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ASSOCIATED PRESS NEWSWIRES
Murkowski Bill Aims to Shut Vieques Target Range
September 16, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Sen. Frank Murkowski has introduced a bill
to give the Puerto Rican government control of U.S. Navy-owned
land used for bombing exercises on the inhabited island of Vieques.
"It's time to return this tiny island to its people,"
Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a speech introducing the bill Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, he had met with Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello,
who wants the test range returned.
The bill would call for Puerto Rico 's governor to submit
a plan for use of the property to President Clinton and Congress.
Sixty days after the plan is submitted, the federal property on
or within one mile of Vieques would be placed under control of
the Puerto Rican government, Murkowski said in the statement.
The Navy has conducted exercises using live ammunition since
the 1940s and owns two-thirds of the island. Vieques is located
off the east coast of Puerto Rico and is home to 9,400 people.
The Navy's presence has long been controversial, but tensions
boiled over after an April 19 accident on the range that killed
civilian guard David Sanes Rodriguez. Sanes died when two 500-pound
bombs were dropped 1.4 miles off target.
The Navy ceased bombing exercises on Vieques after the accident
and Clinton has ordered a Pentagon commission to seek alternative
locations for the bombing range. The Navy has said Vieques is
the only place it can train its Atlantic Fleet for sea, land and
air maneuvers at the same time.
"I fully support the need for our armed services to
train, deploy and test weapons, but there are certain things you
simply don't do in an inhabited area," said Murkowski, chairman
of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has
oversight of U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican leaders also have said that the Navy's exercises
are damaging the environment on Vieques. Murkowski's bill would
require any federal agency using lands or facilities to be responsible
for cleaning up toxic materials before transferring it.