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BRAC Moves Forward, Board's Role Diminished

Belvoir BRAC price tag set at $3.2 billion.

The Board of Advisors (BOA) was intended to have direct input to that portion of the Base Realignment And Closure Report (BRAC) of 2005 that dealt with Fort Belvoir; that input was also originally characterized as having a direct impact on the final decision process.

That was the theory. BOA's actual role was characterized more pointedly in a question posed by Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) Wednesday, Aug. 15 at the outset of the BOA’s meeting dealing with the recently signed Record of Decision (ROD) pertaining to Fort Belvoir and BRAC.

"In light of where we are and the fact that the ROD has been signed, what are we supposed to accomplish here today?" Hyland asked Fort Belvoir Installation Commander Col. Brian W. Lauritzen who chaired the meeting at the Fort Belvoir Officers Club.

"What is your reaction to the ROD since it did not address all the concerns of either the Commonwealth or Fairfax County?" Hyland asked. "Are the rest of those concerns to be addressed or merely put aside like hanging chads? Where do we go with the ROD?"

Lauritzen said that the meeting was envisioned "purely as a briefing on the ROD." The "hanging chads" Hyland referred to will be dealt with later, said Lauritzen.

Lauritzen also raised the possibility that perhaps the BOA may have "reached its zenith and may not have to convene as a full body" any longer. He suggested that the members’ input could be achieved through work groups. However, by the end of Wednesday’s session, it was clear that the local and state leaders wanted the BOA to continue meeting as structured.

"It is essential to have this dialogue as we move ahead," said School Board member Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence).

Hyland echoed that sentiment. "It is important to continue so that we may express our views and get people to lobby the federal and state governments to get the things done we want done. It is important for us to be kept in the loop and up-to-date," he said.

"We need to continue this process so we at least have input to all the various elements of the BRAC process," said Jeffrey McKay, chief of staff to Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee). McKay, a Democrat, is seeking election to succeed Kauffman who is retiring at the end of 2007. He faces Republican Douglas Boulter in the November election.

THE PURPOSE of the Aug. 15 meeting was, as stated by Lauritzen, to brief the BOA on various aspects of the ROD which was signed August 7 and released to the Federal Register August 10. It generally adheres to the so-called "Preferred Alternative" for positioning the various military elements being relocated to Fort Belvoir's main post, off Richmond Highway, and its ancillary facility, known as the Engineering Proving Grounds, located closer to Springfield, adjacent to the Fairfax County Parkway.

Those relocations and realignments coupled with the necessary construction projects to support them carry an estimated price tag of $3.2 billion, according to a fact sheet distributed by representatives of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. That total is divided as follows:

* $1.2 billion for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) 2.4 million square feet facility.

* $1.1 billion for the Washington Headquarters Services 1.7 million square feet facility.

* $747 million for the reconstructed of DeWitt Community Hospital.

* $150 million infrastructure construction.

One surprise element of the ROD was the announcement that the number of personnel coming to Belvoir was reduced from the previous estimate of 22,000 to 19,000. That lower number "is based on information not available" when work began on the BRAC realignment, scheduled to be completed by Sept. 15, 2011, according to the ROD.

The primary factor for the reduction, according to the ROD, is due to: (1) Navy and Air Force organizations, now in Pentagon renovation space, will find space at a location other than Belvoir; (2) Army Pentagon renovation leased space personnel will be going to the main post; and (3) approximately 2,500 personnel now on Belvoir's main post will be leaving for other military installations due to BRAC.

The ROD also authorized "pursuit of funding" for five transportation projects certified as eligible under the Defense Access Road (DAR) Project Program. This is considerably less that the 13 projects identified as "critical" early in BRAC planning and discussed during a public Congressional committee meeting hosted by U.S. Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11) and James P. Moran (D-8).

The five projects are now eligible to receive federal funding when it becomes available. However, one DAR project is deferred until a final decision is made on the transfer and use of the General Services Administration (GSA) warehouse site in Springfield.

When it came to the possible use of the GSA warehouses as a potential BRAC site Col. Mark Moffatt, deputy to the installation commander for transformation, conducting the BOA presentation, said, "Anything we do must adhere to BRAC law."

On July 26, Pierce R. Homer, Virginia Secretary of Transportation, sent a letter to Keith E. Eastin, Assistant Secretary of the Army, and J. Richard Capka, administrator, Federal Highway Administration, acknowledging the "Commonwealth formally committed a total of $223 million to fully fund the constriction of the I-95 fourth lane and the Fairfax County Parkway from I-95 to the Franconia-Springfield Parkway." That represents a $58 million increase in the Commonwealth commitment, according to Homer.

THE OTHER ITEM of prime concern to Fairfax County leaders was the impact of BRAC on public schools. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) estimated BRAC actions at Belvoir would result in generating 3,200 school-age students for Fairfax County. That number was reduced to 2,800 as a result of the ROD.

Overall, BRAC actions are predicted to result in a reduction of approximately 12,700 students region-wide when all realignments are complete. "Based on the ROD assumptions, the net increase of students in Fairfax County as a result of BRAC is estimated to be about an additional 265 students," said Moffatt.

"An independent study commissioned by the Northern Virginia Workforce Investment Board concludes that the school impact is around 50 additional students in southern Fairfax County and that the greatest impact is to Prince William County with an increase of 358 children."

Lauritzen emphasized those conclusions by stating: "This (BRAC) is going to cause an insignificant impact on the various school districts."

That conclusion was challenged by Niedzielski-Eichner as it pertained to Fairfax County. "I am very skeptical of those figures," he said. "But, I will withhold judgement until we get closer."

Hyland was less generous. "We need to know how many additional students we will be responsible to educate," he said. "We need to be absolutely right on this. We can't afford to be wrong."

Following a series of questions from various BOA members, Lauritizen responded with, "I know we're all in the same boat, but I'm not sure we're all rowing in the same direction. There are many people involved and many considerations."

The next gathering of the BOA will be following the issuance of the second ROD in either January or February 2008.