2014-07-09 / Front Page

Army plan would cut 3,600 jobs at Fort Lee

By Michael Buettner
NEWS EDITOR

A plan to reduce the size of the U.S. Army would have “significant and adverse” effects on the economy in the region around Fort Lee, including Chesterfield County, according to a recently released report.

As part of a broad restructuring as the U.S. military faces $487 billion in budget cuts over the next 30 years, the Army is proposing to reduce active-duty troops by 80,000 over the next five years. For Fort Lee, implementing proposed Army 2020 Force Structure Realignment would result in nearly 3,600 lost jobs and a decline of nearly 9,000 in the population around the military post, which lies across the Appomattox River from eastern Chesterfield.

The report from the U.S. Army Environmental Command looks at the expected impact of the proposed force reductions on the environment and socioeconomics on the base and surrounding communities over the next five years. Included in the report’s findings are Chesterfield, Dinwiddie and Prince George counties, and the cities of Colonial Heights, Hopewell and Petersburg.

The Fort Lee military post contributes about $2.4 billion a year to the economy of the surrounding region, or almost 14 percent of the area’s total annual economic output, according to a 2012 report.

The new report concludes that “the potential cumulative impacts of [implementation] at Fort Lee are anticipated to be significant and adverse for socioeconomics … the loss of approximately 3,600 soldiers and Army civilians, in conjunction with other reasonably foreseeable actions, could have significant im- pacts to population, employment, tax receipts, housing values and schools” in the affected area.

Going through with the plan “would result in the loss of up to 3,538 Army positions (2,792 soldiers and 746 Army civilians), with an average annual income of $46,760 and $78,963, respectively.”

The majority of both soldiers and civilians whose jobs are cut are expected to leave the area with their spouses and children, leading to a predicted population loss of 8,909.

The cuts would also result in job losses at businesses that help serve Fort Lee, such as hotels, restaurants, retailers and companies under contract to provide services on post. The total number of jobs expected to disappear amounts to 4,914, equivalent to 2.3 percent of the region’s total employment in 2012.

As a result of the job and population losses, according to the report, total annual income in the area would fall by an estimated $242.9 million.

With that overall decline in activity, state and local government would see a drop of about $3 million a year in total sales tax revenue, according to the report.

Finally, the report notes that the expected decline in population “would lead to a decreased housing demand and increased housing availability … Increased vacancy across the region because of force reductions and/ or personnel moving onto the installation has the potential to result in a decrease in median home values” across the region.

Of course, Fort Lee isn’t the only military base in the country that would be targeted for cuts under the force realignment plan. The new environmental report looks at 28 installations that are expected to see “significant” effects if the plan goes forward, including two others in Virginia (Fort Belvoir in Northern Virginia and Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton Roads).

According to a news release, the Army is considering the force reductions “to meet more effectively national security requirements while reducing the Army’s end-strength. … The implementation of this force rebalancing is necessary to allow the Army to operate in a reduced budget climate, while ensuring the Army can continue to support the nation’s critical defense missions.”

Fort Lee was a big gainer during the last round of military restructuring, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process that began in 2005. The military spent about $1.2 billion on new construction to accommodate a doubling of the post’s population.

That expansion brought several major new facilities to Fort Lee, including the Sustainment Center of Excellence Headquarters, the Army Logistics University and the Army Ordnance Corps headquarters and school.

County officials are hopeful that the Army ultimately will take that investment into account before making any drastic cuts.

“Fort Lee is a great neighbor to Chesterfield County. It’s an important employer in the region,” said spokesman David Goode. “We’re optimistic that the significant investment to expand training programs there in recent years will weigh very heavily on any decision impacting the post’s future and personnel levels there.”

The full report on the proposed force reduction is available at http://aec.army.mil/Services/Support/NEPA/Documents.aspx.

Comments from the public are being accepted until Aug. 25 and may be sent to U.S. Army Environmental Command, ATTN: SPEA Public Comments, 2450 Connell Road (Building 2264), Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, TX 78234-7664; or by email to usarmy.jbsa.aec.nepa@mail.mil.

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