Breakfast Surprise

Breakfast Surprise

Garrison commander reveals scope of changes at Fort Belvoir.

An old warning took on tangible meaning Tuesday morning at Fort Belvoir's Community Update Breakfast for political, business and civic leaders primarily from Mount Vernon and Lee districts. "Be careful what you ask for — you just may get it."

During his presentation to the 200-plus gathered at the base Officers Club for the annual briefing of what's happening at Fort Belvoir and how that impacts the surrounding communities, Col. Brian W. Lauritzen, the new garrison commander as of July 11, stunned local politicians with the announcement that the latest base personnel complement has reached 32,208.

This will increase by an additional 21,000 plus as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Report recommendations. It is further exacerbated by nearly 900 more from other factors outside BRAC.

That was combined with the revelation that, in addition to all the other projected growth factors, there will also be a new full-service 148-bed hospital that will increase the served beneficiaries from the present 90,000 to 220,000. "DeWitt Hospital will be an all-facility community hospital with every single level of care," said Col. Patricia Horoho, commander, DeWitt Army Hospital.

Both of these facts will have their greatest impact on the item and challenge that ran through Lauritzen's presentation. As he stated it, "Transportation, transportation, transportation."

IN REFERRING to all the changes that are planned as a result of BRAC, Lauritzen said, "We really do want to emphasize the transportation piece. This is the critical linchpin to make all this work. It's absolutely critical."

During the question period, the two Fairfax County supervisors most affected by Belvoir, Gerald Hyland and Dana Kauffman, Mount Vernon and Lee districts respectively, voiced their concerns about both the availability of federal dollars to carry forth all these plans and the ever escalating personnel numbers that will impact the area's infrastructure.

"All of the things you have outlined in your presentation are dependent on having serious dollars available. My concern is how many dollars will there be with all the other demands such as the natural disasters and the war," Kauffman said.

"Transportation is a big concern. But, we have to know where people are coming from. Plans for a Metro extension won't be of much use if many of them are coming from Prince William County. Unless we build a very long extension," said Kauffman, who presently serves as chairman of WMATA's Board of Directors.

He was joined in his concerns by Hyland. "It would be very helpful if we could get our arms around these numbers of personnel increase. It's an incredible moving target. How many more people are coming here outside the BRAC numbers?" he asked.

"If we are to move people on and off post so as not to disrupt the entire area, we need hard numbers," Hyland said. He also inquired if a survey had been done to determine the proper demographics of those being reassigned to Fort Belvoir.

"We asked two and a half months ago that a survey be done to determine where this new personnel lives now, if they plan to move, how many school age children they have so we know the impact on local schools, and other data," Hyland said.

When Lauritzen asked one of his aides if the survey had been done the answer was, "It went out yesterday." But, they also pointed out that the family data as to school age children was not included. The rationale was that the survey concentrated primarily on traffic flow based on zip codes.

"Not to have the school children data puts us behind the eight ball," Hyland said. He also asked Horoho, "To what degree will transportation plans impact your decision as to where to put the new hospital? It should be placed where people can get to it most easily."

She assured him, "Transportation is clearly a factor. We already have all the beneficiary information by zip code. We are planning the new facility based on driving time."

DURING HER PRESENTATION on the new hospital, as a result of BRAC's recommendation that the greater Washington area have a "world class facility," Horoho said, "We will have a joint medical command" with the enlarged facility at Bethesda. Walter Reed Army Hospital is scheduled for closure as a result of BRAC.

All planning for both Bethesda's and Belvoir's new roles is being coordinated, according to Horoho. "Anything we do in the south (Belvoir) has to be synchronized with the north (Bethesda). How do we go down to two (military) hospitals in the National Capital Area without downgrading medical capabilities? That is the challenge," she said.

"We will have a north/south campus. There will be phased implementation. Any decisions we make here are dependent on decisions made in the north," Horoho said.

Just over two years ago DeWitt was scheduled to be down-graded to primarily an outpatient clinic with fewer that 30 beds. During discussions about the future of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital there was speculation that Army beneficiaries, needing more comprehensive medical care, could be served there instead of DeWitt.

This included speculation that IMVH's Joint Replacement Center might also serve Walter Reed patients. The new configuration and plans for a Belvoir/Bethesda medical complex would seemingly remove both those options.

Upon completion, the new DeWitt Hospital will be the U.S. Army's largest medical facility, according to Horoho's presentation. It will contain just under 900,000 square feet. The projected cost of both the new DeWitt and reconfigured/upgraded Bethesda facility is $1.3 billion. Deadline for final plans is Dec. 31.

ANOTHER PROBLEM embroiling Fort Belvoir and civilian leaders is the use of a segment of the Engineering Proving Grounds (EPG) to complete the final link of the Fairfax County Parkway. A roadblock to Virginia Department of Transportation commencing construction was recently announced as a result of an Environmental Protection Agency ruling supposedly blocking Belvoir's release of the site.

"From the Army's perspective the plot is ready for construction. Our position is we are ready to stick shovels in the ground," Lauritzen told the breakfast audience.

"But, we are being asked to further clean the site to drinking water standards by EPA. It's not like we were going to build housing there. This is going to be a road. The Army has spent $12 million in clean up of the EPG so far," he said.

"Although the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine Risk assessment indicates no hazard to health or the environment, VDOT is insistent the right-of-way be "clean" prior to conveyance and EPA wants drinking water standards. We are trying to work with both EPA and Virginia to resolve these issues. It is just a road not a place for drinking water," Lauritzen said.

EPA'S REQUIREMENTS impose several phases to bring the plot up to their defined standards. Each of those phases has an allowable maximum number of days to be completed. If the maximum time frame were used in each phase it would amount to a 900-day delay in conveying the plot for construction.

This delay has frustrated Hyland and Kauffman who, together, submitted a letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to be sent to the Virginia Secretary of Transportation asking VDOT to find an alternate route which would eliminate the use of the EPG. That letter was sent over the signature of Gerald Connolly, chairman, Board of Supervisors, on Sept. 27.

Under the theme, "No Daylight Between Us," Lauritzen emphasized the need for the base and the community to continue to work together to address and solve mutual problems. To this end he announced the establishment of a "Board of Directors" to deal with the BRAC impact on the area.

It will be composed of representatives from Fort Belvoir and community leaders such as Hyland, Kauffman and others. "Although it will not have decision-making powers it will keep an open dialogue. We have to be sensitive to your needs. We are one big community, inside and outside this installation," he said.

"This (BRAC impact) will require continuous dialogue with our other stakeholders — the community. We have a tremendous opportunity to get it done right. This breakfast is to state our commitment to maintaining that dialogue with the entire community," Lauritzen said.

This was buttressed by Gen. Guy C. Swan, III, commander, Military District of Washington. "All of our installations nationwide are being affected by this (BRAC). But, no other installation is being impacted like Belvoir," he said.

"That means we are going to get a lot of help. My role is to assist Brian in working with the Department of The Army. But, I have never seen a better community relationship than exists here at Belvoir," Swan said.

Adding in the planned Museum of The U.S. Army, which is estimated to draw approximately one million visitors a year, and the new base housing that is a national model, Lauritzen saw all these challenges as manageable only through "synchronization." This he placed a the top of his challenges list as something that will determine the success or failure of everything else between now and 2011 when the BRAC recommendations are to be completed.