By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
The permit would have allowed Dade County to build a system of drains and marshes to treat polluted stormwater flowing from the base. A modest beginning, to be sure, but a significant first step in the minds of South Dade residents for whom Hurricane Andrew remains a daily economic reality five years after the storm.
Yet as the Homestead contingent learned soon after their arrival at the May 15 meeting, the board wasn't going to vote: A coalition of conservationists had filed a legal challenge to the permit. An attorney for the district announced that the challenge would delay the permit at least another ten months to a year and a half. The prediction elicited a communal groan from the Homestead travelers clustered toward the front of the crowded meeting room. Several conservationists sitting nearby smiled smugly.
Although powerless to do anything about the environmentalists' parry, the governing board opened the microphones for public comment, and Romero, who owns a lumber company in Homestead, stepped forward. "When that gentleman said 'ten months,'" she told the governing board, "it was like a dagger right through my heart."
Romero's frustration was particularly understandable considering that, four years ago, then-deputy secretary of defense William Perry stood before Homestead community leaders and residents and publicly proclaimed that the air base was to be one of four "model bases" that would serve as national examples of how to convert out-of-date military facilities to civilian use. The designation, he promised, put Homestead on a "fast track" and would ensure greater government support in the effort to transform the facility into a joint military/civilian operation featuring a commercial airport.
Romero held up a sheet of posterboard on which was plastered an enlarged photocopy of an article from the Miami Herald describing Perry's announcement. Date: July 8, 1993. "Air Base Put on Fast Track for Renewal." "Today is May 15, 1997 -- four years later," she declared, her glare sweeping the members of the governing board. "I don't know what the meaning of 'fast' is, but I don't think that's what Webster's dictionary intended."
The redevelopment, in fact, is now in more doubt than ever. At the time of Perry's 1993 pronouncement, the plan seemed so straightforward: The federal government would hand over the property to Dade County, which would retain a private company to build and operate a commercial airport to serve South Dade and relieve overcrowding at Miami International Airport. County leaders quickly settled on a development group, Homestead Air Base Developers Inc. (HABDI), to which they awarded a controversial no-bid lease. And instead of following the customary regulatory procedure for permit approval, they resolved to implement a new process that promised to be much faster, if less comprehensive. The plan was moving along at a rapid clip.
Too rapid, as it turned out, for its own good. The initial haste prompted myriad environmental questions and challenges, which have slowed the conversion process to a standstill. The project is now on the verge of suffocation, caught in a political scrum.
The chaos involves several groups, and conflict often erupts within them as well as between them: environmentalists striving to protect the sanctity of two nearby national parks but divided about how to do it; the developers, politically influential but perhaps lacking both the experience and the financial wherewithal to accomplish their task; local, state, and federal agencies grappling with complex regulatory issues and with each other; South Dade residents still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Andrew and desperate for economic salvation, although quarreling about how to achieve it; and politicians -- from Homestead City Hall to the White House -- juggling the concerns of all these factions and saddled with plenty of concerns of their own, not least of which is political fallout in the next election.
The national implications of the Homestead air base redevelopment have become even more intense for the Clinton administration in recent weeks: This past month the Pentagon threatened more base closings. For those communities soon facing base closings of their own, the state of affairs in Homestead will offer little solace. Once a national model, the project is now a national embarrassment.
Two weeks ago Alan Farago spent a long weekend on an island in Maine. "I have to get out of here for a while," he moaned on the eve of his departure from Miami. He said he was exhausted. Barbara Lange has her own Maine vacation planned: She's leaving in August and says she can't wait.
Farago is a member of the Sierra Club's Miami chapter; Lange is vice-president of Friends of the Everglades. They are two of the local environmentalists who have been bird-dogging the base redevelopment process for months (in Farago's case, years) attending meetings, writing memos, and mobilizing support. "The government grinds you down with process until you're so bored sitting in these meetings that you feel like you're losing your mind," a weary Lange is wont to say these days. "If it's boring, nobody's going to report on it, and the public won't realize what's really going on." The irony is that nobody has used the process better than Lange, Farago, and their ilk. Had they not paid any attention to the issue, the base may already have been in the county's hands by now.
And, the activists maintain, South Florida's two national parks, Everglades and Biscayne, would be heading quickly toward ruin.
It was Lange's close reading of a federal environmental document that helped entangle the base conveyance. The study, called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), was undertaken by the air force in 1993 (and completed less than a year later) to assess the environmental repercussions of developing a commercial airport on the base. Required by federal law, such studies are designed to analyze the potential consequences of federal actions; they become the basis of public discussion and agency planning and help set limits on the development process.
Lange, a 44-year-old former stockbroker and now self-described Coconut Grove housewife, noticed several major deficiencies in the base study. For one thing, it inadequately evaluated the environmental impacts of noise, pollution, and secondary development. To make matters worse, it was based on a plan for a smaller airport, having been prepared months before HABDI submitted its proposal for the 1360-acre property, which is to include not only an international airport but also office buildings, warehouses, and hotels. Further, Lange and her fellow activists concluded, a big new airport was in conflict with the federal government's one-billion-dollar Everglades restoration plans.
This past fall, just as federal officials were preparing to transfer the base to the county, a coalition of regional and national conservation groups demanded that the air force redo the study or face a lawsuit. The demand came in the form of a letter to Secretary of Defense William Perry (who was replaced by William Cohen earlier this year) that the environmentalists also copied widely throughout the upper echelons of the federal government. It caught the White House by surprise. "It was the first time in our experience that the Homestead issue and the Everglades issue were brought together," admits Thomas C. Jensen, who was then an associate director of President Clinton's environmental advisory committee. "In retrospect, it's a little hard to know how we missed it. I think the most appropriate explanation is that there were government officials in South Florida and in the federal agencies aware of the potential for a problem, but the issue had not risen to crisis level yet. Some issues just stay below the radar for a very long time."
After a series of high-level meetings, the administration agreed to review the EIS to assess whether there was a need for more scrutiny. According to Jensen, President Clinton personally signed off on the decision. The review is expected to be completed by August; a supplemental EIS, if called for, would take at least another twelve to eighteen months. And the base transfer, meanwhile, would have to wait.
The environmentalists have also contested the transfer at the state and local levels, where the essence of their challenge remains the same: Complete the necessary environmental studies before deeding the land to the county, issuing permits, and starting construction.
At the core of the conservationists' opposition is concern for the well-being of Biscayne National Park, located in Atlantic waters two miles east of the base, and Everglades National Park, ten miles to the west. This concern has mobilized an impressive amount of activity among a broad-based coalition of local, regional, and national groups in South Florida, Tallahassee, Washington, D.C., and New York. And banish visions of Birkenstocks and tree-hugging hippies: This campaign comes complete with lawyers, lobbyists, a burgeoning war chest -- and even its own Washington insider or two.
"It's not a fringe action," comments Nathaniel Reed, a very unfringelike environmentalist from Hobe Sound who was Assistant Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Nixon and Ford and who is seemingly on a first-name basis with at least half of political Washington, D.C. "This is a very serious issue, and we're prepared to fight it out." Environmentalists are drumming up support around the region; they have even drawn the wealthy denizens of Key Largo's Ocean Reef Club into the fray by raising the specter of a polluted Biscayne Bay and of commercial jets buzzing the posh resort.
But the environmental bloc is far from homogenous. For example, while there's consensus among the dozens of groups involved in Everglades restoration that the federal government should undertake a supplemental EIS, there's no consensus about how to effect this end. Only fifteen groups signed on to a letter to the air force threatening a lawsuit if a supplemental EIS isn't completed. Most notable for its absence was the deep-pocketed and influential National Audubon Society, which maintains an office in Miami devoted to Everglades restoration issues. (The local and state Audubon groups, Tropical Audubon and Florida Audubon, also deferred.) The abstentions engendered resentment among other environmental groups whose leaders feel that nothing short of a supplemental EIS will stave off a federal lawsuit and who believe the effort to check the base development needs a more unified front.
A frustrated Stuart Strahl, executive director of National Audubon's Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Campaign, says that before the demand letter was sent to Perry, his group had publicly announced its desire for a supplemental EIS in a more benign missive to Clinton signed by more than 40 environmental groups. Litigation, Strahl says, didn't seem to be the most constructive way to proceed. As a result he has had to fend off accusations that he has sold out to the developers. "I've listened to enough conference calls and veiled threats and accusations that we're receiving large donations from some numbered account," he grumbles.
HABDI and supporters of base redevelopment have been trying to exploit this internecine discord, calling the litigious faction "extremist" and accusing them of wantonly impeding the process in hopes of killing the project. "'Progress' is not throwing any kind of monkey wrench that they can find into the process," asserts Steve Shiver, a Homestead councilman who has lobbied to get the redevelopment going. The lawsuit-minded activists, whose ranks include Lange and Farago, deny that they are waging a war of attrition. The challenges, they say, stand on firm legal and moral foundations, and blame should be laid at the feet of the Metro Commission, which felt compelled to accelerate redevelopment rather than take a more cautious route.
"This is not about abstractions," argues Joe Browder, a Washington, D.C., environmental consultant and a director of Friends of the Everglades. "This is about the health of Biscayne Bay, the health of the Everglades."
Browder's memory is long, his passion deep. He grew up in Miami and, though a Washington resident for decades, has spent much of his time waging environmental battles in South Florida. One of his most vivid recollections is of Dade County's aborted attempt in the late 1960s to build an airport in what is today Big Cypress National Preserve. After Browder spearheaded a civic uprising against the plan, President Nixon stepped in and killed the project.
There have been plenty of others, with a heavy concentration in the Greater Homestead area. "South Dade has always seen itself as the stepchild of economic development in Dade County and, as a result, has traditionally tried for that kind of development that no other part of the county would want or have," asserts Browder, who rattles off a list of projects, some of which succeeded in getting off the drawing board, others of which failed, and all of which threatened the natural ecosystem: a petrochemical plant (failed), a nuclear reactor (succeeded), a seaport (failed), a rocket-testing facility (succeeded). The redevelopment of the base, Browder notes, is merely the most recent such proposal.
As he sees it, the stakes are particularly high in this fight: The way the federal government handles the issue will stand as a litmus test for how future challenges are confronted.
"One of our country's gifts to the world is the concept of national parks, places of such extraordinary value that they can't -- and won't -- be compromised by local development, no matter what the temptation, because these special places belong to the nation," Browder says. He contends that, with the Homestead deal, the Clinton administration is capitulating to local development pressures and abdicating, as the protector of national parks, its responsibilities -- the first and foremost of which would be to do a thorough EIS. "When the White House flagrantly ignores the laws designed to protect those national parks," he warns, "that's not a good sign for national parks anywhere in the country."
Among the scores of people who jammed the meeting room of the Water Management District's governing board along with Homestead merchant Julie Romero this past month was Miguel DeGrandy, a former state legislator who is now an attorney for HABDI. The development group had been counting on the board to approve the permit allowing construction to finally begin. The approval, of course, didn't come. DeGrandy was furious but publicly defiant. The environmentalists, he seethed, would not defeat the project. "They may succeed in killing South Dade's economy," he told New Times, "but they won't succeed in killing the airport."
Several days later DeGrandy took the bad news to HABDI's board of directors. It probably wasn't a chore he looked forward to: HABDI's board meetings had become increasingly marked by acrimony and dissension, and optimism among shareholders was on the wane. All remaining hope delicately hung on the permit approval. And HABDI's president, Carlos Herrera, had done his best to salvage the group's morale, confidently predicting passage of the permit.
But as DeGrandy described how the environmentalists had succeeded in delaying the development, the board members went numb. The shock soon turned to anger and feelings of betrayal. Herrera, they felt, had misled them with his blind optimism.
According to two well-informed sources involved with HABDI, who requested anonymity, board member Pedro Adrian was particularly upset. (Neither Herrera nor Adrian returned phone calls seeking comment for this story.) Adrian had agreed to invest in HABDI in January 1996 at Herrera's urging; now he was wondering how he might pull out. He demanded to know how much longer he and his fellow investors were supposed to continue sinking their money into a project that offered no foreseeable return. He even instructed HABDI's attorney not to cash his quarterly dues check until he had time to consider his options.
Then, sources say, Adrian demanded that HABDI's budget be trimmed and zeroed in on Herrera's $350,000 annual salary. Adrian and the other board members argued that it made no sense to continue paying the president so much money for a project that was in limbo. Adrian said he would support paying Herrera his salary for the next three months -- out of fairness -- but after that the president should be prepared to take a substantial pay cut.
Another indication that HABDI is in organizational disarray: According to state records, the corporation was officially dissolved this past August 23 after failing to pay an annual $165 fee. An easily rectifiable technicality, but one that bespeaks disorder.
HABDI's seeming financial worries raise a serious question: Can the company afford to weather all the pending -- and future -- environmental reviews and potential litigation? The outcome of the battle could come down to the matter of whose pockets are deeper, HABDI's or the environmentalists'. And each side's motivations are fundamentally different: HABDI is in the fight to make money, while the environmental community is willing to sacrifice money, without profit motive, to protect the Everglades and Biscayne Bay.
HABDI's reversal of fortune is startling. In January 1996, county commissioners eschewed the bidding process and awarded the group a 70-year lease to transform most of the base into Dade's number-two commercial airport. At the same time, Herrera began a calculated effort to raise his profile nationally within the Democratic Party, becoming a major campaign contributor and a frequent visitor to the nation's capital. Helping him navigate Washington's inner circles was Marvin Rosen, finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee and a partner in the Miami law firm Greenberg Traurig. With Rosen's help, Herrera gained access to both President Clinton and members of his administration, including Transportation Secretary Federico Pena.
Today those contacts are all but useless. Pena is no longer transportation secretary. The Democratic Party's campaign finance scandal has left Rosen a virtual pariah in Washington, and owing to a January 10 article in the New York Times in which Herrera credited Rosen for helping him gain access to White House policymakers, HABDI's name now bears the national taint of disrepute. "We are not as strong as we once were nationally," a HABDI source privately admits.
Quietly, HABDI is trying to solicit support from new quarters in Washington, most notably U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli and U.S. Rep. Bob Menendez. A source familiar with HABDI's inner workings divulges that Herrera has lobbied the two New Jersey Democrats to pressure the Clinton administration into speeding up the base transfer. Torricelli and Menendez have strong ties to South Florida's Cuban-American community and, during their most recent election campaigns, each received thousands of dollars in financial support from members of the powerful Latin Builders Association, of which Herrera is chairman.
Menendez, the highest-ranking Hispanic in Congress, says that during a recent trip to Miami he met separately with Herrera and Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, an inveterate HABDI supporter, to discuss the transfer. "They both explained to me the nature of what was going on," the congressman recalls. "I said I would look into it. I made no promises. I said I understood their concerns regarding economic development but that I was also concerned about the environmental issues." Menendez has since spoken to members of the Clinton administration. "I'm satisfied that the administration is taking a balanced approach to this issue, and that is what I plan to tell Carlos [Herrera] and Alex Penelas." As for Torricelli, a spokesman for the senator says he is unaware of any action the senator might be taking on the Homestead issue (although he did not rule out the possibility that Torricelli might become involved).
That HABDI appears to be floundering only confirms the long-held doubts of County Commissioner Katy Sorenson, whose district includes Homestead. Sorenson, who was on the losing side of the 9-4 vote that gave HABDI the lease, says the entire deal has been hindered by the commission's decision to introduce a private firm into the equation at the beginning of the process. "The way to avoid this was to get the conveyance from the feds first and then start talking about how we are going to develop the base," she asserts. "But by doing this completely backwards, we had a flawed process, so all of these complications became inevitable. Nowhere else in the country has a developer gotten involved in the conveyance process."
Even Sorenson knows that, with or without HABDI, complications would have arisen. Consider this: Apart from all the private and community interests, more than a dozen local, state, and federal agencies have been deeply involved in the base transfer. In other words, more than a dozen huge, process-clogged, red tape-bound agencies, all with their own -- albeit overlapping -- sets of concerns and responsibilities.
Conveying ownership of the base from the air force to the county involves two ongoing processes, federal and state. Federal officials are trying to ensure that, once they turn over the base, development and use of the land is compatible with state and federal plans to restore the Everglades. At the end of this past year, the Department of the Interior appointed a group of representatives from local, state, and federal agencies to draw up a recommended list of actions the agencies should take -- studying the effect of airplane traffic on wildlife, for example, or designating a stormwater treatment system to eliminate polluted runoff -- before handing over the base to Dade County. This past week the coalition, known as the Homestead Air Force Base Issue Team, finalized its recommendations. Top-level federal administrators will eventually settle on a final list, which will take the form of deed restrictions.
A separate but related part of the federal process is the review of the EIS. Clinton's environmental advisory committee is overseeing that review, which is being conducted by the air force. Eventually the air force, in consultation with other federal agencies, will decide whether to conduct a supplemental EIS. As with every other faction embroiled in the Homestead debacle, there's division among the federal agencies, too. For instance, the Department of the Interior (which operates Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park) has maintained all along that a supplemental EIS is needed, while the air force has steadfastly argued the opposite.
Matters are equally knotty in the state process, in which a plethora of government agencies, along with HABDI and numerous environmental groups, are reviewing the development plan, trying to come to an agreement about how to ensure compatibility with the surrounding community and to limit impact on natural resources.
While the state and federal processes aren't legally intertwined, many of the same issues are being debated at both levels. One specific and highly controversial issue: the so-called Military Canal, a two-mile-long drainage ditch that runs from the air base straight into the bay waters of Biscayne National Park. After years of sampling, county and state biologists determined that the canal is contaminated with heavy metals and organic chemicals; scientists from both jurisdictions have concluded that the contaminants are probably having a harmful impact on the bay. But county officials go further, tracing the pollutants back to the base -- to more than 40 years of spilled jet fuel and other hazardous material -- and assert that because the property has been in federal hands all that time, the federal government should be responsible for cleanup. (The state has not pinpointed a pollution source.)
The issue is even more Hydra-headed at the federal level. The Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration acknowledge the seriousness of the contamination problem and believe it is harming the park. But the air force and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disagree; both maintain that it is impossible to determine the source of the pollutants or whether they are having a deleterious impact on the bay. Until recently air force and EPA officials had dug in their heels and refused to budge. But at the prodding of Clinton's chief environmental advisor Kathleen McGinty, the agencies have begun to work with Dade and the state to settle the canal issue.
Comments Carlos Espinosa, assistant director of Metro-Dade's Department of Environmental Resources Management: "If we can reach consensus, then we can work with the federal government to find solutions."
Consensus. The buzzword of the moment, the possible salvation of the process, the bureaucrat's fantasy. But as the Homestead Air Force Base Issue Team has demonstrated, consensus can be stretched to absurd lengths. To wit: As part of its recommendation that the county draw up a wildlife protection plan as a condition of the property transfer, the team wrote, "Nesting opportunities along the runway will be investigated."
So far the biggest losers in the air base tussle are the residents and business owners of Homestead. Not to mention the former residents and business owners of Homestead. Having been pounded by the ferocious one-two punch of Hurricane Andrew and the ensuing base scale-back, the city has stumbled economically ever since.
Initially the population of Greater Homestead took a dramatic fall; only recently has it climbed back to pre-storm levels. But as a spokesman for First National Bank of Homestead told the Water Management District governing board at the May 15 meeting, the numbers don't reveal a more daunting fact: The area lost most of its middle class. The Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce has seen the region's hardship reflected in its own membership rolls: 825 before the hurricane and base closure; a little more than 400 after. (That number is back to more than 700 but will inevitably plummet again owing to scores of businesses that can't pay the annual dues, reports Kim Sovia, the chamber's president and CEO.)
But the hurricane-base double whammy was sudden, and the community had no choice but to adjust and rebuild. More insidious has been the tantalizing prospect of the economic benefit an airport would bring, an unfulfilled promise that has caused considerable psychological damage to the community.
Take Julie Romero, the woman who addressed the governing board of the Water Management District. She and her husband Jose "Manny" Romero, Jr., have watched their lumberyard decline since the base closed; she estimates the closure cost them about 30 percent of their business. "What we need is the airport development," declares Romero, whose husband is also a three percent investor in HABDI. "Where else is our economic engine going to come from?"
But Joseph F. Grimes II, a management consultant who is chairman-elect of Chamber South (a chamber of commerce that covers Kendall, South Miami, and South Dade), cautions against such a narrow focus. Recognizing that neither the redevelopment nor its eventual success is a certainty, Grimes says, Homestead's business community has begun developing plans to attract alternative business to the area. "We have to, because if we sit back and wait, we could be waiting a long time," he asserts. "I think the residents of South Dade have oversimplified things. Homestead is not going to be saved by this effort in any short-term way. And it's no guarantee that it's going to be the savior in the long term. That needs to be understood clearly by everyone, especially the Homestead people."
While Grimes believes that redevelopment should be allowed to go forward even as the environmental reviews are taking place, not everyone in South Dade agrees with him. Some, such as a consortium of homeowner groups called the South Dade Community Council, insist that the necessary environmental studies should be completed before the transfer takes place. (The council even wrote to the White House requesting a supplemental EIS.) And others cry, To hell with the environmentalists, bring on the bulldozers! "Folks down here view the environmentalists as nothing but carpetbaggers," says Tom Kirby, executive director of the Dade County Farm Bureau, an agricultural trade group. "They come down here, tell us how we should be living, what we should be doing, and tell us what our destinies should be, and people resent that."
Concludes Grimes: "It's an unacceptable impasse. We need leadership to step into this breach."
It's difficult not to feel for the people of Homestead and South Dade, and politicians have lined up to express their compassion. But cynics would argue that there's more at work here than simply the desire to perk up spirits and a flagging economy, namely, the possibility of electoral dividends.
In an April 7 letter to his acquaintances, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and gubernatorial candidate Florida Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, environmentalist Nathaniel Reed cautioned that policy should not be sacrificed for politics. He pointed out that, in Florida this past year, Bill Clinton managed to secure the highest percentage of votes of any Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter -- including a remarkable 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, two-thirds of which is located in Dade. How did Clinton do it? Reed asked rhetorically. "The president made frequent trips to Miami," he wrote. "He dined with important Hispanic leaders. He took a strong stand when Castro's air force shot down two unarmed civilian planes, he met with the grieving families, and he promised Homestead Air Force Base would be turned over to Dade County to stimulate economic development.
"Some believe the 'deal' has already been made," Reed's letter went on. "In return for their vote, the Hispanic developers will be delivered Homestead. Others believe that neither the vice president, Secretary Babbitt, nor [EPA] Administrator [Carol] Browner would sacrifice two national parks regardless of the president's campaign promises."
In conversation, Reed elaborates on this analysis and applies it to upcoming elections: A candidate's support for air base redevelopment means support for HABDI, which could translate into political and financial backing from the influential Latin Builders Association, which could result in Cuban-American votes. And the two candidates who would most benefit from such support would be MacKay and Vice President Al Gore (who is almost certain to run for president in 2000). "If either of them can repeat the invasion of the Cuban-American vote in Dade County," Reed speculates, "it would probably carry the State of Florida for Gore and would probably elect Buddy MacKay governor."
The media consultant for MacKay's campaign, Ron Sachs, bristles at the suggestion that political motivations underpin his boss's involvement in Homestead. "Nothing Buddy MacKay does in the public-policy realm is linked to any sort of analysis of what is the political advantage or disadvantage of doing it," Sachs proclaims. "Buddy MacKay believes that conducting good public policy is its own best reward, and if by following that kind of principle there is a benefit, that is by happenstance."
Of course, Sachs acknowledges, benefits from an attempt to expedite the base development could come in the form of campaign contributions from the Latin Builders Association and its members. "There probably will be some political fallout from this that is positive," he concedes.
For the politicians -- in particular the Democrats -- whose responsibilities include Homestead, the transfer presents a difficult balancing act between political exigency (the fear of alienating Cuban Americans by impeding Herrera and HABDI) and policy declarations (party-line support of environmental issues).
Sen. Bob Graham has been following the developing controversy particularly closely. His involvement has involved occasional phone calls to Clinton's environmental advisor Kathleen McGinty and, according to several participants, a very heated meeting with McGinty and several other federal and state officials, during which the senator yelled at the advisor and cautioned her against delaying the EIS review.
"Senator Graham has been trying to figure out how to get the groups together and reach a compromise that will facilitate economic development while at the same time protect the environment," says Graham's press secretary Kimberly James. "It's not easy, but being a senator often puts him in that kind of difficult position." U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek says she too has been on the phone "several times" to McGinty's office to ensure that the review isn't delayed unnecessarily. "I'm trying to be an intervenor and a convener," Meek explains. "The whole thing has been disappointing."
Political pressure on the Clinton administration to unravel the Homestead debacle is particularly great with the looming possibility of further base closings. (Since 1990, the Pentagon has closed more than 240 bases; on May 19, the agency unveiled its most recent plan to scale back U.S. military operations, including two new rounds of closures.) But the administration is facing a credibility problem in this arena. Of the four so-called model bases that were supposed to set a national example for seamless, efficient transition, three have imploded. The fourth is Homestead.
In Fort Ord, California, officials could not resolve the environmental and political pressure against turning the base, located in the hills of the Monterey Peninsula, into a commercial development. The military has given most of the site to the University of California to turn into a campus. In Charleston, South Carolina, infighting has delayed a plan to transform a naval facility into a commercial port. And a naval air base in Alameda, California, was supposed to become a housing-and-commercial development, but those plans have also faltered.
"Homestead was really looked at as the prime example of how to get it done right, how to move through the process, how to get everything ready," comments Alan Rubin, a base-conversion specialist who developed the initial reuse plan in 1993 and later became a consultant to HABDI. "Now when the deputy secretaries take their dog-and-pony shows around to various communities and try to tell them, 'We are here to help you', officials from these communities come back and say, 'Oh, yeah? Well, what happened in Homestead? You were here to help them, too. They did everything right, they got a developer, and now it's blowing up.'"
Rubin recalls how, in the early going, he became something of a featured attraction at meetings of the National Association of Installation Developers, an organization of military base redevelopers. At their conferences, people would approach him to discuss the great things happening in Homestead. "In the beginning I was one of the spokespeople who went around with [the association] as a success story. Now that's stopped," Rubin muses. "I don't do that any more.