Fort Douglas is one of the 86 military installations nationwide recommended for closure by the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Of the fort's 409 employees - 174 military and 235 civilian - 224 would be retained at the fort or relocated in leased space elsewhere in Salt Lake City, the commission said. The net reduction would be about 185 jobs.The commission estimated closing Fort Douglas would save the Pentagon $250,000 per year in addition to a one-time saving of $150,000, probably from selling unneeded land.
Many questions remain to be answered about the closure, said the base's commander, Col. Fred F. Hillyard. He said the announcement "is an answer we have been waiting to hear for some time, but it only raises a hundred questions that we can't answer now and won't be able to answer until we get more specific instructions."
Military experts in Washington estimate that the 86 proposed closures, five partial closures and 54 realignments will save $5.6 billion over the next 20 years. Thousands of civilian jobs are expected to be cut.
Maj. Bill Auer, public affairs officer for the 96th Army Reserve Command at the fort, said the Department of Defense and the Army have a good track record of finding assignments for military people after base closures or realignments. "I don't expect any military personnel will lose their jobs. They will simply be reassigned."
He said nobody seems sure just what will happen to the 126-year-old fort, on 119 acres in the northeast corner of Salt Lake City.
"We have 44 buildings here that are historical landmarks. We have 314 active-duty military here, nearly 3,000 reservists who meet here for drills at least one weekend a month, and we have 300 civilian employees on base."
Utah's governor and members of the congressional delegation already are working to see that the land goes to the University of Utah.
Gov. Norm Bangerter said he regrets that the fort could be closed but is determined to get the land for the university. Reps. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said separately that they plan to introduce legislation to hand part or all of the property over to the school.
Hansen said in a mid-morning press conference in Farmington that he helped draft the closure bill and supports its recommendations. The closure of Fort Douglas was "a foregone conclusion." He compared the base's closing to the closure of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Indian School in Brigham City in the early 1980s.
"We knew it was going to happen. It was inevitable. And we took something that could have been negative and made it a positive," he said, referring to the similar transfer of the school property to Brigham City.
Hansen also said other Utah military installations may benefit from the closure of bases in nearby states if their missions are transferred here. Hill Air Force Base, Defense Depot Ogden, and the Army's Tooele and Dugway installations all have room to accommodate not only Fort Douglas's mission but also those of other bases being closed, Hansen said.
The commission said Tooele Army Depot will pick up 82 civilian jobs transferred from Pueblo Army Depot, Colo. The panel said Pueblo should be kept open until 1997 solely to complete demilitarization of obsolete chemical munitions, while its other functions are shifted elsewhere. Pueblo's supply mission would be sent to Tooele.
Other shifts could also affect defense missions in Utah. Former Rep. Jack Edwards, R-Ala., said training missions from three Air Force bases in California - George, Mather and Norton - would move to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, where they would be near the planned electronic test range on the Great Salt Lake Desert.
At Fort Douglas, the commission report said, fort employees involved with reserves would be consolidated in buildings on the base and retained. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he hopes the 328th General Hospital Unit will remain in the fort area, in a building he said was modern.
The Reserve Component Pay Input Station will move to Fort Carson, Colo., headquarters of its parent command, Headquarters Sixth Army.
The commission said the environmental impact of the closure would be minimal - just the removal of an unknown quantity of PCBs and asbestos from World War II-era buildings to be torn down.
Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said he won't oppose closing the fort if the figures the commission presents of cost reductions show an actual net saving to taxpayers.
Salt Lake City official Mike Zuhl said the city is interested in how the land would be used. No formal proposals have been aired in City Hall, he said, but the retired fort could be used as a historic tourist attraction or as an Olympic village should the city win the bid to host the 1998 Winter Olympics.
The commission's report now goes to Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci. If he approves it in total, it will go into effect unless Congress votes to reject the recommendations within 45 legislative days.
*** Among the tenants at Fort Douglas are Headquarters, 96th ARCOM, the largest ARCOM geographically in the United States - covering seven western states; 15 96th Army Reserve Command units; a U.S. Army Readiness Group; the 6th Army Reserve Pay Office; Army Recruiting Battalion; Army 62nd Ordinance Detachment; Army Criminal Investigation Division, Salt Lake City Office; and the 902nd Military Intelligence Group, Salt Lake Office.
Also, the 6th Army Command Logistics Review Team; Dugway Proving Group suboffices, including education, purchasing and contracting, NBC test design and technical services offices; the U.S. Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center; Co F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, 4th Marine Division; Reserve Naval Mobilization Construction Battalion; Marine Corps Officer Selection Office; Navy Recruiting and Processing Station; and the U.S. Air Force Recruiting Squadron.
Also, the Air Force Liaison Office, Civil Air Patrol; Utah Wing of the Civil Air Patrol; Defense Investigative Service, Salt Lake Office; Military Entrance Processing Station; and the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.