Liberty County — at least its industrial authority — is not playing to lose and a $75 million federal handout won’t replace members’ hopes for an additional Fort Stewart brigade.
During its July meeting Monday, the authority put together a committee to consider ways to help Friends of Liberty. That could include money. Friends is a liaison group between civilians and the military. The new committee will meet within a week.
“We fight for what we want until hell freezes over and then we buy a pair of ice skates and fight some more,” authority member Al Williams said.
Bypassing the agenda, the state representative moved and Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas seconded a motion to form the committee. It was accepted unanimously.
Williams told the board he is skeptical of getting federal money promised earlier this month after the Department of Defense announced it was not stationing an additional 3,000 troops at Stewart.
“That $75 million is definitely not a done deal,” Williams said, explaining the federal approval process. “They can shave it some… We’ve got to fight like the devil to make sure that thing isn’t touched.”
And the final say for a brigade comes from the administration, so there may be a chance to sway the federal government to bring more troops to Fort Stewart.
LCDA CEO Ron Tolley partly agreed more effort was needed to bring more troops to the base.
But Tolley questioned the logic of Hinesville going up against big-name communities, usually with more influence in Congress.
“It’s like carrying a flashlight up there when you need to have a floodlight,” Tolley said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Williams wants to get Savannah on board.
“We need them [Savannah] to make it work,” Williams said. “If we just confine it to this area, we are dead in the water.”
Impact from the base reaches beyond county lines and all involved parties should contribute, the lawmaker said.
“We do the heavy lifting and they reap the benefits,” Williams said.
“We need to widen the base and absolutely immediately or the money will be absolutely worthless,” added LCDA Chairman Allen Brown.
Thomas said he has accompanied other officials on five lobbying trips to the Capitol this year.
“If we don’t, we won’t get what the others get and we have a product here that is far superior than the others,” the mayor said, pointing out the base has won the best installation in the Army award four times in recent years.
“I told them I felt like the kid who just graduated from Harvard and I’m the only one from the class who can’t get a job,” Williams said, adding the decision has lessened his confidence in the government.
But the community can’t standby, “licking our wounds,” according to the lawmaker, explaining there is “too much skin in the game,” to quit now.
Williams said, while welcome, the $75 million does not compensate for what was lost. He said the added soldier payroll alone, would make any LCDA payments to Friends of Liberty worthwhile. The amount the authority will pay to the organization has yet to be set.
“I know times are tough. They’re difficult everywhere,” Williams said. “But tough times is when you spend the most money on deals like this because this is the only light on the horizon.”
Authority members Brian Smith, Robert Stokes, Jeff Arnold and Thomas volunteered for the committee.