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IF POLITICS STAY OUT OF PROCESS, HILL AND DDO JUST MIGHT SURVIVE

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If political maneuvering is kept out of the 1995 round of military base closures, Hill Air Force Base and Defense Depot Ogden are likely to survive, Utah officials say.

If the process becomes political, it's probably goodbye to Hill and DDO."If it's a political determination we're in trouble," said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. He characterized the 1993 base closure round, which closed part of Tooele Army Depot, as "very political."

The $64 question then becomes: How large a role will politics play in the 1995 round?

Officials of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (known by its acronym from previous years, BRAC) practically appear willing to take an oath on a stack of Bibles that they will not succumb to political influence-mongering.

Ogden Mayor Glenn Mecham questioned BRAC Chairman Alan Dixon, a former Democratic senator from Illinois, regarding the matter in a San Diego meeting earlier this month. He received a forceful riposte.

"It was startling to me," Mecham said. "His immediate response to me was, `I swear . . . that will not be a factor in this process.' "

The chairman of the BRAC staff, David Lyles, echoed that sentiment during a Utah visit this month.

"The process is just about as free of politics as you can make it," he said.

Utah authorities are hoping that's true but are still running scared.

"The Base Closure Commission itself will try extremely hard to not have any political influences (affect) the decisionmaking process," said Mike Pavich, president of Hill/-DDO '95, a group working to save Hill. "Everything they recommend has to be substantiated by verifiable data. But when there are installations of equal value it is more subjective. . . . There is the opportunity or potential, even inadvertently, to have political pressures raise their head."

The decisionmaking process is secret until the BRAC receives the Department of Defense's list of recommended closures March 1, but this is the current scuttlebutt, according to Pavich:

The five Air Force Air Logistics Centers (ALCs), one at Hill and the rest in California, Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia, are collectively operating at about 70 percent of capacity. It is likely that they will be reduced to the equivalent of three or 31/2 ALCs through realignment or outright closure.

"Everybody who (observes the process) uses those figures," Pavich said.

It follows that at least one of those ALCs is probably due for a major bloodletting, if not a grisly death.

If the process gets political, Utah has comparatively little clout with only five congressional delegates - two senators and three members of Congress. California's delegation, in contrast, has a whopping 54 members. Texas has 32. Georgia's delegation, though a relatively small 13, still more than double that of Utah. What's more, one of its members is Sen. Sam Nunn, outgoing chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a political heavyweight in the area of defense. Oklahoma, with the second-smallest delegation at 13, still beats Utah by three.

Small wonder Utahns want to keep politics out of it.

Politics aside, officials say Hill's chances are good. It has unique capabilities - missile and landing-gear repair, it can easily absorb operations from other bases, it has a lot of wide-open flying space, and it would be comparatively expensive to close.

Hill supporters attempted early on to bring the ALCs together to present a united front during the closure process, but, logically enough, the coalition never materialized.

"Ultimately, we are competitors," Pavich said.