Officials ask community to speak out against potential troop reduction at Fort Polk

By By Nichole Osinski / American Press

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.”