SENATE AND HOUSE COMMITTEES EXAMINE IMPACT OF MILITARY BASE REALIGNMENT
(EL PASO) — A large part of the El Paso economy is connected to the local military bases, so any changes in them ordered by the federal government are bound to impact Texas' westernmost city. Because of this, the Texas Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations along with the Base Realignment and Closure Subcommittee held a joint hearing there with the House Defense Affairs and State-Federal Regulations Committee today, May 13, 2008.
As is traditional, the meeting led off with a color guard. The committees also took time to honor those soldiers who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Representatives from the families were asked to come on stage so that the Senators and members of the House could thank them personally.
The first invited witness was Colonel Edward Manning, Fort Bliss Garrison Commander. He told the legislators that Fort Bliss is changing from primarily a training facility to one where more active duty soldiers are stationed. He said the transition to a modern maneuver installation will be complete by 2012. The Colonel called this a major expansion, saying "As you can see, we're building a new city with four billion dollars in construction funding." The population of the base is expected to more than triple, from just over 30,000 in 2007 to almost 100,000 in 2012.
Richard Dayoub, President of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, told the members that while El Paso is preparing for this growth, many challenges remain, such as in the area of health care. He said the region would need several hundred additional health care professionals alone to take care of the expected growth in population. Matthew McElroy, Military Growth & Expansion Coordinator for the City of El Paso, said the economic impact of this growth would be approximately $3.3 billion dollars on the local economy and create more than 15 thousand new jobs. One more sign of this expansion came from Bob Cook, President of the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation. He told the members that of 87 companies currently considering El Paso for new plants or expansion, 32 of them are in the defense industry.
The coming expansion will also create challenges for the region's educational infrastructure. Dr. Richard Robles, host of the meeting and President of El Paso Community College, described how his institution had grown by 36 percent since 2002 and was preparing for high rates of growth in the future, saying it was "critical" that they meet the needs of soldiers and their dependents who will be arriving at Fort Bliss. Dr. Lorenzo Garcia of the El Paso Independent School District, said with overseas deployments for American troops ending over the next few years, his district will have to build new classrooms for their children who are expected to arrive in El Paso. Finishing the committees' examination of education, Dr. Dennis Soden of UT-El Paso described how his institution meets the unique problems facing soldiers who are also students.
In examining the challenges that the health services in El Paso will face due to this explosive growth, the committees heard from Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Edman, Chief of Staff at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso. Edman told the panel that while the hospital itself is ready to expand to take care of additional patients, the surrounding city infrastructure, such as roads, needs to be upgraded. Gary Larcenaire, CEO of El Paso Mental Health and Mental Retardation, said that his organization will need to grow as it sees more and more cases of military-related issues, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dr. Manny de la Rosa, Dean of the Texas Tech University Health Science Center at El Paso, said that the founding class of his institution will soon be enrolling and that they will be in place to help out growth as it occurs. Stephanie Dodson, Executive Director of the El Paso Center Against Family Violence, reminded the committee members that while the organizations they had heard from previously have relatively high levels of state funding, private services such as hers do not, yet they are asked to handle increasing caseloads with the expansion of Fort Bliss.
The committee also heard from representatives of local workforce training agencies as well as the Texas Department of Transportation and the El Paso Water Utilities Public Service Board.
The Senate Committee on Veteran and Military Affairs is Chaired by Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio. Senator Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso is vice-chair. Members include Senators Craig Estes of Wichita Falls, Chris Harris of Fort Worth and Steve Ogden of Bryan. Senators Shapleigh, Estes and Harris serve on the Base Realignment and Closure Subcommittee. The committees recessed subject to call of the chair.