Monday, November 10, 2008

Contrite Colonel to Community: Trust me

Colonel Landry, commander of the Louisville Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, faced a barrage of criticism of the army from local, state, and federal officials at a press round table event in Middletown on Monday afternoon. The Colonel was in Middletown to make two announcements. First, the Mile Lane site, currently owned by the army, would not be considered any more. The reason for this is that the Base Relocation and Closure (BRAC) Act requires that the Mile Lane facility be closed, the language of BRAC is as follows:
Close the US Army Reserve Center, Middletown, CT, ... and relocate units to a new Armed Forces Reserve Center ... in Middletown, CT, if the Army is able to acquire land suitable for the construction of the facilities. [emphasis mine, some of Blumenthal's comments pertain to this, see below]
Second, Colonel Landry announced that all three of the remaining sites under consideration, Cucia Park, Bysiewicz Industrial Park, and Boardman Lane/Ken Dooley Drive, would be evaluated in equal measure. A final decision on a site will not be made until after completion of Environmental and Engineering Feasibility Studies, including the environmental assessment (EA) done under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The NEPA process requires 5 months of work, and thus the site selection will not be announced until the end of March 2009.

Colonel Landry opened the event by recalling that when he was last in Middletown, he asked for the community's help in identifying properties, and he told the community that he would return to Middletown in late October or early November with a ranked list of sites. He said that since then, his superiors, in the Office of the Asssistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management (ACSIM, for those of you who have not yet filled your daily acronym quota), had instructed him to pursue all sites, "The Army has ordered me to undertake a full-blown NEPA analysis on all the sites for the project." The Colonel released a memorandum from ACSIM to that effect. In later remarks, the Colonel said that he was sure that the packet on each of the sites fully captured the concerns of elected officials. He further said, "I will go on the record: I am absolutely 100% confident that given all the appropriate analysis the army will make the right decision. It will all be out there and be all on the record."

The Colonel then listened to several elected officials, each of whom blasted the Army for keeping the Boardman Lane site on the list of possible sites. Congresswoman DeLauro said that keeping Boardman Lane on the list "flies in the face of the army paying attention to what we have said." She said that city residents should not have to live with the concern over Boardman Lane for another 5 months, that this was an unnecessary 'agida' for Middletown. In a press release of her own, she said,
"The community’s opinion must have significant weight and be taken into consideration now, not further along in the process. It is as if the Army believes the community, with a few more months time, will change its perspective on the issue, when in fact, resistance will only continue to stiffen."

Attorney General Blumenthal
reiterated his opinion that BRAC does NOT require the army to build their facility in Middletown. He has in the past argued that the BRAC language clearly allows for the facility to be built in other towns if no suitable land is found in Middletown. He also urged that Boardman Lane be "firmly and finally removed, not only because of quality of life, ... but because it will never be acceptable as a site." He made the personal prediction that Boardman Lane as a viable site is dead, because he was confident that the Army COE would follow the law. In response to a question from Middletown Eye reporter Ed McKeon, Blumenthal stated, "If the army chooses Boardman Lane, it is in for a fight, it is in for a hard-fought battle, one that will take years to resolve. That is the basis for my prediction that they will do the right thing." Essentially, Blumenthal was predicting that both for legal and for tactical reasons, the army would retreat from consideration of Boardman Lane.

Secretary of State Bysiewicz expressed her concerns as a taxpayer, "I am distressed that we are spending money on environmental assessments for two properties that are inappropriate." Mayor Giuliano and Councilman Ron Klattenberg, who chaired a citizens advisory panel on the army base siting, both expressed their strong disappointment that the army was not pursuing solely Cucia Park, the site that the city strongly recommended. The mayor said, "the stand the city of Middletown is taking is not unfair to the army, nor is it overly generous."
He pointed out that if a private developer brought forward a proposal for something like this military facility on Boardman, it would never have been approved, while a proposal for the same facility at Cucia would have been approved. State senator Paul Doyle, and state representative Gail Hamm also questioned the colonel on the process for incorporating community input.

After all these comments, the Colonel repeated what he had said at the outset. He understood the officials' concerns, and he had conveyed that information to his superiors. He expressed his confidence that at the end of the process the correct decision will be made. He said that the ACSIM will decide on a site after the NEPA environmental assessment is done, and a 30 day public comment period is over. By the end of May, the Corps will acquire that site, and proceed towards construction.

Most of these elected officials, as well as state representative Joe Serra, and representatives from the offices of Governor Rell, Senator Lieberman, and Senator Dodd had attended an earlier meeting with Colonel Landry. It was clear none of those assembled were pleased with what the Colonel had to say, however, none of them were willing to challenge the integrity of the colonel. Congresswoman DeLauro summed up the feelings in the room by saying of the Army, "Trust, but verify." In her press release,
she said, “The Army will continue to hear from me and the community until the Boardman Lane property is removed as an option for the Armed Forces Reserve Center.”


Judy Konopka said...

I realize I'm coming in a bit late to this discussion, but I'm wondering how Middletown benefits by letting the army place a base here. I'm assuming the only benefit would be taxes. What does this mean for residents? What (specifically) will we be getting? Reduced taxes? More schools? Or is this something the the Feds say we have to do?
Any feedback is appreciated. Thanks!

fishmuscle said...

Good question! The Army does not contribute any taxes or payments in lieu of taxes. This base instead takes land off the tax rolls, so in fact the city receives LESS tax revenue. What Middletown gets is increased traffic on weekends, and if the army base brings new residents to Middletown, increased strain on our overburdened school system.

The Federal Government (Congress) mandated that the facility be built in Middletown, if suitable land could be found.

For the full history of this, type "army" into the search box on the top left of the Middletown Eye page (give yourself lots of time). Further information can be found through the Westfield Residents Association web page:

argos said...

I had an Emperor's New Clothes experience reading these two posts. I wish that more of us had asked Judy Konopka's question, asked it earlier, and acted on the answer. We might have had a unified effort to get the proposed base out of Middletown, rather than an argument about where it should and shouldn't be built. The original plan to put the base in Maromas just might have provided some economic benefit to the city. When all the sites in Maromas were rejected by the army, there was another opportunity to say "thanks, but no thanks." But the elected officials were already committed to welcoming the army into town. They fawned over Colonel Landry and competed with each other to sound the most patriotic, somehow equating patriotism with having an army base here. It now may be too late to answer the question.