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by Editorial Staff--Burlington the Beautiful
…From the pages of Burlington the Beautiful…

Economic Development partners with Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lyndhurst with big plans for the future.

Big plans are in the works around Browns Mills, Pemberton and Wrightstown. On October 1, 2009, McGuire Air Force Base, Army Post Fort Dix and Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst merged to become Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. This was a result of Congress’s 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Committee’s recommendations to save the installations by creating a so-called “mega-base.” With 22,000 employees, the 42,000-acre Joint Base is Burlington and Ocean counties’ largest employer. Even little changes there have significant impact on the host communities in Pemberton and Wrightstown boroughs and New Hanover, North Hanover, Pemberton and Springfield townships.

The end of the Cold War devastated Browns Mills and Wrightstown, both of which were effectively Fort Dix’s and McGuire’s downtowns. After 9/11, heightened security measures ended the installations’ “open base” policy and forced the closure of Texas Avenue from Browns Mills to Wrightstown, crippling both areas. The bases became more insular and opened on-base retail and personal service businesses, directly competing with similar businesses in the adjacent downtowns.

Several years ago Congress approved over $500 million in Joint Base upgrades and another $179 million in 2009 for mission realignments, including 37 new aircraft, a 57 percent increase of flights at McGuire and a ten-fold increase at Lakehurst, 625 new active duty service members and 1,600 new reservists. The appropriations also provided for a Joint Land Use Study (JLUS) to identify areas where the military and civilian authorities, in the six Burlington County host municipalities and another four in Ocean County, could minimize “encroachment” issues. Joint Base wanted to maintain airport runway and field operation capabilities, both of which require civilian area noise and accident clearance zones for aircraft, ground vehicle and arms fire. The military was concerned that, without adequate civilian growth management strategies, suburban development would encroach into those clearance zones, threatening mission viability.

On the other side of the fence, literally, local civilian officials and businesses wanted to know what was going to happen at Joint Base, so that they could adjust their plans accordingly. Mayors in New Hanover, North Hanover, Pemberton and Springfield townships were already implementing strategies to preserve valuable farmland and open space around the base, but also had plans to revitalize their historic villages and cozy hamlets. Wrightstown, Pemberton Borough and Pemberton Township were anxious about their struggling downtown districts and saw potential for ancillary off-base economic development. Host communities also wanted to work with Joint Base on improving local housing conditions and failing septic systems, fixing traffic and transit problems, cleaning up hazardous waste and developing better communication channels.

Through 2008 and early 2009, with the help of a consultant team and a U.S. Department of Defense grant, the host municipalities discussed their short- and long-range plans and Joint Base disclosed planned improvements to the Air Force, Army and Naval Air installations. The JLUS military-civilian dialogue developed into a cordial relationship. Air Force Colonel Gina Grosso, McGuire’s new commander, reinforced this bond upon her arrival and issued a directive to unify the three different services into one manageable structure. The timing could not have been better for the three military services and the host communities to learn about and plan with each other. The parties completed the JLUS in March 2009 and signed a Memorandum of Agreement in November 2009 that declared their intentions to continue to work together and implement the JLUS recommendations.

In 2009, with another U.S. Department of Defense grant, the parties started three of these projects. The first is a wastewater management plan to correct problems in New Egypt and Cookstown with a new sewer line and to preserve farmland in North Hanover Township by transferring development rights to new villages on that sewer line. The second is a transportation study to identify remedies for existing and potential traffic issues. The third is a civilian-military communications directory to broaden the planning dialogue. Future projects include implementing a $60 million downtown redevelopment plan for Wrightstown and bringing new housing and tax ratables to Browns Mills.

Published (and copyrighted) in Burlington the Beautiful; County of Opportunities, Spring 2010.
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