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Associated Press Newswires

Navy Announces Plans To Increase Florida Training

May 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Navy, facing the loss of a major facility in Puerto Rico , Wednesday announced plans to increase Florida training facilities, including a $39.3 million improvement to Key West Naval Air Station.

Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, outlined the plans in a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush, who welcomed them.

"Key West is clearly a strategic training asset for our nation's armed forces and this announcement by the Navy's Atlantic Fleet solidifies that premise," Bush said in a news release.

The Navy's announcement follows three years of protests over its use of Vieques Island in Puerto Rico after a civilian security guard was killed by an errant bomb in 1999.

Live live-fire exercises have been halted at Vieques and the Navy is expected to stop all war exercises there by next year.

Bush said training plans will affect bases across Florida including Navy installations at Jacksonville and Pensacola and Eglin Air Force Base in the Panhandle. The Navy already has held some live-fire exercises at Eglin since the protests began in Puerto Rico .

The Navy is in discussion with the Air Force for more use of ranges at Eglin, normally reserved for weapons testing, and the Avon Park Bombing Range in central Florida.

Congress in 1995 ordered the Key West base downsized and plans had been made to transfer excess land to the city.

The Navy now wants to transfer only 34.2 acres while deferring 16.1 acres that include the Truman Harbor Outer Mole Pier. The Navy wants to keep the pier but permit commercial vessels to use it, too.

"Such dual use will allow the city to benefit from the economic impact that visiting cruise ships have on the community while, at the same time, reaping the additional economic benefits of an increased Navy presence," Bush said.

The governor said the increased Navy presence would add more than $2 million annually to the city's coffers.

"The Navy has taken into account our community's needs and desires," Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekly said. "I look forward into development the Truman Waterfront into a world-class harbor area."

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