The local group that battled the Pentagon's proposal to close the Naval Submarine Base in 2005 is getting back together to talk about the prospect of another round of base closings.
And this time the Subase Coalition has a new ally. Several coalition members said Monday they expect the head of the state's Office of Military Affairs to be an integral part of any future efforts to avoid a potential closure of the Naval Submarine Base.
The office didn't exist when the base was last targeted - and narrowly escaped closure - during the Defense Base Realignment and Closure process. It was created in the aftermath to coordinate the state's efforts to prevent the base from being closed or downsized.
The Defense Department announced last week that President Barack Obama plans to ask Congress to authorize a new round of base closings.
The local campaign to save the base historically has begun when BRAC was on the horizon, then was handed off to a larger, statewide effort, Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger said Monday. And that transition, he said, has been "a little awkward."
"To have someone whose job it is to work on these things right from the get-go, I think, will be a huge, huge plus," Oefinger said.
Denny Hicks of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut said the office's executive director, Bob Ross, could "devote more time to developing strategy and making points of contact" since it's his job.
The coalition, which has not met in recent months, is planning to reconvene soon after the details of the president's budget are released in February.
"We have to come up with a plan if we do need a Plan A, and B, and maybe a Plan C," said State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford.
State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said the base's value to the region is "enormous" and "it's never too early to be engaged to make sure we're protecting that asset."
The base's annual economic impact is more than $4 billion, according to the Navy, and more than 20,000 active-duty officers and sailors, retirees, family members and civilian employees are connected to the installation.
Ross plans to attend the coalition meeting to update the group on state and federal efforts to transform the base. Construction and demolition projects worth $100 million are currently in progress at the base, he said.
It's too early in the process to begin talking about how best to confront another BRAC process, Ross said. "I don't think there's any reason for anyone to have anxiety about the future of the base based on what we've seen so far," he said.
The Subase Coalition previously stepped up to do what is now done by OMA, Ross said. He said he will talk with coalition members about what their role would be if the proposal for another BRAC process advances. "These are talented people with a lot of background and I would absolutely rely on them again," he said.
Congress authorizes each round of base closings. The state's congressional delegation said after the DOD's announcement last week that currently there isn't the political will to do so.
The coalition is coordinating with the office of U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, to pick a date for the meeting that works with the congressman's schedule.
"Staying informed is the best thing we can do at this point in time," Hicks said. "Getting involved and trying to get up and have a fighting organization, it's still a little early to go that direction."
State Rep. Christopher Coutu, R-Norwich, said he thinks the region needs to continue to make the case that the synergy that exists between the base and submarine manufacturer Electric Boat in Groton is found "nowhere else in the world" - an argument that was instrumental to keeping the base open in 2005.
"I don't think there's cause for panic," Maynard said, "but it's too important for us not to regularly keep tabs and make sure that we're prepared for any kind of decision or inquiry that may come."
Courtney said it's a "very wise move for people to begin the conversation locally." Vigilance and preparation, he said, will be "the best insurance policy for the region."