No halt to Fort Monmouth's closing, yet Union's suit still on active status

"We're still in it," said John Poitras, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1904, which brought the suit on behalf of its 5,000 Fort Monmouth workers. "We're still on the field."

The union had asked Cooper to block the Defense Department from executing the $477 million construction contract it awarded late last month to build 2 million square feet of office space at Aberdeen before submitting to Congress a federally mandated report regarding the closure of Fort Monmouth.

The report, commonly referred to as the caveat report, was required by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure commission when it recommended shuttering the 90-year-old Army post. The BRAC commission required that the Pentagon deliver to Congress a report assuring that the fort's closing would not disrupt the ongoing war on terrorism.
But the Defense Department, represented by Department of Justice lawyer Jeffrey Smith, countered that the union's case had no merit and should be thrown out. Smith also argued that Cooper lacked the authority to hear the case and that the BRAC commission's requirement that the report be delivered to Congress did not carry the weight of law.
Cooper, however, allowed the union's case to continue on an inactive basis while other BRAC-related events unfold during the remainder of the year.

"I don't see an urgent need to decide it one way or another," Cooper said.

Poitras said he thought it significant that Cooper did not throw out the case entirely. No other BRAC-related lawsuit has gone this far, he said.

"The union gave the government a bloody nose today," he said.

Several major events in the rekindled battle to keep Fort Monmouth open are expected in the next two months, including a Congressional hearing.

A subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to hold a hearing on cost overruns and other problems in the 2005 BRAC round — and the closure of Fort Monmouth specifically — early next month. No date has officially been set.

In December, Defense Secretary Gates is expected to deliver the Fort Monmouth caveat report to Congress. Also in early December, the Government Accountability Office is scheduled to deliver the results of its investigation into the 2005 BRAC round, which is expected to include a probe into the Fort Monmouth closure.

Cooper's decision to shoot down the union's request to block the Aberdeen contract work came after Smith said no construction work was scheduled until February.

The work, he said, was in a design phase that would continue for months. Demolition on existing buildings was not scheduled until winter, with new construction set to follow a month later.

Eugene LaVergne, of West Long Branch, the lawyer representing the union, said he was pleased with events in court Thursday but planned to appeal Cooper's ruling on the Aberdeen contract.

LaVergne said he thought Cooper was "cautiously yet reluctantly receptive" to the union's arguments against closing Fort Monmouth.

"This suit is going to remain a sword over the head of the DOD to make sure they do what they're required to do," he said.

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