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New Army report evaluates massive impacts of potential cuts at Fort Drum

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FORT DRUM — An Army study released Thursday warns that a worst-case scenario of defense cuts, slashing 16,000 soldier and civilian positions on post by 2020, would cause a $1.6 billion economic catastrophe across the region.

No decision has been made by the military about any more local cuts, and one may not be made until next year. The hypothetical cuts, representing about 85 percent of the approximately 19,000 people working here, show the overwhelming impact of the post on the north country’s economy.

“Yes, we have agriculture; yes, we have tourism; but they pale in comparison to Fort Drum,” said Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization. “That is our single largest anchor economic institution. There’s nothing that comes close to matching it, meeting it at any level.”

The potential damage to the area from such deep cuts, the Army estimated, is:

$877.5 million in lost income.

$763.5 million in lost sales, including $10.3 million in reduced sales tax receipts.

3,000 additional lost jobs, including about 1,544 direct contracting positions and 1,558 jobs reliant on the post’s economic activity.

The loss of about 40,000 soldiers, workers and their families, representing about one-third of Jefferson County’s population.

It is unclear whether the dollar figures represent annual or cumulative losses to the region. Nevertheless,the gravity of the potential impact the report describes is undeniable.

The new study comes as the Army plans to decrease its active-duty ranks from about 520,000 soldiers to between 440,000 and 450,000, or potentially as few as 420,000 if federal spending cuts known as sequestration continue.

Last year, the Army studied the impact of cutting as many as 8,000 soldiers at Fort Drum. In the end, it decided to deactivate the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team — a cut of 1,500 soldiers that is included in the 16,000-personnel figure.

The dire tone of Thursday’s report was not a surprise, said U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh.

“I think that what they’re doing is making sure that they’re providing the worst-case scenario, not likely to be the final outcome,” Mr. Owens said.

Though the area could see some proportional loss, he said, “I don’t see it as a situation that decimates Fort Drum, by any sense of the imagination.”

The impact of the large hypothetical cut would be seen in several areas.

The Carthage, Indian River and Watertown school districts, which split up to $32 million a year in Federal Impact Aid for educating thousands of military-affiliated children, would see many students leave, dramatically affecting their offerings. Similarly, Jefferson Community College would take a dramatic hit in enrollment.

The study said medical facilities, beneficiaries of $57.7 million in military-affiliated spending, also would suffer large cuts in revenue, affecting access to specialty care. The demand for services such as law enforcement, medical care and fire and emergency response also would drop, the study said.

Local housing projects under development would take hits as a reduction in soldiers would allow for military families to move into housing on post, while local housing values and rents would drop dramatically.

Mr. McLaughlin said he was concerned that large potential cuts could lead to massive local disinvestment.

“If we contract too much by losing too many soldiers, there’s a real question on whether or if you can restore it if the time comes,” he said. “Not for one second will I believe you won’t have to. You can’t predict the future, but the past indicates we’ll need a larger Army at some point.”

In addition to Fort Drum, 29 other installations have been studied by the Army for potential massive cuts in the 970-page report.

The large number of sites under review likely will create some jockeying among lawmakers to protect their local installations. Mr. Owens said it was important for various offices to coordinate efforts to “put our best foot forward.”

A response to the study has been developed by the FDRLO for months, Mr. McLaughlin said.

He noted that other installations with either higher numbers of soldiers or better surrounding economies could take cuts with less economic impact than similar cuts at Fort Drum.

Fort Drum’s announcement of the study Thursday morning said that any new decisions on cuts “will most likely not be announced until mid-2015.” The study will be used as a baseline for a public comment period and a local listening session later this year.

“I have no doubt through the hard work and pointed feedback of this community, what we know as the truth will be communicated loud and clear — Northern New York, Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division are a team,” said Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, the post’s garrison commander. “And with new and high-quality infrastructure, cutting-edge training and incredible hometown support, this team is a battle-tested asset the Army can’t afford to lose, even in the strictest of financial times.”

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer said in a statement that though the report examined hypothetical cuts, he would fight for the future of the post.

“I have made it loud and clear to the Army that the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum is exactly the kind of highly trained, nimble, and tactical unit that we should be prioritizing for our armed forces, and I will continue to make that point to the Army as it assesses its long-term needs,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand said the senator would work through the Senate Armed Services Committee to ensure the post’s strength.

Comments about the study will be taken until Aug. 25. Those looking to submit written comments can do so by writing to: U.S. Army Environmental Command, ATTN: SPEA Public Comments, 2450 Connell Road (Building 2264), Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, TX 78234-7664; or by emailing usarmy.jbsa.aec.nepa@mail.mil.

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