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Area braces for BRAC list

By Ed Brock

Like so many businesses in Henry and Clayton counties, the real estate market will feel the pinch if Army Garrison Forts McPherson and Gillem close down.

"We have a good many people who live in Henry County from both forts," said Stockbridge City Manager Ted Strickland. "I think closing either one of those bases would have a devastating effect on the south side."

The Congressional Commission that will consider the Base Realignment and Closure list is expected to be sworn in on May 3, said Fred Bryant, a member of the Save Forts McPherson/Gillem Foundation Inc. and deputy director of the Georgia Military Affairs Council. On May 16 the Department of Defense should release its list of recommended closures.

"What we're feeling confident about is we're going to be a net gainer (in Georgia)," Bryant said.

But Bryant said he wouldn't make predictions about specific bases. He did say that he heard Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the amount of military infrastructure affected by the list could be less than the 25 percent previously mentioned.

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia, is confident that both bases have a strong chance of survival. He has two staff members dedicated to the BRAC issue.

"I continue to tell the story of the great versatility of those bases," Scott said.

Scott cited the continued expansion at Fort Gillem in particular, including the construction of the Army's new crime lab and the plans for a depot for the Atlanta to Lovejoy commuter rail to be built at the fort. He has also been an opponent of the BRAC List in general in light of the ongoing war on terrorism and other factors.

"I think this is the wrong time to even consider these changes," Scott said.

Scott said he hasn't been looking at any options for what to do if either fort makes the list because he doesn't want to show any sign of weakness. The city of Forest Park, however, is making some plans, Mayor Chuck Hall said.

The city has applied for a $175,000 grant from the Department of Defense.

"We're applying for that grant to do a comprehensive plan for the base," Hall said.

Also, the city council still has to approve the formation of a Local Redevelopment Authority to oversee the creation of that comprehensive plan. This doesn't mean Hall has given up hope for the forts and said he still feels good about their chances.

The city is just getting ready to "get our ducks in a row."

"Right now we just have ducks out there swimming around," Hall said.

He has heard some rumors that Fort McPherson will be closed while Fort Gillem will survive.

Bryant said he had no direct information on that, but did say both forts, while under one commander, were considered separately "because they have two separate functions."

The city of Atlanta is also making plans for what to do with the Fort McPherson property if it is closed down.