Transportation, quality of life and a very questionable time table, each were recurring themes reiterated by speaker after speaker at Tuesday night's first official public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for implementation of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Report (BRAC) as that relates to Fort Belvoir's impending work force explosion.
As was explained to the nearly 150 attendees in Mount Vernon High School's "Little Theater" by Donald Carr, director, Public Information, Fort Belvoir, "This hearing is being held for the sole purpose of listening to you. This hearing is yours."
He also assured the audience that "the government has made no final decisions about BRAC. In fact, the Army extended the comment period to get more public input." That comment period ends at 5 p.m. May 1, according to Carr.
"We are here tonight to take all your comments either verbally or in writing or both. We are not here to engage in discussions," Carr said.
"This is a big mission. We must work together. Tonight we reach a milestone in the BRAC process. I'm asking that you maintain contact with us so we can work together. We only have one chance to get this right," said Fort Belvoir Installation Commander Col. Brian Lauritzen, in opening the hearing to the public officials who presented their formal statements in assessing the DEIS recommendations.
Buttressing Lauritzen's admonition of having only one chance at getting it right, was Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman. "BRAC is indeed a challenge to those charged with making it work. I liken it to trying to put together a puzzle as the pieces keep changing shape in your hands," he said.
"BRAC is also a challenge to those of us wanting to ensure that this doubling of Fort Belvoir is a net positive change for the Richmond Highway and for Springfield area home and business owners," Kauffman said.
But, he warned, "At the purist level, this entire process is being undertaken completely ‘BRACwards’ as there is no up-to-date, future plan for the entirety of Belvoir. Sooner or later we need to get a new master plan approved and in place for the sake of both the Army and the County."
Kauffman also called for "DoD (Department of Defense) and GSA (General Services Administration) to lower their bureaucracy defense shields and once and for all do away with the half-century old wooden relic known as the Franconia Depot," otherwise referred to as the GSA warehouses.
"Preserving low-ceiling warehouses next to a regional transportation center is just plain stupid and a waste of taxpayer dollars," Kauffman told Lauritzen, to whom all testimony was directed as the officer in charge of implementing the BRAC recommendations for Belvoir.
ECHOING KAUFFMAN'S desire for a net positive result from the pending influx of 22,000 employees to both Mount Vernon and Lee districts as a result of BRAC, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland stated, "I am here to ensure that we preserve my district's treasure — its quality of life."
Naming transportation infrastructure as "the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors' overwhelming concern" pertaining to BRAC implementation, Hyland questioned DEIS cost estimates related to transportation improvements. Sighting the DoD estimate of $485 million for road improvements, Hyland said, "Fairfax County's estimates of required improvements are closer to $1 billion."
He also noted, "There is a $50 million shortfall to widen the Fairfax County Parkway through the Engineering Proving Grounds and an $11 million shortfall to widen the Woodlawn Road replacement to four lanes."
To mitigate these factors, Hyland suggested that both the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and Washington Headquarters Services be located at the GSA warehouse location. "I support Supervisor Kauffman's efforts to move the preponderance of BRAC employees, over 18,000, within walking distance of Metro and VRE," he said.
"This is a cost effective, smart growth initiative in line with Fairfax County's goals to reduce vehicle traffic and create pedestrian friendly urban communities near mass transit," Hyland said.
Hyland also expressed concern "about the reclassification of land use categories" that would "eliminate the "environmentally sensitive" category, which could "circumvent regulatory protections and open up land areas for future development." He cited the fact that Accotink Creek runs through the center of the EPG and is protected by the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.
Hyland also called for BRAC to take into consideration its "future" impact on southeastern Fairfax County schools. "Fort Belvoir and our Congressional delegation need to help solve this problem by considering to build a South County Middle School sooner rather than later," he said.
Diverting from DEIS's scope, Hyland urged Lauritzen to consider having DeWitt Army Hospital coordinate existing services with Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. "Instead of isolating itself behind armed gates, the new DeWitt Hospital has an opportunity to improve health care to service members by utilizing Inova's Rehabilitation, Joint Replacement and Wound Healing Centers and locate their obstetric services at Mount Vernon Hospital," he said.
PICKING UP on the BRAC implementation timetable, with its September 2011 deadline, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8) initiated his testimony by stating, "There are many people who are skeptical if BRAC can be implemented by 2011. BRAC impacts Northern Virginia like no other place in the world. None of the other BRAC changes nationwide are as sensitive as at Fort Belvoir."
He then questioned DoD's rationale for moving people from "perfectly adequate and safe buildings" in Arlington and relocating them to Belvoir. "But, it’s not too inconsistent with many of DoD's decisions in the last couple of years. I don't blame the Army. I blame DoD," Moran said.
Moran maintained that as a result of poor DoD planning concerning BRAC, particularly as that applies to the transportation infrastructure, "military readiness will suffer after BRAC if all this doesn't get fixed. The agencies coming here will not function if their employees cannot get to work."
Noting that this was the joint opinion of himself and U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis, III (R-11), Moran also announced that he and Davis were introducing legislation to keep Walter Reed Army Hospital "open while the Iraq war remains underway. And we are going to do everything we can to delay the implementation of BRAC."
Praising the efforts and commitment of Lauritzen and his command team, Moran said, "Despite the best efforts of Col. Lauritzen and his team BRAC can not be completed by 2011. Therefore, the deadline must be extended to do it right — not just by the deadline."
Although Davis was not present due to attending a service for residents of his district who were victims of the Virginia Tech University tragedy, William Womack, his legislative director, read a statement in which Davis questioned the timeline and the sincerity of the Army to "dedicate the necessary resource" to meet that deadline.
Raising some of the most dire predictions concerning the lack of adequate transportation/highway improvement projects to meet BRAC demands was Virginia Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer, representing Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine at the hearing.
"What we have found that works is sustaining the quality of life around military bases. That is going to be the challenge around Belvoir," Homer said.
HE MAINTAINED that the full impact of BRAC on area transportation arteries was "not reflected in the DEIS." All or most of the road projects planned and underway were there prior to BRAC and do not take into account the 22,000 commuter increase, according to Homer. This applies to the EPG, Richmond Highway, Woodlawn Road replacement, and the Fairfax County extension, Homer noted.
"Congestion to get into EPG without the improvements will last three to four hours. Even with all the presently planned projects completed it will not be enough to handle the additional BRAC traffic," he insisted.
Homer urged that no final decision be made on implementing BRAC until the "mitigating road project are included and funded and that an impact analysis be included that looks at traffic projections in 2020, 2030 and beyond." Those predictions and consequences were reinforced by testimony from Virginia Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-39) and Paul Reagan, chief of staff, Sen. James Webb (D-VA).
Citing DEIS wording, Watts said, "These transportation projects are critical to mitigate ‘reduced employee productivity, higher commuting costs, and degradation of quality of life’ for both commuters and the local community.
"I would request that the Final EIS contain a timetable with specific actions that must be completed by dates certain or trigger a September 2011 occupancy being moved back accordingly," Watts said in referring to the need for Congressional mitigation funding.
Reagan’s testimony stated bluntly, "Without new roads in and around Fort Belvoir by 2011, BRAC will fail."
Jointly filed testimony by the Mount Vernon-Lee and Greater Springfield chambers of commerce also called for "the development of the critical transportation infrastructure necessary to support the mobility needs of the expanded workforce in South County."
Following testimony by the federal, state, county and local representatives, Lauritzen opened the floor to attendees who had previously registered to speak. They addressed a wide range of issues from air quality to the impact of BRAC on schools, wildlife, ecology and, again, transportation gridlock.
All comments will now be evaluated and assessed against the DEIS and BRAC's 2011 deadline. A final report will be issued and available for comment for 30 days after which it will be published.