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Roosevelt Roads Bill Changed At 11th Hour

Most Parties In Puerto Rico Satisfied With New Version As Approved By Both Houses Of Congress


October 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The U.S. Senate’s eleventh-hour change to the bill that would close U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba in six months has been generally well received in Puerto Rico, albeit with some reservations about the new provisions.

As CARIBBEAN BUSINESS reported on Sept. 25, the Senate- House Conference Committee had agreed on an accelerated timetable for the closure of Roosevelt Roads as outlined in the original House version submitted by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and passed by the entire House. Considered onerous to Puerto Rico, it raised eyebrows in Washington as well as in Puerto Rico because, as one person involved in the deliberations said, "it could have resulted in a situation where Roosevelt Roads would have been auctioned off to the highest bidder."

A number of congressional staffers said the vote approving the revised version in the Senate was impressive (95-0), indicating there was general acceptance of the process of completely reversing Lewis’ original proposals. One of the exceptions regards the implementation of the closing that the bill indicates shall be carried out in accordance with the Defense Base Realignment & Closure Act of 1990, usually referred to as the BRAC provisions. "The next round of BRAC closings is scheduled for 2005, and the provisions now within the six-month timetable would require an additional authorization of Congress," said one Senate staffer.

Jeffrey Farrow, co-chairman of the White House Interagency Task Force on Puerto Rico in the Clinton administration, doesn’t see moving up the BRAC process as much of a problem "since there aren’t many jurisdictions in the U.S. looking to close bases." According to Farrow, closing Roosevelt Roads will take a lot longer than the six months in the timetable outlined in the original House version submitted by Lewis. "[Defense officials’] attitude was that a six-month period was entirely too short to execute all of the provisions," he said.

A number of observers of the process indicate that Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila was the loser in the final version, which they feel favors the proposal of gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rossello for the use of Roosevelt Roads. They said Acevedo basically favored using the land for tourism development, while Rossello has proposed Roosevelt Roads as the site for a transshipment port.

"By folding the decision into the 2005 BRAC process, the new version has effectively insured that it will be easier for the next governor of Puerto Rico to aim for his vision for the future use of Roosevelt Roads," said one observer. "Rossello wanted to wait for the BRAC process, whereas Acevedo Vila wanted action now. So in that regard, Rossello is the winner and Acevedo Vila the loser."

Farrow said there are two provisions that will likely remain in place. "One would allocate 150 acres for the U.S. Army for Reserve training and the other is for the transfer of certain wetlands to the U.S. Department of the Interior for natural resources protection," he said.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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