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Fort Benning gets OK to study land purchase

Apr 22, 2010

By Kristin Molinaro, The Bayonet

FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The Department of the Army has approved a plan allowing Fort Benning to go forward with a study on the possibility of expanding its training lands by 82,800 acres over the next five to six years.

The additional training land - approximately 40 percent more than the post's current square acreage - would allow two heavy maneuver battalions and elements of the Maneuver Center to train simultaneously.

"More than 10 years ago, the Army identified a shortfall in training lands at a variety of locations in the U.S. One of those locations was here at Fort Benning," said MG Michael Ferriter, Fort Benning's commanding general, at a press conference Friday. "The shortfall is a result of the changes in our doctrine and equipment."

Fort Benning was established in 1918. In the 1940s its boundaries grew to close to where they are today, however the post's training mission has expanded over the past 60 years. Fort Benning was recently rated the sixth largest installation in the U.S. with the third largest troop density.

Among the changes in recent years at the post has been the decision by the Department of Defense to keep the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, housed at Fort Benning. The heavy brigade needs more land to accomplish its mission of providing realistic training for troops headed to combat, said COL Tom Macdonald, garrison commander.

"To put it in perspective, to do heavy maneuver training takes a swath of square terrain ... and when you try to lay that out for the 3rd HBCT and wrap it around other impact areas on post, it just doesn't fit," said COL Terry Sellers, Fort Benning MCoE operations officer. "When you take into account we're training the Infantry School, the Armor School, 3rd HBCT, the 75th Ranger Regiment, 11th Engineers and a few other tenant units, National Guard and reserve units, there's just not enough terrain right now and there hasn't been for a while."

In January, the Secretary of Defense authorized a study at Fort Benning to determine which lands would be appropriate for the installation to acquire to meet its training needs.

As required by law, the post must look at all areas adjacent to the installation, including Chattahoochee, Muscogee, Marion, Russell, Stewart and Webster counties. However, Macdonald said the primary focus will be on areas of Marion, Russell, Stewart and Webster counties because of large tracts of unpopulated forested land.

The study is in its initial phase and several steps must be accomplished before the installation can go forward with any land purchases. This summer, the post will oversee an environmental and real estate study to look at conservation and socioeconomic issues in the surrounding areas.

Macdonald said the post is mainly looking for land contiguous to Fort Benning - such as timberlands -with low population densities and willing landowners.

No parcels of land have been identified and no land purchases will go forward until the study concludes in approximately 15 to 18 months.

Macdonald acknowledged that some residents may be concerned about the use of eminent domain in purchasing land. However, he said the installation wants the process to be a friendly one, adding the focus is on purchasing large land holdings from timber companies and other large tract landowners. Post officials will ask for input from the community throughout the process by holding town hall meetings, public discussions and roundtables.

"We want to play with our cards facing out," Macdonald said. "We know this is a sensitive issue and we want open negotiations with landowners throughout the process."

For more information on the land expansion, call 706-545-1638.

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