Mayor Jim Thomas said he and other political and business leaders traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to express their concerns about the affect sequestration has on Coastal Georgia’s military communities.
Thomas said he, Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson, Pembroke Mayor Mary Warnell, Liberty County Board of Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette, Armstrong Atlantic State University Liberty Center Director Peter Hoffman and Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter Executive Director Paul Andreshak met with the Georgia’s congressional representatives and the assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.
“Really, it was a chance to talk about the effects sequestration is having on our local economies,” Thomas said. “Primarily, (Liberty County leaders) talked about the loss of (sustainment, restoration and maintenance) funds used to operate Fort Stewart. This money is needed to complete the Veterans Parkway widening project onto Fort Stewart.”
Thomas explained that through the Georgia Department of Transportation, planned construction for the widening project only will go up to Fort Stewart’s gate eight from E.G. Miles Parkway. He said $3 million in sustainment, restoration and maintenance funds were cut from Stewart’s budget when sequestration began earlier this year.
Much of this money would have paid for moving water and sewer lines so these infrastructures would not be under the area that would be paved as part of the widening project, he said. These lines come onto the installation because the Hinesville wastewater treatment plant is on Fort Stewart.
“We split the project design so we could do the widening construction up to the gate,” he said. “If the Army restores Stewart’s SRM funds, we’ll be able to complete the construction project.”
He said local military and community leaders hope some of these funds will be restored in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Thomas said the possibility of another round of Base Realignment and Closures was discussed with Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, as well as U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., and U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. They also met with a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., office.
“When you’re talking about BRAC, you’re talking about something in the future that Congress hasn’t approved yet,” Thomas said. “What we can do now is improve ourselves and prepare, and since we have been doing this so long, we understand how to prepare for it — if it happens.”
Thomas said they also discussed the Total Army Analysis, which would determine what brigades might be cut as the Army reduces its number of soldiers. He said they were told that report is expected to be complete by the end of June. According to www.Army.mil, the Army is planning to reduce its current 45 combat brigades to 37 brigades and cut overall strength by about 80,000 soldiers. These cuts will be spread across 15 installations, the website said.
Thomas also commented on events taking place in Long County with the proposed expansion of Townsend Bombing Range. He said Long County and the entire coastal community from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay are subject to benefit from the expansion.
The strip of land from Beaufort, S.C., to Kingsland includes Stewart-Hunter, and the mayor said the entire coastal region would become one large training area without the air-traffic restrictions of larger cities.
Thomas suggested that distinction, along with Stewart-Hunter’s reputation as a premier power-projection platform, might have a positive impact on future Department of Defense decisions regarding base re-alignments or force reduction.