Long County commissioners Wednesday told U.S. Marine Corps representatives how expanding the Townsend Bombing Range would hurt the county, cutting more than 20,000 acres from the its property tax base.
About a dozen residents, as well as members of the Long County Board of Education, aides to U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. 1st, and state Rep. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, also attended.
Chairman Robert Long welcomed residents and introduced guests, then turned the meeting over to District 4 Commissioner Kent Hall, who is also vice chairman. Hall told the Marine Corps representatives he has looked for a good side to expanding the range, but could not see anything positive for the county.
“We know the bombing range is going to take over 20,000 acres,” Hall said. “The state has already taken 29,000 acres in the last few years, and they’re negotiating the purchase of another 250 acres. The (Marine Corps and state land purchases) together are putting a burden on this county. I’d like to consider the positives and negatives of this, but I just don’t see any positives.”
He told Billy Drawdy with Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort’s Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs he appreciated the information about the expansion that Drawdy’s office put together and said all the commissioners appreciated the meeting.
Hall said if commissioners have to increase taxes to compensate for the $140,000 a year loss to the property tax base, homeowners, who feel they’re already overburdened, will protest. He said 23 percent of the county’s population lives below the poverty level and that 54 percent of the county’s revenue come from property taxes.
He and Long said addressing the tax loss with the state and federal government was best for the county.
Chapman said he’d be glad to help the county work with the state, but they should “put a whupping” on the federal government first. His comment seemed to ease the tension in the room.
“We’ve been working on this project for four or five years,” Drawdy said. “We know the largest impact on Long County will be a socio-economic impact. But we have limited tools in our tool box to mitigate the losses.”
Jim Omans, who works real estate and land use at Marine Corps Recruity Depot Parris Island, S.C., and his legal advisor Matt Bordelon, said they could find no federal authority to let the Marines pay the county money, like the nearly $20 million the commissioners requested in June.
Omans said the Navy and congressional leadership had “no interest in changing or adding” to any authorities for such a transfer.
Bordelon said, however, the expanded bombing range, if approved, would be part of the community, offering a possible dual-benefit emergency center for civilian law enforcement, firefighters and communication support. He said the $2 to $3 million facility would be built on county property by the Marine Corps and maintained by the Corps, but would belong to the county.
Omans said if the facility was something the county agreed it needed, the Marine Corps would explore ways to provide water and sewer since there are no public utilities in the area.
Sheriff Craig Nobles talked about the need for space for his department to serve the county’s increasing number of residents, many of them military families.
“They’re not going to quit growing marijuana out there just because it’s become federal property,” the sheriff said. “My deputies are still going to have to go after them. It’s a big impact, and I expect the military to give us fair support.”
Bordelon said the building design could make it multi-purpose, thus allowing for an emergency service center, administrative office and sheriff’s substation. Omans said the location of the building would be up to the county.