Gov. Jay Inslee today told U.S. Army officials he opposes personnel cuts at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), saying the loss of 16,000 permanent soldiers and Army civilian employees would have “grievous effects” on Washington’s economy. Inslee said the cuts would also “place at risk” the “enduring partnerships” that are resulting in strong successes related habitat restoration, research and conservation.
The U.S. Army Environmental Command (USAEC) is conducting a Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment (SPEA) to determine the impacts of possible reductions at Army installations around the country, including JBLM. The USAEC’s evaluation assumes a reduction of 14,459 permanent soldiers and 1,541 Army civilian employees. Gov. Inslee sent a letter to USAEC officials challenging the SPEA draft Finding of No Significant Impact.
“This isn’t a question about whether the Department of the Army and Department of Defense will make reductions, but about where and how much,” Inslee said. “JBLM is one of the largest military installations in the nation so it’s likely we will see some reductions. But I want to make sure the USAEC has the right information and a full understanding of the mutual benefits of maintaining a strong JBLM presence and the significant impacts of removing 16,000 personnel off the base.”
Gov. Inslee questioned USAEC’s economic analysis, which predicts a loss of only $17.4 million in tax revenue through 2020. Inslee’s budget office prepared a detailed analysis of its own that shows impacts would be “significantly higher” and could amount to a loss of more than quadruple USAEC’s calculations.
In addition, Inslee says JBLM’s partnership with the state and local property owners is yielding enormous ecological dividends. The South Puget Sound was once home to more than 150,000 acres of prairie, but less than 25,000 acres remain today. Thanks to JBLM’s work with local property owners, more than 8,000 acres of additional prairie habitat will be restored. These efforts have earned recognition from the White House and could be jeopardized by the loss of related personnel.
JBLM has also partnered with the state Department of Corrections to work with inmates on ecological research and conservation projects that not only support habitat restoration efforts but have proven to help inmates learn skills and save the state money. The Sustainability in Prisons Project has resulted in $4.3 million in annual cost avoidance in state prisons, better employment opportunities for inmates upon release, and reduced recidivism.
“JBLM is home to more than 36,000 soldiers who contribute enormously to America’s security, our state’s economy and our quality of life,” Inslee said. “I know the Army and Department of Defense will have to make some difficult decisions about where to cut our nation’s military, but I want to make sure that they have a full and accurate picture of JBLM’s essential role in our community.”
As the Department of Defense plans budget and personnel reductions, Inslee has urged policymakers to consider Washington’s unique history of support for its military installations and communities, and its ability to play a continued role hosting a robust defense presence. Inslee discussed the SPEA with the Assistant Secretary of the Army last month in Washington, DC. Inslee has also urged the state’s congressional delegation to repeal federal Budget Sequestration, which could result in deep personnel reductions in the Washington National Guard and the state’s active duty Army force presence, among other painful cuts to non-defense and defense programs.
Public comments related to the SPEA draft Finding of No Significant Impact are due today. The USAEC will review comments, and plans to host a town hall in Washington this fall before issuing a final SPEA.