Supporters of Beaufort County's three military bases are preparing to defend the installations from the Pentagon's next round of closings, and plan to seek local tax money for lobbying and more involvement from south of the Broad River.
Losing the bases could be economically disastrous for all of Beaufort County, according to county administrator Gary Kubic.
"I'm not sure the folks who live in southern Beaufort County truly understand what the military means to the county as an economic catalyst," Kubic said. "They think their economy is predicated on housing and tourism, and that's just not true. (The military) is truly one-third of everything."
Kubic and other members of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce's Military Enhancement Committee discussed Thursday how best to protect and promote the area's three bases should Congress approve a Pentagon request for closures in 2013 or 2015. The move would help trim $600 billion from the defense budget over the next decade, Pentagon officials have said.
Retired Marine Col. John Payne, the committee's chairman, said the group's members will appear before the Beaufort County Council's Finance Committee next month to ask for $250,000 to pay for lobbyists and other expenses related to fighting the base closures. They also plan to ask for money from area municipalities.
South Carolina is trailing other states, including North Carolina and Georgia, in preparing for future base closures and must catch up, according to Payne.
"We're not crying wolf," Payne said. "People need to be aware that this threat to our bases exists, and this is really going to happen."
Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Naval Hospital Beaufort were spared during five previous rounds of base closures; the most recent was in 2005.
The three bases have an estimated annual impact of $1.2 billion and employ more than 5,300 people, according to a study by Coastal Carolina University commissioned by the Beaufort chamber.
If the bases are going to survive another round of closures, state and federal leaders must visit and publicly promote the installations, and area residents must understand the bases' importance to the economic health of the entire county, not just the northern half, committee members said.
The committee's ideas Thursday ranged from hiring a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., to arranging for Gov. Nikki Haley and other political leaders to attend a graduation ceremony at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and tour the other bases. Officials said a visit is likelylate summer or early fall.