Armed with a team of environmental and real estate experts, Fort Benning officials will host a town hall meeting in Lumpkin, Ga., Tuesday on the Army’s plan to expand training land.
“I think it’s a great way to answer people’s specific questions but have the larger group around so they get to hear the answers,” said George Steuber, deputy garrison commander at Fort Benning.
The public meeting comes 10 weeks after a draft environmental impact study identified Stewart County as the preferred alternative to expand post training land by 82,800 acres. The 6-7 p.m. gathering at Stewart County Elementary School follows four “open house” type meetings held June 6-9 in Richland, Buena Vista and Waverly Hall in Georgia and in Seale, Ala.
Steuber said residents will get a chance to meet Col. Jeffrey Fletcher, the new garrison commander, before he gives an update on the land expansion. There will be handouts and maps for residents to view.
“What we are doing now is asking for permission from land owners to actually go out and inspect the properties,” Steuber said. “We will bring out our training folks, environmental folks and real estate folks.”
Since western and central Stewart County were considered favorable regions for training, county officials and residents have expressed concerns about the loss of $962,332 in property tax revenue if thousands of acres are removed from the tax roll. Those concerns haven’t changed.
“My understanding is they definitely do have concerns and one of the biggest is receiving some type of payment in lieu of taxes,” said Richland Mayor Adolph McLendon.
Tim Ingram, the owner of 66 acres in Louvale, said he still wants to learn more about the impact of erosion. He’s considered writing letters to local representatives and U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop.
“I just want to highlight the problems down there as far as erosion goes,” said Ingram who hasn’t been contacted about his property.
When teams go onto property, Steuber said the specialists conduct a detailed analysis of the area to make sure it’s good for training, then do an environmental and real estate study. They can collect information for the database but not determine the fair market value. From an environmental standpoint, Steuber said some farms used storage tanks for fuel storage.
“Some may have had underground fuel storage tanks,” Steuber said.
“We need to know all that. That is what we are doing right now gathering detailed information to the study area.”
McLendon hopes the meeting give residents a chance to get questions answered.
“Let’s hope it is favorable for all concerned,” the mayor said.