Like many other states fearful of losing economic-lifeblood military bases, Mississippi has been spending millions of dollars of state and local money to enhance the federal facilities and their surroundings.
With bases employing more than 30,000 people and generating an estimated $2.5 billion to $3 billion to the state economy, Mississippi, like other states, is treating them like major corporations — helping with infrastructure enhancements to keep them thriving. State and local tax dollars are being used as the Defense Department’s budget for construction has been shrinking.
Some question the value of state and local spending on federal installations. But states are fearful that failure to shore up their bases will result in their closure as the Pentagon looks to downsize. And such closures for many communities would be devastating.
“State support of infrastructure projects in and around military bases helps prevent the closing of those bases,” said Gov. Phil Bryant. “It’s important that we take advantage of opportunities to invest in our military bases.”
Bryant in 2012 reconstituted the Mississippi Military Communities Council, which had gone dormant after the 2005 round of Base Realignment and Closures, and appointed former Mississippi National Guard Adjutant Maj. Gen. William Freeman Jr. to chair it.
“Our job is to advise the governor and Legislature about what’s going on at (Department of Defense), work with the local communities and our congressional delegation, and keep our ears glued to it and to advise on how to enhance our bases here in Mississippi,” Freeman said. “… We are giving it 110 percent to make sure we are ready.”
Freeman said it’s unclear when another major round of BRAC closures might take place, but in the meantime there has been “a shadow BRAC,” or piecemeal closures and realignment.
Mississippi spent an estimated $60 million prior to BRAC closures in 2005. The state fared relatively well, losing only Naval Station Pascagoula and Air National Guard Wing Meridian. Since, the state has spent nearly $21 million, with local communities matching state spending 20 percent.
More recently, Mississippi and its powerful congressional delegation led by U.S. Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, staved off loss of the 815th Air Lift Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi by thwarting Pentagon plans to move the 130J tactical air lift unit, “Flying Jennies,” to another state. Keesler is the state’s largest installation in terms of people, with 12,000 military and civilian workers providing training to people from around the world.
State leaders say much of the spending is “outside the fence,” or for improvements surrounding the bases.
Freeman said the projects often help the local communities as well as the bases. In Columbus, the base lacked a nearby firing range, with military having to travel for small arms training. The state, through a Mississippi Development Authority grant of $1.2 million, helped build a firing range.
“It’s a first-class range that not only the military uses, but local law enforcement, Highway Patrol and other agencies use,” Freeman said.
Last year, Massachusetts authorized spending $177 million on its six military bases. In Virginia, state and local communities have spent more than $140 million to buy land to prevent development encroaching on bases. Connecticut has set aside $40 million to improve old infrastructure at its naval submarine base.
There is debate among national experts whether state and local spending would help in future base closure decisions. Others doubt there is political will now for more major closures and states are vying in a phantom competition.
Freeman said: “You want your base to be the best that it can be. You don’t want to let a public works project kill your base … It’s important to work outside the fence, too. We’ve got a lot of military assets in this state that are really important to their communities.
“I’m awfully proud of our military in this state, and the support the communities give them.”
Mississippi military projects
Mississippi in recent years has spent nearly $21 million to enhance its military bases, much of the work “outside the fence,” or on infrastructure and improvements surrounding the installations. Many state and local governments nationwide are spending money to help federal bases in an effort to prevent their closure.
Some Mississippi projects funded with MDA grants:
- Meridian Naval Air Station: John C. Stennis Drive upgrade, $433,000
- Gulfport Naval (Seabees): Lay berth facility, $5.8 million
- Columbus Air Force Base: Water tank and line, $805,000
- Columbus Air Force Base: Instrument landing system, $2.5 million
- Meridian Air National Guard: Access road, $727,000
- Columbus Air Force Base: Gas line extension, $150,000
- Meridian Air and Army National Guard: Purchase roadway building, $1.7 million
- Gulfport Air National Guard: Widening taxiway, $1.5 million
- Keesler Air Force Base Tactical Squadrons: Stennis International Airport drop zone, $250,000
- Meridian Naval Air Station: Road improvement in Kemper County, $462,000
- Columbus Air Force Base: Firing range, $1.2 million
- Gulfport Air National Guard: Hangar repair, $2 million
- Meridian Naval Air station: Property easements, $1 million
- Gulfport Naval Construction Battalion Center: Joint land use study, $35,000
Shared by Wichita Falls Mayor Glenn Barham
Shared from Geoff Pender The Clarion-Ledger December 28, 2015