It may be faster and clearer for Congress to pass a separate bill to close Fort Douglas and give the land to the University of Utah than wait for the base-closing commission's process, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said Wednesday.

Hansen questioned witnesses before the House Armed Services Committee which held a hearing on the overall base closing and realignment report.Former Rep. Jack Brooks, co-chairman of the commission that recommended closing Fort Douglas and other unneeded bases across the country, said the commission wants Congress to provide $300 million this year to start the process.

Brooks said the commission took into account the need to lease space in the Salt Lake area to house some Fort Douglas offices. Brooks maintained, however, that closing the fort would save the taxpayers money. Most of the savings would come from eliminating service workers, not by cutting out actual military units.

Hansen, in a statement, said he supports the base-closing bill and wants Congress to move as quickly as possible to put it into effect. Existing laws, however, may make it better to pass a separate Fort Douglas bill rather than leave the process up to routine federal procedures.

Hansen noted that under one law the fort would have to be considered as a shelter for the homeless, or as a drug rehabilitation center. Other laws require a lengthy process leading to sale of surplus land to the highest bidder, or to local government at fair market value.

Commission co-chairman, former senator Abraham Ribicoff, said the commission was recommending that the Defense Department seek expansion of training areas in southern California, Nevada and Utah to put together a large range where aircraft, mobile divisions, tanks and electronic warfare could be exercised.

Ribicoff added that the commission felt that many existing bases have insufficient training space. The commission recommends they use savings from base closings to acquire by lease or other transfer hundreds of thousands of acres in Death Valley, Calif., for such a range. He said there is a "growing need" for a range capable of accommodating the full use of electronic warfare devices without interfering with civilian use of the airwaves."

An 1862 grab?

Just how did the U.S. Army get the 10,000 acres of Salt Lake City in 1862 for Fort Douglas? Rep. Jim Hansen wants to know.

Hansen asked witnesses before a House committee how the United States originally obtained the fort, now 119 acres.

"They seemed to have just marched in and seized it from the Mormons," he observed. "Did they buy it? Or lease it?" No one knew.

A committee official said: "We'll try to answer that for the record. Later. In writing. If anyone can find out."