Congress Takes On Fort Ord's Problems
Congressional committee of one hears ideas about Fort Ord.
Thursday, August 30, 2001
This week, while the U.S. Army has been ringing a former gunnery range at Fort Ord with yet more fences to keep the public out, politicians and bureaucrats talked about increased public use of the decommissioned fort.
The U.S. Congress'' Committee on Government Reform convened a hearing on Tuesday morning in the Monterey City Council meeting hall to get a progress report on Fort Ord. More than 100 people from government, the military, media and advocacy groups attended.
One of the ready complaints about the closure, cleanup and reuse of Fort Ord has to do with the confusing levels of government involved. According to testimony, no fewer than 53 government agencies are involved somehow with Fort Ord.
Monterey Mayor Dan Albert, Marina Mayor Jim Perrine, Seaside Mayor Jerry Smith, as well as Michael Houlemard, director of the base reuse authority, testified before the committee, which consisted of a single congressman, Stephen Horn of Long Beach. Rep. Sam Farr of Carmel, kicked off the testimony, then joined Horn on the dais.
Amidst what''s become a governmental-environmental-economic quagmire at the former Army post, the panel of politicians as well as a panel of bureaucrats were called on to explain and complain. At times the language was as elusive as solutions to the problems.
Awash in a murky pond of words and phrases describing "methodology" that might "negatively impact" "issues," and a "multifaceted approach" to deal with the "varied array" of "myriad" "complexities," were a few floaters that offered a clearer glimpse of the problems. Every now and then words such as "contaminated," "devastation," "disaster," "asbestos," and "ghost town" surfaced.
Truth be told, two bureaucrats uttered the clearest assessments of Fort Ord. Raymond Fatz, deputy assistant Secretary of the Army, told the congressional panel "closing bases is not cheap and it takes time." True, according to an Aug. 28 report from the General Accounting Office that puts the environmental clean-up of closed bases after 2001 at an estimated $3.4 billion.
Offering the same kind of clarity as Fatz was Keith A. Takata, the director of the EPA''s Superfund unit. In explaining some of the frustrations with stalled progress at the base, Takata said, "the reuse plan got way ahead of the cleanup plan."
But even while political leaders on the Peninsula look to the old base to solve local problems like the affordable housing shortage, the Army is trying to protect the public from mortal dangers at the fort.
Right now the Army is beefing up fences around the Multi Range Area. The 8,000-acre former gunnery range already has multiple layers of fences and rolls of barbed concertina wire in place. But Kay Rodriguez, spokesperson for the Presidio of Monterey, says the additional barbed concertina wire has been installed over the past few months. "They''ve been making it as secure as possible to discourage people from going in," she says.