Army wants state to buy portions of Fort Monroe
By ROBERT BRAUCHLE | The (Newport News, Va.) Daily Press | Published: February 5, 2013
The guns and guards are gone, but Fort Monroe remains in the military's hands more than 15 months after the Army decomissioned the base and moved its personnel and equipment from the historic property.
The Army is keeping tight-fisted control of the property while it demands the state pay for portions of the property built up after the 1830s.
The military contends the state owes it money for the marina and land Army engineers created along Mill Creek near present day Stillwell Drive, according to state and federal officials close to those talks.
Fort Monroe Authority Executive Director Glenn Oder wouldn't disclose how much the Army is asking for those areas other than to say it is 10 times the value estimated by the state.
"Fort Monroe is a great place to be," Oder said during a 90-minute meeting with Daily Press editors and reporters. "It's going to better for us if we don't have a huge mortgage to pay on it."
The Army's ownership will also limit what the authority can do once the property's master plan is complete, which is expected to happen this summer.
"If someone tried creating a model for a complex real estate deal ... this might be it," said Fred Merrill, a consultant working on Fort Monroe's master plan.
Attorneys for the authority and Army are still negotiating the property's transition, even if it's out of the public's view.
Legal documents involving how the land will be used, and the responsibilities of the Army and authority during the transition process are still being reviewed.
"There is no reason to believe that these legal documents will not be resolved later this spring or early summer," Oder wrote in a follow-up email.
Aid from Capital Hill
Asked whether he has called on Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to nudge the Army, Oder said asking the federal representatives to intercede was akin to "asking the mayor to take care of a traffic ticket."
"There's a proper chain of authority you want to address first," he said. "We're still going through that process."
The property transfer, it appears, is a process Virginia's delegation on Capital Hill is watching from afar.
A spokesman for Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, issued a statement saying, "This issue continues to have his full attention as he works with all interested parties to finalize the transfer."
Rigell toured Fort Monroe last April.
"I'd hope we could come up with a methodology to this that's reasonable and reflects the reality of the situation," Rigell said after that tour. "The process is quite complex, so it's going to take a lot of cooperation and collaboration to navigate all of this."
Fort Monroe's designation as a national monument and the property's reuse were topics Kaine worked on when he was governor. The first-term U.S. senator is still settling into the office he began occupying just last month.
"In his new role, Senator Kaine will continue to support Fort Monroe and is committed to hearing from all stakeholders on this issue," according to a statement from Kaine's staff.
Messages left with Sen. Mark Warner's staff and with an Army spokesman were not returned.
Oder said the authority and Army have agreed to have the disputed areas appraised by separate firms, a process expected to take three to four months once both the Army and authority have approved contracts with their respective appraisers.
The disputed areas include a 38.8-acre half-moon-shaped parcel bordering Mill Creek and the 322-slip marina. The two areas make up just 12 percent of the entire Fort Monroe property.
For now, the Army still owns the property and acts as its caretaker.
Since the fort's decommissioning, the Fort Monroe Authority has acted as a property manager, setting up subleases between the Army and potential tenants. The authority also hired a public works contractor to identify upcoming maintenance projects.
Paying for Fort Monroe
Fort Monroe's transfer will also ultimately affect Virginia taxpayers.
Once the Army relinquishes ownership, the Fort Monroe Authority will begin paying for things such as building maintenance and utility costs for every building it owns. The Army now pays the maintenance costs on buildings not leased by the authority.
The authority will need to find a way to pay for those increased costs. Nearly two-thirds of its current revenue come from the state.
"We can't expect to be a line item in the state's budget forever," Oder said. "I love Fort Monroe, but we're going to have to find a way to pay for it."
The authority plans to operate with a $13.1 million budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2013. That's a 72 percent increase over its previous year's budget.
That increase was budgeted because Fort Monroe officials believed the property would transfer last September.
"We're trying to find ways to reduce expenses," Oder said. "We believe there's any answer out there, we just haven't found it yet."
Distributed by MCT Information Services