Status of air base under review
By CRAIG PITTMAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
As President George W. Bush plans a visit to Everglades National Park next week, his administration is reopening one of the state's biggest recent environmental controversies: whether to convert Homestead Air Force Base into a commercial airport.
For seven years well-connected builders in Miami-Dade County fought to get possession of the air base -- closed after Hurricane Andrew -- to convert it into a commercial airport.
They and Homestead officials contended that the move would boost the hurricane-ravaged economy. Environmental groups fought the move because it's between Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park.
In the waning days of the Clinton Administration, U.S. Air Force officials decided they would not allow the base to be converted to an airport because it might hurt the Everglades.
Now that January decision is being reviewed anew by Bush administration officials, according to a letter from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va.
In the May 10 letter, Rumsfeld told Warner that he had ordered his staff "to review that decision for consistency with established policy. If I determine there was a deviation from that policy, I will advise you in the matter and take appropriate action."
Frank Jackalone, senior representative for the Sierra Club in Florida, called Rumsfeld's letter "a little bit of backsliding" by the Bush administration and said he was "extremely disappointed" that Rumsfeld did not just tell Warner that the issue was over.
Jackalone, who also is co-chair of the Everglades Coalition, a group of about 40 environmental groups, has requested a meeting with the president during his visit to Everglades National Park on Monday to outline his concerns, and hopes that Bush will "clear this up" during his visit.
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From the Times state desk
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