Troop reductions at Fort Drum would devastate economy, post leaders say

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times | Published: March 21, 2013

FORT DRUM — A loss of as many as 8,000 soldiers from the post by 2020 would cause significant harm to the region’s long-term economy, according to a local response to an Army assessment of force levels.

The Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization letter, sent to the Army on Tuesday, stated such a large cut would create an “environment of doubt” for developers and financiers, making it appear the region is too risky for economic activity. Large cuts could also hurt schools and hospitals, post leaders wrote.

However, the response stated, the area could handle the placement of 3,000 additional soldiers on the post in that period, as it has at times supported more than 100 percent of the post’s authorized strength.

“What we needed to talk about was the community impacts,” said Carl A. McLaughlin, the regional organization’s executive director. “Basically, what the document says is we in the community appreciate what the Department of Defense and the Army has done with Fort Drum as far as stationing soldiers. A form of our appreciation has come in a community response to meet the needs of that expansion.”

The Army’s assessment projected hundreds of millions of dollars on the line depending on the cuts’ direction and scale. Some observers, such as Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the post and 10th Mountain Division commander, have predicted restructuring would not be at the extreme levels discussed in the assessment.

The response breaks down the impact of soldier level cuts and gains in a range of categories.

¦ For housing, a soldier reduction could lead to a rapid increase of vacancy rates, creating a corresponding drop in rents and property values. It also projected a stop in development work and difficulties for apartment property owners to repay mortgages.

“All progress that had been made as the north country worked towards a stabilized market with consumer options and choice would be lost,” the response said.

However, an increase in soldiers would spur continued development.

¦ For education, cuts in soldier levels would hurt the Carthage Central, Indian River Central and Watertown City school districts, which have taken on large numbers of military-dependent students. The report said each district has taken on millions of dollars of capital projects to support expanded enrollments.

Jefferson Community College would also lose hundreds of full-time students, leading to losses of millions in revenues and staff reductions.

¦ In response to troop reductions, medical facilities would lose large numbers of patients and millions of dollars of inpatient revenue. The region would face problems retaining medical staff, creating issues for patients seeking specialty care. Local emergency medical transport crews could struggle to support themselves.

The report said at least one area hospital, which it did not name, would be forced into bankruptcy.

¦ The response indicated potential problems connected to local infrastructure and transportation project growth, specifically at Watertown International Airport.

Deadline for responses to the assessment, or the impacts of decreases and gains at 20 installations nationwide as the Army looks to reduce from 562,000 to 492,000 soldiers, was delayed for 30 days to allow more time for submissions.


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