A proposal to retain a significant portion of Fort Douglas, targeted for closure by the U.S. Department of Defense, for military purposes is not a done deal, military officials said Monday.
But Fort Douglas officials would not say whether the tentative proposal could result in more than 54 acres of the former Pony Express fortress becoming available through negotiations.A Defense Department team studying the closure will recommend to the Defense Department that the U.S. Army Reserve now stationed at the fort retain 65 acres of the 119-acre base, officials announced Friday.
The announcement surprised Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis and representatives of Rep. Wayne Owens' office. DePaulis and Owens, D-Utah, co-chair the Fort Douglas Task Force, which will help decide the fate of the base.
Col. Fredrick Hillyard, post commander at Fort Douglas, said Monday the proposal by the Army's Base Realignment and Closure Office to retain most of the fort for reserve units now stationed there is tentative.
Eventually, it must be approved by the Defense Department but the proposal could be affected by lobbying efforts on the part of the task force and Owens.
"The Defense Department always responds to Congressional inquiries and certainly if there is some debate over the proposal to retain the 65 acres, it could get some scrutiny at the political level," he said.
Asked if that meant more acreage could be transferred from the base, Hillyard said the 65 acres to be retained is the minimum needed to continue operation of the 96th Army Reserve Command.
"I don't know that the reserve unit would get as much as it wants," said Art Kingdom, spokesman for Owens, adding that the Defense Secretary's final decision could be greatly affected by community pressure.
"What the local community wants we are consistently told (by the Defense Department) is important," he said.
"The city's position is we want this (land transfer) to work," said Emilee Charles, spokeswoman for DePaulis, who is out of town.
"I just don't know to what degree we can discuss the proposal," she said. adding the task force has not been able to study the proposal and determine what the reserve unit's need for land is.
"That's what the task force will have to do," she said.
Fort Douglas' closure, along with the closure of other bases, has been approved by the Defense Department but awaits action from Congress.
Owens and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, are pursuing administrative and legislative means of transferring the land. One possible recipient is the University of Utah, which shares its northern border with the base.