Opinion Columns & Blogs

Public comment vital about proposed JBLM cuts

The pulses of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the City of Lakewood and the South Sound region beat as one.

JBLM is the largest single-site employer in Washington state and the state’s second-largest employer behind on the Boeing Co., whose factories and manufacturing plants are spread across Washington. JBLM is the West Coast’s largest joint base and a vital asset to our region, contributing mightily to our local, regional and statewide economy, employing thousands of service members as well as hundreds of contractors.

Those military members have families who work, attend school, shop, eat, play and live in Lakewood, Tacoma, Lacey and other surrounding communities.

We are tied together. When JBLM suffers economically, we all suffer. That’s why it’s imperative that we, as a region, make our voices loud and clear to the Army.

Last month, as part of its efforts to realign its forces, the Army released its Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment (SPEA). The assessment shows a potential reduction of up to 16,000 jobs at JBLM between 2015 and 2020.

We know that such a reduction would deal a crippling economic blow to the region.

In its assessment, the Army found that a reduction of 16,000 soldier and civilian positions – all of which carry average salaries of $46,760 and $57,361 respectively – would result in a “significant impact to socioeconomic resources.”

Even with that acknowledgement, however, the assessment grossly underestimates how much the potential cuts would hurt our region economically. The cuts would eliminate a chunk of JBLM’s workforce, and therefore a significant portion of the South Sound’s economy.

Based on some initial calculations, the reductions could result in almost $1.3 billion annually in income losses to our region. Local governments would lose billions of dollars in revenue from sales, property and other taxes.

The assessment doesn’t mention how Madigan Army Medical Center would be affected. It doesn’t address how businesses that have invested in the South Sound to help support JBLM during the last decade would lose money. It doesn’t acknowledge how service industry workers on JBLM would likely have to find new jobs.

The bottom line is that the Army’s assessment provides a glimpse into how these potential reductions could hurt the South Sound’s economy, but it doesn’t paint the complete picture of their true impact.

Still, there’s a silver lining. The Army hasn’t finalized the proposed jobs reduction of 16,000. In fact, it’s currently accepting public comments from residents and businesses regarding the assessment’s findings. Your input could help decide the extent of these cuts (see box). The public comment period ends Aug. 25).

Public input matters. Last year, when the first assessment on potential base reductions was released, the South Sound region submitted only one comment, and JBLM lost 4,200 soldiers. In Fort Polk, Louisiana, on the other hand, the community mobilized more than 4,000 public comments (more than all other communities combined) and lost only 250 personnel. It’s clear that quantity, as well as quality of your comments, can help shape the region’s economic future.

Considering public comments are more than just a box that the Army must check before the proposed cuts are finalized. It is required to address all public comments submitted, as long as they fall within the scope of the SPEA.

The Army needs to hear the South Sound’s voice. It doesn’t matter if you live in Lakewood, Tacoma, Lacey, Spanaway, Roy, Yelm or anywhere in between. If you will lose your job, or if your business will suffer directly or indirectly with the loss of 16,000 jobs at JBLM, you need to say that to the Army.

These proposed job reductions would affect us all. We all need to let our voices be heard.

John Caulfield is city manager of the City of Lakewood