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Coast Is Clear: The Navy Steps Up Operations In Key West, Ending Debate About Its Role There…Navy To Dredge, Deepen Harbor

Coast Is Clear: The Navy Steps Up Operations In Key West, Ending Debate About Its Role There

by David Villano

Florida Trend

September 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Gale Group Inc. All rights reserved.

A decade ago, the Navy base in Key West, once a key player in the Cold War, was in shrink mode. Bits and pieces of the sprawling base were deemed obsolete, and many were transferred to city or county control. In 1995, the Defense Department downgraded the base's status from Naval Air Station to Naval Air Facility, a designation that left many wondering if the Navy's near 200-year history on this tiny island was coming to an end.

They're wondering no more. Earlier this year, Navy officials announced that the "station" designation would return to the base, along with about 300 military personnel shipped out during the 1990s. The redeployment will nearly double the Navy's presence on the island, Navy officials say. The military is spending an estimated $110 million on new barracks, runway expansions, a new flight control tower and other projects.

"This will be a tremendous boost to the economy, not just through Navy spending but also, we hope, in the creation of civilian jobs," says Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley.

Key West's redesignation is a response to the Navy's new Training Resource Strategy, a year-old counterterrorism plan. Key West's importance also increased following the Navy's decision to vacate Puerto Rico's Vieques island.

Many islanders feared that the base would be among dozens of installations mothballed during the next round of base realignments and closings--known as BRAC--scheduled for 2005. During three previous rounds, the Pentagon chose 97 major U.S. bases for closure and 55 for realignment. Among them: Miami-Dade's Homestead Air Force Base, Jacksonville's Cecil Field Naval Air Station and the Orlando Naval Training Center.

While some analysts expect Florida--home to 21 major military installations--to fare well during the next round, Gov. Jeb Bush is taking no chances. He's assembled an advisory council "dream team" of executives and retired military leaders to help maneuver through the upcoming process.

The state has also spent $15 million since 1999 to upgrade defense infrastructure and is emerging as a hub for joint military command and control. U.S. Central Command--which oversees the Iraq war and other Middle East activities--is based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa; in 1997, the U.S. Southern Command, which directs all military activities in Central and South America and the Caribbean, moved from Panama to Miami.

Navy To Dredge, Deepen Harbor

Silt in Key West Harbor will be hauled away to allow additional Navy vessels to fit through the city's channel.


October 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

KEY WEST - For the first time in 40 years, the Navy plans to dredge Key West's harbor and remove the equivalent of 42,000 dumpster truckloads of silt, which is kicked up in plumes whenever a cruise ship comes in.

The $36 million project is slated to begin by December and last 18 months, Capt. Jim Scholl said Tuesday at a meeting of the Large Ship Working Group, a subgroup of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council.

The roughly 850,000 cubic yards of silt will be divided up and hauled to two locations: sand and rock will be deposited 13 miles at sea, and sludge will be shipped to a Navy site on Fleming Key, an island that itself was created by dredge spoils.

The Navy wants to restore the harbor's depth to 34 feet so its destroyers and cruisers can fit through the city's channel, and expects that the deepened harbor will draw an additional five or six Navy vessels a year.

Demand for access to Key West has increased because the Navy's Atlantic Fleet is moving its training exercises from Vieques, Puerto Rico, to bases along the Eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico. More training sites are also needed because of the war with Iraq, Scholl said.

''We need a larger playground, and Key West is in fairly good strategic location,'' Scholl said.

Earlier plans to ship the loose sediment out by a massive pipe were deemed too expensive and abandoned.

Bob Nelson, a spokesman with the Navy's southeast region, said the dumping site in the ocean was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, and that the dried out silt on Fleming Key will be used as fill.

Despite the projected increase in harbor activity, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary welcomes the project because it will mean clearer waters, according to agency spokeswoman Cheva Heck.

''The tradeoff is it's going to dredge the harbor, and in terms of Navy ships, it's not such a big deal,'' Heck said.

Silt particles suspended in the Keys' waters madden fishermen and vex divers, and immense clouds of loose bottom sediment are churned up when cruise ships pull into Key West, Heck said.

The Navy says the dredging will remove much of the loose sediment.

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