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Base Closures in O.C. Now Put at $1.2 Billion

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marine commanders have told the Pentagon that the Navy underestimated, by almost $1 billion, the cost to move squadrons from the El Toro and Tustin Marine Corps air stations to Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego.

Their newly released figures--the first official confirmation of what local base commanders had suspected for weeks--showed that the cost to duplicate at Miramar the facilities and housing now used by the Marines at both Orange County bases would total $1.268 billion, instead of the $340 million originally estimated by the Pentagon.

“These numbers simply do not add up to a sound decision to close El Toro,” said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), who released details of cost estimates prepared by El Toro officials. “It’s tough to stare $1.2 billion in the eye and not back down.”

Col. Leonard Fuchs said Maj. Gen. P. Drax Williams, the commander of Marine aviation units on the West Coast, had forwarded his cost estimates to Marine headquarters in Washington and would not be releasing a detailed breakdown of the $1.268-billion figure.

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But Williams said earlier this week that his cost estimates were based on a direct comparison of Miramar’s facilities to those at El Toro after “physically walking through” the two bases.

Given the huge discrepancy between the two cost estimates, Cox said he would make sure that the numbers reach the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, which conducted three days of public hearings earlier this week on the proposed closing of 10 California bases. The commission is scheduled to make public its decisions in about a month.

Fuchs said the Navy miscalculated how much it would cost to convert the Navy’s hangars and other facilities required by the Marines.

“They are basically different than we are. They have emphasis on carrier deployment, off the boat,” Fuchs said. “We also operate on land. . . . We have much more requirement for space.”

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Fuchs said that, while the Navy conducts its air-traffic control functions aboard ships, the Marines manage flight operations from the base. Marines also need extra maintenance facilities for bulldozers and other heavy equipment used on missions, Fuchs added, such as in Saudi Arabia, where they built taxiways and runways during the Persian Gulf War.

“Also, you are doubling the number of aircraft that will be at Miramar (to about 260). When you look at housing and the new hangars they need, the electrical grids, the plumbing, the streets, the environmental mitigation, et cetera . . . all those things cost a lot of money,” Fuchs added.

Cox, who received further details from Marine commanders, said the Navy’s calculations did not include $4.9 million to relocate El Toro’s F/A-18 flight simulator--a key training facility used by Marines. The Navy trains on an F-16 flight simulator.

In what Cox referred to as one of the more “striking methodological errors” in the Navy’s cost estimates, it counted as an overall savings $601 million that will not have to be spent at Twentynine Palms if the Tustin Marines do not move there as planned. But the Navy did not add that as a cost to move those Marines to Miramar instead.

Also, by using a standardized computer model to determine construction costs, Cox said, the Navy did not take into consideration an extra $188 million that will have to be spent to meet California’s latest seismic building codes.

Another major cost left out of the original recommendation was about $430 million to provide an equal number of housing units, Cox said. Currently, El Toro manages 2,700 units, compared to 300 at Miramar.

While other members of the local congressional delegation have stayed out of the debate over whether to close El Toro, Cox has pressed for a better accounting of the original cost estimates. If the final numbers prove to be a waste of tax dollars, Cox said, he will oppose the closing.

Given the latest calculations by El Toro commanders, Cox said it is doubtful that the closing of the base will save money, unless Congress requires that the land be sold--a move that he said is doubtful.

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“I would never have predicted just a few weeks ago that the results of a careful investigation would produce such wildly divergent figures,” Cox said. “The actual costs have run far higher than any of us imagined they could.”

Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) has also begun questioning the military’s original cost estimates.

Initially convinced that the base closing would save taxpayers money, Dornan stated in a recent letter to Marine Commandant Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr. that he “cannot support a proposal to close El Toro that in the final analysis proves more costly than keeping the base open.”

Dornan was not available for comment on the report released Thursday.


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