Wednesday, February 03, 2010

3 FEB 10: Half-a-BRAC

If you're still skeptical about base realignment really coming to Fort Benning, drive down Highway 520 between Spencer High School and Cusseta. A large area which used to be covered with trees now has military buildings and construction. It's a rare opportunity to see exactly what those controlled burns accomplished.

Fort Benning officers provided its monthly community update Tuesday on how the BRAC work is going. WTVM reported the construction on post now is more than halfway finished -- at least financially speaking. The report did not explain if that's before or after the usual cost overruns.

The Army is spending more than three billion dollars at Fort Benning on base realignment. It sometimes seems like the Georgia Department of Transportation is spending that much to improve Interstate 185 at Victory Drive....

One concern for BRAC planners is the work on I-185 south of St. Mary's Road. A Fort Benning officer said Tuesday all the highway construction should be finished by the end of this year. Then if city lobbyists get their way, soldiers will be able to race each other all the way to work at 65 miles per hour at 5:00 every morning.

The BRAC work and transfer of the U.S. Armor Center is supposed to be final by September 2011. When that happens, officers say more than half of all Army soldiers will pass through Fort Benning. Forget the new hotels and restaurants along Victory Drive -- doesn't that area need a lot of new barber shops?

We're approaching five years since the big BRAC move to Fort Benning was announced. The latest estimate is that the shift will bring 28,000 new people to the Columbus area from Kentucky -- which makes me wonder if the candidates for Columbus Mayor plan any campaign trips to Fort Knox.

The Fort Knox web site has a timeline, which shows how the base realignment construction is supposed to go. Yes, we can say it - you can do some BRAC-tracking....

Assuming the timeline is accurate, several key areas for the U.S. Armor Center and School are still unfinished:

+ A "Centralized Wash Facility." Aren't these Army planners brilliant? Clean your car and your uniform at the same time.

+ A "Driver's Training Course." This one I don't understand. You'd think Barber's Driving School would have someone who's knowledgeable in Humvees.

+ A firing range named Ruth. The top generals somehow missed the news that Barry Bonds holds the home run record now.

+ "Tank Trails." Shouldn't mud-bogging four-wheel drivers have cleared these already?

-> Monday night is becoming a big poker night for us. Check why at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <-

BLOG UPDATE: The fight over Victoryland could come down to a ruling today by the Alabama Supreme Court. Even if the Governor's anti-gambling task force gets its way, I still don't think Bob Riley will be satisfied. He'd want the Macon County facility to change its name to Loser-Land.

Victoryland employees held a rally Tuesday at the Macon County Courthouse. WRBL interviewed one man who said a raid and shutdown would put thousands of people out of work. But the man was identified as a "greyhound park employee" - and from what I understand, dog racing would continue. Well, unless authorities learn which dog finished fourth in a Monday night race....

The electronic bingo area of Victoryland remained closed Tuesday, for a mysterious "computer upgrade." An attorney for the complex denied it was a big fix an adjustment of the games, to make them legal. And we know it wasn't an upgrade of the Quincy's 777 web site -- because it doesn't even have a statement condemning the governor.

Victoryland doesn't help its cause with some of the signs posted on the grounds. The evening news showed one pointing to a "casino." Everyone knows you don't play bingo in a casino - that sign ought to say something like "Veterans Lodge" instead.

But the state's cause took a blow as well Tuesday, when anti-gambling task force commander John Tyson admitted he once received a $100,000 campaign donation from Victoryland's owner. Tyson explained he sought out Milton McGregor because McGregor's powerful politically. Now he's simply trying to get the rest of McGregor's money through fines.

(Wait a minute here - John Tyson's title is "Commander"?! This may explain why he's so gung-ho against bingo. That title sounds like he's in charge of the Alabama State Air Force.)

We DID make calls Tuesday on those two e-mails we've mentioned. We'll allow 24 more hours for a response to them, and move on to other Tuesday topics:

+ Former Columbus Police officer Yolanda Black Burton pleaded guilty to federal charges of insurance fraud. This case could have been worse, you know. If she had committed fraud against Aflac, the judge might have ordered her to hear the duck every five minutes for the next five years.

+ Russell County voters overwhelmingly decided to renew a 13-mil tax for public schools. Phenix City Superintendent Larry DiChiara told WLTZ the money was vital because "we can't have a Cadillac on a Volkswagen budget." Of course, some would say that's the problem. School administration is as oversized as a Cadillac, when it should be as cost-efficient as a Kia.

+ WDAK's Viewpoint focused on Columbus trash collection. A city official estimated Columbus residents and businesses produce about 600 tons of trash a day. He stopped short of saying how much of that "trash" consists of copies of the Ledger-Enquirer.

+ WRBL reported a grass-roots movement is underway in Columbus to bring back the Soap Box Derby. It was a big summertime event in the fifties and sixties - but of course, it all went downhill from there.

(It might be hard in 2010 to find youngsters who want to build their own race cars without an engine. After all, they can play race video games during the summer in an air-conditioned living room.)

+ A committee at the University of Alabama voted to double the salary of football defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. Apparently he won't get his statue on campus until the Crimson Tide wins a second national title.

+ Instant Message to WTVM: I wondered if you'd ever install a "skycam" on the south side of Columbus -- especially after that town hall meeting. But I can't believe the closest place that would take one is the Alabama Power building in Eufaula.

TEN YEARS' LAUGHTER/3 FEB 00: John McCain joined George W. Bush and others in South Carolina Wednesday - the state with the next Republican [Presidential] primary, February 19. Another state with big flag-waving crowds.... only there, campaigns have to check what flags the people are waving!

We heard a curious quote [on NPR] from one of Mr. McCain's supporters in South Carolina. She liked him because "he knows something about being held hostage." Does this mean our next President should be locked inside the White House - and not come out till he accomplishes something?!

The Democrats don't have another primary until March 7 - when there are several on the same day, from New York to Georgia to California. This should help Bill Bradley. After all, basketball players are used to going "coast to coast"....

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