TEXAS SENATE COMMITTEE MONITORS REDEPLOYMENT OF MILITARY FORCES IN TEXAS
(EL PASO)—As the federal government reorganizes military forces across the country, the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations is working to reduce any negative impact on Texas cities and to ensure that those facilities that are expanding have the services they need.
El Paso, where today's meeting was held, is an example of how the military is changing. Three installations, Naval Station Ingleside, Brooks City-Base San Antonio, and the Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant are slated for closure. Other military functions are slated to come to the El Paso area.
Richard Dayoub, President and CEO of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, told the committee that the partnership between business, government officials and the military had helped to protect military jobs in the El Paso area. The impact of Fort Bliss on El Paso, he said, is the equivalent of four Toyota plants, such as that recently built in San Antonio.
Local expansion also means challenges in the area of housing and health care for military families. He also mentioned that concerns with violence in Mexico are becoming a challenge for local law enforcement, as it strives to keep El Paso's rating as the second safest city in America secure.
Transportation is also a prime concern, as the increasing population needs new roads at a time when government has little money to build them. Senator Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso said "TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) is flat broke." Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio described the political hurdles in the way of passing new road taxes, and urged the House of Representatives to introduce a constitutional amendment to allow an increase in the motor fuels tax so that Governor Rick Perry would not have the opportunity to veto it.
Matthew McElroy, Director of Planning for the City of El Paso told the committee that Fort Bliss will be bringing more than 55 thousand new residents to the region over the next few years. When added to normal growth, this means the local growth rate will triple, stressing local services and housing availability.
Don Jakeway, President and CEO of Brooks City-Base, briefed the committee on the continuing redevelopment of the former Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio. He said the last military personnel are due to leave Brooks by September of next year, and so a business development plan was targeted that transitions the Air Force off the facility while promoting business development. The plan would create a world-class technology and research facility.
Thomas Moore, Project Manager for Naval Station Ingleside, described the military losses in the Corpus Christi area as the Navy vacated a 500 acre facility taking more than four thousand jobs with it. The property reverted back to the port of Corpus Christi which, with authority granted by the last legislature, has been redeveloping the facility. With the assistance of Texas A&M University, a ship repair and service facility, along with a research and development facility, could bring several thousand long-term jobs to the area.
Dennis Lewis, Director of Business Development for the Red River Army Depot, told the committee that the closure of the Lone Star Army Ammunition plant near Texarkana was a large loss for a community that has depended on it since 1941. He said the Red River Redevelopment Authority has a plan for repurposing the old plant for commercial production to lessen the impact of the closure on northeast Texas. William Cork, Executive Director of the Red River Development Authority, described how it had worked to decrease the Army's costs in the area, making the facility more attractive. But three separate reductions caused a massive job loss. "While down here Fort Bliss was one of the biggest gainers, we were one of the biggest losers" he told the committee. At least $13 million dollars were spent to demobilize the facilities and convert them to civilian uses, which is an ongoing process.
Stanley Rasmussen, U.S. Army Regional Council, testified that both the State of Texas and the Department of Defense have made large investments in Texas military facilities and that other states are taking steps to ensure the long-term sustainability of not only their own facilities, but also the communities around those installations. Wise planning and zoning of the area around bases, he said, is essential for those communities. He also called for better communication between the military facilities and the surrounding cities regarding local community planning.
James Cannizzo, Environmental Attorney Advisor for Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, said those facilities were on track to implement the Army's reorganization plan by the original deadlines. James Henderson, from the City of San Antonio's Office of Military Affairs, described the major transportation projects around Fort Sam Houston and how the Base Realignment and Closure program (BRAC) is affecting those facilities.
James Rickel testified on quality of life issues for military families. He congratulated Texas on its veterans loan programs and spoke on areas where the Legislature could help. For example, minimizing disruption of schooling during deployment is a strong point for Texas. Another issue is that child custody cases in military families can be complex, especially when deployments are considered. But predatory lending in military communities continues and needs attention from the legislature. Senator Shapleigh said some GIs are paying interest in excess of 1000 percent from local lenders and that recently passed federal legislation may enable the federal government to crack down if the state won't. Rickel agreed, saying that "powerful forces" oppose such legislation in Texas. Senator Brian Birdwell asked what commanders were doing to keep susceptible members of the military away from such businesses, whether they simply could not be made "off-limits".
The Texas Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations is chaired by Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio. Members include Senators Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, serving as Vice Chair, Brian Birdwell of Granbury, Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, Craig Estes of Wichita Falls and Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso. The committee recessed subject to the call of the Chair.