Last Modified: Thursday, April 17, 2014 2:57 PM
Four generations of Brannon Edwards’ family live together in a home they built with their own hands in 2004. It will likely be gone by the end of summer.
“We built this house. We did the plumbing, the wiring, the outside, everything. That means more than, ‘Hey, I bought this house.’ We built this house,” Edwards said.
The Edwardses will not be the only displaced residents in Vernon Parish. Sixty-seven other private tracts of land are in the process of being acquired for the expansion of Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center. The move will expand the post by almost 4,300 acres.
The Army-owned land surrounding the base is used for training purposes. Many units slated for deployment stop at Fort Polk to engage in mock warfare to get soldiers prepared for the real thing overseas. The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing a south- and eastward expansion of Peason Ridge, one of the main areas for unit and live-fire training at the base.
Shane Demmer, deputy chief of real estate for the Army Corps of Engineers, is overseeing the expansion. He said the Army was approved for an expansion of up to 100,000 acres by Congress in 2012. Of that, the post has expanded 32,500 acres using exclusively commercial land, primarily buying up land from timber companies. Those previous acquisitions have wrapped Army land around private land — which he said could be problematic in the cases of live-fire training.
The Corps of Engineers will do its best to be sensitive and negotiate with landowners who will lose their land as a result of the acquisition, Demmer said. Appraisers are expected to be sent to landowners’ homes by early June to evaluate the properties. Demmer said written proposals for compensation, based on the appraisals, for the sale of the property will be sent to landowners beginning in July.
“If they don’t want to sell, we will push it to the Army to see how they want to proceed,” he said. “The Corps does not condemn.”
Willard McInnis, who lives on the eastern part of the land to be acquired, is the second generation in his family to be displaced. His grandfather and grandmother were forced out of Peason Ridge by a land acquisition in 1941.
“I’ve served my time in the Army. I was glad to do that. I made that sacrifice. Now here they are wanting to take our land. We have rights in the Constitution, too. It says we have the right to life liberty and property, and they’re just tearing it up,” he said.
McInnis said previous commanding generals at Fort Polk — Gen. K.K. Chinn and Gen. James Yarbrough — promised the Army would not force residents to give up their land.
Demmer said those generals did not have the authority to make that claim. “Yes, we have a tool called ‘eminent domain’ that the Army can decide to use,” Demmer said.
He said landowners will be able to take advantage of relocation assistance, which pairs them with a counselor. Landowners are expected to be out of their homes within 90 days of accepting an offer for sale of the property.
McInnis said his home is not for sale.
Posted By: Long lost descendant of Whiskey Chitto Community On: 7/15/2014
Title: 2 for 1
Why can't the government make it enticing for the private land owners. Why not offer them double or triple the appraised value. Why can't they trade with some of the private land owners? Why not offer them 2 acres for 1 acre in an area less critical to the army's maneuvers's. I know all of these people have very deep roots on this land. The government should ante up. If you they take someone's homeplace, they should build em a bigger better house with more land than they had to begin with. They should also get to keep there mineral rights, to the old land & get the mineral rights to the new land. Give em 100 years worth of value for the lost timber revenues. Come on, it's only 30 families. If the U.S. Govt. Can waste billions of dollars every year why can't they set these folks up for life. Sweeten the pot, it works for most people. I for one could let go of pretty much anything if I knew it would benefit my family. The Govt. Could give all these people a million dollars a piece & save much time & boohooing. What's 30 million dollars to the Army. It's not even a drop in the bucket for the Army. But I know, all the haters out there would be overcome with jealousy. The Govt. will spend more than that anyway screwing these folks out of their property. Spread the wealth, instead of taking it!
Posted By: Debbie Gaspard On: 4/26/2014
Title: Fort Polk LAND Aquasition
The Parker family is part of my family. My first cousin is Roger Parker, the deceased husband of Jeanie Parker. As Jeanie states, the Parkers have had their land for 70 years. My father, a licensed plumber, that lives in Baker, La. went and set up and worked the plumbing on Roger and Jeanie home, that Fort Polk is now taking away from them. I have pictures of myself and my daughter that is 36 yrs old now, on the said property when she was a small girl, standing right by the wonderful lake that is loved by all. There are so many people helped them clear the wooded area so they could build their home. I can only imagine how their children and grandchildren feel now that the US Government is now making their Mother and grandmother move off their own propery. If one only knew how many of our family members served in all branches of the military and some still enlisted. They fought tor freedom and now the Parker family has no FREEDOM of their own property. If only my cousin Roger was still here on this earth to help Jeanie fight another fight, to keep their dream and memories. That is what hurts the most, for the Parker family.
Posted By: Brannon On: 4/24/2014
Me and the other 30+ families could sell our land to the government but that's no guarantee that they will keep the base open. I bet a lot of people would have a different stance on this land acquisition if it was their home and land the government was trying to take. And guess what, 2 years from now when they find some more money it just might be your home and land they are going to be after for expansion. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to displace 30+ families to expand training land when they don't use all the land they have now for training. They wanted more land and they forced timber companies to sell them 30000 to 40000 acres already. Why not be happy with that why is it necessary to move 30+ families off their land some of which have been living on their land for hundreds of years. Oh by the way I also heard these Commanding Generals in public meetings, with hundreds of witnesses, say that the Army was not going to force anybody out of their homes that did not want to move.
Posted By: Kimbo On: 4/22/2014
Mama, Daddy would be proud to see you standing strong for his home. I guess it's that Indian blood you've got in you! I can still see him sitting at y'all's bedroom window- looking out over the pond he built and saying, "I just can't understand why anybody would wanna be anywhere else in the world than right here!"
Posted By: Lloyd Handorf On: 4/22/2014
Title: Polk Land Buys
‘Eminent domain’ will have to be used to acquire all the land the Army wants to buy. Some owners just will not negotiate to sell their property. The Federal Government will purposely not tell the whole truth up front about any subject you wish to raise. If the Army needed the land a really good map should have been prepared two years ago with target dates to acquire the needed land. The ones to be displaced (kicked off their land) would have had approximately two years to try and get ready. Generals Chinn and Yarborough did emphasize "you don't have to sell" whether they had the authority or not. There has been 32,000+ acres purchased by the Army. When a Corp appraiser begins to negotiate the value or selling price of your property keep this in mind. There are 32,000+ less acres of available land for purchase in Vernon Parish. This has the potential for land prices to double or more. The ones being displaced will have to make up their minds "do I want to continue to live in Vernon Parish?" If the displaced decide to sell or are forced to sell by court order a difficult situation arises of finding a house for sale that will meet your families needs or a builder to finish a home in 90 days. This is scary especially for those of advanced age fully expecting to stay where they are until the hearse moves them.
Posted By: Jeanie Parlker On: 4/21/2014
Title: Fort Polk LAND Aquasition
Jeanie Lewis Parker Gen.Yarbrough's words are still ringing in my ears as a declaration of being an American!! He said after several people kept asking the same question in different ways...pounding his fist on the table!!( almost in frustration). Folks!!!!!! This is America!!!!! we don't take people's homes!!!! If you don't want to sell we will go another way around you!!!this land has been in our family for over 70 years! We cleared a place in the woods to build it,and it was built by the Parker brothers and other family members and friends,
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