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Votes

A Whole Lot of Nothing

While Fort Belvoir will add to its existing infrastructure, Engineer Proving Ground will have to be fully developed for BRAC.

To fulfill its plans to bring about 18,000 new workers to the Engineer Proving Ground in Springfield, the Army is going to have to hire some construction workers first.

Only two buildings now occupy the EPG, one on either side of the 800 acre property. In between the two buildings, only one of which is now used, are acres of fields, trees that have fallen across the dirt roads that cross the property and a metal bridge that has been closed for six years.

"Under the current site plan, we want to do as much dispersal of personnel as possible," said Don Dees, chief public information officer of plans and policy at Fort Belvoir. "Putting 18,000 people at the EPG instead of putting all 22,000 new workers at Fort Belvoir is what we're looking at with this plan."

Currently, 23,000 people work at Fort Belvoir, which will receive an additional 4,000 workers under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)-ordered changes to the base. That number includes people who will be working at the remodeled DeWitt Hospital, which will replace about half of the Walter Reed Medical Center, located in Washington, D.C.

Dees admitted that creating the office space and infrastructure needed to accommodate 18,000 people by the Sept. 12, 2011 deadline is aggressive, but he believes it's not impossible.

"This is the mission we've been given by the Department of Defense," Dees said. "We've signed up to do what we've been asked to do. We hope to do that in concert with the local communities as best we can."

WHEN THE Environmental Impact Study of the EPG and Fort Belvoir is released next summer, Dees said it will either confirm or deny the current preferred siting plan for improvements to both sites. Dees said the planners working at Fort Belvoir to determine where to put the new workers have already taken into consideration many of the environmental challenges or problems on both sites. The study is just a final approval of where the workers will be placed.

"The Belvoir New Vision Planners have been working with our own Department of Public Works at Belvoir to create their siting plan," Dees said. "They had been in the process of looking at the master plan for Belvoir when the BRAC changes surfaced. Our master plan was tabled until after we know what the BRAC results would be."

Dees admitted that it is possible that not all required work would be completed by the September 2011 deadline.

"Our perspective is that we're going to do what we've been asked," he said.

On Monday, Oct. 2, U.S. Reps. Tom Davis (R-11) and Jim Moran (D-8) introduced legislation that was later passed by Congress that would give the Army some help.

In a Defense Authorization Bill passed that day, Davis and Moran requested Congress look at the possibility of extending the timeline for completion of work at the EPG and Belvoir. In addition, the bill asked Congress to allow the Army to phase in some of the changes, allowing for even more time for work to be done.

"It's my belief that buildings can go up pretty quickly," Davis said. "The real problem is getting people in and out of the site."

To help ease that problem, and also to provide some relief to commuters already using Interstate 95 during rush hours, part of the Defense Authorization Bill was an agreement that would turn over construction of the final part of the Fairfax County Parkway to the Army.

"We are in earnest discussions about the management of road improvement projects with the Army," said Pierce Homer, Virginia's Secretary of Transportation. "On the Commonwealth's side, we feel it would be better if one entity were to oversee the development of the road."

PREVIOUSLY, THE ARMY used the EPG for ordinance training. As a result, some of the land needs to be cleaned up and unexploded ordinances removed. Like any other land owned by the Army, the Army is responsible for any environmental cleaning that may be required at any point in the future, Homer said.

To help pay for the construction of the Parkway, Homer said the state is contributing $86 million to the Army for completion of the road. Any additional costs which may result from design or concept changes or any other modifications to the current plan would be paid by the Army.

However, Dave Foster, an Army spokesperson, said the Army is still in negotiations with the Virginia Department of Transportation to determine the next step.

"The Army is working with the Commonwealth to explore a number of options, to include considering whether the parkway project is eligible for the Defense Access Roads program, allowing the project to be administered either by the Commonwealth or through the Federal Highway Administration," Foster said in an e-mail. "In addition, we are exploring the possibility of a project under the Commonwealth's Public-Private Transportation Act."

Homer has said in the past that the plan for the Parkway would have to be modified as it was originally designed to handle a much smaller number of vehicles daily.

The Army will have to build roads across the EPG in addition to the office space and other facilities on the site, Homer said, and adding the Parkway to those responsibilities will improve the project as a whole.

Additionally, Davis said the bill included language to ask the Army to reconsider using the current General Services Administration warehouses on Loisdale Road in Springfield for up to 7,000 workers. The site is adjacent to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, which would take additional workers off the road and off the EPG site.

"We're trying to act as proactively as we can," Davis said. "All these changes are like trying to fit a size-12 foot into a size-8 shoe. We're just trying to make the shoe a little bigger."

Unlike Dees, Davis is skeptical the changes will be made in time.

"We have to have more studies on transportation. We'll need more changes. The Army has a list of 12 to 14 projects that are not funded," Davis said. "I don't think it will be ready in time."

Davis said he was not sure of any reprimands or consequences the Army would face for not meeting its deadlines.

Dees said many buildings are on Fort Belvoir that would help accommodate the extra workers moving to that site, including buildings that will be vacated when some agencies are relocated through other BRAC mandates.

"Our criminal investigation command is moving to Quantico, and they're leaving a building behind," Dees said. "Someone else could easily move right into their space without having to build anything new."

PART OF THE MASTER plan at Fort Belvoir is the renovation of the 2,070 homes currently on the base. While 170 homes will be left alone or remodeled, more than 670 homes have already been built and are ready for people to move in, Dees said.

However, no additional homes are in the current plans for Belvoir as a result of BRAC, he said.

One of the more controversial pieces of construction that is currently planned for the EPG site is the proposed Army Museum, which was originally sited at Fort Belvoir, where the DeWitt Hospital is now planned.

"We wanted to synchronize the planning for some non-BRAC items to make it work better and look cohesive," Dees said. The museum is not part of the BRAC requirements and therefore does not have to meet the September 2011 deadline.

Dees said he doesn't think the southeastern part of Fairfax County will see the influx of people many residents and elected officials are predicting.

"When you look at the number of people coming in, most of them already live and work in the area," Dees said. "If you live in Burke and work for the National Geospatial Agency, you're currently driving up to Silver Spring for work. You'll now be driving to Belvoir. Why would you move?" he said.

Dees admits the greatest obstacle to tackle will be the completion of roads and transportation modifications, both on the EPG and Fort Belvoir sites and the utilization of public transportation methods.

Fairfax County supervisors are still hoping changes will be made to the preferred siting of employees and the Army museum.

"The EPG is not a developed site at all," said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon). "That's the whole reason we anticipated the western part of the site would be transferred to the county's Park Authority to be kept as open space. The EPG is not a place to put 18,000 people."

Hyland is also concerned about the decision to close the Woodlawn Gate onto Fort Belvoir.

"With all these people who go onto the base for the commissary, they now have to go to the main gate and drive quite a long way to get to the store," he said. "I think it's a question of money, they're cutting back on the number of security people. The post should be opening more gates, not closing them."