More Questions than Answers at EPG

More Questions than Answers at EPG

With 20,000 Army employees moving to Fort Belvoir, construction at Engineer Proving Grounds is expected.

With more than 20,000 military personnel moving out of Crystal City within the next five years as a result of last year’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission act, more questions remain than answers as to how the influx of workers will impact Fort Belvoir.

One area that may be heavily involved with where these Army employees may work is the Engineer Proving Ground, an 800-acre parcel of land that was a former training facility for the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The Army has allowed Fort Belvoir to include the EPG for the planning purposes when discussing BRAC,” said Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee).

The large parcel of land, located just west of Interstate 95 and near Backlick Road in Springfield has already been discussed as a possible home for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which Kauffman describes as “one of the major security agencies” that have expressed an interest in building an office complex at the EPG. Another possible project could be the construction of a 120-bed military hospital to offset the closing of Walter Reed Military Hospital, he said.

“The challenge between those two is finding or building facilities that will house these 11,000 workers,” Kauffman said. “Where are these people going to live? Where are they coming from? If these people move to this part of the county, how will they get around and make sure that those of us who live here already will still be able to get around?” he asked.

As interest in the Springfield area continues, Kauffman said it will be important for the federal government to contribute to the maintenance and improvement of the roads near the EPG.

“From a transportation standpoint, to have the EPG project, the midtown project, the planned town center and the redevelopment of the mall, we need to look at how Springfield can not only survive through these changes, but continue to prosper,” he said.

FOR YEARS, the county has been working in partnership with the Army to complete the Fairfax County Parkway, which is planned for expansion through a 2-acre parcel of the EPG area. While the Environmental Protection Agency was conducting its own tests of the soil on that portion of the EPG, concentrations of petroleum in the soil and groundwater were too high to be cleared for construction. At the time, it was estimated that it could take up to 900 days to clean the area, which the Army had already spent $10 million decontaminating.

With the eventual expansion of Army jobs into the EPG, the need to finish the parkway becomes even more pressing.

The Army has presented a “viable phasing approach” for the construction of the parkway that would “deal with” M-26 and M-27, the two areas on the EPG that are under investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency for soil contamination, Kauffman said. According to the current blueprint for the 2-mile section of the parkway that would cross the EPG, two ramps are planned for that area, but EPA concerns have stalled the project for several months.

“The project hasn’t gone anywhere yet,” said Christopher Reed, a spokesman with the Virginia Department of Transportation. “Until we have been told which way to go, I can’t begin to speculate on the schedule for working on the parkway.”

Reed said he thought VDOT was “on the verge of a breakthrough” regarding the parkway several weeks ago, but is still waiting to be told “which option to use” to build the road.

As if that weren’t complicated enough, another portion of the land was identified as a problem in November.

“There’s an area that has five vertical tanks on it that is in the centerline of the roadway,” Reed said. “We can’t even consider adjusting the line of the roadway to go around it.”

Completion of the Fairfax County Parkway is just one of the many roadways that could be fast-tracked for federal funding because of the expected BRAC impact on Fort Belvoir.

“This project is number two behind the rail to Dulles,” Kauffman said. “There is a focused effort by state and local controls to get improvements done to area roadways to help Belvoir become all it can be,” he said.

Several other projects, including the Springfield Interchange, Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Telegraph Road improvements, are all slated for completion by 2011, the same time the federal government has mandated all BRAC changes to be in place.

If all the projects were completed on time, “we’ll have all we need to prepare the roads for the extra traffic,” Kauffman said.

However, he remained skeptical that all the changes will be in place by the government’s current deadline.

“If all of this is done by 2011, I’ll join my 9-year-old son in believing in Santa Claus,” he said.

THE ARMY HAS not yet finalized or released any specific information regarding the future of the EPG, said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), which makes it difficult for Fairfax County to plan for the future of the site.

“Any speculation at this point would only allow for a substantial amount of construction at the EPG,” Hyland said. “A master planner that has received a $60 million contract with the Department of Defense will guide the post on the planning process.”

The Army is expected to announce the name of the master planner soon, said JoAnn Blanks, deputy to the garrison of Fort Belvoir. While discussing the BRAC changes that will impact the Springfield community at a Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday, Feb. 14, Blanks said the planner will also approach any and all changes to be made at Belvoir as a cohesive strategy.

"We are going to look at Belvoir as a whole when making changes, not just focusing on what we need to do for BRAC," Blanks said. Some projects, like the construction of an Army museum and the expansion of the DeWitt Army Hospital, which was already under discussion prior to the BRAC decision, will be included as part of the renovation of the whole 13.5 square mile area covered by Fort Belvoir.

"We have to consider how BRAC will impact the entire community, not just the base," she said, which is why a board of advisors has been assembled, including Kauffman, Hyland and Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), to ensure the needs and concerns of the community are taken into consideration.

However, until Congress provides funding for the required changes, nothing is being done.

"We're already running behind," Blanks said. "I'm sure Congress is well aware that we need to be funded before we can start to work."

It is uncertain what may happen if all BRAC-related changes are not completed by the federally-set deadline of 2011, said Donald Carr, a spokesman for Fort Belvoir.

"I really don't know what the penalties might be," he said.

The bottom line for the community to keep in mind, Carr said, is that the Army is just as concerned about the needs and fears of the community, along with any widespread impact the addition of 20,000 people will have in Springfield, as the people who already live there.

"We're all in this together," Carr said. "We're all working together to make sure this succeeds."