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"I have not had an answer from him yet," Shiver continued, apparently referring to the president. "Also I was just handed a letter that is from the mayor -- it's dated today -- which I have not read yet. And this is to the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. And I have not read that yet. This is from the mayor."
"I'd like to get a copy of that letter, please," Sorenson said.
"Absolutely," Shiver replied.
And then, continuing his impression of a TV anchor during a breaking news story, Shiver declared, "I have just been given my schedule" for the trip to Washington. His itinerary, he said, would include meetings with Florida Reps. Peter Deutsch, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Alcee Hastings, as well as Congressmen James Oberstar of Minnesota and John J. Duncan of Tennessee. And he also had a meeting set up with Jimmy Dishner, a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force.
"I just want to make it clear Mr. Manager, I don't question your right to do any of these activities," Sorenson explained. "You have the full authorization of this board. But at the same time I want to have all of the information pertaining to it as well, because I have that right."
"You have that right, and I apologize deeply for that," Shiver emoted. "It was just a brief meeting that took place, and I have quite a few of those during any given day."
Does Steve Shiver think he's fooling anyone with this routine?
Thanks to Sorenson's ability to keep the pressure on Shiver, the letter Penelas sent to Rumsfeld came to light, and we learned about the mayor's last-ditch effort to cut a deal with the Air Force on the future of Homestead. Under Penelas's proposal, the county would agree to scale back the size of the proposed airport if the Air Force would reverse its decision. If the mayor was so proud of this proposal, why didn't his office send a copy of the letter to every commissioner, or issue a press release announcing his newest initiative?
The reason is obvious: Shiver and Penelas and the legion of lobbyists representing HABDI (Homestead Air Base Developers, Inc.) want to operate in the shadows. They don't want to give the environmental community and those who oppose the airport the opportunity to respond, because they know their proposal will not stand public scrutiny. Revising projections on the number of commercial flights in and out of Homestead to 100,000 per year -- or 200,000 or 300,000 -- is ridiculous. The issue is much simpler: Should there be a commercial airport there or not? Besides, even the county's own staff admits the projections are meaningless. An airport in Homestead will grow and expand and mutate as the market demands.
In the past two years, HABDI has spent more than $1.2 million employing the high-powered Washington-based lobbying firm of Verner Liipfert. When Shiver noted that he and the mayor were flying to Washington to meet with high-ranking officials at the Air Force last week, it was Verner Liipfert that set up the meeting. According to Doug Heady, a senior Air Force attorney, it was former Indiana senator and current Verner Liipfert lobbyist Dan Coats who arranged the tête-à-tête.
A key component of the Penelas/HABDI campaign has been the enlistment of members of Congress to pressure the Bush administration to reverse the Air Force's decision. In response to a letter from Virginia Senator John Warner, who at the time was Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rumsfeld agreed to "review" the Air Force decision.
Despite Rumsfeld's review, it is unlikely the Republicans will cave on this issue. As Bush's recent visit to South Florida showed, the president realizes his environmental policies are under attack. How would it look if, just a few weeks after visiting the Everglades and pledging his support to restore the River of Grass, the president then allowed a commercial airport to be built only a few miles away?
The president's support for an airport could also have a damaging impact on his brother's chances for re-election.
So let's assume for a moment the Air Force decision stands. Penelas may have something even more nefarious in the works. There is a clause in the decision that says the 717 acres of the base may not be "developed or used for commercial airport purposes or to support a commercial airport."
Environmentalists fear Penelas may strike a deal with the Air Force to quietly delete those last six words. The county would then begin developing its portion of the base to support a future airport. (The base itself is 1632 acres, with the remaining 915 acres under the control of the Air Force.)
The county would then wait until next year, when the Department of Defense is expected to announce another round of base closings. At the top of the DOD's list is likely to be those 915 acres of land in Homestead. The county would apply for that parcel (which includes the actual runway and control tower) and request to use it as an airport. And the fight would begin anew.