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One community's struggle to beat base closure.

The winds of change first blew across our central Louisiana community in 1990, when military brass identified England Air Force Base (AFB) as one of two alternative to the closure of Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina.

The scoping hearing held by the Department of Defense attracted more than 6,000 .citizens. Hundreds more waited outside, believing they could help turn the tide.

Our U.S. Senators 'flew in to speak in support of England AFB, as did several congressmen. The governor made a rare appearance and an impassioned speech. No one remembers a time when more state senators and representatives, police jurors (county commissioners), mayors and councilmembers waited politely for a turn at the microphone.

Everyone was articulate, eloquent, armed to the teeth with supporting statistics and good will. Pertinent remarks received thunderous applause and strong rhetoric, standing ovations.

The hearing dragged on and on, moving into third, fourth, fifth recitatives of why our base should not be closed. Everyone had "their say," and finally, around 11 p.m., our community spent, the presiding officer pronounced it finished. In truth, it had only just begun.

Shortly after these events, Alexandria Mayor Edward G. "Ned" Randolph, appointed a special task force, dubbed the "England 2000 Committee," this representative group of about 20 citizens began developing two mutually exclusive strategies that came to be known simply as Plan A and Plan B.

The "A Team" subscribed to the principal that the best offense is a good defense. It set its will to block closure, save our base, and galvanize the community in support.

The "B Team" gave up without a fight, as it had to do, in order to begin a rational, systematic approach for planning base reuse and development. For the B Team, the best defense was a good offense.

Both teams operated simultaneously, with each in full knowledge and support of the other.

The A Team's "Save the Base" effort was a front burner issue; the talk of the town; the object and focus of an intense lobbying effort that enjoined local, state, and national leaders.

In February 1991, in spite of all our efforts and arguments, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney named England A.F.B. among those installations set for closure. The process moved from the Pentagon to thee more public arena presided over by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

The BRAC Commission

It wasa new ballgame. The A Team fell back and regrouped struggling to learn quickly unfamiliar rules and procedures, and to crack the jargon and secret language of the DoD.

The B Team, still operating sub rosa, plodded on, analyzing other installation closures, and developing models of success based on how well local communities managed economic impacts of defense cuts.

The A Team hired more consultant. s-to help guide our defense, to shape and clarify our main points, and to support our arguments with hard data. And we fought the good fight--at regional hearings in Fort Worth, Tex.; at Congressional hearings in Washington; at the polished antique table in Secretary Cheney's conference room in the Longworth Building.

We had an important story to tell. And in its telling, we hoped to preserve England AFB, not only for our community, but for our nation, as well.

We believed in our story. And we told it to all who would listen as passionately and as eloquently as we knew how. We building our case carefully, trusting the BRAC Commission to act independently and fairly; to hear our arguments; and be persuaded, as were we, by the facts.

But we did not prevent England AFB from being included on the closure list of 1991. So the B Team took over, moving swiftly and surely to the front and center.

Once In An Age

On December 15, we attended the final ceremony and formal closing--the last chapter of military presence at England AFB. Our very nature as a community is in transition. Unknowns face us--as do opportunities that come along once in an age.

As the US Air Force takes leave, the England Economic and Industrial Development District (The Authority) emerges to replace it. An intergovernmental body created by the Louisiana Legislature in the summer of 1991, the Authority exercises full jurisdiction over master planning, base reuse and development.

First envisioned by the B Team, it evolved from the England 2000 Committee to a ten member transition committee, and finally, the present Authority.

The England Authority pursued aggressively its funding for planning, operation, and maintenance. To date, it has received significant grants from both the state and federal governments.

A year ago, the Authority selected a consulting team to design a master plan for base reuse which included economic development strategies. A feasibility study to relocate commercial air service is concluded.

The Authority hired its executive director several months ago, and lately, has beefed up its growing staff of full time professionals.

This fall, J.B. Hunt, an international trucking firm, contracted to locate a training school on base. Student enrollment is brisk, supported by the state's guaranteed student loan program, and Hunt's pledge to employ graduates at salaries starting in the high 20's.

We jumped through dozens of hoops, always with fingers crossed, and early this year learned that the U.S. Army had selected England as the site for an Intermediate Staging Base (ISB) to serve its Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) located at nearby Fort Polk in Leesville, Louisiana. Ironically, the JRTC was relocated from Arkansas during the '92 closure/realignment rounds.

We are not out of the woods, but we have come around the bend.

With continuing overtures to solid prospects, and with each welcome to new companies and technologies, those early and ominous economic forecasts fall away slowly but surely, one by one.

Come far, we have: a community challenged by change, movmg toward its unknown future as creatively and as bravely as the people who live here dare.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on the community effort; Alexandria, Louisiana
Author:Mayo, Phyllis E.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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