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Residents push for weapons storage, business development at Arizona’s Camp Navajo

Chief Warrant Officer 5 John Vitt makes his final visit to Camp Navajo before retiring after 41 years of military service.

PROVIDED BY JOHN VITT/ARIZONA NATIONAL GUARD

By ADRIAN SKABELUND | The (Flagstaff) Arizona Daily Sun | Published: July 17, 2019

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (Tribune News Service) — When you think of the next frontier of Arizona’s $11.3 billion defense industry, the area around Flagstaff probably doesn’t jump to mind.

The Northern Arizona Military Affairs Council is hoping to change that by bringing economic development to Bellemont and the Arizona Army National Guard’s Camp Navajo.

Julie Pastrick, the president of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce and the Military Affairs Council, said the goal is twofold: first, to take a piece of the $11.3 billion pie and direct it towards northern Arizona, and second, to provide additional revenues to Camp Navajo to be used to improve and maintain the camp’s infrastructure.

Camp officials and the Military Affairs Council hope to generate this revenue by leasing land within the camp, both for the storage of commercial materials and for companies looking to open locations or move to the area.

And Pastrick said there are big opportunities for both.

The camp first was set up as a logistics and transportation hub for men moving across the country during World War II, said Travis Schulte, the legislative liaison with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. Schulte added there is no reason the camp could not provide a similar function to commercial companies today.

The camp contains about 600 storage igloos designed to act as secure, protected warehouses for explosives and arms, Schulte said.

But at the moment, only about 100 of those storage igloos are used, providing storage for the Department of Defense but no one else.

Given the secure nature of the camp and the igloos, Pastrick said they could be used to store defense-related products that can’t be kept in less-secure facilities, and then those products easily could be moved where they need to go because Camp Navajo is flanked by both the railroad and Interstate 40.

And a lot of those products are already built in Arizona. The state ranks as one of the top five states in the nation when it comes to manufacturing for the defense and aerospace industries, with many of those companies manufacture products in Tucson and the Phoenix metro Area.

“The more storage we can get from the companies down south, and we’re talking Boeing, Raytheon, Honeywell, they’re mega-billion-dollar industries. If they would push their products here, then the leases that they pay would fund the base,” Pastrick said.

In acting as a storage facility and transportation hub for such products, Camp Navajo also could help connect the state’s defense manufacturers to the rest of the country and to places like Yuma, where weapon systems are tested, Pastrick said.

Pastrick added that when she and other members of the Military Affairs Council have traveled to Washington D.C. and pointed out how well Flagstaff and Camp Navajo would fit into the state’s overall defense industry, they have received a lot of support.

On top of the leasing of storage space, Schulte said camp officials have identified at least 1,000 acres of land on the base but outside the secure area that could be leased to other businesses — including those working in research and development for the defense industry, businesses involving forestry or simply for an office park.

Challenges

The drive to get economic development on the camp first began in 2014 and 2015, Schulte said. But after years of work running into a number of challenges, he thinks they are now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

One challenge they have yet to solve fully is the ability to lease land within the camp to commercial entities and to make sure Camp Navajo sees the revenues generated.

The camp is on land managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, and thus the federal government controls what happens to the land. But the camp itself, including all its infrastructure, is managed and funded by the state as part of the Arizona Army National Guard.

Because of that, if they lease the land now, the camp would not see any of the revenue those leases would generate, Schulte said.

There are other programs the military has developed for camps and military bases to work with private businesses, including leasing space to them, but at the moment, Schulte said, the position of Camp Navajo in particular makes that more difficult.

On top of that, the Corps of Engineers has some concerns about leasing land to private firms, Pastrick said.

But solutions to both of these issues could present themselves within the next two years. During the annual authorization of the National Defense Authorization Act, Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., included language pressing the Army for answers on how to utilize Camp Navajo’s excess magazine storage for the Flagstaff community.

The Military Affairs Council has also suggested the use of service contracts as opposed to traditional leases, Pastrick said. That would allow companies to use the land while also providing the Army Corps with an easier way to end or adjust a lease, if needed.

The camp also currently is working with Northern Arizona University as a test case for leasing camp land for the purpose of supporting forest health initiatives.

One of the challenges the push for economic development had faced was the lack of an organization to push for economic development at Camp Navajo, an issue solved by the creation of the Military Affairs Council about two years ago, Pastrick said.

Those military advocacy councils are helpful in two ways. First, there are laws about how federal personnel can advocate for themselves to decision makers in Washington. Because of those regulations, councils can be helpful to advocate on behalf of local military installations, Pastrick said.

Those organizations also can provide a bridge between a military installation and the community the base resides in, Schulte said. And such councils can provide more stable leadership in pushing for economic development, as the leaders in charge of bases might be reassigned.

Such councils also assist in working with other agencies and in communicating with the private sector.

©2019 The Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, Ariz.)
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