Officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said this week that they would reopen the site selection process for a new regional Army training facility and promised to keep citizens and local officials better advised about the project's progress. Both are welcome developments.
In the interests of time and money — and avoiding public angst — we urge the Corps to go further, to wit:
- Expand the search to sites outside Middletown. Col. Keith Landry, who is overseeing construction for the Corps, says Army lawyers interpret the federal law calling for the consolidation of Connecticut's Army bases to mean that the new base must be in Middletown. But that is an unnecessarily narrow reading of the legislation. The law stipulates the base should be located in Middletown if a suitable site can be found. That language clearly gives the Army some flexibility.
- Consider brownfields. Army officials have ruled out abandoned industrial sites, saying they're too expensive to clean and develop. But former industrial sites can offer several advantages, including proximity to downtowns, transportation corridors, water systems and sewer lines. By adopting a policy of reviving brownfields, the Corps would be working against sprawl and helping to preserve open space, an increasingly precious commodity in New England. Also, the state's brownfield remediation program could be used to clean a potential site for the training center.
- Heed the advice of state and local officials and citizens. In the past eight months, Corps officials have selected two sites. Both met strong opposition from neighbors and public officials. Corps officials deserve some credit for agreeing to step back from their plans, and for promising to keep the public better informed from now on. But they also need to listen and allow their selection of a site to be informed by the community.
- Respect the authority of the local inland wetlands agency. This is a corollary to good listening. Corps officials appear to be balking at the notion of submitting their site plans to a local wetlands panel for approval. By going through the application process, however, Corps officials will be ensuring that the development of a new training facility is shaped by local priorities and concerns.
Corps officials have tried it their way for the past eight months, only to end up almost where they started. It's time they tried a different approach.