08/15/04 — Military Affairs group discusses BRAC

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Military Affairs group discusses BRAC

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on August 15, 2004 7:28 AM

The N.C. General Assembly gave military communities some help this summer as they work to protect their bases from closure or downsizing, a state panel heard Friday.

But the Legislature's action are just a part of the effort that will be needed, said Hugh Shelton, co-chairman of the N.C. Advisory Commission on Military Affairs.

Other states are just as eager as North Carolina to put their bases in the best shape for their 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) reviews, Shelton said. Other governors have begun lobbying to protect their bases.

"The battle is about to be joined," said Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "This is no time to let up. ... We need to keep the afterburners on."

The 2005 BRAC review was the major topic of discussion for the commission, which advises Gov. Mike Easley and other state leaders on military issues.

N.C. Sen. Scott Thomas, of New Bern, reviewed a list of new laws and expenditures that are intended to help military communities get ready for BRAC. He said that N.C. Sen. John Kerr, of Goldsboro, had been key to getting the legislation approved.

The General Assembly authorized the state to borrow up to $20 million to buy land around military bases to protect them from encroachment.

"We're not aiming to stop growth," said N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Bill Ross. But the state wants to head off any development that would curtail military training in any way.

The state has already begun to gather information about undeveloped land around the installations, Ross said. This fall, that information will be sorted through so that the state can determine which tracts are the most important to protect. The priority list should be finished by November.

Other legislation this year, Thomas said, included:

*A $2 million allotment both last year and this to get the state and local communities ready for BRAC. That money helped fund the grant that Wayne County and Goldsboro received Friday from Gov. Easley.

*Increased notification for military officials of any proposed zoning or land-use changes that could affect their installations.

*An increase in the membership of the commission, including new ex officio members from such organizations as the N.C. League of Municipalities and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners

*$250,000 to assist National Guard families who are struggling financially, due to a Guardsman's deployment.

*Creation of a new license plate, which reads "In God We Trust" and "Support Our Troops," that will be sold to raise money for Guardsmen's families.

*Authorizing military personnel and their family members who attend the state's colleges and universities to pay the in-state tuition rates. This benefit was also extended to non-resident members of the N.C. National Guard.

Commission Co-chairman Troy Pate, of Goldsboro, told Thomas that he intended to send every member of the Legislature letters expressing the commission's gratitude for their support.

Meeting at SJAFB

The commission's meeting Friday was at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's officer club.

Brig. Gen. Rick Rosborg, commander of the 4th Fighter Wing, welcomed the group and ate lunch with them but did not participate in the BRAC discussion.

Rosborg starts a new assignment in Washington, D.C., this week. He told the commission that he would regret leaving Seymour Johnson and Wayne County, which he called the best military community he had seen in his 20-plus years in the Air Force.

New committees

The commission also reorganized its committees, eliminating one and consolidating its efforts into another.

Jimmie Edmundson, a Goldsboro banker, was appointed chairman of the military base sustainability committee. News-Argus Publisher Hal Tanner II is also a member.

Goldsboro Mayor Al King is a member of the economic development committee.

Preston Garris, of Goldsboro, will serve on the quality of life/community affairs committee.