Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

August 8, 2014 at 10:55am

JBLM cuts on the horizon: South Sound leaders mobilize to soften blow

Congressman Denny Heck, D-Olympia, spoke about how pending cuts to the number of soldiers and civilians at JBLM will affect the South Sound economy. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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The worst-case scenario is that Joint Base Lewis-McChord - the nation's premier West Coast power projection platform - may lose up to 16,000 soldiers and civilian workers as the Army works its way through a reduction in force process.

"We are living and operating under a real threat," said Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, during a forum held yesterday afternoon at Lakewood City Hall.

"It is very, very real," he emphasized to the audience of about 75 community, state and business leaders.

This past June, the Army released its Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment, or SPEA.  The document indicated that JBLM is being considered for a potential reduction of 16,000 soldiers and civilian workers between 2015 and 2020.

The assessment found that the reduction in personnel would result in a "significant impact to socioeconomic resources."

But the Army's assessment of what a "significant impact" is and what area leaders and businesspersons perceive as a "significant impact" vary greatly.

For example, the SPEA stated that Washington state would lose $3.5 million in retail taxes in fiscal year 2016.  On the other hand, the Washington State Office of Financial Management analyzed the same data and determined that the state would lose $20.47 million in retail taxes.

The reason for the large difference in numbers is that the state used a model that factored in data specific to Washington state rather than the broad-brush approach the Army took, pointed out Kristine Reeves, director of military and defense sector for the State Department of Commerce.

"The Army basically used a ‘cookie-cutter' approach," quipped Heck. "It's brain dead."

In eliminating a significant portion of JBLM's workforce - which is the state's second-largest employer - a significant portion of the South Sound's economy will be adversely impacted.

"Based on some initial calculations, the reduction could result in almost $1.3 billion annually in income losses to our region," wrote Lakewood City Manager John Caulfield in a recent article.

"Local government would lose billions of dollars in revenue from sales, property and other taxes."

The SPEA is silent on how Madigan Army Medical Center will be affected; the report does not address how businesses that have invested in the South Sound to help support JBLM during the last decade would lose money; and the findings do not acknowledge how service industry workers on JBLM would find new employment.

"The Army found that a reduction of up to 16,000 personnel from JBLM would have no significant impact on the surrounding community," Heck said.

"Let me be clear: They are wrong, and we disagree, and it's our job to make sure they understand. Our future is in our hands."

Public input matters.

Last year, when the first assessment on potential base reductions was released, the South Sound region submitted only one public comment. The result was that JBLM lost 4,200 soldiers.

On the other hand, the Fort Polk, Louisiana community mobilized and submitted more than 4,000 public comments and lost only 250 personnel.

Connect the dots - public input matters.

"The best way to make an impact is to write letters about how the base is tied to the local community," said Mary Huff, program coordinator of the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership.

"I don't think it's hard once you think ‘What do I need from JBLM?  How does my community benefit from JBLM?'"

Huff also stressed that letters that specifically show how the drawdown will affect businesses and jobs are vital.

"You must make your voice heard," Huff stressed.

Considering public comment is more than just a formality that the Army must follow.  The Army is required to address all submitted public comments, as long as they fall within the scope of the SPEA.

"We are on solid ground," Heck concluded.  "We're right; they're wrong."

To submit a comment via letter or email, visit the South Sound Communities and Military Partnership website and click the links under "Public Involvement." 

Written comments should 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 emailed to usarmy.jbsa.aec.nepa@mail.mil.

The comment period closes Aug. 25.

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