Long County leaders didn’t receive the news they’d been hoping for last week regarding their recent request for impact funding from the Townsend Bombing Range expansion project.
Officials have calculated that Long County will lose at least $140,000 annually from lost tax revenue when the military obtains land for the project.
During a June 26 meeting with officials from the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, S.C., the Long County Commission and the board of education learned that their funding request was not in line with guidelines set by the Department of Defense.
According to environmental affairs resource officer Billy Drawdy, any funding approved for Long County has to be for projects that will benefit both the county and the bombing range. He suggested some possible projects that would meet the requirements, such as a fire station, public-safety center or communication tower. However, Drawdy added, if the county does decide on a fire station or similar project, the funds could not be used to buy any equipment — such as fire trucks, protective equipment and hoses — or to pay civilian firefighters.
“All of the projects that you have brought to us are good ideas, but from what we’ve been told, any funding will have to provide a dual benefit to both (Long County and the bombing range),” Drawdy said.
Commissioner Gerald Blocker said that if a fire station is built close enough to benefit the bombing range, it would not be able to provide services to the county, where the majority of population growth is occurring.
BoE Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters told Drawdy that projects like the ones he mentioned might help the county but would not help the school system. The lost tax revenue would devastate the school system during a 50-year period, according to Roberts, and would an impact the system’s ability to build a new school for third- through eighth-grade students.
“Well, from what you’re saying, that eliminates us from getting any help,” Waters said.
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort community plans and liaison officer Colleen Barrett said she was not aware that the school system had submitted a request for impact funding. Waters said school system sent a letter to Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., on the same day the commissioners had. First District field representative and agricultural liaison Merritt Myers, who attended the meeting, apologized for the mistake and said that the letter never had been forwarded to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. Waters provided a copy of the letter to Barrett.
Drawdy and Barrett also fielded questions at the public meeting. One attendee asked why impact funding could not be provided to Long County in the same manner that it was provided to Liberty, Bryan, Tattnall and Long counties when plans were halted for a fifth brigade at Fort Stewart. In that case, $40 million in remediation funding was approved for the four counties, and Long County received a share of approximately $4.5 million.
Myers said the brigade cancellation was a different set of circumstances, and even with the $40 million allocation, it was a long, drawn-out process that did come about easily.
Drawdy was asked whether a buffer would be required around the land that is obtained for the expansion, to which he replied, “No.” According to Drawdy, Long County would lose 20,110 acres, and McIntosh County would lose 8,326 acres.
Drawdy and Barrett assured those in attendance that Long County’s concerns would be addressed before any land was obtained. The next meeting between the base and Long County officials is at 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at the Long County Courthouse. Drawdy said more representatives from the base plan to attend, and they should be able to answer more questions from the commission and the BoE. Myers also said that Kingston’s office would research the possibility of requesting funding similar to what was approved in the wake of Fort Stewart’s canceled brigade.