8:18am

Wed August 27, 2014
Regional Coverage

North Country lawmaker, group, working to save Fort Drum jobs

Supporters of Fort Drum are coming out in full force to prevent the North Country installation from losing more soldiers. The fears come from the United States Army's proposal to reduce troop levels to pre-World War II numbers.

State Sen. Patty Ritchie's office has been working with the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization to gather more than 9,000 signatures in support of keeping jobs at the base, which she says pumped about $1.4 billion into the local economy last year.

Carl McLaughlin, with the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, says after last year's cuts the region is fighting even harder to keep the fort from suffering a major troop loss.

"Right now what we know will happen at Fort Drum is based on the action last year, the P.E.A. (programmatic environmental assessment), we will lose 1,500 soldiers," McLaughlin said.

"Our numbers will drop from about 17,000 to about 15,500. Whatever comes out of the S.P.E.A, the supplemental programmatic environmental assessment, will leave it at the 15,500, or bring it down."

McLaughlin says Fort Drum is in a unique position right now, because it's the largest army installation north of North Carolina and east of the Mississippi River. But McLaughlin also says Fort Drum isn't located where the Army wants to boost its presence.

"We're the only big power projection installation in that area," McLaughlin explained. "We have a tremendous influence in the northeast corner.

The base is also involved in the Army's so-called pivot towards Asia, he contends.

"They're putting more of their resources on the West Coast and lining up for what they believe will be a more strategic posture for the future," McLaughlin said, "because they believe that the West Coast is where we will probably have our most problems."

McLaughlin says the main reason this proposal is even on the table in the first place isn't about strategy, it's about staying within the budget.

"The fact that we cannot agree between the Congress and the executive branch on an appropriate level of funding, an appropriate level of taxation and in which areas the expenditures will be made," McLaughlin said. "We are under a process called sequestration where we cut across the board. It's a blind cut."

But Ritchie says although the Army is trying to cut its spending, if Fort Drum were to face the worst case scenario and close, it would spell disaster for the North Country.

"Many think that it may be impossible for that kind of decision to be made because when you look at the merits, definitely Fort Drum should be an installation that should be safe," Ritchie explained. "But you know many times these decisions aren't made on merit. They are political decisions."

A listening session is anticipated to be held early next year, with indications leaning toward March. In the meantime, Ritchie says the goal is to keep putting pressure on the Army to keep Fort Drum at its current staffing level.

"To continue to get the message out, we'll continue to collect signatures on the petition, so when the listening tour date is set, we'll be able to take those petitions along with any other resolutions that we've received from local governments to the listening session and be able to present a coordinated group support from the community," Ritchie said.

Fort Drum is home to about 38,000 soldiers and their families. The installation also employs nearly 5,000 civilians.

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