Now that the Defense Department's Commisssion on Base Realignment and Closure has made its report, it's increasingly clear that what supporters of keeping Fort Douglas have said all along is true: Closure, even over the long run, isn't likely to save taxpayers 1 cent.
The commission's own figures show a one-time saving of $150,000, according to commission Executive Director Hayden G. Bryan. That is the expected sale price of the land - less the cost of tearing down some buildings and possibly building or renovating others.Of the fort's 109 acres, 45 are to be retained in the hands of some level of government as a historic landmark. Some buildings will also still be used by military reserve units. That leaves between 40 and 50 acres for possible sale at an estimated price tag of $1.5 million - unless Utah's congressional delegation persuades Congress to give the land to the University of Utah. Both Reps. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and Wayne Owens, D-Utah, say they're planning to file such bills to bring it about.
If the land is given to the university, that one-time gain the commission assumed from its sale will not be realized.
The commission also estimates the annual net savings in operating costs at $250,000 a year. Net present value of the operating savings over 20 years was estimated at $1.4 million, at a 10 percent discount rate.
The cost of closing the facility - demolition of buildings, cleanup, travel, moving employees and leasing other space for units to be kept in the Salt Lake City area - is only estimated to be $150,000 less than the value of the land. Loss of land sale revenue may offset the net present value of the closing.
And even though the Army would realize a token savings, whoever takes over the historic site would end up picking up the tab for those costs. If Salt Lake City takes over the historic landmark land, city taxpayers will likely assume costs the Army saves.
The bottom line is that closing the fort doesn't look like much of a boon to the taxpayer.
The same kind of arithmetic hit the commission as it examined Fortress Monroe - an 1812-era fort in Norfolk, Va. No one believes it is of any use as a fort, and it was listed as a sure candidate for closing. The commission, however, found that the fortress was a landmark and its surrounding land was so contaminated by artillery shells from gunfire that no developer in his right mind would want to buy it.
Fortress Monroe now has housing for 4,000 military personnel who would have to be moved elsewhere. Any payback would take at least 20 years to be realized - therefore, it didn't make any sense to close it.