Civilian and military leaders reviewed and discussed how to implement the 2005 Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield Joint Land Use Study (JLUS) during a summit Monday at the Richmond Hill City Center.
Partners in the joint land use study included Liberty, Long, Bryan, Chatham, Bulloch, Effingham, Evans and Tattnall counties and the municipal governments in those counties. Planning organizations such as the Coastal Georgia and Heart of Georgia Altamaha Regional Development Centers, the Chatham County Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission and the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission and Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield also weighed in. The Coastal Regional Commission sponsored the JLUS summit in partnership with the Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment.
The study addressed two primary concerns between the 284,924-acre installation and its civilian neighbors, namely minimizing encroachment on the Army post and accommodating growth in the communities that surround it, according to Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership Director Jeff Ricketson.
Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield has a total economic impact of $7.13 billion on Southeast Georgia, according to Fort Stewart officials. The installation employs 26,762 people; 10,694 are Liberty County residents, 1,441 are Bryan County residents and 692 are from Long County.
Ricketson said encroachment on Fort Stewart was not an issue when the post was established in the 1940s; the area was mostly rural then. But in the past 30 years the population has grown, he said. Hinesville and Richmond Hill have had the greatest amount of growth in recent years, Ricketson added.
“The area’s population is projected to grow by 50 percent over the next 20 years,” he said. “These figures are from the Georgia Office of Planning and Budget.”
Ricketson said if one looks at the population shifts over an 80-year period, one can see Liberty County has grown by 678 percent.
Study recommendations promote more mixed development and diversified land use so the area will remain economically stable, he said. The JLUS also urges development be geared toward the region’s municipalities rather than property bordering Fort Stewart, Ricketson added.
He outlined a number of planning initiatives, including local governments updating their land use regulations, conducting regional water planning, engaging in track development, developing a strategy for economic diversification, addressing a shortage of health-care providers and addressing the transportation impact from the new brigade complex off Highway 144 on Fort Stewart. The 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team moved into the new complex in July after redeploying from
Fish and Wildlife Branch Chief Tim Beaty told summit attendees about how land around Fort Stewart can be preserved through such programs as the Army Compatible Use Buffer program. Beaty said he and his staff have partnered with The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land and The Georgia Land Trust to purchase five conservation easements through the program.
According to the study, other means of conservation may include the purchase and donation of fee simple title, the leasing of land and the purchase of agricultural easements.
Summit attendees also heard about the operational impacts of Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield, namely noise and dust generated when soldiers train on the range, air safety for helicopter pilots and people on the ground and the physical security of the installation.
Jim Pearson, chief of Training Division, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, said Fort Stewart is “better off than most other military installations” because of its large size. Pearson said he would like to have more room for maneuver training, but said the installation can adequately accommodate all the types of training currently conducted.
Small arms firing, large arms firing – such as from tanks — and demolitions training can be heard on and near Fort Stewart, he said. Aviation training is conducted at Hunter, Pearson said.
CRC Land Use Planner Kevin Sullivan challenged those involved in the study to continue to communicate and coordinate with each other and Fort Stewart/HAAF.
“What we have now may not be what we have tomorrow,” Sullivan said. “This is about planning for the future, and you can’t predict the future.”