The Telegraph - May 18, 2014, By MIKE STUCKA
WARNER ROBINS -- Several state legislators criticized state efforts to buy houses close to Robins Air Force Base, but figures show the work to cure encroachment is beginning to pay dividends.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which is leading the state's effort to address population density in the noisiest areas near the base, only got approval last month to buy properties.
"We'll be closing on the sixth property by the end of this month, which we're really excited about," said Daniel Brown, a business operations specialist for the Department of Natural Resources. "Right now, we have 19 that are currently in the system (with an option to buy), and we are trying to seek approval" to purchase.
In all, more than 100 property owners requested appraisals or showed an interest in selling, and about half of them have already begun the process, Brown said Friday.
The state is focusing on buying properties in noisy areas close to the base but west of Ga. 247. A local-led effort, using money from county sales taxes, county coffers and the U.S. Air Force, has focused on the noisiest properties east of Ga. 247, some of which are in areas most likely to be struck by a crashing airplane.
Total funding includes $9.5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense, $7.5 million from Georgia, $6.2 million from Bibb County, $6.2 million from Houston County and $400,000 from Peach County.
Air bases doing work similar to Robins do not have such encroachment problems. The goal is to cure encroachment before another Base Realignment and Closure Commission process begins.
Some state legislators this week were critical of the state's speed in buying properties.
State Rep. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch, said the state must find the determination to move faster in its efforts. State Rep. Willie Talton, R-Warner Robins, said the issue is important, and the state must move faster.
"The money hasn't been spent. It's there, but it's not being used. We've got to check up on it," he said.
In contrast, state Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Bonaire, said the state uses a complex process that's now working its way through.
"They're moving, I am convinced, as fast as they can within the legal confines in which they have to move," he said. "I am very pleased to say we have made several significant buys in the last 120 days."
The local-led effort, done through the Central Georgia Joint Development Authority, has closed on 11 properties so far this year and 179 in total, said Daniel Cummings, a Middle Georgia Regional Commission government services specialist who works as a staff member for the Joint Development Authority.
Cummings said he expected the authority will have closed on at least 200 properties by the end of the year.
"As far as getting density down, I think we've done a pretty good job of that," he said.
Cummings said he and the state have been working well together to address a common problem.
Brown said he expects to seek approval to buy five more properties at next month's State Properties Commission meeting, and then the process will speed up at the following meeting.
"That number should be pretty considerable," he said.
Steve Friedman, director of the real estate division of the Department of Natural Resources, said the purchases are going very well.
"The pipeline is moving for sure," he said.
Both the state and local efforts are buying properties only from willing sellers. The local effort is concentrated in the extreme southern end of Bibb County, east of Ga. 247 and roughly in-line with the end of Robins Air Force Base's main runway.
The state's focus is in the noisier areas of Houston County west of Ga. 247, mostly around the intersections of Elberta Road and Ga. 247 and of King and North Davis Drive. People interested in selling to the state can call Brown at 404-656-5165.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.
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The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.