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New Fort Detrick commanders address brown water, other housing concerns

By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Frederick News-Post, Md. | Published: August 24, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Soldiers living at Fort Detrick say they have grown used to the brown water that comes out of the pipes.

They don’t drink the tap water. They buy bottled water instead.

When the water is murky, they do not bathe their kids, one said at a housing town hall meeting Thursday.

Brown water is not new to Fort Detrick, mostly due to its aging infrastructure. The base, including some of its piping, was built in the 1950s, former garrison Commander Col. Scott Halter previously told The Frederick News-Post.

The Army mandated town hall meetings in February after a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing discussed housing horrors at military posts across the nation. One of the people to testify was a resident of Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

On Thursday, the new Fort Detrick garrison commander and commanding general, who both live in Army housing, followed up on those previous town hall meetings.

Brig. Gen. Michael Talley, who has been on the job for about a month, told soldiers and residents that he was concerned about the housing complaints he received.

“It’s time for results,” he said. “It’s time to stop talking. It’s time to stop making promises.”

Col. Dexter Nunnally, garrison commander, divided the town hall into two sections. The first dealt with concerns about maintenance, such as requests being addressed in a timely manner.

Housing is his No. 1 priority, he said, echoing comments he made in his change-of-command ceremony speech earlier in the summer.

He spoke with Balfour Beatty, the contract company that runs Fort Detrick’s housing, about concerns from the post, and the housing company changed its leadership. There will now be community managers for Fort Detrick housing and the Glen Haven housing in Wheaton, which falls under Detrick’s command. The community manager for Fort Detrick did not respond to a call for comment as of 6:20 p.m. Friday.

When it comes to brown water, the solutions are more complex and costly. Nunnally said that he is aware of 39 houses — about 10 percent of the houses on post — with the issue. If more houses there have problems, the residents need to tell him, he said.

There are no issues with the water going to the barracks, he said.

In the short term, Fort Detrick will use a limited-scope filtration system to try to clean the water being delivered to the 39 houses. It will likely start on Sept. 15, Nunnally said.

Balfour Beatty also has a water expert that the company plans to consult regarding the water issue, Nunnally said.

The longer-term options come down to money. There are two projects, each costing $9 million, that would address the failing infrastructure. The first would replace the sewage line.

That project was two line items before the Army’s cutoff for funding in fiscal 2019, Nunnally said. As the end of the fiscal year approaches, more money might be released, meaning Fort Detrick might get some of the money for the pipe project.

It’s unclear if more money will come down the pipeline in the fiscal 2020 budget.

The second project would replace the infrastructure of the water distribution system. Getting money for that project would be a little more challenging. There are 70 other installations that have issues that need funding, Nunnally said.

There is more attention paid to Fort Detrick, “four star” interest, Nunnally said, due to the recent concerns at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, which had to shut down research at its biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories after it received a cease and desist order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nunnally and Talley both said that they hope that attention might be an opportunity for funding for housing concerns. The goal at Fort Detrick is for people to be able to excel at their job, be it research at USAMRIID or other duties on post.

But to do that, they said, housing concerns need to be fixed.

©2019 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)
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