Like a homeowner cleaning out the attic for a yard sale, the government yesterday came up with 60,000 acres of "unneeded federal property," including a piece of Waikiki Beach, it plans to sell to reduce the national debt.
Hawaii legislators immediately objected, while environmental groups scrambled to make sure that no environmentally sensitive areas are among the 307 parcels going on the block.
These are no two-for-a-quarter white elephants. President Reagan's new Property Review Board, which is organizing the operation, estimated the value of the property at "several hundreds of millions of dollars," enough to make a small dent in the national debt, which stood at $1.075 trillion on Wednesday.
The preliminary list includes an acre near Wall Street in New York City, 6.5 million square feet of industrial buildings in Fort Worth and 6.3 million square feet in Marietta, Ga., along with assorted lakefront, farm, pasture, warehouse and military property in all the states and territories.
The Waikiki portion is 17 acres of a famous military R&R spot, the 69-acre Fort DeRussy beach, hotel and training area in Honolulu.
"Waikiki is solid concrete. This is the only open space that's available," said an aide to Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), who opposes the sale.
The park-like beachfront area, unfenced and open to the public, is between a commercial hotel and the U.S.-owned, 416-room Hale Koa Hotel, used by vacationing military. The land has been appraised at $221 million, Inouye's aide said. He added that a 25-foot height restriction could affect its value.
Inouye pushed through legislation in 1968 to prevent sale of any Fort DeRussy property without special congressional approval, and his aide said that would probably not be forthcoming.
"Everybody we can find except the secretary of defense is opposed," he said. Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger told Congress in March that he would be willing to give up part of the property.
He spoke at hearings on controversial proposals by Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman to sell government land and property to reduce the national debt. The government owns one-third of the continental United States, with most of the parcels scattered among private lands in the West.
None of the lands on the 20-page list released yesterday is from the public domain within the Bureau of Land Management, but Stockman made clear that future lists may include controversial BLM property.
Presidential assistant Edwin L. Harper, chairman of the 4-month-old review board, said the list was just "the beginning of our inventory buildup" of land and buildings the government hopes will bring in $17 billion over the next five years.
Such surplus buildings and other white elephants were once given free or sold cheap to state and local governments for use as park land, airports, hospitals, schools or some other public benefit, but not any more. Now the General Services Administration organizes the disposition of all excess federal land for its "highest and best use," which could be commercial development.
Environmental groups are among those uneasy over the terms of the deal.
"Many old forts, lighthouses and so on have been rehabilitated by agencies to be quite lovely recreation sites," said Martha Nudel of the National Recreation and Park Association. "The problem is that this new policy will no longer give a discount price to local agencies."
Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.), a key player in the land debate, called the current list "the very, very easy stuff" to get rid of and "an important first step in the goal of cleaning the nation's attic of unneeded properties." An aide said the idea is to protect BLM lands used for grazing as much as possible. "These are not the environmentally sensitive properties," the aide said.
The 307 properties are not used for recreation or much of anything else, according to Bruce Selfon, acting director of the review board. Robert K. Dawson, deputy assistant secretary of the army for civil works, said the Army Corps of Engineers' parcels listed as lakefronts are "primarily remnants scattered around, not necessarily on the lakes themselves." He stressed that corps public recreation areas and access to them would not be affected.
The Wall Street area acre is the Treasury Department's old New York Assay Office, which has 88,817 square feet of space where giant smelters used to melt down old silver money. Now closed, the five-story building was assessed by the city at $8.3 million this year.
A General Dynamics plant now occupies the 6.5 million-square-foot building in Fort Worth. Lockheed Corp. occupies the big plant in Marietta, Ga., and Hughes Aircraft Co. has first rights to a 647,000-square-foot building it uses in Pima County, Ariz., which includes Tucson.
In Virginia, the parcels include parts of the John Kerr Reservoir area near Boydton and the Radford Army ammunition plant. In Maryland, parts of the C&D Canal property near Chesapeake City and 127 acres of the Aberdeen Proving Grounds are on the list, along with 260 acres of the Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville.
A building and two-acre lot leased to the University of the District of Columbia at 1st and E Streets NW is the only property listed in Washington.