WASHINGTON — Defense Department officials Aug. 1 announced the 2014 Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Challenge award winners, in which 11 finalists competed to help to sustain military readiness and protect critical test, training and operational missions.
REPI Program Director Kristin Thomasgard-Spence said Fort Huachuca and Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, best demonstrated the spirit of the program to promote innovative land conservation solutions that benefit military readiness, neighboring communities and the environment while helping installations reduce and avoid restrictions.
“DoD’s ability to conduct realistic live-fire training and weapons system testing is vital to preparing warfighters and their equipment for real-world combat,” Thomasgard-Spence said.
“There is a direct relationship between realistic training and success on the battlefield.”
A REPI Challenge award of $4 million for Fort Huachuca will leverage just over $9 million in partner contributions to permanently restrict development on 5,900 acres of ranchland, Thomasgard-Spence reported. Partnerships include Arizona Land and Water Trust, Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
“This buffer protects more than 160,000 annual air operations and reduces proliferation of electromagnetic interference for 800 square miles of air space,” she said. “Protecting these lands will prevent the development of up to 1,400 new wells, ensuring availability of scarce groundwater resources for the installation, the surrounding community, and the local native grassland habitat.”
Meanwhile, Thomasgard-Spence noted, NAS Patuxent River is working with the Chesapeake Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA, NRCS, Maryland, Delaware, and the Conservation Fund to protect a corridor along the Nanticoke River under the Atlantic Test Range airspace. Aircraft use the area for research, development, test, and evaluation missions, she added.
“A REPI award of $1 million at NAS Patuxent River will be leveraged more than 5:1 with contributions from this cohesive partnership to protect 2,259 acres of forests, wetlands, and farmland, as part of a broader 8,500-acre wildlife corridor area,” Thomasgard-Spence said. “The project helps reduce noise and safety concerns, and prevents costly restrictions and delays to training and testing.”
According to Thomasgard-Spence, in the late 1990s the REPI program was borne from DoD’s increasing concern about encroachment.
“Specifically, installations saw two main threats to their ability to train: nearby incompatible development and regulatory restrictions on DoD lands to protect species and habitat under the Endangered Species Act,” she said.
As such, the impacts of encroachment can have serious consequences if military installations are to remain active and contributing economic participants in their communities, she added.
“Together, the Fort Huachuca and NAS Patuxent River projects leverage over $14 million in non-DoD partner contributions and will permanently protect more than 8,150 acres of land adjacent to two important military bases that are essential for testing and training,” Thomasgard-Spence said. “These projects go above and beyond in providing significant benefit to the military, the taxpayer, and the environment.”