A former Air Force base in Austin, Texas, is currently part of the city’s municipal airport.
And overseers of former military installations in Indiana, Maine, Oakland and elsewhere are rolling up their sleeves to do the work of local economic development.
At McClellan, with some significant exceptions, the result after 11 years is momentum-killing litigation.
Since the 1995 decision to close Fort McClellan as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, the lawsuits have grown like weeds. The Joint Powers Authority was the subject of several legal challenges. With the JPA shut down for business earlier this year, a new organization was stood up, the McClellan Development Authority. Almost as quickly, a suit was filed questioning its legality. The plaintiffs are Anniston Councilmen Ben Little and Herbert Palmore and former councilman Stan Bennett.
Officials from the MDA recently told The Star that a lawsuit filed last month in Calhoun County Circuit Court is locking down any development of the property. Title insurers are reluctant to do business at the former Army post until the cloud of litigation is lifted. That’s a big problem because the MDA’s operating budget is supposed to come from the sale of McClellan properties.
Unless something changes, MDA officials say, McClellan will not be able to afford to cut the grass by the end of summer.
It’s ironic — and depressing — that this fresh lawsuit may soon produce actual weeds at McClellan.
For McClellan, a day in court for dissenters has turned into weeks, months and years in court. Robin Scott, CEO of the development authority, says that since he came aboard in August 2008, McClellan has been able to sell property less than 5 percent of that time.
McClellan officials scoff at the notion that recent efforts at McClellan have been done undemocratically. A majority vote in the state Legislature passed enabling legislation for the MDA. Majorities on the Anniston City Council and the Calhoun County Commission signed off on standing up the MDA. All of those officials were elected by voters.
This came to mind Friday morning during a breakfast meeting of the Anniston chapter of the Association of the United States Army. The topic was BRAC. Another round is expected to arrive in 2015, though that remains an unconfirmed rumor at this point. The goal is to protect the Anniston Army Depot from what may be challenges in the middle of this decade.
McClellan was the scare story hanging over the meeting in downtown Anniston. The closure of the Army post in 1999 was the gut punch that still has this community reeling. The experts were warning that the work to protect the Depot can’t be done casually or without coordination. The community must come together to let BRAC officials know about the good work done at the Depot, which employs almost 7,500 and has a payroll of $366 million.
“BRAC is all about communicating your military value,” said one of Friday’s speakers, Ronald P. Hamner, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and a defense contractor for the Army Materiel Command who specializes in base-closing procedures.
The nodding heads of Anniston’s BRAC veterans affirmed Hamner’s remarks.
His comment raises a question. We believe in the power of a well-coordinated and engaged civic army to save a military installation. What can it do to jump-start a stalled effort for BRAC victims at McClellan?
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at (256) 235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.