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New Spaces on Old Bases

Forward-thinking reutilization strategies can turn military base closures into surprisingly positive developments for their surrounding communities.

Aug/Sep 07
(page 2 of 2)
Environmental Cleanup Issues
A big stumbling block to base redevelopment in prior BRAC rounds has been the delay in environmental cleanup that has slowed the transfer of property to the LRAs. Some closed bases still have large tracts with chemical contamination, unexploded ordinance dangers, or other environmental hazards. Recently, a new procedure called an Environmental Services Cooperative Agreement (ESCA) has been established to help speed the process.

"Before, the military would clean up the property based on its annual allocation, and it may not necessarily have been the piece of the base that the community needed to advance its reuse plan," says Paul Kalomiris, executive director of the Association of Defense Communities. "Now the LRA can target the cleanup toward the land on the base that is central to its reuse plan."

At Alabama's 47,000-acre Fort McClellan (BRAC 1995), about 6,000 acres are contaminated with unexploded ordinance, and there are also 10 landfills, 38 underground storage tanks, three major groundwater plumes, and numerous other problem sites still to be remedied. The McClellan Joint Powers Authority, the LRA for the base, negotiated an ESCA with the Army, estimating remaining cleanup cost at around $200 million, and received the contaminated property in an early transfer so that it could privatize the cleanup work. Already at McClellan there is an 18,000-acre master-planned community, and 3,000 jobs have been created there since the base closed in 1999.

In California, the Air Force agreed to pay the Sacramento County LRA $11.2 million in an ESCA to remove the top 15 feet of PCB-contaminated soil from a 62-acre parcel at the former McClellan Air Force Base (BRAC 1995), and the Army is paying $100 million to the LRA at Ford Ord (BRAC 1991) in Marina to remove munitions and explosives in 3,500 acres of the 28,000-acre former base.

Kalomiris notes that during the current BRAC round, the military has done "a much better job" in providing LRAs with accurate information on environmental conditions on its bases. Michael Houlemard, executive officer of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, warns, however, that although the information provided about the status of transitioning bases is critical, it is not always reliable. "It is crucial to have early and continuous access to both physical spaces on former installations and the military personnel who manage those facilities in order to adequately understand the constraints and the opportunities of closing base properties," he says.

Growth Communities
The main difference between BRAC 2005 and prior BRAC rounds was the military's primary objective. Previous rounds were more about force reduction, says Kalomiris. In the 2005 round, the focus was on the goal of creating more efficient missions and more efficiently operated bases. As a result, about 20 communities will see significant levels of mission growth, which creates its own set of challenges in terms of infrastructure, schools, healthcare, and other services that must be expanded to accommodate the sudden population growth.

In Texas, major expansions include Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and Fort Bliss in El Paso. Virginia will see growth at Fort Lee and Fort Belvoir, and Maryland is bracing for an influx of personnel at Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Ground, and several other bases. Other installations with significant mission growth include Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Fort Knox, Kentucky; and Fort Carson, Colorado.

Relationships between defense communities and the bases they host have become much more sophisticated. Some states facing major mission growth have enacted special legislation to help with increased demands on infrastructure and education systems. Maryland even established a BRAC subcabinet to help coordinate planning. San Antonio, which has a variety of bases and is dealing with both closures and expansions, recently created an Office of Military Transformation.

"The Defense Department and defense communities have always been partners, and we're seeing even more of those partnerships between bases and their communities," says Kalomiris.

The military is also increasing partnerships with the private sector through Enhanced Use Leasing (EUL), which brings companies onto bases to establish facilities that advance mission objectives. Two major new projects, both envisioned to exceed 1 million square feet of office and laboratory space, are the Picatinny Applied Research Campus at the Army's Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey and the Emerald Coast Center at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida. Bases throughout the country are also using EUL arrangements to attract alternative energy companies.

Undoubtedly we will see more of these types of partnerships in the future.

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