one to be hired, in part to work on the reserve center issue if the need arises.
"We have a number of uncertainties in town, one of them being the closure of the navy base, and we may want to hire a lobbyist," he said. "Knowing the legislatures involved is one thing, but knowing the bureaucracies is another, and that's where a lobbyist can help," he said.