Graham to address base-closure threat in Beaufort

cconley@islandpacket.comMay 27, 2012 

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham will visit Beaufort on Tuesday to address the threat of defense-spending cuts and the effect it would have on the region's military bases.

The South Carolina Republican will meet with leaders from Beaufort County's three military installations before an afternoon session with county officials and the Military Enhancement Committee, a Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce panel dedicated to protecting local bases.

Graham will warn local officials "of the severe negative impact the looming budget sequestration will have on our national security, the men and women serving our nation in uniform, and South Carolina's defense infrastructure," according to a statement from his office.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Jan. 26 that President Barack Obama will ask Congress for two new rounds of domestic "base realignments and closures," or BRAC. Congress might then create a BRAC panel to examine the nation's military bases and recommend which, if any, should be closed or given different responsibilities.

Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Naval Hospital Beaufort were spared during five previous BRAC examinations, most recently in 2005, and local officials say they will fight for a similar outcome if the commission reconvenes.

Beaufort County's proposed 2012-13 budget would set aside $250,000 for that purpose, and the committee plans to seek contributions from other towns and the business community, said Jason Gardner, the chamber's government and military affairs manager.

The money would be used to build awareness locally about the economic and cultural value of the three bases and to hire a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., according to the committee. The installations employ about 5,300 people.

"We are just being proactive and trying to get out ahead of anything that may happen here," Gardner said, adding that a similar effort during the 2005 BRAC cost about $480,000.

Retired Marine Col. John Payne, Military Enhancement Committee chairman, said the region would probably have to raise more this time.

"We don't have a lot of choices," he said. "When you are looking at sources of $1.2 billion in income for the community, you can't let that go."

Graham spent six years in the U.S. Air Force in the 1980s as a judge advocate and later served in the S.C. Air National Guard and the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

His visit to Beaufort is part of a two-day tour of the state's military bases, which will include stops in Greenville, Charleston, Sumter, Eastover and Columbia.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

Related content:

BRAC talk stirs local military base concerns, 02/04/12

Base-protection committee to seek $250,000 from county for lobbying, April 26, 2012

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