EPG: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

EPG: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Supervisors, residents divided on proposed changes to Engineer Proving Grounds.

After months of waiting, hoping and guessing at what the Army's recommendations would hold for Fort Belvoir, last week's announcement that the majority of the 20,000 military and civilian employees moving to the base would be located at the Engineer Proving Ground in proved a surprise.

Located closer to Springfield than Fort Belvoir, the Engineer Proving Ground may become home to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, offices aligned with the Washington Headquarters Service and the National Museum of the United States Army, which had long been a central point of future planning at Fort Belvoir.

"Some of our board members are disappointed," said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield).

She considered the additional residents moving to the greater Springfield area a boost to planned redevelopment in Central Springfield, including a planned Town Center and the KSI plan for Mid-Town Springfield, along with the renovations to the Springfield Mall.

"It'll be helpful for our redevelopment, people will want to go somewhere to eat and shop," McConnell said.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the Army's proposal is putting the Army Museum at the EPG instead of Fort Belvoir, around which developers had proposed building hotels to house guests.

"I think it's a great thing, it'll allow for more access to the museum," McConnell said. "It'll be on a public place instead of on a secured base."

The other two Supervisors in that area, Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) and Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) don't share McConnell's outlook, but she doesn't mind being "the odd man out."

CHANGES TO THE EPG should not come as a surprise to anyone, McConnell said.

"We all knew this was coming here, we've known for 10 years," she said. "It's just in a different form. I'm optimistic that if it works right, it'll be good for us."

Del. Mark Sickles (D-43) said the proposal is a bit of a double-edged sword for Springfield.

"It would be great if the Army could find a way to put the museum on the main base and put the Army Hospital closer to Springfield," he said, adding that more residents would benefit from easier access to medical attention.

The bigger problem, however, is transportation.

"We cannot stand any more traffic on Route 1 or Telegraph Road. Without the proper infrastructure, this will be a disaster," he said.

Sickles said he hopes the county officials don't jump to a doom-and-gloom mentality about the changes to the EPG, but instead focus on making the best of a difficult situation.

"This is the biggest single event to happen in Southern Fairfax County," he said. "Right now, we're overwhelmed by the fear of pure gridlock on the roads. But this will be a shot in the arm for Springfield and could bring with it a lot of amenities. I hope some of the people moving to the EPG will really consider moving into the area for good."

Skeeter Scheid, president of the Central Springfield Area Revitalization Council, said the relocated employees will help fill the office space and retail outlets planned in the downtown area.

"We'll have to look at how we proportion things," said Scheid. "Some of this stuff they're bringing to the EPG is top secret, but the museum will be open to the public."

She shares Sickle's concern about traffic. "A large portion of the questions we ought to be asking are where are these people coming from and what does that mean for us," she said.

Overall, the transfer of offices and staff to the EPG seems to be an "unbalanced" proposal, she said.

"There doesn't seem to be a lot of concern from the Army about what the community wants," she said.

THOSE SENTIMENTS were echoed by Hyland, who served as a member of the advisory board that gave suggestions to the Army as to how the BRAC changes could best be arranged.

"We are very disappointed with this decision, it was not what Fairfax County recommended," he said. "To put 18,000 people on the EPG puts the bulk of the move in one location, which presents major challenges as far as a new transportation infrastructure and how to support it."

His greatest complaint was the location of the Army Museum.

"Pence Gate [at Fort Belvoir] was the site the Army first selected when they came to us and asked us to lobby for a museum here," Hyland said.

Listing a long line of local civic groups, including the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, the Army Historic Foundation and the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations, all of which approved of the museum's location at Fort Belvoir, Hyland said it "doesn't make sense" to move it to Belvoir.

The museum itself is not expected to be designed in the same way as the museums on the National Mall, but more like "a theme-park and convention center with a museum wrapper" due to "financing shortfalls," Kauffman said.

Kauffman, who shares magisterial concern over the EPG with McConnell, said the move of 18,000 people to the site is like trying to put a project "twice the size of Falls Church on half the land mass with virtually no transportation improvements."

The jobs created and moved to Springfield with the addition of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency brings "the caliber of work force that could, over time, really give back to the community," which brings "an incredible array of positives" for the Central Springfield area, Kauffman said.

"I believe that, with some focused energies and more rolling up their sleeves on the part of the Army, we could make the presence of these intelligence agencies a welcome addition," he said.

But the traffic and transportation problems, including the Army's own list of 14 projects they have deemed essential remain unfunded, save for three projects, two of which are being paid for by Virginia, Kauffman said.

"We're hearing this is all happening whether we get the funding or not," he said. "By throwing all of these projects together, you can't solve for 'X' without a massive infusion of dollars from Capitol Hill. The only way these roads can be built is through spreading out the commands."