In preparation for the arrival of what amounts to the population of a small city, Fort Belvoir staged its first scoping session on the Base Realignment and Closure Report with the dual purpose of encouraging public input and providing critical information on its environmental impact statement. BRAC plans will swell Fort Belvoir's daily population to nearly 50,000.
The vast majority of expected additional employees already live and work in the region. A traffic flow map identified the number of vehicles coming from each direction to both the primary Base and the Engineering Proving Grounds. They were: southbound 13,000, northbound 19,000, westbound 8,000, and eastbound 6,000.
Held at the Springfield Hilton Hotel June 7, the two-and-half-hour information exchange session focused on all elements of the BRAC Report that calls for the realignment of approximately 22,000 personnel from 59 agencies and activities to Fort Belvoir no later than Sept. 15, 2011. Of that total approximately 18,000 will be civilian personnel with only 4,000 being military.
In order to analyze "any potential significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts associated with implementing the BRAC recommendations" and the updating of the base master plan it is required that an Environmental Impact Statement be developed. This requires input from all organizations, governments, and community residents affected by these actions.
Conducted in an open-house format, there were information booths around the hotel meeting rooms, staffed by planning staff members, which discussed all aspects of the coming influx from transportation to housing to wildlife protection to historic preservation. "This session is geared to getting the information out to the public and getting their input to us," said Col. Brian W. Lauritzen, Installation Commander, Fort Belvoir.
"This is a sharing of ideas and concerns. It is not intended to be a public hearing. That will come later," he explained. A review draft of the EIS is scheduled for release during the winter of 2007 with a public hearing that summer, according to the published timeline.
AMONG THOSE in attendance were Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman and his chief of staff. Jeffrey McKay. "This is another step in a very long process. Hopefully, there will be serious concentration on the transportation needs," Kauffman said.
"One of the best outcomes we could hope for is that the changes will be split equally between the main Base and the Engineering Proving Grounds," said McKay. "This would help in balancing the traffic impact."
A primary transportation goal stated at the session was to "support and enhance an integrated, multimodal transportation system improved transit service, increased road and transit capacity, and connections between potential activity centers." However, each of these has been touted by both Kauffman and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland well before BRAC announced its recommendations.
Since the initial release of the BRAC report the two supervisors have been seeking data on where the new arrivals will be coming from and where they now live. Their inquiry was based not only on the transportation issue but also on the potential growth in school population throughout southeastern Fairfax County.
Only recently have consultants, hired by the military, followed the original advice of Kauffman and Hyland in using zip codes to determine where those being transferred to Belvoir now live. The fact that most tranferees now live in the immediate region make some of the challenges less daunting but it also raises others, according to Kauffman.
Eighty three percent of those being transferred come from the south, west and north. Only 17 percent would flow down the Route 1 corridor. "That somewhat changes the picture for Metro," said Kauffman. "And, that's coming from a Metro Board member." Kauffman recently completed a one-year term as chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
IN ADDITION to transportation another primary concern is the impact this change will have on the natural environment. Nearly 40 percent of the land at Fort Belvoir is determined to be "environmentally sensitive." Included in that percentage are more than 1,000 acres in the Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge and Jackson Abbott Wildlife Wetlands Refuge.
During the scoping session, the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia presented a letter to Lauritzen requesting that the EIS address a number of environmental protection questions and include a host of evaluations to protect the natural environment. They ranged from stormwater runoff, to developing certified green building to use of natural light and energy conservation buildings.
"We believe that this current BRAC process presents an excellent opportunity to work with the local community and conservation organizations to implement this law (the Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative) and to prevent further degradation of our natural resources," said Glenda C. Booth, Society vice president, in her June 7 letter to the Fort Belvoir Directorate of Public Works.
In order to deal with the host of challenges presented by BRAC and increase its community outreach Fort Belvoir has formed two groups. One is the Board of Advisors for base realignment established in February 2006. It includes Hyland and Kauffman as well as their staffs and other elected and non-elected community leaders.
The second is the Belvoir New Vision Planners. Led by Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan, Inc., and Skidmore Owings & Merrill, two planning and architectural firms, their job is to transform Belvoir into what Lauritzen has referred to as a "world-class installation" while building an infrastructure that will complement and not undermine the adjacent communities in meeting their obligations to the electorate.
Their first report on that goal is scheduled to be delivered to the Pentagon on June 30. There will be a review session of that report with the Board of Advisors at Fort Belvoir on June 22.
Public comments were collected at the scoping session. Addition public input can be submitted online through the EIS Web site at www.belvoirnewvision.com (click on EIS) or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments may also be mailed to Fort Belvoir Directorate of Public Works, 9430 Jackson Loop, Suite 100, Fort Belvoir, VA 22060-5116. All comments must be received or postmarked by July 2 to be considered in preparation of the draft EIS.