Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, will launch his own administrative plan to secure land at Fort Douglas for Utah when the historic Salt Lake military base closes.
Owens will convene a task force and schedule public hearings in Salt Lake City "as soon as possible" to discuss use of the fort, targeted for closure by the Defense Department, said Art Kingdom, spokesman for Owens.The fort is one of 86 bases approved Thursday by Defense Department Secretary Frank C. Carlucci for closure.
Although Reps. Jim Hansen and Howard Nielson, both R-Utah, introduced legislation transferring the land to the University of Utah, Kingdom said a transfer could be done administratively through the Defense Department.
At a Jan. 4 briefing by the Defense Department, Owens learned legislation was not necessary for certain land transfers and "whatever was done with the land would have to have consensus from the community," he said.
So, Owens will convene a task force composed of Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, a Defense Department official and other community leaders to help tap the pulse of the people to determine what should be done with the base.
"I think Wayne is being very astute to listen to the local community and I applaud his efforts to do it in a public process," DePaulis said.
DePaulis said he is concerned about retaining former city water rights in a nearby canyon now in the hands of the base and addressing community concerns surrounding the closure of the fort and transfer or sale of its land.
"We have water rights in Red Butte Canyon that, when it became a military fort, were taken away from the city and we would like to petition that those come back to us," he said.
DePaulis said he and Owens also want to assess sentiments of Fort Douglas neighbors who are concerned about traffic issues, historic preservation of the fort, how the U. would use the facility and other development issues.
The community also may have some environmental concerns, Kingdom added, saying the fort harbors some toxic chemicals used in electrical equipment and needs some asbestos removed.
Assuming Congress approves the closure package, the Defense Department must rule that it has no use for the land and other federal agencies must rule so also before it can be disposed of locally, Kingdom said.
Then, the land could be sold through the Defense Department, Kingdom said. If it were given to an entity such as the U. it would have to be done via legislation.
"I think it's probably appropriate that the University should receive the property," DePaulis said. "But how its use would be developed . . . that is one of the issues."
Among possible temporary uses of the fort is turning it into an 1998 Winter Olympic Village, DePaulis said. "It has security. It's compact. It's in the city. I think it has a lot going for it," he said.
Kingdom said legislation proposed by Republicans Hansen and Nielson would not interfere with Owens' plan, pointing out that Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would support Owens.