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Texas makes pitch to gain naval air base

Florida officials are also vying for the jet base.

Texas lawmakers are trying to persuade the Base Closure and Realignment Commission to move the Master Jet Base at Virginia's Oceana Naval Air Station to installations in the Lone Star State by offering $365 million in incentives to cover construction and other costs.

But the offer might be in vain, as the independent panel seems to be considering only Cecil Field in northern Florida as an alternative site for the jet base.

Three commissioners are traveling to Texas for briefings Wednesday, but a spokesman for the commission said the Master Jet Base is not on the agenda. Rather, they plan to evaluate the effects of closing Ingleside Naval Station, which the Pentagon has recommended shuttering. Commission Chairman Anthony Principi told reporters earlier this month that, while he had not ruled out southern Texas, it is not as appealing as relocating the Oceana assets to Cecil Field.

The commission added Oceana last month to the list of base closures under consideration, largely because of concerns that commercial and residential developments are encroaching on the jet base and hindering training missions.

Florida lawmakers immediately jumped on the opportunity and began lobbying the commission to consider Cecil Field, which was the only other Master Jet Base on the East Coast until it closed in 1999. Texas followed suit, offering space at Kingsville and Corpus Christi Naval Air Stations and Ingleside to absorb Oceana's mission, personnel and equipment, including 10,000 employees and a fleet of F-18 planes. Such a move might shield Ingleside from a complete closure and protect jobs at Corpus Christi, which is slated for a significant realignment.

Texas would provide "unencumbered airspace and minimal overflight from the commercial airline industry," said Gary Bushell, a base-closure consultant to Texas. "We're the best place to train the pilots." Bushell added the Navy does not have an official requirement for an East Coast training site.

On Wednesday, the Texas delegation plans to brief the commissioners at Ingleside, then take them on a helicopter tour of the surrounding area, Bushell said. The trip has been planned for several weeks, before Oceana was added to the list for closure consideration, and before the commission set a cutoff date of last Friday for site visits. While Oceana might not be on the official agenda, it will undoubtedly come up during the course of the briefings.

"We will definitely brief that we can accomplish the mission," Bushell said. Commissioners plan to hold a hearing Saturday on Capitol Hill on the possibility of an Oceana closure, just days before they make their final decisions. Only officials from Virginia and Florida are scheduled to testify.

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