Sunday, April 18, 2010

18 APR 10: Give Me Land, Lots of Land

Don't look at me for an expert opinion about the Army. But I assume most of the time, the missions primarily involve gaining territory. In fact, I assume the emphasis on the "ground game" makes it easier for Navy to prepare for their college football showdown....

Fort Benning officials have decided they want a lot more territory. They've announced plans to expand the post by nearly one-third, or 82,000 acres. Yet amazingly, not one square inch is set aside for a new retractable-roof football stadium which can be used by the Atlanta Falcons and the Auburn-Georgia game.

Fort Benning already has about 182,000 acres. But Commanding General Michael Ferriter says much more land is needed, because of a "change in doctrine and equipment." Heavier equipment, I can understand - but a change in doctrine?! Is Fort Benning going to start growing kosher vegetables, blessed by rabbis?

Fort Benning commanders explain extra space is needed to train soldiers - especially members of the Third Brigade, who use tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. So much for the "virtual reality" simulator Raytheon showed off the other day. Apparently you need thousands of acres to practice U-turns these days....

Garrison Commander Tom McDonald told reporters Fort Benning would prefer adding land with "no steep slopes." So relax, nature lovers - I don't think the state of Georgia will sell Providence Canyon to the Army, to balance the budget.

(McDonald adds an ideal piece of land for Fort Benning would be a large tract of timberland. If you think those controlled burns are annoying now....)

But the big question in this expansion plan is whether Fort Benning can find 82,000 acres of land to buy. Commanders seem to be ruling out any additional land in Muscogee County - even though police might be willing to recommend some drug houses along Cusseta Road for live-fire tests.

A map shown to reporters indicated how huge 82,000 acres can be. That much land is about one-fourth of Russell County, seemingly one-third of Stewart County -- and an expansion into Marion County could be that county's biggest moment of economic growth since the poultry plant showed up.

Fort Benning is ready to consider an expansion into Russell County, and becoming a truly bi-state post. This could cause a conflict with the housing boom in Fort Mitchell, resulting from base realignment. But think of the economic gain -- from construction crews coming back to make those dozens of new homes soundproof.

The garrison commander said Fort Benning wants to conduct a "friendly purchase" of land, adjacent to the reservation. The Army would rather not invoke eminent domain - although if it did, some militia group might be ready to give the Third Brigade all the home-soil combat training it can handle.

(Commander Tom McDonald said at one point: "We want to play with our cards facing up." He should tell all the Fort Benning soldiers and spouses that - because when I play poker with them in Columbus, they never seem to do that.)

This would be Fort Benning's first major expansion since the 1940's. But long-time residents recall a much-discussed land swap with the city of Columbus in the nineties, with concerns about the red cockaded woodpecker. The deal finally happened - but the woodpecker never has received its own special day at Oxbow Meadows.

A 2008 Fort Benning land use study notes Russell County is a "significant corridor" for the red cockaded woodpecker, as well as a "potential habitat for the Gopher Tortoise." Given what happened before, you'd figure that would be a factor in expansion plans now. So Fort Benning will spend 18 months on an environmental impact study - which probably is about as slow as a gopher tortoise.

Another curious nature story tops the other weekend news....

+ WTVM reported on a Columbus woman who's trying to find a good home for "Patsy" - a 400-pound wild hog who showed up in her neighborhood. You'd think Wild Animal Safari would be willing to take it in. Beyond that, I'm not sure where that woman could find the nearest livestock show for winning a blue ribbon.

+ Muscogee County Democrats hosted a barbecue for political candidates. You wondered why the Sonny's Barbecue restaurant closed several years ago, didn't you?

+ A Warner Robins woman won the drawing for this year's "St. Jude Dream Home." Now this will look strange -- a brand-new $375,000 house being hauled halfway across the state on Georgia Highway 96.

+ WXTX "News at Ten" never reached the air Saturday night, because a Fox baseball game between the New York Mets and St. Louis went 20 innings and lasted nearly seven hours. The game even canceled "Cops" -- allowing the players to steal bases at their leisure.

+ Chattahoochee Valley Community College swept a doubleheader over Enterprise State, to stretch their winning streak to 19 games. No wonder the college president wants the speed limit reduced at the entrance - people need to see how good this team is.

+ The Columbus Lions set a team scoring record, by annihilating North Georgia 93-12. That "black out" night at the Civic Center apparently worked -- so next time Georgia's Mark Richt tries that stunt, he should play football indoors.

(The Lions radio broadcast noted a player was penalized 15 yards for body-slamming a North Georgia quarterback. Aw, c'mon! The WWE card in Columbus next month might need a replacement for a sick wrestler.)

+ More than 91,000 fans watched the Alabama football "A-Day" spring game. But I must have heard the late-night news wrong, because the White team won 23-17. The game did NOT end with the "Crimson tied."

BURKARD'S BEST BETS: Gas for $2.63 a gallon at Big Cat, U.S. 80 in Ladonia.... milk half-gallons for $1.67 at Piggly Wiggly.... and cannon fire during the Port Columbus "River Blast" failing to scare museum ghosts away....

SCHEDULED THIS WEEK: A meeting we hope to attend, but we're not sure we'll be allowed inside....

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