JDNews.com - December 17, 2011, By HOPE HODGE, DAILY NEWS STAFF
This month, the Military Growth Task Force in Swansboro announced it would be shuttering in early 2013, though organization leaders say the timing only happens to coincide with Marine Corps plans to draw down local forces by 7,000 troops.
Mark Sutherland, executive director of the
Military Growth Task Force, shows a chart
indicating military growth in the state from
2006 through 2011. The task force plans
to shut down in 2013.
(Don Bryan/The Daily News)
Organization executive director Mark Sutherland said the task force, which organized in 2008, was always intended to be a temporary program, designed to assist counties in North Carolina’s eastern region with structural growth resulting from a buildup of more than 11,500 troops in the area as part of the federal Grow the Force initiative.
“The discussion of finishing the task force’s work was talked about in late 2009 when military growth was still happening,” Sutherland said. “The question is, ‘When is the work of the task force done?’ The work is done when we’ve created a forum so that the work of the Military Growth Task Force isn’t lost.”
Sutherland is now in the process of meeting with leaders of the nine counties the organization eventually came to work with, giving a presentation about regional growth concerns and promoting a planning summit to be held at the end of next year in Trenton, which he envisions will include 300 regional decision-makers and amount to MGTF’s final project. That summit, the “swan song” of MGTF, Sutherland said, will be called Envision 2050, mapping out the future of the region and planning to complete outstanding recommendations and proposals made by the task force.
The organization’s signature project was a $1 million, 860-page regional growth plan containing more than 450 action points for the region, published in fall 2009.
The project drew scattered criticism from local officials who claimed that the report, which used publicly available data and figures to make projections, simply replicated what other local agencies were doing.
Sutherland said the research, which was funded along with the other operations of MGTF by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment and grants from seven area counties, provided a big-picture regional perspective.
“Having just finished the Regional Growth Management Plan, it was obvious that only 10 percent of those issues described in that plan could be accomplished by any one county,” Sutherland said. “For 90 percent of those things, there was no one to hand the book to for implementation.”
The role of the task force, then, was to bring appropriate regional authorities together to assess problems and present solutions.
What became clear to the public following the plan’s publication was that the organization’s title was essentially a misnomer: military growth represented only a fraction of the concerns it proposed to solve. Action points in the plan ranged from bringing Pender County up to state standards by expanding library space at the Topsail branch to recruiting and retaining dentists in Jones County.
In 2010, MGTF widened its scope further, adding Lenoir and Wayne counties to the seven it already represented.
Sutherland acknowledged that the name was not an accurate summation of what the organization had done.
“It’s not the one I would have chosen, and sometimes it’s hurt us,” he said. “I exist to support nine county commissions in the Eastern Region. They’re the ones who pay the bills.”
According to a documents shared with The Daily News by MGTF, before this quarter, 15 out of 109 workforce action points had been accomplished or are underway: two out of 62 to-do’s in education; 19 out of 119 transportation tasks; seven out of 46 infrastructure issues; 13 out of 42 medical, health, and social services action points; four out of 29 quality of life tasks; and five out of five land use issues. Of the 65 action points marked completed or underway, about one-third have specific impact ties to Onslow or Carteret Counties, Jacksonville or Camp Lejeune.
Top accomplishments, Sutherland said, included working with Cherry Point officials to improve transportation and traffic flow on and off-base, and lobbying Gov. Bev Perdue and her staff to raise awareness about the paucity of healthcare providers in eastern North Carolina.
“We told the regional story ... until it got traction,” he said.
Jacksonville officials said the growth management report was most useful in starting conversations about the region between agencies.
“There’s no question that because of the Military Growth Task Force, it involved a real good cross-section of agencies in the community,” Jacksonville city manager Richard Woodruff said. “In terms of the development that occurred, that development wasn’t a result of the task force specifically. It was the result of the private sector attending meetings and deciding what they were going to do.”
One thing the task force did not do, assistant city manager Ron Massey said, was organize in time to assist with military growth as it was happening.
“Unfortunately, with their timing, the buildup occurred at the same time the task force was standing up,” he said. “The ideal sequence would have been before any decisions were made, you’d have the ability to do some analysis, make some plans.”
Massey said the later recommendations had played a part in city officials’ planning and discussions, however.
“I think it caused us to focus more specifically on some of the things that we probably should have been looking at more closely all along,” he said.
A Camp Lejeune official said base leaders were pleased with their interaction with MGTF, but did not elaborate on any projects that had resulted.
“There were hundreds of recommendations in the final report. Most, if not all, take time to implement. The issues vary from infrastructure and logistics to health care to compatible resource use to education and the like,” said Paul Friday, director of Government and External Relations for Marine Corps Installations East in an email. “I am more than satisfied with the progress being made.”
The critics say the organization has little to show for its time.
Former Swansboro commissioner Tina Siegel expressed disappointment at the lack of interaction she had with the Swansboro-based task force.
“I know in Swansboro, we haven’t had much contact with them, and they haven’t offered much,” she said. “I thought they’d be doing things to help our community and serve our military, and I’m not really sure what their accomplishments were.”
Following the Regional Growth Management Plan, MGTF has commissioned and completed a number of studies, including an addendum to Jacksonville’s Parks and Recreation survey, released in May, and a transportation demand management plan, released in June.
Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Director Tim Chesnutt, who invited MGTF to participate in his project, said the $40,000, 111-page addendum met all his expectations, but there were no immediate plans to move forward with the roughly $50 million of recommended improvements in Jacksonville and aboard Camp Lejeune.
“Really, the city has a lot of work to do, and we’re busy with that, but we’re always interested in taking a regional approach,” Chesnutt said. “That will take the city and county and base or both to be similarly motivated.
“We’re just waiting for someone to pick up and run with it.”
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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.