BRAC Planning Seen as Shell Game

BRAC Planning Seen as Shell Game

Lauritzen, Homer differ on EPG Parkway extension, interchange.

Will all of the projected 22,000 people actually come to Fort Belvoir's main post or the Engineering Proving Grounds (EPG)? That was one question left unanswered at the latest gathering of the Base Realignment and Closure Report (BRAC) Board of Advisors (BOA) during its March 7 meeting at the Fort Belvoir Officers' Club.

Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) posed the question to Col. Brian Lauritzen, installation commander, Fort Belvoir. Kauffman's inquiry seemed to hang in the air for a minute before it received a reply of "still being studied." The basis for the question was recent speculation that some or possibly all of the 9,263 personnel of the Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) who are scheduled for relocation to the EPG, would instead be housed in an area of the Pentagon now under renovation and expansion.

WHS is the largest single personnel contingent of the local BRAC package. If that were to happen, the entire dynamic of the BRAC impact on both Fort Belvoir, surrounding communities and I-95, as well as the infrastructure of the base and communities would be significantly altered.

Although that possible change in plans was not raised in the recently released Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), its possibility was also not denied by either Lauritzen or Gen. Guy Swan, commanding officer, Washington Military District, seated next to Lauritzen at the BOA meeting. "There is nothing official on that," said Lauritzen, in response to Kauffman's question.

If WHS were to go to the Pentagon rather than the EPG, it would not only impact the building and infrastructure construction necessary at EPG but also, and perhaps even more importantly, the need to tie the completion of the Fairfax County Parkway's missing link to the BRAC realignment. That item on last Wednesday's agenda further exposed the "agree to disagree" atmosphere between the Army and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

"The most important element of the EIS is and has been transportation," said Lauritzen. "For that reason, I would certainly see the Transportation Management Plan Coordinator proposed in the EIS as being here at Belvoir."

"The good news story is that we are cleaning up EPG," he said. "And we are cleaning all of the EPG. There has been a lot of activity out there over the years that caused environmental problems."

LAURITZEN AND VDOT Secretary Pierce R. Homer expressed differing views regarding the Fairfax County Parkway extension; the proposed interchange, which was not originally contemplated but is now required by the BRAC realignment; and the EPG being the "Preferred Alternative" of that plan.

"The issue is not just the completion of the Fairfax County Parkway but also what it takes to serve this site [EPG]. How do you have enough infrastructure to serve 22,000 people?" Homer asked. "Our [VDOT's] point is the adequacy of the network not just the vehicles. It's not so much one facility. It's the entire region. And, we have no funding."

"Our concern is that the roadway is needed before BRAC," said Kauffman. "I'm afraid we are going to get to September 2011 [deadline for BRAC implementation] and there will be no road."

"If that happens, there will be an additional five-mile backup on I-95," Homer said. "But, you cannot service an additional 18,000 jobs with one interchange."

In answer to the funding dilemma, Lauritzen said: "The primary thing is to determine if this [Fairfax County Parkway extension] is DAR eligible." If a road is classified a Defense Access Road (DAR) it automatically moves up in the funding pecking order and gives the military more administrative maneuverability in making it happen.

"Although not specifically part of the BRAC undertaking, the remaining link of the Fairfax County Parkway through the EPG provides the single greatest contribution to assuaging traffic demand concerns associated with development of that parcel," said a DEIS information sheet distributed at the meeting.

"The Fiscal Year 2007 National Defense Authorization Act requires VDOT to pay the design and construction costs of the parkway — both on and off EPG — regardless of who builds it," said Lauritzen. He added that DAR certification permits the use of appropriated defense dollars but not as a funding source.

TWO OTHER SUBJECTS of concern discussed at the meeting were the use of the General Service Administration (GSA) warehouses at Springfield to house incoming personnel and functions and the Museum of The U.S. Army now planned to be located adjacent to Belvoir's Kingman Gate just off the Fairfax County Parkway west of its intersection with Route 1.

"Although it is not a part of the BRAC, the Army has reaffirmed its commitment to the museum on Fort Belvoir," said Lauritzen. "It is part of the impact studies different from the EIS."

"Taking the museum as a separate element from the EIS does not seem realistic because it will have a major impact on the overall area," said Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D-Mount Vernon). "There seems to be a disconnect in the ongoing Master Plan process. BRAC is concentrating on the land use and ignoring other elements."

"The first step in the process was to do the BRAC elements when it was announced in 2005," said Lauritzen. "The Belvoir New Vision Planners are updating the overall Master Plan and hope to have it completed by September."

In addressing the potential use of the GSA warehouses for realigned operations and personnel, Lauritzen said: "The warehouses are close to the Springfield/Franconia Metro Station, but they are not connected. Their proximity to Metro is more as the crow flies than immediate proximity."

Kauffman, who has been pushing for the warehouses to become part of the BRAC planning process since the beginning, pointed out that they were "the largest warehouse facility east of the Mississippi." They cover 69.5 plus acres.

"They have stayed in the mix as a possible alternative," said Lauritzen, "but you get a very different perspective when you walk the area."

Hyland countered that use of the GSA warehouses appears to be able to accomplish more for less than what the planners currently work with. Efforts to transfer their use from GSA to the Army is being explored by the local Congressional delegation.

Lauritzen previously has described the entire BRAC process as "a giant shell game." Those moving from base to base cannot do so until facilities are available at the new site and they cannot vacate occupied space until that is accomplished.

In the case of Belvoir six major groups are scheduled to relocated there with others leaving for new locations. This will require the construction and renovation of "nearly 7 million square feet" of facilities plus an additional "7 million square feet of parking structures."

As stated at the BOA session, the Secretary of the Army will submit a report to Congress that will evaluate the costs, benefits, feasibility and suitability of locating support functions for Fort Belvoir and the EPG on property currently occupied by the GSA warehouses.

That report will take the following into consideration:

* Reutilizing the buildings "as is with no improvements to roads and infrastructure."

* Planning their reuse for either 4,500 or 9,000 employees.

* Environmental characterization and cleanup required by the Department of Defense.

* Required traffic improvements to support various scenarios.

* Existing infrastructure capacity and upgrades which may be needed.

Finally, the BOA discussed the planned expansion of DeWitt Army Hospital and how that might be impacted by the ongoing controversy over maintenance and administrative procedures at Walter Reed Army Hospital. A growing Congressional attitude to reverse the BRAC proposal to close Walter Reed may impact future DeWitt plans.

Without commenting on the unfolding events, Lauritzen said: "I'm confident we will be having a hospital ribbon cutting here in the future."

It was also predicted that the $3.1 billion taken from the BRAC budget would be restored prior to Congress' Easter recess. According to the BOA presentation, supplemental measures may include line-item entries for BRAC funds as well.