Long County’s newly elected board of commissioners has asked the U.S. Marine Corps for federal funds to offset the loss of tax revenue from nearly 21,000 acres that would become part of the proposed Townsend Bombing Range expansion.
Long County Commission Chairman Robert Long signed and submitted a letter dated June 12 to the commanding officer of the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, S.C. The letter, which was written to the attention of Billy Drawdy, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs at MCAS Beaufort, said the proposed expansion would have a significant, adverse impact on Long County’s revenue budget.
The commissioners asked for a one-time payment totaling nearly $20 million for construction projects that would enhance the county’s economic development and improve public safety.
“It’s not a matter of if they’re going to do this,” said Kent Hall, vice chair, who mentioned recent conversations with U.S. Congressman Jack Kingston’s office. “It’s just a matter of when. What we need is help with the repercussion for what they’re going to take from us.”
On Wednesday, Hall led an emergency meeting of commissioners and Long County Board of Education representatives Kathy Simmons, Janet Poole and Bridget Welch. Sheriff Craig Nobles and Fire Chief Richard Truman also took part in the meeting with Dave Wills, a government-relations manager with the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.
Wills told the county leaders about options to mitigate the permanent loss of tax revenue from timber sales and property taxes. A former county commissioner himself, Wills not only agreed to stay the entire day to help draft the letter to MCAS Beaufort, but also offered to come back and spend another day with them to help them “get their feet on the ground” as new county commissioners. This was only the third time they had met since being sworn in last month, District 1 Commissioner Gerald Blocker said.
“When I was called by Ms. (Brooke) Childers in Mr. Kingston’s office, she said it was urgent to get a letter out in the next few days,” Wills said. “I feel like it is imperative that I not leave here today without having a letter drafted.”
Wills asked them to think about what the county needed most that would enhance development or improve public services and safety. He heard concerns by BoE representatives about the expansion’s proximity to the new high school and reports from Hall and District 3 Commissioner Willie Thompson about the county’s need for a water-and-sewer system to encourage commercial development along Highway 84.
He also heard about the needs for a county jail to house prisoners currently housed in Tattnall and Brantley counties, firefighting equipment for the county’s volunteer fire department, and upgraded communications equipment, plus additions to recreational facilities.
Will then helped county leaders qualify their needs and draft a letter.
Federal funds requested include $6 million for new water-and-sewer capacity; $4.6 million for a new administrative building and funds to renovate the nearly 90-year-old courthouse; $910,000 to purchase firefighting equipment; $3 million to construct a county jail; $1 million for additions to recreational facilities; $680,000 to replace 16 patrol cars and add four more; and nearly $3.75 million to upgrade the county’s 911 and communications systems to 700 megahertz.
According to www.townsendbombingrangeeis.com, Townsend Bombing Range, which is off Highway 57 near the Long-McIntosh county line, was purchased from the Navy by the Marine Corps in 1991 and has been operated by the Georgia Air National Guard. The website said the range needs to be expanded beyond its current 5,183 acres to more than 26,000 acres in order to support training needs of the Marine Aircraft Group 31 (F/A-18 Hornets), which uses precision-guided munitions.
Although the air-to-ground training ordnances have no explosives, these inert bombs are released to their intended target from much greater distances and altitudes than ordinary ordnances. The expanded bombing range is necessary for public-safety reasons, according to the website.