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FDRLO outlines response to Army study of cuts at Fort Drum

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WATERTOWN — The Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization stressed to the Army that the community’s investment has been too great and the impact would be too disproportionately severe for the service to consider wide-scale personnel cuts at Fort Drum.

The group also acknowledged the tough competition it faces from supporters of other installations nationwide seeking to protect their local interests.

“Folks are taking this seriously,” said Carl A. McLaughlin, the organization’s executive director. “We can’t stop now.”

The group outlined its response to the Army’s study of worst-case scenario cuts at the post and 29 other bases nationwide at a meeting Thursday afternoon at Jefferson Community College. The Army studied the calamitous hypothetical of cutting 16,000 soldiers and civilian workers at Fort Drum: more than $1 billion in economic losses, thousands more indirect job cuts and the loss of about a third of Jefferson County’s population.

“That’s the Detroit scenario,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “That’s what happens to a city when everyone exits.”

Mr. McLaughlin said said the organization’s formal written response, submitted by the Army’s Aug. 25 deadline, would not be released publicly yet, as it might affect the strategies of supporters of other bases. He said the full report would be released as more posts unveiled their own responses.

He told the audience of about 50 people that the region has seen more than $1 billion in housing investments, $100 million each for transportation, health care and municipal water and sewer projects, and an additional $20 million for airport infrastructure since the early 2000s.

“It’s amazing when you put all the pieces together,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

The key for that infrastructure, he said, was to maintain its utility.

The area’s $276 million in debt financing to support the wide-ranging infrastructure projects could be at risk for default were the post’s population to drop, he also said.

In terms of impacts, Mr. McLaughlin said Fort Drum’s rural nature led it to face larger impacts for cuts compared with the other, larger posts that were reviewed in the Army assessment, cuts that also would affect the civilian community.

Drastic cuts in the north country would spell school closures, the loss of several health care positions and medical helicopter transportation, which would be felt well beyond the area’s military population.

“That’s an economic loss and a cultural loss,” Mr. McLaughlin told the group.

During the meeting, Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum’s garrison commander, said the Army is planning for a public comment session to talk about the potential cuts in March, but scheduling plans have not yet been finalized.

The colonel told the audience that supporters of Fort Drum came in fourth place in terms of the number of responses to the Army about potential cuts, behind Fort Jackson, S.C., Fort Polk, La., and Fort Knox, Ky.

Mr. McLaughlin said there have been about 9,000 petition signatures supporting Fort Drum, multiple notebooks of comments supporting the petition signatures, along with 90 letters and several resolutions from municipalities and community groups. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state’s entire legislative delegation also have thrown their weight behind the cause.

Given the outside competition, he said, more outreach would be necessary to fight for the post.

“We have a major effort to get ready for March,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

The Army study comes as it 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.

The past history in fighting cuts also has increased the urgency for area Fort Drum advocates. Last year, the Army studied the impacts of cutting as many as 8,000 soldiers at the post. In the end, it deactivated the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team — a cut of 1,500 soldiers locally that is included in the 16,000-personnel figure under review.

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