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Fort Bragg gate changes raise concerns among business owners

By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer | Published: January 15, 2019

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — By 11:30 a.m., the grills at Gyro Kings off Reilly Road are usually sizzling and the fryers are usually bubbling with oil as the restaurant prepares for the lunchtime customers.

The business is one of the eateries closest to the Reilly Road access gate near Fort Bragg. On Monday, there were no aromas coming from the grills, and no soldiers could be found during what is usually the lunch hour rush.

The restaurant is usually packed with soldiers who leave the post to seek its Korean-style bulgogi, said Sarena Savage, one of the owners.

“Somebody came and told us about the gate, cause we were like, ‘Where is everybody — what’s going on?’ and then they told us about how they’re closing the gate at certain times,” Savage said.

Gates that were open 16 hours per day are now open for a few hours in the morning, are closed at midday and are reopened for a few hours during the late afternoon into the early evening. The change was implemented Jan. 7.

Savage and other business owners near Fort Bragg said they have seen fewer customers from the post since the hours were changed.

About 70,000 to 80,000 vehicles pass through Fort Bragg’s gates each day, said Tom McCollum, a Fort Bragg spokesman.

The Department of the Army directed officials to cut back on borrowed military manpower, McCollum said.

“And the largest borrowed use of military manpower on Fort Bragg is at the access control point gates, and those are the guards,” McCollum said. “No soldier signed up to be a gate guard. They all signed up for some other specific (military occupational specialty), and we owe it to those soldiers (to train them) to be ready to be deployed.”

Fort Bragg’s garrison commander directed the change with input and support from high-ranking leaders of units, he said.

The change, McCollum said, means the servicemembers are back with their units to maintain training and readiness to deploy on a moment’s notice.

For business owners like Savage, it also means that soldiers and civilians who used to leave the installation to eat are making changes because some gates are no longer open during lunch.

“A lot of people are having to drive around, so we’ve really lost a lot of customers,” she said.

Gyro Kings’ other owner, Chunson Savage, said soldiers and civilian workers are no longer coming to the business because Reilly Road’s gate is not open during lunch hours. The Reilly Road gate is now open from 5 to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

“What purpose is it making the lunch hour closed,” Chunson Savage asked of Reilly Road’s access control point.

Gabriela Ortiz said she’s seen a lot of those soldiers cutting across Fillyaw Road, which is near a residential area, and is between Reilly Road and Yadkin Road. The Yadkin Road access control point, the next closest to Reilly Road, is open 24 hours.

Sometimes, the traffic is backed up for an hour, said Ortiz, who lives off of Fillyaw Road.

A couple of miles away at the Airborne One Inc. military surplus store on Yadkin Road, owner Sonny Pa said he’s noticed more traffic.

Employee Junior Lee said it’s usually backed up during the morning and at lunch time.

McCollum said officials understand that soldiers, civilian workers and business owners are making adjustments.

“No one likes to break their routine, but now they’re going to have to adjust their routines,” he said. “Some people have gotten used to driving on and off post at a moment’s notice to eat lunch and come back and everything is easy. It’s not particularly that way anymore.”

But business owners say it’s more than changing schedules for them.

Izdihar Eaton, president of the Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce, said some business owners there have noticed about a 30 percent revenue loss since the changes.

The gates near Spring Lake — the Manchester Road and Butner Road access control points —used to be open 16 hours and 24 hours respectively. They are now open from 5 to 9 a.m. to inbound and outbound traffic and from 3 to 6 p.m. to outbound traffic only.

“All of these businesses are trying to get back on their feet, and then all of a sudden, there’s a gate closure,” Eaton said, referencing how hurricanes Florence and Michael caused flooding to many of the town’s businesses last fall.

Celestino Macias, the manager of Mi Casita in Spring Lake, and Margaret Field, the manager at Armored Tacos and Grill, said they’ve noticed a decrease in customers.

“We’re hoping that it’ll change,” Field said, as four customers sat in the restaurant about 1:15 p.m. Monday.

Spring Lake Chamber members are invited to this month’s coffee-with-the-mayor meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday at town hall to discuss how the change in gate hours has affected their businesses. Eaton said their concerns will be shared with Fort Bragg’s deputy garrison commander.

“We’ve always supported Fort Bragg, and we feel it’s time for Fort Bragg to reciprocate and be supportive of an entire community that’s feeling this,” she said.

McCollum said the changes are not a “temporary plan,” but could be subject to adjustment.

“There are two driving factors — readiness and security. We can not compromise on either one of those,” he said.

He said officials are looking to hire more people to work the gates, and he said a traffic survey will be conducted after the Martin Luther King. Jr. holiday.

“Because traffic changes all the time, we’re always looking at ways to improve traffic and reduce the borrowed military manpower,” he said.

©2019 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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