ST. SIMONS ISLAND — While the topic of military base realignment and closures never is entirely off the table, leaders provided news during Wednesday’s Liberty County Planning Workshop that indicates Fort Stewart likely is safe for now.
Fort Stewart Chief Master Planner William Ingram and Paul Andreshak, executive director of Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter, both addressed the installation’s role in the community during the first day of the retreat.
Combined, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield have an economic impact of $5.2 billion in Georgia, Ingram said — a figure that requires mutual support and cooperation between the 3rd Infantry Division and its surrounding communities.
To stress the point, Ingram offered demographic information about the military’s presence in the area.
Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield have 16,500 active-duty soldiers and family members who live on post and another 75,465 military-affiliated people who reside off-post.
Of those off-post, 16,113 are active-duty; 28,035 are active-duty family members; 25,352 are reserve component soldiers who trained at Fort Stewart; 2,665 are appropriate-fund civilians; 1,655 are non-appropriated fund civilians; and 1,645 are contract civilians.
Further, Ingram said, an estimated 40 percent of those who reside off-post live in Liberty County.
“That’s significant; we pay special attention to that as we talk to the local community,” he said. “We’re not just here to support Liberty County; we’re here for Liberty County to support us as well.”
About 33 percent of off-post residents live in Chatham County, while Bryan has 5.38 percent of the population. Other counties all fall below 3 percent.
Ingram also gave a briefing on the following capital investments on post:
• Warrior Transition Battalion: Barracks to support 144 soldiers are slated to be complete in May, with company headquarters anticipated in December. Combined, the $49 million facility will provide modern housing and operations facilities for those assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion.
• Grey Eagle Complex: A tactical equipment maintenance facility, company operation facilities and an access-control point are under way for the 3rd Infantry Division Combat Aviation Brigade as an unmanned aerial system is brought to Wright Army Airfield. The $68 million facility is slated to be complete by January 2013.
• Winn Army Community Hospital expansion: Previously reported expansion to Winn’s behavioral health and musco-skeletal clinics and renovations to its emergency services, offices and parking will be completed in stages; the $37 million stage 1 will be complete by August 2013; the $74 million stage 2 by May 2014
“The power of Fort Stewart is there are 280,000 acres to train on; that’s what’s difficult to impossible to recreate,” Ingram said.
After the presentations, Andreshak said the capital investments are good news — for now.
“The most important thing we have to look for if we’re looking at the overall county situation is maintaining Fort Stewart as an economic engine and not losing anything,” Andreshak said.
During the current fiscal year, Fort Stewart trimmed 340 employees from its civilian appropriated fund, but many of the reductions came through attrition or voluntary retirement, he added.
“Right now, fiscal year 2013, which starts Oct. 1, has Fort Stewart down for something like $49 million worth of construction,” Andreshak said. “Now, that doesn’t sound like much, but when you compare it to other states and other counties and other bases, it’s a lot of money — so it’s a matter of comparison.”
Andreshak said he was relaying information previously presented to the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee by a representative from Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ office. During that briefing, the representative said the likelihood of Congress revisiting BRAC is about 50 percent in fiscal year 2015.
“He said there was no support in Congress for BRAC in (fiscal year) ’13 because it’s too soon and because the savings would be years out,” he said.
When asked what is most important for county leaders to take away from the presentation, Andreshak said it comes to down economics and the community.
“It’s an economic engine; it’s a $5.2 billion annual economic engine between Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield, and it has more employees than anybody else,” Andreshak said. “It’s the largest employer in the area, and (community leaders) need to be on board. If we have a BRAC, they need to be all working together.
“You’ve got to have housing; you’ve got to have education; you’ve got to have jobs for the spouses; you’ve got to have roads; you’ve got to have restaurants,” he continued. “And as each piece of that pie expands, you’ve got to have the rest of it expand.”