Communities brace for effects of BRAC
A year and a half after the Pentagon announced its Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list, cities and counties that are losing military installations are fighting to form solid redevelopment plans. And, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many local officials are concerned that their communities’ needs will be overlooked by the federal government.
As part of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) BRAC 2005 plan, 25 major military installations are scheduled to close, and 24 more will be realigned, which could mean the addition of new units or the removal of others. Hundreds of smaller bases also will close or be realigned.
DOD’s Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) grants, which require matching funds from the recipients, can be used to hire staff and to analyze BRAC’s effects on local infrastructure and to plan new land uses. The grants are awarded on a case-by-case basis, so the amounts vary. OEA offers technical support as well. “Typically, this support is designed to help communities identify growth impacts [and] connect cognizant federal agencies [with] state and local governments,” says Chris Isleib, a DOD spokesman.
While OEA has begun distributing grants to help locals plan, some communities are limited by uncertain military actions and doubts that funding will be available to move military personnel. “The fear is the Army isn’t going to have the money due to other commitments,” says Fred Bryant, executive director of the Forest Park, Ga./Fort Gillem Local Redevelopment Authority. Army Garrison Fort Gillem, which was built at the outset of World War II, and its parent facility Fort McPherson in Atlanta are slated to close by Sept. 15, 2011.
Fort Gillem’s case is unique for two reasons. First, part of the base will remain under military control as an enclave of important, recently built facilities, including the Army’s only Criminal Investigation Laboratory and a Georgia National Guard installation. The city likely will take over utilities and public safety functions for the enclave. “We’re already in some discussions with [Fort Gillem’s command] about how that will work out,” Bryant says.
Also, the city is negotiating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regarding its Logistics Resource Center located on Fort Gillem. Under federal law, other federal agencies have priority access to surplus military land, and FEMA is considering keeping more than 150 acres of Fort Gillem. Forest Park wants FEMA to close the resource center or reduce the amount of land it uses, Bryant says. The city is hoping to use the land for a mix of commercial and residential development.
Although Arlington County, Va., is not losing a base, military personnel will be moved from leased offices in the county to nearby bases where they will be more secure, says Anita Bullock, the county’s BRAC coordinator. That entails the departure of 17,000 jobs, leaving more than 3.2 million square feet of available office space in unincorporated Crystal City. While the county does not yet have an estimate of how much the job loss will cost in tax revenue, it expects some loss.
In response, the county is opening a BRAC Transition Center early this year to help attract new businesses. The county board of commissioners also has implemented the Crystal City Planning Task Force to map the area’s future. Isleib says OEA has provided money to the county for hiring new staff to help in the redevelopment.
Like Bryant, Bullock also is concerned that money shortages could delay the departure of military personnel. That complicates redevelopment planning, because if the military tenants do not leave on schedule, agreements with new tenants could be void.