(Nichole Osinski / American Press)
Fort Polk Progress Chairman Mike Reese answers questions about the Department of the Army's assessment on Fort Polk while Leesville Mayor Robert Rose looks on. (Nichole Osinski American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 6:46 PM
LEESVILLE — Officials have urged the central Louisiana community to speak out against a recent assessment that could lead to the loss of more than 5,000 soldiers at Fort Polk.
In a joint news conference Thursday residents were informed of the Department of the Army’s Programmatic Environmental Assessment and draft Finding of No Significant Impact for Army force structure reductions and realignments.
These changes — specifically the force structure reductions — would most likely occur during the 2013-2014 fiscal years and affect about 5,300 individuals. Not only would the reductions include soldiers but civilians as well. Contractors, support personnel and dependents are not included in the figure.
The PEA from the Army evaluated 21 installations analyzing spaces in the inventory and looking at criteria such as housing and training ranges.
“When the budget cuts were announced from the Department of Defense about a year and a half ago the Army did an environmental assessment,” said Leesville Mayor Robert Rose. “They released the study about two weeks ago, and it took that long to go through it line by line.”
After going through the report Rose and other officials determined some of the data are old — some as much as six years old — erroneous and incomplete. Examples mentioned were the report’s exclusion of infrastructure improvements as well as state and local investments in the U.S. Army installation.
Mike Reese, Fort Polk Progress president, said the state Department of Economic Development will hire an economist to validate the facts and figures believed to be incorrect in the study.
Officials asked residents and stakeholders in the area to submit comments on the PEA to congressional and state leaders before the deadline on Feb. 19. But they are asking to extend the deadline by 30 days.
“We believe it’s our job now to work to provide the Army leadership with the most accurate information possible with which to make an informed decision that will be based on the facts,” said Reese. “It is more cost effective to have a brigade combat team based at the place where you receive training.”
Since 1941 when it was established, several projects, such as new roads and new training grounds, have surrounded the buildup of Fort Polk. According to Reese, more than $1 billion has been invested in expansion and facility updates by the Army since 2005.
Reese said after the comment period closes the Army will go into a military value assessment to take all of the public concerns, along with gathered data, into consideration. He said while there is no timeline a decision will reportedly be made before June.
On top of concerns over job loses there is also the question of how the reductions will impact local and state economics. Rose said the annual payroll at Fort Polk exceeds $900 million a year. Reductions would eliminate roughly half that — money he said doesn’t stay just in Vernon Parish but trickles out into the rest of Louisiana with a 4 percent sales tax that also goes back into the state.
“It saddens and disappoints and frustrates me to hear about the Department of Defense’s plans to reduce troops,” said Rep. James K. Armes, District 30. “This will have a tremendous, immediate economic impact on this area.”
Posted By: Randy On: 2/15/2013
Title: Changed Dramatically
If you haven't been to Fort Polk since 2005 then you can not understand what a different place it is. Fort Polk has undergone vast changes and numerous upgrades to the infrastructure plus much more is currently underway. Reduction would impact the region but it would be a horrible waste of tax payer funds to not utilize all of those remarkable improvements. Fort Polk has quietly built itself into a great and modern facility.
I wish they could provide before and after photos.