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OEA approves health-care planning grant
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The Office of Economic Adjustment has approved a grant request from the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership for Healthcare Strategic Planning, according to FSGMP Director Jeff Ricketson.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have good news,” Ricketson said Wednesday at the beginning of the FSGMP meeting. “Our grant request for health-care strategic planning was approved after accepting an amendment to the original grant proposal. We’ll now begin working with Winn (Army Community Hospital) and local hospitals to develop a strategic health-care plan for our four-county region.”

According to the amendment, the $155,528 grant provides community planning assistance funds for economic adjustment activities. The announcement quickly spawned questions about progress toward a new health-care clinic for active-duty soldiers, retirees and family members in Hinesville, similar to the Richmond Hill Home Medical Clinic.

Board member Jim Thomas said the clinic would have to be 10,000 square feet and located within 5 miles of Fort Stewart. Because no facility currently meets those requirements, Thomas said property would have to be purchased for a clinic to be built.

Despite this news, FSGMP Chairman John McIver said “hats off” to Ricketson for getting the grant approved.

Another item Ricketson discussed was the proposed Flemington loop, which is intended to relieve traffic congestion along Old Sunbury Road. Ricketson said landowners in the loop’s proposed area have selected their route preference. If the proposal is approved by voters, the project could be funded for completion 2020-2022, he said.

“We have to do something about housing,” Thomas said in reference the housing situation in Liberty, Long, Tattnall and Bryan counties. “We have soldiers who work here all day, then have to drive as far as Pooler to go home. These young men and women have to be here at work at 5:30 a.m. The further they have to drive to get to work, the greater the safety risks.”

Some board members expressed concern about supporting new housing starts, particularly multi-family housing for single soldiers and couples. They cited the housing excess created during the Desert Storm deployment and the 2009 decision not to bring a fifth brigade-combat team to Fort Stewart. Some mayors expressed concern that future Base Closure and Realignment Commission decisions could leave them with excess housing.

Thomas said the 3rd Infantry Division is not likely to be deployed again as an entire division during future deployments, and that soldiers currently are on a nine-month deployment cycle rather than the previous 12 or 15 months. He also said Fort Stewart likely won’t be greatly affected by 2013 and 2015 BRAC decisions, given its strategic importance.

Responding to Ricketson’s budget report, McIver said there were good and bad elements to the study. He noted that when units are deployed, those soldiers living in a community cannot be counted as residents. Also, when the income level of those soldiers is added to the community’s overall average income, the numbers are considerably higher than reality, which can skew the data.

“It affects the census data,” McIver said, explaining the data that included soldiers’ income showed an average income of $42,000 for the community, rather than the true $24,000 average annual income. “We stand not to qualify for rural funding. So what the study is saying could be a plus in some areas, but it could also have a negative impact in other areas.”

With only six board members present and no quorum to elect new officers for 2012, McIver agreed to continue serving as chairman.

The next meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. June 26 in the old courthouse building.

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