Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Army to return to town without site ranking

The last time that the Army Corps of Engineers were in Middletown, they held a public hearing to get community input on 4 sites they were considering for an armed forces reserve training center. At this meeting, which occurred September 30th (coverage in the Eye), the time line that they announced for site selection included the following (from their PowerPoint presentation, available HERE):
*17 October - Complete Draft Site Identification Report and forward for approval
*Early November - Release ranked sites; NEPA and real estate process continues
*March 2009 - Contract ready to advertise
*June 2009 - Contract Award
In a call with Diane McCartin (Middletown AFRC project manager) and Ron Elliot (ACE public affairs specialist) today, I asked whether they had made any progress towards the release of ranked sites. To my surprise, Ms. McCartin told me, "I don't believe there is a ranked list of sites." Apparently, no such ranking will be determined until next March or April, when the draft Environmental Assessment will be made available to the public for a 30 day comment period.

In the standard procedure for site selection, the Corps and the clients for the facility (in this case the Guard and Reserve) submit a draft report to a general at the Pentagon. He then responds with a letter to the Corps, in which he approves, disapproves, or requests modifications to the report; this letter essentially provides commands to the Corps for how to proceed with planning for the facility. McCartin and Elliot could not tell me anything about the report that was scheduled to be submitted on October 17th, nor could they say what they expected to hear from the general.

However, the Army Corps will return to Middletown on Monday, November 10th, for a Press event. Mr. Elliot indicated that Colonel Keith Landry, commander of the Louisville District of the Corps, would be joining the civilian staff from the Corps at this press event. Its purpose is to "tell people exactly where we're at in the process [of choosing a site]," according to Mr. Elliot. A media advisory will be sent out on Friday to announce the time, location, and format (press release or press conference) for the event. Neither Mr. Elliot nor Ms. McCartin could be specific about what sort of information would be provided that was not already provided in previous meetings and press conferences.

Ron Klattenberg, councilman and liaison from the city to the Army Corps of Engineers, told me this evening he had received no inkling that the Corps would be coming to Middletown next week. Upon hearing the news of Monday's press event, he said, "It shocks me that the information [about the press event] would come through the media, and not through communications with the mayor." In addition, he said the army had indicated on multiple occasions that they would release the rankings of the sites in early November, and he was outraged at their apparent change of heart.

During the past month, Army consultants have been very busy evaluating the 4 sites under consideration, according to Ms. McCartin. Cultural resources surveys by archeologists, traffic analyses, and wetland surveys are being done on the Bysiewicz Industrial Park, Cucia Park, and Boardman Lane/Ken Dooley Drive parcels. Threatened and endangered species are being looked at on the Bysiewicz and Boardman properties. These studies are either completed, underway, or will be completed in the near future. Ms. McCartin told me that since the Mile Lane property is already owned and operated by the army, their knowledge of that site was extensive enough to preclude the need for additional studies. She said that all of the sites are being given equal consideration, both for the NEPA process and the preliminary development of site plans and building footprints.

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