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franklin county times

Lott confident in NAS Meridian

By By Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
March 3, 2001
Years of preparation coupled with strong community and congressional support could pay off locally should President Bush initiate a new round of military base closings.
The Bush administration is conducting an intensive review of the military and, to free up money for new equipment and other modernizations, the possibility of base closures has surfaced again.
Mississippi's military installations, including Naval Air Station Meridian, survived the possibility of closure three times during the 1990s.
Though concerned, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said he did not believe Meridian would become a prime target for the base closure commission.
Led by the Navy Team Meridian, the community rallied three times in five years to keep the gates at NAS Meridian open. Each time, thousands of residents demonstrated their support for the base, either by attending regional base closure meetings or when base closure commissioners and other leaders visited.
The strategy was simple. Navy Team Meridian built their arguments to keep the base open around the military's reasons for wanting it closed. Team members stuck to the facts and were able to convince commissioners the military's reasons for wanting to close the base were flawed.
The strategy paid off. In 1991, the vote was 6-1 to keep NAS-Meridian open. It was 7-0 in 1993, and 7-1 in 1995.
Lott hopes it won't come to that, should there be a fourth round.
In recent years, according to Lott's office, numerous improvements have been made at NAS Meridian:
In 1998, $7.1 million funded the renovation of bachelor enlisted men's quarters;
In 1999, $3.2 million was spent on a new tower and operations building;
In 2000, $7.2 million was appropriated for a new administration building.
This year, $4.7 million is slated to pay for a new T-45 Aircraft Support Facility, and another $2 million is planned in 2002 to finish it. NAS Meridian's training jets are being replaced by the T-45s at an average rate of about 15 per year.
U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., expressed his concerns in a statement released Friday.
NAS Meridian is also a candidate to become the permanent base for the F-18 Super Hornets, the Navy's most modern jet fighters.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridianstar.com.