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BRAC Relocations — By the Numbers

Fort Belvoir commander tries to allay public fears.

>"I realize I’m competing with another show tonight," Col. Brian Lauritzen, installation commander for Fort Belvoir, told members of the South County Federation Wednesday night. "I don’t watch the show myself, but I think you’ll see the parallel. Show’s called ‘Numbers.’"

The numbers flew fast and furiously between Fort Belvoir personnel and the Federation, a group of homeowners, civic and citizens’ associations, at the meeting, which took place at Tuesday, May 8 at South County Secondary School.

After 60 days, the comment period had just closed on the Army’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the possible means for and effects of doubling the number of military and Department of Defense (DOD) personnel in the area. In accordance with the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act of 2005, the jobs of 23,000 Army and DOD personnel are slated to be relocated to southern Fairfax County by September 2011, in addition to the 22,000 such jobs already being filled at Fort Belvoir.

During the statement's comment period, Lauritzen said, the Army received about 900 comments from the public. About 400 of those were traffic-related. Preliminary traffic studies and traffic mitigation plans have been laid out, but further studies will be conducted after it has been determined exactly where the 23,000 jobs will be relocated, said Lauritzen. The existing 22,000 employees, he said, put about 19,000 cars on the roads.

Four options for distributing the incoming personnel have been presented, including two that would shoehorn all of them into the main Fort Belvoir site in the southeast of the county; one that would divide them between the largely undeveloped Engineer Proving Ground (EPG), located between Rolling Road and I-95 south of the Franconia Springfield Parkway; and one that would split them between the proving ground and a 70-acre site near the Springfield Metro, now occupied by the General Services Administration (GSA).

Lauritzen said he would like to see the newly relocated jobs divided between all three sites, but he noted that it is uncertain whether the Army will acquire the GSA site. This will be up to Congress. He said a feasibility study has been conducted, which determined it would be feasible for the site to support Fort Belvoir facilities, but the conversion would be costly and time-consuming. He acknowledged that there has been "a lot of momentum within the elected leadership realm" to get the GSA site into the plan but noted that its inclusion is not required by BRAC.

ACCORDING TO the draft statement, it would be preferable to relocate only about 4,000 jobs to the main Fort Belvoir and place the rest on the proving ground or even split them between the proving ground and GSA sites.

A final Environmental Impact Statement is slated for release at the end of June and will be open to public comment for 30 days, explained Lauritzen, and by early August, the Army hopes to have a decision made on how the jobs will be distributed throughout the region. However, he emphasized, "we won’t start laying asphalt immediately" after the decision is reached. He also noted that the early August deadline is subject to change because "we’ve got once chance to get it right."

The draft statement lays out a long series of transportation projects that would mitigate the Fort Belvoir expansion’s impact on local traffic, as well as cost estimates for each project. The option of spreading the new personnel between the main Fort Belvoir site and the proving ground, without including the GSA site, is currently estimated to require $458 million in transportation projects to minimize its impact on traffic and provide access to the facilities.

Deciding how much of that money will come from the DOD, the Army, and the state and local governments have become a bit of a contest, said Lauritzen. "It’s a footrace to the money," he said. "What we have to do is, we have to work together." He assured that the discussion was well underway.

"COUNTING ON THE Virginia House of Delegates to come up with money is like counting on the Tooth Fairy," said Lowell Curtis of the Gunston Manor community. He asked who would pay to widen two-lane roads such as Backlick and Pohick roads near the proving grounds. Neither of these are on the list of proposed transportation projects, nor is the nearby, two-lane Rolling Road.

"I wish I had a crystal ball to give you an answer," Lauritzen said. He noted that further traffic studies would be conducted, and he added that planners might have to take creative approaches if funding cannot be found for all of the proposed road construction. These could include charging for parking, limiting parking space, readjusting bus routes, putting personnel on bicycles or other options, he said.

Lauritzen also noted that the number of vehicles being added would not be enough to reduce area traffic service levels to an "F" even if no improvements were made. Traffic around the site in question, he said, is currently operating at a service level of about "C." He added that almost all of the relocated personnel already live in the metropolitan area. "These folks are already on the roads," he said.

According to the Army’s draft statement, the majority of the employees to be relocated live to the south of Fort Belvoir and are likely commuting north through the area already, albeit on I-95 rather than local secondary roads.

No additional housing units will be included in the expanded Fort Belvoir, although there will be considerable demolition to keep the number of homes at 2,070, said Lauritzen.

He also said he wanted to address concerns about the expansion’s impact on the environment. "We practice environmental stewardship," he said. "We adhere to state and federal law."

Lauritzen said he had seen a county supervisor on local cable saying Fort Belvoir did not practice stormwater management. "I’m telling you, she was dead wrong when she said that about Fort Belvoir," he said. "We take those things very seriously."

He acknowledged that any project of this size would have some impact, but, he said, the question is "what can you do to drive that down so it’s not tripping a threshold?"

ASKED HOW MANY service employees, such as food service and maintenance workers, would be added, Lauritzen said he was not certain, but he said, "We’re not talking about a huge number." He said he expected the number to be well under 2,000.

Asked about the 3,260 or so school-aged children projected to move into Fairfax County as a result of the relocation, Lauritzen said, "The migration of school population, if it were to occur, would happen over a protracted period of time."

He also noted that 6,000 military personnel were slated to be moved from Alexandria to Fort Knox and that thousands more would leave the metropolitan area as result of the closure of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He suggested a regional study before too much concern is raised over increased school population.

"Most people here aren’t concerned about ‘regional,’" said Tim Rizer, of the Hallowing Point community, noting that a population increase in South Fairfax County would likely have a greater local impact than jobs moving out of Washington, D.C. or Alexandria.

Lauritzen maintained that the eventual influx of students remained a conjecture.

Questions were also raised about the new hospital facility planned for the main Fort Belvoir campus. Lauritzen said the existing DeWitt Army Community Hospital will likely be torn down and a new, larger facility built. DeWitt currently houses 46 beds, and the new facility is expected to have 120 beds.

Asked whether the new facility would be a joint Veterans Administration hospital, Dr. Rick Repeta of DeWitt Hospital confirmed that it would be. Staff is still "working out the details of how that’s going to look and feel," he said.

When Rizer asked whether the facility would be large enough to accommodate the new Fort Belvoir personnel as well as those who would have gone to Walter Reed, Repeta said it would be. "The closure of Walter Reed supports the development of this hospital," he said.