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Inhofe Would Freeze $200 Million In Ft. Buchanan Construction Projects
by Lida Estela Ruano
March 23, 2000
A powerful senator's petition to put new construction on hold in U.S. military bases in Puerto Rico could affect close to $200 million in projects in Fort Buchanan. Most of whats been identified for the potential freeze are pending pr ojects to facilitate the relocation of the U.S. Army South (USARSO) which moved here last year from Panama.
While no official order had been received at Ft. Buchanan, it was understood that none of the military projects underway would be affected. Jose Antonio Pagan, Ft. Buchanan spokesman, said that judging from past experience, it would be the new projects, those which have not started, that would be placed on a moratorium should an official order be given.
Last week a source quoted a letter written by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)--who chairs the Armed Services Readiness subcommittee and has assumed a militant stance on the need for the Navy to continue training practices in Vieques--to U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen urging a halt to all new construction on island military bases. A spokesperson for Sen. Inhofe confirmed the letter and suggested related functions at other island sites might have to be moved elsewhere if practices are eliminated on Vieques.
The funds earmarked for local base improvements could be transferred to locations where the training practices take place. Although Cohen has not answered the letter, putting new construction on hold is common practice when a base may be shut down or functions transferred. According to officials at Ft. Buchanan, a similar freeze occurred when there was a possibility the base would close some three years ago.
Among the projects identified by Pagan as likely to be put on hold is the $100 million planned for infrastructure which was slated to begin in 2003. The $25 million renovation of some 260 houses on the base is also likely to be delayed. Pagan explained this entailed the reconstruction of the whole neighborhood, including roads and sidewalks, not just the houses. This had been approved to commence last year but the project was delayed. Another $4 million slated for housing improvements had also been approved for last year but hasnt started yet, Pagan said.
Another costly project which could be frozen is construction of the $12 million USARSO command headquarters. The new command post was targeted to be built in 2002 at a cost of $12.7 million. Other projects that are in the design stage and have not gone out to bid include a $5 million dining hall for soldiers which was to be built in 2003, a $9 million intermediate school, and a $2.3 million child care and development center, the latter slated for 2002. A $1.6 million gas station and a $1.7 million hardware-type store, called Four Seasons Store, to be included in the PX, are also likely to be placed on hold.