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‘Opportunity Doesn’t Knock. You Knock, Opportunity Answers.’

For decades, Puerto Rico’s economic development and job creation have depended on federal incentives beyond our control. Now, we have a golden opportunity to build our economic future on a unique asset that no one can match or take away.–American proverb


May 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Roosevelt Roads at a crossroads

This military base is Puerto Rico’s unique opportunity for a true global transshipment port. Puerto Rico should anticipate the inclusion of U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in the federal government’s 2005 base closure program and request that land. It would be the smartest economic development move for the island since obtaining federal tax exemption from the U.S. Congress in 1921.

For years, Puerto Rico’s government administrations have been trying to identify the island’s strongest asset in an effort to propel its economic development and generate jobs since the 10-year phaseout of federal tax exemption for U.S. companies operating in Puerto Rico began.

We finally have an opportunity in U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads that is as strong as Internal Revenue Code Sections 262, 931, and 936, which for decades aided Puerto Rico’s economic development through federal tax incentives. It’s an opportunity that the U.S. Congress wouldn’t be able to take away, as it did the tax exemptions.

While the Calderon administration has vowed to fight to keep Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba as a military facility, in-depth research by CARIBBEAN BUSINESS has revealed the base would be an infinitely better location for a truly world-class transshipment port than any of the other alternatives considered, including Ponce and Guayanilla.

Navy will leave Roosevelt Roads

It is clear the U.S. Navy will eventually abandon Roosevelt Roads. In fact, CARIBBEAN BUSINESS has learned that immediate plans call for cutting back the naval station’s operations by 70% or 75% by 2004.

In light of these plans, Roosevelt Roads must be considered for a transshipment port. There is no doubt that only Roosevelt Roads offers the sea and land facilities needed for a true transshipment port in Puerto Rico, one that would be important both for the island and for the region.

Puerto Rico should also continue developing a second port facility, such as the Port of Ponce, to handle not only cargo but also cruise ships for the south coast (similar to what the Port of San Juan has done for the north coast). The south can’t continue to depend on cargo coming in through San Juan. What better reason for continuing to upgrade the Port of Ponce than the surging population growth in the south? This population demands an improved, modern port that is ready to meet the evolving needs of the region.

Ponce will never be a transshipment port

By no stretch of the imagination does Ponce fit the definition of an international transshipment port. Even with the announced improvements, the Port of Ponce will be able to handle only two post-Panamax vessels (ships carrying over 4,000 containers) at a time, leaving little, if any, space for smaller service cargo ships (feeders) to pick up transshipment cargo headed for dozens of other ports.

The port is also within a constricted area surrounding the city. The Port of Ponce will be a strictly local and upgrade maritime port facility in a small harbor that doesn’t fit the true definition of an international transshipment port by far.

A transshipment port should be able to handle, at the very minimum, eight to 10 post-Panamax vessels and 15 to 20 feeder ships at the same time. Roosevelt Roads would be able to handle this number of ships and more as the harbor is developed over the years. A Ponce port handling only two post-Panamax vessels is far short of the definition of a transshipment port.

The world’s most reputable transshipment ports, such as the ports of Rotterdam, Singapore, and Hong Kong, handle dozens of times this number of vessels. Ponce, being much smaller than the Port of San Juan, doesn’t measure up in either size or capacity, as would a transshipment port at Roosevelt Roads.

Once finished, the Port of Ponce will be an improved and much-needed maritime facility for the island’s south coast. It will be able to handle the economic growth of the south, acting as a catalyst to accelerate the region’s development. Ponce’s port, however, won’t be a transshipment port. It will handle much less cargo traffic than San Juan handles now.

Roosevelt Roads is the only site for a transshipment port

Like any other site in Puerto Rico, Roosevelt Roads’ prime selling point as a transshipment port is its strategic location near the Mona Passage, the only unobstructed deep-water cargo-shipping lane in the Western Hemisphere for east-west and north-south bound cargo ships en route to the Panama Canal as well as for cargo traffic between Europe and Asia. The alternative is to sail below South America, around Cape Horn, through treacherous waters, adding 6,000 miles to the voyage.

Roosevelt Roads offers more. Unlike any of the alternatives considered for a transshipment port in Puerto Rico, the Navy base has more than 8,000 available acres around its harbors, a key point to ensuring the viability of any world-class transshipment port, not just for 10 or 15 years but for 50 years or more. This is the vision needed for a world-class transshipment port.

Furthermore, because of the base’s extensive infrastructure and existing facilities and the availability of federal funds for the conversion of former military bases to civilian use, Puerto Rico’s goal of having a truly world-class transshipment port could be achieved much faster and at a fraction of the cost at Roosevelt Roads than anywhere else. To build what already exists at Roosevelt Roads would cost two or three billion dollars and would probably take five to seven years, including the time needed to obtain all the permits.

Since the 1940s, Roosevelt Roads has harbored two military installations--an 8,600-acre base in Ceiba and a 22,000-acre base in nearby Vieques, a smaller island off Puerto Rico’s southeastern coast. In 2002, 8,000 acres in Vieques’ western region were transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), after the announced departure of U.S. Navy training forces not only from Vieques but from Ceiba’s Roosevelt Roads as well.

On May 1, 2003, 14,000 acres on Vieques’ eastern coast will also be turned over to the DOI, ending the Navy’s military presence on Puerto Rico’s sister island. Following two years of controversy over the Navy’s use of Vieques for weapons training, in April it was formally announced the U.S. Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility (AFWTF), the U.S. Fleet Composite Squadron Eight (FCS-8), and 12 additional commands and activities (military and civilian divisions) would leave Roosevelt Roads by Sept. 30, 2003, causing a 32% reduction in the local work force by October 2004.

An additional 400 U.S. Army South military personnel and their families will move from Fort Buchanan to Fort Sam Houston in Texas by the end of September 2003. What’s more, it is almost certain that U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads will be included in the 2005 round of closings under the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) Base Realignment & Closing (BRAC) program.

Could Roosevelt Roads be the island’s global transshipment port?

What are the physical requirements for a globally competitive transshipment port in Puerto Rico? Should Roosevelt Roads facilities be available, would they fit with the initial plans for a port of worldwide importance?

A transshipment port’s harbor and alongside piers must have a depth of 45 feet to 48 feet to allow post-Panamax ships to navigate. Roosevelt Roads’ Ensenada Honda Bay is 30 feet to 40 feet deep. As was found in both Ponce and Guayanilla, the deepening of Ensenada Honda would require some dredging. Unlike those two sites, however, obtaining the required permits for Roosevelt Roads--such as a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Statement and deposit the dredged material--shouldn’t be of great concern as the naval station has been operating the port since the 1940s.

Retired Lt. Col. Patrick J. Balcazar, an engineer with experience in military base closures, told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS, "A U.S. Geological Survey study on sand in the Sonda de Vieques [area] will confirm the fact that dredging in the channel [to Ceiba’s Roosevelt Roads] can be done with less earthmoving-equipment effort than in the geologically challenging area of Ponce. Easier earthmoving translates into savings through lower initial construction costs and an easier maintenance system to keep the port open.

"Roosevelt Roads Naval Station has an excellent existing infrastructure. . .and port facilities that already have the appropriate environment to handle [all kinds of cargo, even] hazardous materials in terms of permits and operations," continued Balcazar. "U.S. Navy ships by their nature carry ammunition and nuclear fuel rods and weapons." This means Roosevelt Roads already has a system in place to handle all kinds of cargo.

The transshipment port should also have at least 2,000 feet of continuous wharf so it can handle two post-Panamax vessels simultaneously. Initial plans for Guayanilla’s transshipment port called for the building of a 6,000-foot-long wharf that would accommodate six vessels at a time; Ponce’s port will be able to accommodate two ships at best. In addition, space is needed for the dozens of smaller cargo ships offering short sea services, also called feeders, which would load cargo from the megaships and transport it to smaller ports.

Roosevelt Roads already has 3,050 feet of piers. It has three piers on the east side of the harbor, totaling 2,050 linear feet. One of the piers measures 400 feet long and is used as a fuel pier; a second pier, 450 feet long, is used as a submarine pier; the third pier, 1,200 feet long, is used for aircraft carriers.

A fourth, 1,000-foot pier is on Puerca Bay, a harbor northeast of Ensenada Honda, which has an inactive graving dock (where ships’ hulls are cleaned). Puerca Bay is nearly a half-mile wide and three quarters of a mile long, with depths of 37 feet or more.

In all, with the piers it already has, Roosevelt Roads’ harbor can accommodate 20 ships simultaneously, according to the naval station, and there’s additional space to build more piers. Ponce and Guayanilla simply don’t have the start-up availability of piers and land that Roosevelt Roads boasts.

A transshipment port’s facilities should be protected from both sea and swell. Roosevelt Roads’ port facilities are built around the perimeters of Ensenada Honda and Puerca Bay. Ensenada Honda is approximately 1.25 mile wide by as many as two miles wide; Puerca Bay adds a berthing area a half-mile wide and three quarters of a mile long. This is comparable to San Juan Bay, the island’s largest port, which is three miles long and varies in width from one mile to two miles.

While approaching Ensenada Honda requires pilot assistance (as in any other harbor), the channel is 1,000 feet wide and has a controlling depth of 40 feet in both the channel and the turning basin into which the channel leads. The harbor’s deepwater entrance is about a third of a mile wide and deep-draft ships such as tankers already travel through the Virgin Passage.

The heart and soul of an international transshipment port is the equipment and machinery required to handle cargo efficiently and cost-effectively. The largest pieces of machinery are a port’s gantry cranes, initially requiring anywhere from six to 12 cranes to handle post-Panamax container loading on/loading off. While Roosevelt Roads didn’t engage in this type of cargo activity, there is ample space on shore to install working platforms from which to operate.

One of the most attractive characteristics of Roosevelt Roads as a port is its 8,600 acres. Approximately 30% of the land, or 2,600 acres, is filled with mangroves, but most of the remaining 6,000 acres are still undeveloped.

The base has an airport, called Ofstie Field, about a mile north of the bay that has an 11,000-foot-long runway. In addition, more than 110 miles of road reach 1,300 buildings on base, including housing for military personnel, storage tanks for oil and gasoline, a hospital, a hotel, schools, a landfill, a water treatment plant, and four sewage treatment plants. The base also has a sophisticated infrastructure of communications, technical, and administration services that would make the area a viable transshipment port operation.

How would P.R. measure up to other international transshipment ports?

Port of Rotterdam

The Port of Rotterdam is the largest transshipment port in the world, with 26,000 acres of total port area and 12,200 acres of industrial sites for value-added activity. One of the oldest and best-recognized global transshipment ports, the Port of Rotterdam is managed by the Rotterdam Municipal Port Management (RMPM). Port management has 1,207 employees and another 62,000 direct jobs have been created through the port (stevedores, transport, storage & distribution, intermediaries, transport-related services, port industries, public authorities, and more).

On any day, more than 250 vessels can be found at Rotterdam’s 251 piers; 29,092 vessel arrivals were recorded in 2002. To handle cargo and container loads, the port owns an impressive amount of maritime equipment and machinery, including 82 gantry cranes, 130 multipurpose cranes, 46 bulk cranes, 10 floating derricks, and 22 floating cranes.

In 2002, more than 300 million tons of goods were handled in Rotterdam’s specialized ports, which include a liquid bulk port for crude oil, oil products, and liquid chemicals; a dry bulk port for iron ore, coal, agribulk (grain, crude animal feed, phosphates); and other ports for about 30 million tons of food transshipped annually, including agricultural raw materials, beverages, meat, fish, preserves, grain products, fruit, vegetables, and fruit juices. Goods bound for the hinterland leave the port by river, rail, trucks, pipeline, and sea.

Rotterdam’s latest five-year expansion plan began in 2001 and targets areas such as logistics networks, container activities, rail transport and inland shipping, and large-scale transshipment and industry. RMPM’s $145.8 million annual investment is aimed at increasing container activity at Distripark (industrial park) Maasvlakte, followed by a second industrial park co-financed by public and private sectors; completing the Delta 2000-2008 project, and starting phase one of Euromax, a new terminal complex for P&O Nedlloyd and ECT in northwest Rotterdam.

Port of Singapore

The Port of Singapore has frequently been cited as a model for Puerto Rico’s transshipment port, not only because the two islands are comparable in size but because both have privileged positions as crossroads of shipping routes--Singapore in Southeast Asia and Puerto Rico’s Mona Passage in the Caribbean, which leads to and from the Panama Canal by cutting through the Western Hemisphere.

Established in 1972, the Port of Singapore has become the world’s busiest container port in terms of shipping tonnage, with an average of 350 ships in port at any one time and 142,745 ships visiting in 2002. The Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore oversees more than 850 acres, including six terminals and 37 berths that link over 400 shipping carriers to more than 700 ports in 130 countries worldwide. Port operator PSA Corp. manages another adjoining 244 acres for value-added activities such as warehousing, logistics, and manufacturing. More than 45,000 people work directly in port and shipping activities.

PSA Corp. operates the Brani, Keppel, Pasir Panjang, Sembawang, and Tanjong Pagar terminals, which handle general cargo (container and conventional cargo). Pasir Panjang is in the process of adding 18 berths to its current 31 berths, which will give it a handling capacity of 36 million TEUs (a TEU is a unit of measurement equivalent to one 20-foot container). Jurong Port is part of Jurong Town Corp. and its six berths receive conventional and bulk cargo.

Port operator PSA Corp. also runs six free trade zones (FTZs) in another 124-acre area where goods can be stored free of charge for a limited time and processed by customs, and where value-added activities can take place. In addition, the company manages 120 acres of storage space near the port. The most modern site is called Keppel Distripark; it has a 46-foot-high ceiling that supports high-rack automated storage and retrieval systems.

In 2002, the Port of Singapore handled 335.1 million tons of containerized, conventional, oil and nonoil bulk cargo, compared with 313.5 million tons in 2001, a 7% increase. Total container throughput was 16.9 million TEUs in 2002, an 8% increase over 2001’s 15.6 million TEUs. Singapore also has the world’s top bunkering port, with three independent storage terminals and more than 130 bunker tankers service vessels.

Port of Caucedo, Dominican Republic

In April 2003, CXS World Terminals announced it had signed a contract with Dominican Republic-based Caucedo Development Corp. to develop the Port of Caucedo, a port on the Dominican Republic’s Caucedo Peninsula. The $200 million, 124-acre container facility is scheduled to be finished by 2004 and initially will include a 1,968-foot-long berth with a 49-foot alongside depth to handle two post-Panamax vessels simultaneously. The port has ordered five 65-ton cranes from China and will eventually have 10 of the latest-generation rubber-tired gantry cranes, in addition to reach stackers, to handle the terminal’s traffic. Plans call for a second berth to be built later.

Port Caucedo is an example to Puerto Rico of a successful development plan for a transshipment port. The Dominican Republic government and operator CSX World Terminals moved rapidly and worked together to start the project in less than two years. The terminal will initially be directed at the growing garment, tourism, agriculture, and industrial products markets in the Dominican Republic.

While it will be an excellent regional port, it will lack the harbor and land space to become a world-class international transshipment hub for Central and South American markets, the Caribbean, or European and Asian distributors.

Roosevelt Roads’ 42 miles of oceanfront on the harbor, however, are an enticing area in which to develop a true global transshipment port in less than three years.

Ponce doesn’t meet standards for a world-class transshipment port

Shortly after taking office, the Calderon administration announced Ponce would be the main site for a transshipment port in the south, though the project would also entail the development of Guayanilla. It was noted at the time that the relatively limited land surrounding the Port of Ponce made Guayanilla, about 38 miles away, a required addition. However, even the simultaneous development of Ponce and Guayanilla as transshipment ports would take longer and more effort than developing Roosevelt Roads as it now stands. In 2002, after environmental concerns were raised that served to limit the development at Guayanilla Bay, the Port of Ponce was chosen as the only site for what the Calderon administration calls the Port of the Americas, the island’s first transshipment port.

Roosevelt Roads wasn’t an option at first

The military presence at Roosevelt Roads precluded the consideration of Roosevelt Roads as a site for the transshipment port when Guayanilla and Ponce were being studied. The issue of the limited harbor and land space for global transshipment port activities at Ponce still hasn’t been addressed.

Meanwhile, work has begun to demolish and rebuild Ponce’s Piers 1, 2, 3, and 4 to create an 1,800-foot-long pier. Pier 8 needs to be expanded from its current 610 feet to 3,610 feet. Ponce’s port facilities currently have only one 40-ton container-handling crane, meaning another two cranes will have to be added.

The port’s current 35-foot depth will have to be increased to at least 45 feet. Plans call for the removal of 810,000 cubic yards to 2.2 million cubic yards of dredged materials from Ponce harbor’s navigation channel and berthing areas. The EPA is considering issuing a permit to dispose of dredged material in a site south of Ponce. Ponce has also identified a 132-acre site adjacent to the port for value-added activities and plans are underway to develop 900 additional acres, but in a region outside the harbor area.

Balcazar also mentioned the possibility of finding the same sort of geological formations discovered in Adjuntas when PR-10 was built in the ocean in front of the city of Ponce. It would be less costly to dredge through Ceiba’s sandy channel than through Ponce’s tough geological formations.

So, what is being done in Puerto Rico?

In September 2002, the Port of the Americas’ board qualified two companies to develop and operate the island’s first transshipment port: the Netherland’s Mainports Puerto Rico Inc., which operates the Port of Rotterdam, and PSA Corp., which includes the operator of the Port of Singapore and is a world-class transshipment port specialist that operates 13 ports in eight countries.

Just last week, the government announced that a consortium made up by Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) and Fluor Corp. had submitted a Request for Qualifications for the port’s development and operation. According to Port of the Americas Administrator Hector Jimenez Juarbe, a final decision on the port’s operator won’t be made until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves the Revised Environmental Impact Statement, which could be in June or July.

In May, the government will invite the qualified companies to inspect Ponce, which has begun remodeling the pier with a $40 million loan from the Puerto Rico Government Development Bank. Then the interested companies will submit a Request for Proposals outlining how they intend to operate the port.

Administration considering Roosevelt Roads as another possibility

Following the pronouncements by the Calderon administration favoring the U.S. Navy’s continued use of Roosevelt Roads, not to mention its earlier commitment to develop a transshipment port in Ponce, most private- and public-sector officials interviewed by CARIBBEAN BUSINESS expressed reservations about Roosevelt Roads as the ideal location for the transshipment port. Nevertheless, they didn’t dismiss Ceiba’s ideal qualifications to host the facility.

"My playground [to operate Puerto Rico’s transshipment port] has always been the entire island of Puerto Rico, not just one port site," said Frank Haacke, the Netherlands’ honorary consul and the representative of Mainports Puerto Rico Inc., a consortium of multinational and local companies that includes A.P. Moller Group and its subsidiary Maersk Sealand, CSX Line, and the Port of Rotterdam. "Mainport Puerto Rico’s interest is to operate the entire Port of the Americas, not just on one site but on however many sites it extends to.

"As far back as 10 years ago, Roosevelt Roads was discussed as the ideal setting for a transshipment port," continued Haacke. "While the harbor’s depth has always been a concern, in terms of facilities there couldn’t be a better place. Even the fact that there is only one channel could be solved with appropriate dredging, turning the base into an excellent transshipment port possibility.

"But we must begin somewhere and. . .Ponce can be ready in a short time," said Haacke. "Since Ponce has limited land to expand, we need to look at other areas such as Guayama or Guayanilla and, if it is available, Roosevelt Roads. We have to look at an intermodular system, similar to Rotterdam’s, where each port area serves a particular need (such as dry bulk, liquid bulk, pipelines, or containers). I hope the government will play its part as a facilitator and turn this project over to private industry."

Hector Jimenez Juarbe, executive director of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (Pridco) and administrator of the Port of the Americas transshipment project, said he has been looking at preliminary information about Roosevelt Roads’ port facilities. "Capt. John R. Warneke, commanding officer at U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, wasn’t able to provide me with detailed facts because of the current security measures," said Jimenez Juarbe. "From the information I have gathered, and in a purely speculative manner, if we consider establishing a transshipment port in these facilities, we would have to invest in dredging the 40-foot harbor and the 30-foot to 42-foot alongside piers. My opinion is that we should continue with the development of Ponce’s port as the island’s transshipment facility."

Milton Segarra, secretary of Economic Development & Commerce, said the government was preparing for the possible base closing of Roosevelt Roads. "Our first objective is to retain Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico," he said. "However, we have also been gathering information on the base facilities and studying other cities where bases closed to find out what occurred and what they did.

"What we have found is encouraging in that. . .the majority of base closings have brought about more economic development than there was before, enough to achieve a sustainable development," continued Segarra. "When we gather all the data, our goal is to see how we can achieve the most potential in different areas such as housing, tourism, and transportation."

Meanwhile, William Riefkohl, executive vice president of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, recalled that some past base closings have had favorable impacts on Puerto Rico. "Cayey’s former military camp, Henry Barracks, was ceded to the municipality. This is where the University of Puerto Rico’s Cayey campus, several schools and housing communities, and sports and recreational areas have been developed," said Riefkohl. "Old San Juan’s El Morro grounds also belonged to the military before being transferred to the government for public access."

The fact is that dredging needs to be done at any of the sites being considered. Ponce should continue with its plans to expand the port and with its potential logistics and distribution services to Puerto Rico’s southern region, in addition to exploring the possibility of attracting cruise ships to the area.

However, a world-class transshipment port, one that could be ready in less than three years at a relatively low cost because of the infrastructure that already exists, is feasible only in Roosevelt Roads.

Roosevelt Roads was meant to be the Pearl Harbor of the Atlantic

U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads’ beginnings date to 1919, when then Assistant Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt planned a site to protect the Atlantic Fleet.

In 1938, as Nazi Germany aimed to take over Great Britain, the Panama Canal, and all of America, plans were drawn to build a naval base in the Atlantic similar to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Americans feared that if Germany controlled Great Britain, Mexico and the U.S. would be next.

In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the construction of Roosevelt Roads. The site was meant to provide anchorage, docking, repair facilities, fuel, and supplies for 60% of the Atlantic Fleet. It cost the U.S. government more than $100 million to buy Ceiba’s 8,600 acres plus another 22,400 acres in Vieques. Roosevelt Roads became the largest naval installation in the world in land mass.

The fate of the base was changed when the Navy’s attention shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and after the Germans were defeated. By 1943, Roosevelt Roads had been turned into an operations base, which has been shut down and reopened seven times.

Roosevelt Roads to lose 32% of active duty personnel

During a recent interview, Roosevelt Roads Public Affairs Officer Oscar Seara confirmed previous reports by CARIBBEAN BUSINESS (CB Jan. 23) about the downscaling of operations at the base, but he declined to comment on the possibility of building a transshipment port at Roosevelt Roads.

"Since the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility [AFWTF] has its own dock facilities in Norfolk, Va., Roosevelt Roads doesn’t have a dry dock and we only handle certain repairs," said Seara. "Over the years, approximately 300 foreign and NATO ships have used Roosevelt Roads’ port facilities annually. However, with training exercises ending at Vieques, that number is going to decline.

"[When] the AFWTF and Fleet Composite Squadron-8 [FCS-8] leave by Sept. 30, approximately 634 active duty personnel, federal civilian employees, and contractors will be affected, out of a total of more than 2,500 active duty personnel," continued Seara. "This number doesn’t include nearly 4,000 dependents [spouses and children] and the hundreds of reserve officers who come in on weekends and for monthly training sessions during the summer."

Since Seara’s interview, an AFWTF press release distributed on April 10 stated the number of Roosevelt Roads commands and activities relocating (moving from Puerto Rico) or drawing down (reducing in force) was increasing.

According to the release, "The AFWTF currently spends over $100 million annually operating Naval Station Roosevelt Roads facilities. With the closure of the range at Vieques, continuation of some of these facilities at their current level doesn’t give the Navy a worthwhile return on investment. . . .Relocating and drawing down these commands is expected to result in savings of $57.2 million [annually]."

According to Master Chief Tom Brown, from the Public Affairs Office of the AFWTF in Norfolk, "Between now and Oct. 1, 2004, 14 commands will be relocated or reduced, decreasing the number of active duty personnel on base by 32%, or 800 people, not including dependents. Also affected will be about 1,500 civilians working for the U.S. Department of Defense and another 1,500 contractors."

Following are the affected commands and activities at Roosevelt Roads:

  • The AFWTF will be disestablished (eliminated) by Sept. 30.
  • The FCS-8 will be eliminated by Sept. 30.
  • The Naval Hospital will be transferred to the Veterans Administration.
  • Special Operations Command South will be relocated to the U.S. mainland.
  • Seabee Battalion will be relocated by May 1.
  • P-3 and E-2 Tactical Support Center will be relocated by Aug. 15.
  • Personnel Support Detachment will be reduced 30% by Sept. 30.
  • Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Detachment eliminated by Sept. 30.
  • Naval Surface Warfare Center will be relocated by Oct. 1.
  • Naval Station Roosevelt Roads’ base staff will be reduced 30% by Oct. 1.
  • Naval Legal Service Office will be reduced by 50% by Oct. 1.
  • Naval Region Southeast Storefront will be relocated by Oct. 1.
  • Mobile Diving & Salvage Unit Two will be relocated by Jan. 1, 2004.
  • Navy Computer Telecommunications Station will relocate by March 1, 2004.
  • Naval Criminal Investigative Service Office relocates 33% of personnel by June 2004.
  • Meteorology Operations Center relocates 50% of operations by Oct. 1, 2004.

"The U.S. Army Reserve Center [USARC], U.S. Army Naval Reserve Center, and U.S. Marine Reserve Center are also active on base," said Seara. "The USARC alone has four battalions, including the 390th Transportation Battalion, 432nd Transportation Battalion, and the 699th Engineering Company, plus the Headquarters 346th. During reserve duty training, more than 1,200 personnel are on board. This is a military base that is still open for business and we aren’t going to speculate on future uses for the base. We are going to proceed unless directed otherwise."

The rise and fall of Ramey Air Force Base

Few people today remember the key role that Ramey Air Force Base (RAFB) in Aguadilla, now known as Punta Borinquen, played in the U.S. Army Strategic Air Command’s (SAC) military activities from 1946 until the 1970s, when the base was closed.

SAC was born of the Cold War between the U.S. and the then Soviet Union. SAC’s mission was to maintain a nuclear deterrent force that could carry out long-range aerial bombardments against any target in the world. U.S. bombers with the capacity to launch missile attacks were constantly in the air, imposing the nation’s policy to deter its enemies, specifically Russia.

In 1936, the U.S. Army Air Corps, part of the SAC, recognized that an air base in Puerto Rico would be a logical extension of the Panama Canal’s air defense. With early rumblings of World War II, the U.S. War Department authorized the construction of a major air base in Puerto Rico.

In 1939, Punta Borinquen was selected as the site for the major new air base. Some 60 miles west of San Juan, RAFB’s 3,796 acres were purchased at a cost of $1.2 million. The base was later renamed in honor of Brig. Gen. Howard K. Ramey, who was killed in the South Pacific on a reconnaissance mission during WWII.

Dozens of Air Corps units and squadrons began arriving at what was basically a sugar cane field in Punta Borinquen. A total of 18 bombers had arrived safely at RAFB by Dec. 5, 1939. Still to be built were hangars that could withstand hurricanes and earthquakes and the rest of the base’s facilities; by 1945, construction costs had risen to $51 million.

RAFB’s facilities included a 13,000-foot-long runway, the longest at any aviation facility in the Caribbean and South America. There were also aircraft hangars; a base hospital; officer, noncommissioned officer, and enlisted quarters; a building for instrument repairs; a photo lab; administrative buildings; a post exchange (PX); and a school. Other permanent facilities included an athletic and recreational building; a swimming pool and a golf course; a water filtration plant; a power plant; a laundry, a commissary, and service and officers’ clubs.

RAFB’s role in SAC’s mission

In 1948, the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Medium was established at RAFB to provide mapping and photographic reconnaissance. By 1954, the wing had assumed the additional missions of global strategic reconnaissance, including electronic, weather, and photography reconnaissance.

From August 1952 to June 1971, RAFB was host to the 72nd Bombardment Wing after it absorbed the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. With the 60th Bomb Squadron flying B-52s, RAFB conducted global reconnaissance from 1953 to 1955. In 1958, KC-135 jet tankers were acquired. In 1959 B-52 Stratofortress were added.

When SAC was established in 1946, it was required to develop, test, and improve strategic bombardment tactics. SAC, whose headquarters were at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, was built into a combat-ready command literally one group at a time by Lt. General Curtis E. LeMay.

By 1961, 50% of SAC’s bombers and tankers were on 15-minute ground alert, combat ready, and armed for nuclear combat, along with a classified number of nuclear-armed bombers that were constantly airborne. It was then that the Airborne Command Post’s Looking Glass mission was launched.

In order to control from the sky all SAC’s bombers and missiles, an EC-135 flew at all times with the capacity to mirror (hence the name Looking Glass) the command-and-control functions of SAC’s Nebraska headquarters. This maneuver rendered an attack by the Soviet Union on SAC’s headquarters useless. By 1964, the number of missiles on alert equaled the number of bombers. Eventually, the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICMBs) were replaced with Titan ICBMs, followed by Minuteman ICBMs.

The end of the Cold War, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, concluded the Looking Glass missions in 1991. By June 1992, SAC had become the U.S. Strategic Command.

Military decides to close RAFB

With the end of SAC came downsizing at many U.S. military bases around the world. Having heard in 1970 that RAFB would be closed, the Puerto Rico government aggressively lobbied for the land. In 1972, the land was turned over to the government and renamed Punta Borinquen.

While nearly 800 jobs were lost as a result of RAFB’s closing, the Air Force granted $10 million in compensation for civilians left unemployed. Over the next year, several companies established operations on the former base, including Digital Equipment Co., which created 200 jobs.

However, management of the entire property was and remains fragmented. The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. took over the base’s residential housing and promoted the area to manufacturing companies, while the Department of Sports & Recreation managed the 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, and two swimming pools. The Ports Authority still manages the airport’s 11,700-foot-long runway and adjacent hangars and buildings.

In 1979, after community members complained about vandalism and robberies at Punta Borinquen, a bill creating the Punta Borinquen Administration & Development Authority (PBADA) was signed into law by then Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo. One of the PBADA’s accomplishments was the elimination of the U.S. Department of Defense’s expropriation clause, making it possible to sell homes on the base.

However, political power struggles and failed attempts to establish a solid manufacturing industry have hindered the area’s economic development. Operations by DeLorean Motors, Ahrens Aircraft Corp., Lynes Caribbean Inc., Bromon Corp., and even Digital left the island in the 1980s, citing the lack of initiative to promote the land’s industrial use. Another criticism was the poor upkeep and administration of Rafael Hernandez Airport, as the aviation facility has been renamed.

The base’s management has since reverted to the local government. The Ports Authority hasn’t been able to handle the upkeep of the airport and the remaining structures don’t meet the needs of manufacturing companies, which require a modern, high-tech infrastructure.

The government has recently been trying to tie Punta Borinquen to the TechnoEconomic Corridor, which extends along the eastern coast from Aguadilla to Ponce, and to the Port of the Americas. Plans are for the facility to become a transportation and communications hub, with residential housing, hotel and tourism activities, commercial space, and Free Trade Zones or industrial parks that create value-added activities.

Redevelopment of military bases is a continuing process

Northeast Texas’ Red River Commerce Park

Northeast Texas’ Red River Commerce Park (RRCP) came about as a result of the Red River Army Depot’s realignment in 1995," said Duane Lavery, executive director of the Red River Redevelopment Authority. "Since the base was in an unincorporated area, the 765-acre site was consigned to the local county judge and commissioners’ court. Legislation was passed in 1997 setting up the Red River Redevelopment Authority to make an economic development plan that could be implemented."

The RRCP board has 15 members representing the county and the surrounding cities. Of the 765 acres, 250 were transferred to a private company that runs a golf course, restaurant, and day-care facility. The remaining 500 acres are for mixed-use facilities. "While the realignment caused the loss of 800 direct and 1,200 indirect jobs, we were able to retain 400 jobs. We continue marketing approximately 150,000 square feet of space and expect to create four jobs per every 1,000 square feet leased," said Lavery.

When asked to identify the key to RRCP’s successful economic recovery, Lavery said, "A board primarily made up of private businesspeople. Government representatives tend to be political and can hinder the decision-making process. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight. You have to be patient and remember that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) moves very slowly and prepare for that."

Fort Ord Reuse Authority

Recognized by the Department of Defense in 1993 as a national model for base conversion, California’s Fort Ord transformation into an economic development community has been progressing since the base’s closing in 1994 under the BRAC program.

At the time of its closure, Fort Ord, a 45-square-mile, 28,000-acre facility in North Monterey County, was the largest active military installation in the U.S. As soon as the base’s closing was announced, local community leaders began developing a base reuse plan. By the time the plan was finished, California had passed state legislation to create the governing body called Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA).

"Fort Ord was a very large installation that affected such cities as Marina, Seaside, Carmel, Del Rey Oaks, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Salinas, and Sand City," said Michael Houlemard, executive officer of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority. "FORA will develop about 7,000 acres; plans call for approximately 11,000 housing units for various income levels along with schools, recreation areas, and other commercial services. In addition, we are ready to build four hotels to complement two golf courses that had already been redesigned."

About 15,000 acres were turned into a major conservation area for endangered species. Another 6,000 acres were ceded to the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) to build new educational facilities. CSU’s Monterey Bay campus opened in August 1995 and has created about 4,000 jobs. UC is building a Research & Development Park that will create 5,000 jobs.

"So far, we have created 1,700 new jobs after losing 15,000 soldiers and 7,500 civilian workers. Our plans are to have 18,000 new jobs by 2017," said Houlemard. "The DOD’s Office of Economic Adjustment has already awarded us a $35 million grant to establish infrastructure plans and development. CSU was also granted $71 million to create training programs for displaced workers. With at least 54% of future R&D jobs requiring bachelors’ or masters’ degrees, plus close to $7 billion worth of construction in the future, adequate skilled labor will be needed."

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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