Chamber: Speak up for Fort Benning

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerFebruary 12, 2013 

The citizens of Columbus and the surrounding region have always had a strong commitment to Fort Benning. So strong that on April 17, 2008, we were honored to cosign the first U.S. Army Community Covenant to demonstrate how seriously we take our relationship with the soldiers and civilians who call this area home.

Our region has invested public and private funds into that commitment. We can proudly point to enhancements such as:

• A $51 million interchange into Fort Benning.

• The $19 million widening of I-185 from four to six lanes leading into Fort Benning.

• The passage of a transportation sales tax to build road infrastructure that includes widening of a four-lane highway to six lanes, improvements to one interchange into Fort Benning and the addition of a new interchange.

• The passage of an education sales tax, to raise $223 million to provide for additional schools for the children of soldiers and civilian personnel relocating to our region.

The Departments of Defense and the Army have also made significant investments. The following are a few of the efforts to create the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning:

• $3.5 billion in facilities at Fort Benning to relocate the Armor School and other organizations to create the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE).

• A rail-loading site for rapid deployment of units to the ports of Savannah and Jacksonville.

• Nineteen new ranges and six new training areas.

• Maneuver force modeling and simulation equipment, designed to reduce the cost and the environmental impact of training by both deployable and training units.

• Approximately 20,000 acres reshaped on Fort Benning.

• An addition of 8.6 million square feet of facilities to Fort Benning's 20 million square feet.

• The addition of 140 miles of new roads/trails, so both training and maneuver units may more rapidly and effectively train.

• The addition of thirteen new bridges, each with the capacity to support 70-ton tanks.

• A new 75 bed, 750,000 square foot, $300,000,000 Martin Army Community Hospital.

• A new 860-room $100,000,000 lodge/hotel.

All of these improvements have been made to do one thing: support the soldier. Recently, a study by the U.S. Army Environmental Command titled a Programmatic Environmental Assessment has recommended reducing the number of soldiers and civilian personnel who work at Fort Benning. This will have a devastating impact on our region.

The Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for Army 2020 Force Structure Realignment calls for the elimination of 7,100 active duty and civilian jobs from Fort Benning. The report goes on to state that, as a result of this cut, our region's population will decrease by 17,815 people. That's a 5.74% drop.

Further, the PEA states we will lose $403,706,700 in annual sales volume, resulting in a $16.15 million reduction in sales tax revenue. Regional income will drop $342,170,900 and total non-farm employment will decrease 8,997, or 5.94%. Most importantly, the assessment states that "low income populations may be disproportionately impacted across the [region] due to the greater proportion of low income individuals …"

Given all resources allocated to support Fort Benning and given that low income families may be hit hardest by these proposed actions, it doesn't make sense to implement these cuts. From our point of view, the negative far outweighs any perceived positive outcome.

The paramount issue is trust. Our national leadership assured us we would experience growth as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) 2005 decision and, because of this trust, our state, region and its communities invested significant funds from small, minority, large and non-profit businesses to enhance the quality of life for arriving military families. This single action by the Department of Defense will diminish the value of these investments made on behalf of the expected growth.

Now is the time for action. The public comment period on the PEA ends February 17, which is this coming Sunday. We ask that all citizens of our region send comments on this assessment. We ask that these comments stress three points:

1. The Department of Defense and the Department of the Army have made a significant investment in Fort Benning since BRAC 2005.

2. Our community has also made significant investments in transportation and education, with more to come.

3. These personnel cuts, noted in the Department of Army Programmatic Environmental Assessment, will have a devastating impact on our region and, according to the report itself, will have a disproportionate impact on low-income families.

The public may submit comments to:

USAEC Attn: IMPA-AE (Army 2020 PEA)

2450 Connell Road (Bldg 2264)

Fort Sam Houston, Texas 78234-7664

or by email to:

Now is the time to make your voice heard. Please submit your comments today. The future of our region depends on the efforts of all of us speaking together with one voice.

Jacki Lowe is the 2013 Chair of the Board of Directors of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Mike Gaymon is the Chamber's President & CEO.

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