Feedback: The Big "What If?" Military Releases Cuts Document

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What would happen to northern New York if Fort Drum shrank from a population of 19,000 soldiers and civilian workers to just 3,000?

The Army is asking that provocative question in a report released Thursday morning, and answering it with numbers that show the impact would be catastrophic.

The military is required to ask the public what the impact of deep cuts would be. The military is also facing cuts, with the war in Iraq over and the war in Afghanistan soon ending.

So across the country, military bases are being studied.

The report released Thursday is not a decision by the Army; in a press release, Fort Drum notes a decision about cuts would "most likely" not be made before mid-2015.

However, the sheer size of the talked about cut, and the devastating effect it would have on the economy, will prompt a community pushback. The military is expected to hold a "listening session" to get community reaction later this year, similiar to one it held at Case Middle school in Watertown in 2013.

"The Army recognizes that these cuts...could have serious impacts to the communities" with bases, the report notes.

How bad would it be?

The military has a gift for understatement. In the report, it uses several classifications for potential impacts, the worst being "significant." And the impact on Fort Drum is rated "significant" right across the board, when it comes to sales, income, employment and population.

The actual numbers are staggering. According to the report:

- $877 million in income would be lost. Aside from the loss of 16,000 soldier and civilian Army jobs, another 1,544 "direct contract service jobs" would be lost, plus another 1,558 "induced" jobs would go. (We're not sure what "induced" means, but it's most likely jobs that aren't directly tied to the military, but rely on Fort Drum as a source of income.)

- Sales would drop $763 million, with sales tax losses of $10 million.

- The area's population would drop by a third, with 16,000 soldiers and civilians employees leaving the area and taking with them 24,288 family members.

The description of how housing would be affected is especially bleak:

"The population reduction would lead to a considerable decrease in demand for housing and vacant housing units on Fort Drum and in the ROI, (ROI = the area)  resulting in a reduction in median home values with impacts on the real estate market and foreclosures in the ROI.

In addition to depressing rental rates and lowering home values, there would not be residents to fill the over-30 housing complexes (approximately 5,000 units) constructed in the ROI to support Soldier’s housing needs. The loss of residents would not be filled by the local population.

Alternative 1 (the 16,000 cuts) would lead to a loss of revenue and income necessary to maintain housing units, potentially cause a raise in property taxes, and likely drive investors to default on loans in the ROI. Overall, Alternative 1 would have significant, adverse impact on housing throughout the ROI."

- When it comes to schools, Indian River, Carthage and Watertown's school districts would all take big hits, with Watertown getting the worst of it.

- The report also outlines the consequences to health care and other public services, none of them good.

How Did We Get Here?

At it's peak, the Army had 570,000 soliders. It has cut once, to get to about 490,000.

Now the military is cutting again, to get to the 440,000 - 450,000 soldiers proposed by President Obama.

And if the budget mechanism known as sequestration stays in effect, the Army says it would have to shrink still further, to 420,000 soldiers.

The idea of cutting 16,000 soldiers from Fort Drum is based on what would have to happen if the sequestration cuts take place, if the Army shrinks to 420,000 soldiers. Think of it as "the worst possible case."

How likely is it?

Consider history: in 2013, when the military was figuring out how to get to 490,000, the Army put out a similar report for Fort Drum that considered cutting 8,000 people.

The actual cut was nowhere close: the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division was "inactivated," along with cuts at other bases across the country.

That cut amounted to 3,500 soldiers at Drum, though some other soldiers are to be added to the 1st and 2nd BCTs, so Drum's net loss is said to be 1,500 - 1,800 soldiers.

Still, there is no way to know how each round of cuts will work out, so expect community groups to protest long and loud.

What happens next?

As noted, the military will likely hold a listening session later this year - we had originally heard it would be this summer, but are now told it could be as late as this fall or winter. In addition, written comments are being accepted until August 25. Expect the Fort Drum Regional Liason Organization and other groups to weigh in with statements of just how bad the impact would be, and to urge the public to bring comments or write in.

"I have no doubt through the hard work and pointed feedback of this community, what we know as the truth will be communicated loud and clear - Northern New York, Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division are a team," said Colonel Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum Garrison Commander, in a statement.

"And with new and high quality infrastructure, cutting edge training and incredible hometown support, this team is a battle tested asset the Army can't afford to lose, even in the strictest of financial times." 

It's important to note also the political context: while the Obama administration has its own plan to reduce the Army to 440-450,000 troops, the military has pushed back strongly against the deeper cuts sequestration would bring. Making the consequences of those cuts public, and rallying the public to the miltary's side, will put pressure on Congress to stop sequestration.

Send comments to the military

 From the press release:

"Please submit written comments 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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Wednesday, October 22, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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