The Navy now has a choice

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The Navy now has a choice

By MICHELLE FAUL, Associated Press Writer SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - The U.S. Navy is being offered an uninhabited Panamanian island for $35 million to replace a Puerto Rican bombing range where ongoing protests have severely limited the Navy's room for maneuver.

San Jose island is located 55 miles south of Panama City. The asking price is a bargain compared to the $90 million the government may have to spend to keep the island of Vieques under a White House deal, said Emil Danciu, a former mayor of Boca Raton, Fla., who is representing the island's American and Panamanian owners.

``I'm presenting an island that I think is a great alternative, a very viable alternative to Vieques,'' Danciu said.

The U.S. military had a small outpost on the 12,000-acre island during World War II and used it as a bombing range and test site for chemical weapons, he said. The island has gone unsold for decades because it is believed to be contaminated.

President Clinton's adviser on Puerto Rico, Jeffrey Farrow, said the White House had passed the offer on to the Navy……….

The Navy has called Vieques irreplaceable, but Farrow said it was looking at substitutes because of Clinton's pledge that the military would leave by May 2003 if residents request the departure in a referendum. That vote could occur as early as next year.

``The Navy is exploring what the options are,'' Farrow said. ``The president is committed, the Navy is committed and the Congress is committed to the Navy leaving after this period if the people vote for it.''

Danciu said San Jose has deep anchorage, a harbor, a 5,000-foot grass airstrip and sandy beaches that were used for the kind of amphibious landings the military practices on Vieques, which is part of Puerto Rico.