One of the most tenacious challenges confronting Mount Vernon-Lee districts throughout 2006 was the approaching expansion of Fort Belvoir as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Report (BRAC). It was exacerbated by its conjoined twin the Museum of the U.S.Army.
Not only did BRAC ramp up pressure to address ever expanding transportation problems throughout southeastern Fairfax County but also it added to the widening schism between the Department of the Army and local officials when the former proposed to place the long-awaited museum at the Engineering Proving Grounds rather than the local leadership's preferred site adjacent to Fort Belvoir's Pence Gate on Route 1. It all came to a head at the late July meeting of the Belvoir BRAC Board of Advisors (BOA).
"Why do we have a Board of Advisors? Why did they (the Army) bother to ask our opinion? This is not the way the process is supposed to work," said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland after that contentious meeting.
He was joined in that appraisal by both Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald Connolly. "Let's not pretend we are all in agreement. We are not," Connolly told both the military brass and civilian Department of the Army personnel present.
That proposed relocation of the museum, which had no national defense implications about which each BRAC mission is supposed to focus, triggered a political campaign to pressure Department of The Army planners to reconsider. It came to a head in late Fall with the Army agreeing to relocate the museum to Belvoir's Kingman Gate area just off the Fairfax County Parkway near its intersection with Route 1.
Since the first announcement of the proposed museum, nearly two years ago, local leaders, political, business and citizen, have pressed for the Route 1 site in order to position the eventual museum in proximity to other historic sites in the area such as Mount Vernon Estate and the Woodlawn and Gunston Hall plantations. It would align it geographically with the newly opened Museum of the U.S.Marine Corp at Quantico Marine Base just off Interstate 95.
The other objections to placing the museum and its planned support development, such as hotels and a conference center, at EPG was that the site is totally without any infrastructure or easy highway or mass transit access. Finally, in late November, under pressure from U.S. Sen. John Warner(R-VA) and U.S. Representative James P. Moran (D-8), combined with a host of local political and business leaders, the Department of the Army reversed their site decision.
Prior to that the military had attempted to utilize the concept of "Enhanced Use Leasing" as a means of bringing the museum to the EPG site. Under this concept private developers would virtually finance both construction and development of the museum in return for the opportunity to create tourism facilities around the site to recap their investment. This would supposedly negate, or greatly diminish, the need for the Museum Foundation to raise funds for the museum. Their efforts have been lagging way behind projections.
Keith Easton, assistant secretary, Army Installations and Environment, Department of The Army, issued a press release acknowledging that local leaders and the congressional delegation had convinced him that "the Kingman Gate site better supports the region's traffic needs and the desires of our community neighbors."
He also verified, "We do not intend to pursue any Enhanced Use Leasing for the museum at Belvoir." However, the final site selection remains contingent upon the outcome of the Environmental Impact Statement process that is currently underway and scheduled for completion in the late Spring or early summer of 2007.
ALL OTHER primary elements of Fort Belvoir BRAC realignment, which call for an estimate 22,500 increase in base personnel, remain on track. Most are scheduled to be located at EPG with the relocation of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and elements of the Washington Headquarters Service. Those two elements will account for approximately 18,000 of the total. The remaining 4,000 are scheduled for the main post.
By relocating the greatest contingent of newly positioned personnel to EPG, the challenge of constructing all the necessary infrastructure as well as addressing the transportation problems remain even without the museum. Including the museum would have only heightened the projected problems, according to both military and civilian leaders.
In late August, transportation problems envisioned by BRAC were given a public forum when the U.S. House of Representative Committee on Government Reform, under the chairmanship of U.S. Representative Thomas M. Davis III (R-11), conducted a full blown field hearing at Rolling Valley Elementary School in Springfield.
"I called these hearings to highlight what I believe is an unrealistic timeline and flawed planning process," Davis said at the time. He was joined in that appraisal and in conducting the hearing by Moran.
All those that testified that day agreed that the primary concern to successful implementation of BRAC at Belvoir was transportation and the lack of necessary highway improvement projects underway to accommodate the projected increase of an estimated additional "15,000 extra car trips per day." Particular emphasis was placed on the long-delayed Fairfax County Parkway Connector at EPG and the impact of traffic on local neighborhoods in proximity to EPG.
Overall, there were 14 "required" highway projects identified during the hearing with an estimated total cost of $626 million. At the conclusion of 2006 only three had identified funding sources.
As stated by Moran that day, "This funding begs the question. Who's going to pay for the infrastructure improvements?"
That question remained as 2006 drew to a close. Under the law all BRAC realignment must be completed by September 15, 2011.
As Davis stated during the field hearing, " I called these hearings to highlight what I believe is an unrealistic timeline and flawed planning process. It is my hope that doing so will provide justification for legislation that would allow the process to move along in a rational manner."
However, as noted by Kauffman during the July BOA meeting, "Transportation improvements are all dependent on future Congressional actions. We are about one half a billion dollars short."