CG: 'We're going to remain good stewards'
January 23, 2009
- Fort Polk announces land purchase program
- Expansion good for post and surrounding communities
- General stresses "no eminent domain"
In a press conference held Jan. 15, Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, announced a land purchase program for Fort Polk. Fort Polk and Peason Ridge Training area currently comprise about 100,000 acres, and the Department of the Army has authorized the purchase of an additional 100,000 acres.
"We are set up for having the best outlook for Fort Polk and the surrounding community than I think we've had in our history, since 1941," said Yarbrough. "This growth is commensurate with the increased relevance and importance of Fort Polk to the Army. We've expanded our forces and we've expanded our training requirements here. We're bursting at the seams in our designated training areas."
Yarbrough listed the positive aspects of Fort Polk's position, explaining that it is time to expand, and that expansion will be good for the post and surrounding community. "We don't suffer from encroachment of densely populated areas," he said. "The population on Fort Polk is 35,000. Between 2004 and 2011, the Army put $700 million into Fort Polk quality of life infrastructure. This money is a significant indicator of our relevance to the Army. Ten brigades a year train at JRTC. That's not going to change. This is a perfect storm of good events and conditions. We have a set of circumstances that are coming together in a positive way right now. By all indications, Fort Polk will stay here and get bigger."
In 1941, the U.S. government exercised eminent domain and seized the land that now composes Fort Polk. Residents who lost their land were paid a few dollars per acre or evicted. In an effort to allay fears of a repeat performance of the original Camp Polk land acquisition, Yarbrough emphasized that eminent domain will not be invoked in the current process. "We will be a good neighbor," he said. "Anything that occurs outside the gate is not our decision -- it has to be met with popular support. We recognize that there are families that come here every fall for Heritage Day, who still remember being kicked off of this land for a paltry sum of a few dollars per acre.
That was a roughshod way to treat them, and you have my commitment that's not going to happen again. We will not exercise eminent domain. We will steer clear of built up areas, because we absolutely are not interested in displacing anyone."
The areas under consideration are north and east of Fort Polk, bounding the current holdings of Fort Polk and Peason Ridge Training Area. "We are generally looking at unpopulated areas," said Yarbrough. "There is a deliberate process (for purchasing land) that includes the Department of the Army and the Army Corps of Engineers in assessing land, and conversing with land owners what the proper agreement will be before taking any land parcel under consideration. If a family says 'this is our heritage, we're not interested,' then we say 'thank you very much' and move on."
Yarbrough indicated that the final amount of land purchased might be less than the approved amount, and that actual buying of parcels will not begin until fiscal year 2011. "It is a long process," he said. "Prior to land purchase, an environmental study will be conducted of the affected land by the Corps of Engineers. We are going to remain good stewards, as we have demonstrated in our relationship with the U.S. Forestry Service."
The land is projected as an augmentation of training areas. "It will be predominantly a training area, providing maneuver space for large units," said Yarbrough.