Report helps rural base communities
Bouncing Back from BRAC
Few military towns are pleased when the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) wants to close their bases. Rural communities, in particular, can be hit hard by such a closure, according to researchers at the University of Texas' LBJ School of Public Affairs. But a new LBJ School report may help rural communities rebound faster after a closure.
The DoD conducted the first round of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process in 1988. The DoD and Congress established the process after the Cold War to reduce and reorganize the country's military facilities and resources. Subsequent rounds occurred in 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005.
The U.S. General Accounting Office reported in January 2005 that the first four BRAC rounds resulted in the closure of 97 major facilities and reduced the DoD's infrastructure by 20 percent. The 2005 round will result in 22 major closures, including three in Texas: Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant, Naval Station Ingleside and Brooks City Base. The state also will have four major realignments: Red River Army Depot, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Lackland Air Force Base and Sheppard Air Force Base.
A major closure is one where the cost to replace an existing facility with one the same size, in the same location, using today's building standards would exceed $100 million. A major realignment is one in which a base has a net loss of at least 400 military and civilian personnel.
Two of those major changes are taking place in one small community in northeast Texas, the town of New Boston.
New Boston, population 4,808, is home to both the Red River Army Depot and the Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant. The town, about 21 miles west of Texarkana, is familiar with the BRAC process.
In 1995, the Red River Army Depot was realigned. The military transferred 765 acres to the town's local redevelopment authority (LRA), the Red River Redevelopment Authority (RRRA), to reuse. A community forms an LRA to spearhead the area's efforts to save its base and plan for its reuse if the base is closed or portions are sold off in realignment.
"Out of the 765 acres, 240 were sold to private interests, and they developed a golf course area," said Duane Lavery, RRRA's executive director. "The remaining 500 or so acres are industrial and commercial [development]."
Cleaning up and transferring the land took about four years, Lavery said. In 2005, the depot was slated for closure, but the BRAC panel decided instead to realign the base again, much to the community's relief. DoD estimated that closing the base would have cost the area 4,175 jobs.
"The 4,000 jobs we would have lost would have been devastating," Lavery said.
By realigning, DoD estimates the area will lose 429 jobs. In a small town, that difference is profound. The town still must contend with the closure of the Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant, which will cost the area another 228 jobs. The total job loss will amount to about 1 percent of the area's work force, but Lavery is hopeful.
"We've already got an existing LRA in place that's been successful," Lavery said. "I believe Bowie County has a strong work ethic and a positive outlook to respond to this challenge."
A bee in their bonnet
Beeville, a town of about 13,500 located 89 miles southeast of San Antonio, had a rougher time when its military base, Chase Field Naval Air Station, closed in the 1991 BRAC.
"It was a tremendous impact," said Joe Montez, executive director of the Bee Development Authority and former city manager. "We lost approximately 2,000 military and civilian jobs."
At the time Chase Field closed, the population of Bee County was 25,135, and the unemployment rate was 10.9 percent, according to LBJ researchers. Recovery was slow.
Chase Field needed more than $5 million in environmental remediation before the government could sell the land to Beeville's LRA.
"They started the transfer in 1993, and [the LRA] didn't receive the title [to the property] until 1998," Montez said.
The state took about 300 acres to build a prison, which provided about 1,200 jobs, but Montez said the new jobs paid less than the federal jobs that were lost. While the LRA waited to gain title to the property, it could lease from the Navy the facilities not taken by the state and then offer subleases to businesses. The Navy only offered one-year leases, though, which Montez said hampered development.
"You can't really do anything with a lease for one year," he said. "You forward that over to someone else, and they say, 'You're only going to give me a one-year lease?' Companies wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole."
When the LRA finally got title to the land and started to market the property, the facilities looked unattractive to investors, Montez said.
"The airfield and facility was starting to get tired," he said. "They started to get rusty; the grass was overgrowing."
In 2003, though, the LRA began a new push to market the facility to aviation contractors. The city renovated two hangars for military contractor Kay and Associates to work on Blackhawk helicopters, is securing contracts with other aviation companies and is opening up one of the runways to become Chase Field Industrial Airport, according to Montez.
"In essence, we have completely filled up Chase Field," said Montez.
Best of all, he said, the jobs coming in are high-paying jobs.
"Things are looking quite bright for the community," he said.
The slow recovery Beeville experienced is not unusual, and some rural communities never recover, according to Kenneth Matwiczak, a senior lecturer at the LBJ School and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel. In 2004, the Congressional Research Service asked the LBJ School to research previous closures and make recommendations for lawmakers and community leaders.
An LBJ policy research team produced the report, Economic Impact of Rural Military Base Realignment and Closure, in 2005, and the school posted the report online in March 2006.
Matwiczak, the project's director, said the goal of the report is to help rural communities facing future BRAC rounds better prepare for base closures or realignments and to guide political representatives on helping those communities.
"We wanted to provide them a list of recommendations and maybe best practices that would help them recover from base closure because in rural areas, the base is about all there is economically," Matwiczak said.
The report recommends communities organize as soon as possible after finding out their base is under BRAC consideration. It says to start by fighting closure, but plan for what to do if it does close.
"What has to happen is everybody has to get together at the table and talk as soon as possible," Matwiczak said. "And they all have to agree."
The report suggests LRAs strive for quick land cleanup and transfer and seek out financial and educational support from both public and private sources, including congressional and state-elected officials.
Lavery said many lessons have been learned from the previous BRAC rounds that can help communities in future rounds. Montez agreed. In 1991, he said the government didn't always know how to help communities.
"Now they have more experience in base closure," he said.
Matwiczak hopes the LBJ report will help both communities and the officials who want those communities to survive base closure.
"The best thing is early planning," Matwiczak said.