By Mr. Stephen J. Baker (IMCOM)April 23, 2013
FORT LEE, Va. -- Local civic and government leaders voiced their opinions on proposed force restructuring -- which could reduce the number of military and Army Civilian personnel on Fort Lee by 2,400 -- during an April 17 Community Listening Session hosted by Maj. Gen. Larry Wyche, commanding general of Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee.
The proposed reduction appeared in a Programmatic Environmental Assessment released in January, which evaluated the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of potential force restructuring. The Army must realign and reduce its active duty population by 80,000 by the end of fiscal 2017, as required by Department of Defense implementation of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and current National Defense Strategy. As part of the process, Army leaders are considering community input in order to make informed decisions and mitigate the impact on areas surrounding affected military installations.
"We realize that there's a great partnership between the military and the civilian community, and that's why it's so important that we come out and do these listening sessions to actually hear your concerns -- things that have not been captured in the formal processes that have taken place thus far," said Col. Edward DeShields, Force Structure Programs Officer from Department of Army, G-3, who traveled from Washington, D.C., to help facilitate the meeting.
Crater Planning District Commission Executive Director Dennis Morris said his organization disagrees with the Army finding that the proposed reductions at Fort Lee would have no significant local impact.
"From an economic standpoint, Fort Lee currently accounts for one-seventh of the region's total economy with a total impact estimated at $2.4 billion," Morris said, explaining that if Army recommendations are fully implemented at Fort Lee, the lost wages on post and in the regional economy could total $160 million annually. "In addition, 1,000 jobs could be lost outside the gates of Fort Lee. These losses have direct and palpable physical impacts in the region."
William Robertson, chairman of the Prince George County Board of Supervisors, said his community is also still paying for transportation and school projects undertaken in support of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure actions that greatly increased the size of Fort Lee's population.
"Remember, it was the Army who came to us a few years ago and asked us to step forward and provide infrastructure and support for BRAC," he said. "Now, just a few years later since we have done that -- we've put the bonds out there, we've put money out there -- now you're talking about reducing force. We still have those bonds that we have to pay off."
Robertson also expressed concern over the negative economic impact to hotels and other commercial businesses. "As we prepared for the BRAC expansion, private investment was made to support the mission of Fort Lee," he said. "A force reduction will mean lower occupancy rates, less revenue and a reduction in tax collection."
Hopewell Mayor Michael Bujakowski said the post is critical to his city. "Like other localities, we have changed our priorities," he said. "We have reallocated funds from one project to another to try to serve the needs of Fort Lee."
Similarly, Petersburg Mayor Brian Moore described Fort Lee as "key to the economic revitalization that's happening in Petersburg."
Lt. Gen. (ret.) David Weisman, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army for Virginia, pointed out that a tremendous investment was made in BRAC consolidations at Fort Lee, which now trains 36 percent of the Soldiers in the Army. "I think doing anything now to close it down would have a detrimental effect not only for the Army, but a tremendous impact on this community," he said.
Wyche assured local leaders that their voices had been heard and their comments would be relayed to senior Army leadership.
"I promised you as I took command about 10 months ago that we will work hard to be very transparent, and that's one of the reasons we're here today," he said. "We will continue to work hard at that."