BRAC Proposal Angers County Supervisors

BRAC Proposal Angers County Supervisors

New site for Army Museum proves a primary deal breaker.

Fort Belvoir's New Vision Planners ran into a stone wall when they attempted to treat last Wednesday's meeting of the BRAC Board of Advisors (BOA) as one more briefing session. This time Fairfax County Board of Supervisors' members of BOA had their agenda and it prevailed.

Before the planners could even show their first slide, Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald Connolly interrupted their scripted presentation with, "Let's not pretend we're all in agreement. We are not."

That lead to a 75 minute dialogue with Fort Belvoir Installation Commander Col. Brian Lauritzen, Washington Military District Commanding General Guy Swan and the planners on one side and the highly incensed civilian sector on the other. The object of their anger was the Department of The Army's report on "preferred sites" as that applied to the positioning of 22,000 additional personnel resulting from the Base Realignment and Closure Report (BRAC) plus relocating the proposed U.S. Army Museum.

The military and their planners were also criticized by Virginia Secretary of Transportation Homer Pierce, a member of BOA, for not taking into consideration the regional transportation consequences of their so-called "preferred site" recommendations. "The entire regional transportation grid is seriously impacted by this proposal," he said.

"It is my very, very strong recommendation that you combine land use and infrastructure in one document. We have to agree on what is an appropriate level of mitigation. Traffic impact must be a part of your land use decisions. If it is not part of your environmental impact study, there is no possible way to get this done by 2011," Homer stated.

Under the law all BRAC realignment must be completed by September 15, 2011. Another element of the BRAC requirements is that an environmental impact study be undertaken and completed prior to implementation.

Lauritzen stated that Fort Belvoir's EIS will begin this winter with a public draft scheduled by Spring 2007. "We will be looking at all trends. We are on a fast track for this," he said.

LEADING OFF THE SESSION, Lauritzen tried to calm the anger and frustration of local leaders by stating, "The preferred land use strategy is not a final decision. The strategy does place the bulk of incoming personnel at EPG (Engineering Proving Grounds). But, we are focused on a total of 45,000 people at Fort Belvoir, BRAC incoming plus what is already here."

That admission that the preferred site recommendations were "not final" drew praise but skepticism from Connolly as well as Mount Vernon and Lee district supervisors Gerald Hyland and Dana Kauffman. "We are very happy to hear it is not set in concrete. But, realistically I don't think much is going to change," Hyland said.

"I feel that this (Department of Army recommendations) is going to be what we are going to end up with. If that is so let's get it out on the table now. I'd like to hear a clear yes or no," he said.

"I feel there is something about this whole thing that is very disingenuous," Connolly added.

"It's not as clean as a yes or no. The reason is that we now have to decide if this is the best land use strategy. If we decide through the EIS that 18,000 going to EPG is not feasible, then we will have to decide what to do with the others. I don't know to what extent we can develop the EPG," Lauritzen said.

When Hyland asked for the "absolute drop dead date to finalize the recommendations," Lautritzen answered, "About a year from now. But, we could move forward with building the parkway link regardless. Things that need to be done for the transportation part of the infrastructure can move forward."

Connolly verified, "The money is there for the parkway connector. And the state has pledged that when the Army builds it VDOT will accept it."

State Senator Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36) noted, "We have had a study for Route 1 for over 10 years. It is still a matter of finding the money. We have to be united at both the state and local levels and then go to Congress."

Kauffman, a staunch advocate of increasing the region's transportation infrastructure both from a vehicle and mass transit perspective, said, "You (the Army) asked for ground level intelligence. We gave it. Now, what is the Army going to do to fight for funds?"

Kauffman zeroed in on the proposal to put the proposed U.S. Army Museum at EPG instead of the long expected site next to Ft. Belvoir's Pence Gate on Route 1. "This is a plum for us and we

don't want to lose it. It needs to be shown to us how it makes sense to put an amusement facility next to an intelligence agency," Kauffman said. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is scheduled for the EPG.

HYLAND READ a letter from the Museum Foundation thanking the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for their annual $250,000 contribution which has been part of the County budget for the past several years, according to Hyland. "The Army came to me to push for putting the museum at the Fort Belvoir instead of Carlisle," Hyland said.

"We did that and convinced the people on the Hill that the Pence Gate location was the best location. Now we have the rug pulled out from under us by some decision maker at the Department of the Army who thinks he knows better than everyone else," he said.

We made these contributions to have this part of Route 1 become a full blown tourist destination. You asked us to help you and we did. This is not the way to thank us. Perhaps we need to rethink those contributions," Hyland said.

Lauritizen contended that the land needed by the museum had escalated from the time it was originally planned from approximately 45 acres to 125 acres. "Two facts have emerged since the museum was planned for Pence Gate. BRAC and the fact that the museum had not developed to the degree that it was underway at Pence Gate," Lauritzen said.

"It seems that someone else other than the Museum Foundation has added the land necessary for the museum. It's not those that have been planning the museum. It would be helpful to let us know why more land is necessary and for what purposes," Hyland said.

Kauffman asked, "Who is the driving force behind the museum?" To which Lauritzen answered, "The foundation is only the prime fund raising element. The Army is playing a role."

By changing the site of the museum, which is not a part of BRAC's realignment, it adds one element to the transportation/traffic impact on I-95. "The main thing we heard was to disperse traffic," said Douglas Voigt, making the presentation for Belvoir's New Vision Planners.

"What we heard from the historical foundation was they were expecting 500,000 to 700,000 visitors per year. One million translates to an average of 3,000 visitors per day," Voigt said.

"No matter what we do we are going to have problems with I-95. By putting the majority of the incoming personnel at EPG we optimize the use of the Parkway connector and the buildings to be built to accommodate BRAC transfers," he said.

This was countered by Homer. "Whether you are on the west or east side of I-95 the impact on I-95 is the same. You are trying to put

too many people into a small hole in a funnel. It doesn't work," he said.

Homer raised two additional concerns. "I'm very uncomfortable looking at your zip code analysis. Due to housing prices your labor force will probably move further south. And, how many ancillary consultants are expected to be moving here as a result of BRAC?" he said.

He also challenged the planners' reliance on carpooling and mass transit to ease traffic congestion. "Of the Pentagon's entire personnel, who have ready access to both mass transit and ride sharing, only 23 percent use either," Homer said.

PRIOR TO THE MEETING'S ADJOURNMENT, Hyland presented Lauritzen with a list of concerns and requirements that he considers critical to both BRAC relocations and the museum being placed at the EPG. The price tag on that list totaled $267 million.

It include such items as: Improvements to Backlick Road with the addition of a turn lane -$5 million; Building the full interchange of the parkway "to handle the increased intensity" of museum traffic - $50 million; and Building the connector to the full six lanes instead of four -$40 million.

He also presented a letter written by Richard F. "Rick" Neel, Jr., president Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation, to Francis J. Harvey, Secretary of The Army, requesting that the museum remain, as originally proposed, at the site adjacent to Pence gate.

Making the case for the Richmond Highway location, Neel noted, "The best performing tourism venues benefit from locating in clusters of similar attractions." The Pence gate site puts the museum close to Mount Vernon Estate, Woodlawn Plantation, and Gunston Hall Plantation.

He discounts traffic congestion associated with the museum by pointing out, "Our community's experience is that the area's existing transportation infrastructure adequately accommodates the approximately one million people who visit Mount Vernon Estate annually. This is true in large part because traffic patterns generated by tourists differ from those of commuters."

Neel maintained that, "To accomplish its mission to tell the story of the American soldier" the museum "would benefit from a location that is in an Army environment." The primary Fort Belvoir post brings a feel of traditional military history to the museum that would not be achieved if placed at EPG, according to Neel's letter.

To deal with the myriad concerns raised at the meeting Lauritzen proposed establishing a transportation task force that will report back at the next meeting tentatively scheduled for November 1. It was also requested that the scope of the upcoming EIS be sent to BOA members prior to that meeting.