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Stewart preps for growth
Jeff Ricketson at Thursday's Rotary meeting, along with Mark Griffin from the Bryan County News .

Despite the fact that no new brigade is on its way, the federal government continues to prepare for a military-related growth surge in the four-county area around Fort Stewart – Liberty, Bryan, Tattnall and Long.

The Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership, a group created in 2008 in reaction to the potential arrival of the fifth brigade and funded by the Department of Defense which includes membership from local city and county government, has been commissioned to study the area in an effort to be prepared for a large influx of troops.

The group’s director, Jeff Ricketson, laid out some of the group’s plans at Thursday’s meeting of the Richmond Hill Rotary Club and gave some insight into the community impact of the decision not to bring the brigade to Fort Stewart. He said the group remains intact despite the brigade arrival falling through because a sizable increase will eventually be here.

It was announced in June that the brigade – which was tagged with an approximate population increase of 10,000 people – would not be coming. Instead, the estimated growth at Fort Stewart by 2013 is now estimated to be around 1,000 soldiers, civilians and contractors. Ricketson said a larger influx is inevitable for the future, but the military has not indicated when that will be.

"Given what has happened during the past few months, they’re (federal officials) not going to announce it until they’re (large troop influx) ready to step off the truck onto the ground," Ricketson said. "Nobody’s going to promise you anything at this point. We’re definitely in a position where we’re going to see incremental increase, and there’s definitely a chance we will see a new brigade at some point. They’re has been a decision to bring those brigades back from Europe someday, but that timetable has not been established."

However, Ricketson said the approximate $400 million in planned construction at Fort Stewart that was contracted to prepare for the additional troops has not been halted. He said the military knows that the increase will eventually happen, and the added infrastructure should enhance that potential.

Ricketson said the military is aware that much of the area’s builders and developers spent large amounts of money in preparation for the population increase that the fifth brigade would have entailed. Relief money may be on the way.

Ricketson said claims of "$400 million-something worth of investment in private development" have been brought to the attention of the federal government. He noted that Congressman Jack Kingston has been an advocate for relief funds.

He said relief in the form of $75 million dollars has been proposed but has yet to pass through Congress. He said it would have to be approved with the Congressional budget, which is due within the next 60 days.

He said if and when those funds are approved, the money will filter through the Office of Economic Development. He said it is unlikely the funds will go directly to cities or counties in the four-county region but rather "will be in some kind of form that will benefit the private people who put it on the line for this brigade that didn’t come. It will probably be mostly in loan guarantees or some kind of revolving fund to make the private sector hold."

Ricketson said his organization has been charged by the federal government to sort through all the claims and tag what monetary losses truly can be attributed to the cancelled brigade and what losses are strictly due to the economy.

The Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership is also charged with providing federal officials with statistics such as how a military-related population surge would affect this area, including areas such as infrastructure, public safety and traffic.

The group is currently contracted to exist up until June 2010 as they were contracted to a two year commitment.

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