A look at the NAS-JRB Willow Grove EIS

(Dear Readers: This is a rather long-winded look at the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) recently completed by the U.S. Navy on the BRAC-closed NAS-JRB Willow Grove base in Horsham, PA.  I will not be offended if only the most local and interested Internet Wanderers have the strength and conviction to read it. – Mike)

nas-jrb-signOn January 13-14 the U.S Navy’s, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), BRAC Program Management Office presented for public review, questions and comments it’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) related to the Horsham Local Redevelopment Authority’s (HLRA) redevelopment plan for NAS-JRB Willow Grove.

The turnout for the two-day event was light, as one would expect for such dry subject matter devoid of emotion-provoking arguments like those preceding the decision not to accommodate an airport at the base.  But the 80-plus who did take the opportunity was a nice improvement over a public comment last year.

I picked Monday evening, January 13, to visit and submit those questions and comments I had regarding the evaluation the Navy was required to perform on the feasibility of the HLRA plan and the environmental impacts that could be reasonably projected from the plan.

EIS evaluations are not limited to impacts of redevelopment on the physical ecosystem.  An EIS also looks at scope and costs of each Alternative Plan as well as each plan’s effects on Population; Housing; local Economy including Tax Revenue and Employment; School Enrollment; Transportation; Air Quality; Infrastructure and Utilities; Water Resources and Biologicals (wildlife).

Several basic issues should be kept in mind when reviewing the EIS.  The EIS is mandated by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) law, that sets the framework for transferring excess Government facilities and property to regional entities for reuse by the public.  The EIS process requires that the evaluation address the broadest possible spread of Alternatives for redevelopment.

images-1This is why one alternative (Alternative 3) addresses the use of the closed base as an airport.

This is not an indication, as I overheard one interested citizen conclude, that the federal government still prefers to turn the property into an airport!  It’s simply the surprisingly efficient way the BRAC law requires all possible alternatives receive a thorough analysis in a single comprehensive treatment.  This eliminates the possibility of another lengthy and costly EIS evaluation should the preferred plan require any changes, including increases or decreases in development density.

One shot, and it’s all treated equally, thoroughly, and cost-efficiently!

Now that being said, I will readily admit that until they start tearing that runway apart into miniscule pieces of industrial gravel or they build enough stuff on and around the runway to make any potential airport a foregone not-gonna-happen conclusion, I will consider that very remote possibility of an airport a possibility nonetheless.

By way of full disclosure, I work for Big G Government as a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy.  I never had an issue – obviously – living within 1/4 mile of the airbase.  But a private/commercial airport is another animal altogether.  No thanks!

8dec19716dc5766c1a96425a9084d90bIf nothing else, besides its penchant for elaborate acronyms, the Navy’s EIS is extremely thorough in the depth and breadth of its environmental assessments.  The EIS report runs over 450 pages long, not including the Appendix (770 pages) provided as a separate document on the BRAC PMO website.

The EIS begins with a well-written Executive Summary (ExecSum), which at just 26 pages, is as far as I got in my initial reading.  My eyes tend to glaze over when confronted with an overabundance of detailed analysis, so I was content with reading the Summary knowing I could delve deeper into the minutiae if I wished on any specific area of interest.

Believe me, there was plenty of data to chew just on those livable 26 pages of summary presentation!

So that this post does not become overwhelming, I will concentrate on the comparative tables contained in the ExecSum.  These tables are most useful in presenting the collective data in an easy-to-digest comparison between the four Alternatives addressed.

Of course, I will be addressing only those features of the EIS I find most interesting.  My interests (density, economic impact, taxes) reflect those features I believe are most important to the long-term health of Horsham Township.  Other challenges like traffic, water usage, hazardous material cleanup, etc. are also important within the larger context of economic feasibility.

The four Alternatives evaluated are as follows:

  • Alternative 1:  HLRA-approved/preferred plan consisting of 1486 Residential Units (RU), 2.3 million sq. ft. of industrial/retail space (non-residential); 240 acres of Open Space.

    final preferred plan_8.5x11_630x487

    HLRA-preferred redevelopment plan

  • Alternative 2:  An even denser concentration of residential usage 1999 RU, 2.1 million sq. ft non-residential, 317 acres open space
  • Alternative 3:  The dreaded airport option … Take a deep breath and remember my discussion as to why this is included.  Allows for 70 RU, 1.5 million sq. ft. non-residential, 299 acres open space
  • Alternative 4:  Doing nothing at all to the property.  Obviously no development parameters, so there really is no treatment of Alternative 4’s impact.  But the most obvious to keep in mind here are no tax revenue; but still the costs of site security, wildlife control, vegetation control, etc. remain and there would be no cut-through roads.  One would assume this is no alternative at all, aside from serving as a baseline for the EIS comparisons.

Now my own personal opinion is that both Alternatives 1 & 2 contain higher density numbers than I would prefer to see.  I have in the past shared my own whimsical ideas for the base property, and others have suggested their own to me.  But that’s for another post at another time.

Here I will limit myself to comments on the EIS comparisons.  The following Public Meeting Fact Sheet, made available at all the public EIS presentations, is most helpful when comparing the three primary Alternatives.  It provides the potential impacts of all three alternatives in table format, making it easy to distinguish key elements.

Willow Grove Comparison of Alternatives

In addressing the HLRA-preferred Alternative 1, there is much to like … over 10,000 additional jobs, over $15 million in additional tax revenue, and 240 acres of new open space. But there are also concerns … an increase in population of 3500, another 570 children attending district schools along with increases in traffic, resource use, and demands on infrastructure and utilities.

banner_NAS-JRB-Willow-Grove

I am skeptical of the estimated construction expenditures (one of my comments to the Navy on the EIS).  These costs are estimated at $928 million to build out the entire Alternate 1 development plan.  As someone unfamiliar with the real-life costing of major development projects, the figure seems too low to me.  I find it difficult to believe the full build-out of this magnitude could be completed at level of investment.

That’s a problem for Developers however, not so much for Government or for Taxpayers.  Assuming there is no public financing options provided to whomever qualifies to execute any build-out (other than tax incentives), the problem is one of developer financing and return-on-investment.

Alternative 2 with over 500 more residential units adds only an estimated $1.3 million in tax revenue because, although there are more residents, there are also fewer jobs (roughly 450-500 fewer).  Not being a fan of Alternative 1’s level of residential density, it’s no surprise that I am not all that excited about Alternative 2’s even higher density level.

museumlogo2Alternative 3 – of course – is a non-starter for me.  However, the airport alternative would cost $274 million for build-out; includes 70 housing units for homeless veterans only. (This is included in all the alternatives.); 1.5 million square feet of non-residential space; but also generates only $4.2 million in annual tax revenue, most of which is coincidental to an airport operation.  This revenue would come primarily from the planned hotel conference center and other non-residential development.

The airport alternative still provides for 7500 jobs in the business park and hotel conference complex.  Few jobs – one would surmise – would be directly related to airport operations, since airport proponents continuously tell us that this will be only a small private, limited commercial operation.

I do not buy that line of thinking.  In my view, the only way an airport makes sense – both in self-sufficiency and local economic impact – is if much heavier commercial use exists there, be it commuter air services or freight operations.  The pro-airport crowd will tell you otherwise however.

The last alternative – Alternative 4 – involves doing nothing, so there’s not much to address there.  One piece of data from the HLRA consultant group is that it would cost the Township $20 million to take the property to pasture conditions (basically just grass and trees).  This includes tearing up the runway and leveling the remaining buildings.

Obviously, not much of an option.

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As anyone who pays attention to this process and the seemingly endless evaluation, recognizes that this process through the full build-out – in whatever form it takes in the end – will be a long tortuous road requiring a vision and insight into a future a lot of us might be too old to appreciate … me included.

None of the Alternatives nor their preferential rank means a twit without the development money and a perceived return-on-investment to the entity taking all the risk.  To speak of town centers, golf courses, retail space or whatever at this juncture is simply a way of putting a very abstract vision into a form that can be valued and analyzed.

What the EIS helps to illustrate – in an indirect way – is the complexity of the picture, the range of permutations possible, and if one listens closely, the importance of taking our time in carefully putting the puzzle together.  This leads me to laugh at stories on local media sites where people complain about a lack of progress in the base’s abandoned state.  Articles bemoaning a lack of progress in activity on redevelopment forgetting rather conveniently that Governor Rendell caused a few years worth of  delay by pursuing a well-intentioned solution to keep the runway as a regional asset if a solution could be found to make it economically self-supporting.

When it comes time to stick shovels into earth, those with the deep financial pockets will certainly want a say in what is developed on the NAS-JRB property with their money.  Any interested developer will – no doubt – have a significant say in that decision-making process.

A healthy vision – represented by the preferred HLRA alternative – serves as a starting point from which those inevitable revisions can be properly evaluated.  Regardless of what the final product looks like, such a structured approach is intended to ensure the best possible decisions are made for the future of Horsham Township and the surrounding community.

The long road already in the rearview mirror is unfortunately only the beginning of a very long journey.
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An Easy choice for Horsham’s Future!

Horsham Library CNN/Money Magazine

Horsham Library
CNN/Money Magazine

There are two observations relating to politics in which I strongly believe.

  1. “All politics are local.”  – Tip O’Neill, Former Speaker of the House
  2. A candidate without ideas is the first one to go negative.

On November 5th the residents of Horsham, PA and the Hatboro-Horsham School District face a crucial election for several local offices.

Local elections have a greater direct effect on you, the Taxpayer; the community in which you live; and the schools your children attend.  In addition, the decisions we make on November 5th will impact the prospects for Horsham’s future in terms of the NAS-JRB Willow Grove airbase.  How that process plays out in the next decade will be reflected in the taxes we will pay and in the value of our homes and property.

No other election will affect your quality-of-life more directly than local government offices that control spending, property (schools) and township taxes, not to mention the potential for your township’s Economic Future.

When it comes to local elections, History is an effective barometer of Future Success.  In Horsham’s case, Success is not a theory or a couple of good terms in office.  It’s a history built over DECADES of Growth, Vision, and the kind of efficient management and intuitive policy that built a community lauded as one of the Best Places to Live (Horsham #34, CNN/Money Magazine 2013).

Unknown-2Growth, managed properly and carefully, allows for township taxes that have not been raised in over a decade.  Efficiency is what ensures your streets and neighborhoods are kept safe; operating smoothly; and cleared of snow in the winter.  Vision is taking the forward-looking action to establish a Horsham Local Redevelopment Authority (HLRA) that preserved for Horsham residents control over the key decisions surrounding the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) closure of the NAS-JRB Willow Grove airbase.

No single action did more to preserve the Quality-of-Life in Horsham than the establishment of the HLRA.  Few people appreciate the fact that any local or regional entity (Montgomery County, Bucks County, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, etc.) could have filed for official status as the LRA for the Horsham base.  If just one of them had been as quick to act as Horsham Township‘s Council, you can bet there would already be an airport operating at the airbase.

W. William Whiteside and Deborah Tustin were part of the team that took the initiative to preserve for Horsham residents the decisions that will shape Horsham’s future, as will be reflected in those 862 acres sitting so prominently on Rt. 611!  Newcomer Tom Johnson, a mainstay in Horsham commercial and industrial development, has the experience and the Horsham-grown philosophy to maintain this consistently successful approach to our future.

And what of their Democrat challengers?  What is it they have to offer?  Apparently not much more than misrepresentations of fact and plenty of negativity.

images-3They say they can make Horsham even better.  But how could they improve a community already ranked so prominently as one of The Best Places to Live?  Ask yourself the practical question … How much they can actually improve today’s Horsham?

Then recall all those negative mailings they sent to your home … over and over again … day after day in the last few weeks.

How much better do you think the Democrat challengers will make Horsham now?!?

The only new ideas I was able to identify from their mailings were confrontation and obfuscation.  For a group that speaks so much of making Township Government more “open”, they have a funny way of misrepresenting the truth and trying to fool Horsham voters.

Fact is, Horsham Township government is the most open governing process I have ever witnessed.  You can find on-line public notices of all township and school board meetings.  At the HLRA website you can find agendas, minutes, and even sign up for e-mail notifications of future meetings.

I remember – as part of the HLRA redevelopment plan process – hundreds of local and regional citizens learning about and watching the evaluation and decision-making process.

images-1I attended as many of these meeting as I could.  I sat with hundreds of people and participated directly in an open-to-the-public charrette process for brainstorming ideas and layouts for a theoretical, redeveloped NAS-JRB property.  I was there the night that hundreds of attendees gave a rousing ovation for the decision to reject a Bucks County Airport Authority proposal to operate an airport at the base.

In my opinion, the Horsham Democrats’ most egregious behavior is the deliberate and repeated misrepresentation of the purpose and meaning of the HLRA’s painstakingly created Redevelopment Plan.

The plan is intended to accomplish nothing more than to prove that Horsham Township has the means and capability for properly managing the redevelopment effort.  It forms the basis for the U.S. Navy to conduct its Environmental Impact Statement and for developing an anticipated cost structure for its eventual execution that can be evaluated for its economic feasibility.

Like all carefully laid plans, the specific details of the redevelopment plan are tenuous projections of what can be accommodated on the airbase property.  But the fact is, none of it means anything without developers and their financing to make the plan a reality.  In that regard, the HLRA could say it plans to build the Taj Mahal on the airbase site.  But without developers with the money and interest to make any specific plan a reality, it’s all pie-in-the-sky.

To speak about golf courses, bowling alleys, and hockey rinks is simply being deliberately dishonest for the sole purpose of political advantage.

But of course this is the BEST idea the Democrats could come up with in their efforts to get Horsham voters to look their way.  Attack and obfuscate …

You can tell a lot about the Democrats’ plans for Horsham by carefully dissecting the messages they keep sending you in those ugly mailers.  And if you caught their cable commercial, it tells you even more.

imagesThere is a plan here apparently.  It’s the Get Scott Freda Elected to Something plan!

Remember all those negative mailings you been receiving??  Just check the small print that lists the “Paid for by …” election requirement on all those negative mailers.

Scott Freda‘s “plan” for Horsham is laid out for you right there!!

His cable commercial?  If you see it, you will be hard-pressed to find his running mates in that commercial, except as props.  There is no mention of them by name, only Mr. Freda’s name is prominent.

Then ask yourself The Big Question.

Where is all this money for negative mailers and cable TV commercials coming from?

Did you know that the leadership of the Horsham Democrat Committee has a strong connection to Philadelphia political organizations?  That’s why every year at polling places throughout Horsham, you will find the Democrats’ Election Day ground game manned by representatives of these Philadelphia organizations!

Not Horsham residents … Outsiders with their own self-serving interests!

It’s an interesting combination, quite frankly.  Certainly these Philadelphia organizations would just LOVE to get a friendly foot in the door of the airbase redevelopment effort and all that development money.

But who wants Philadelphia politics in Horsham?

So ask yourself, are the goals of Philadelphia political bosses and their organizations consistent with Horsham Township’s best interests?

Hopefully, Horsham Township voters are smart enough to know the difference between ugly divisive Outsider Politics and effective locally controlled government!

Don’t forget to vote Republican for Horsham on November 5!

The Corbett approach to Medicaid sanity

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Once a month the Horsham Republican Committee meets to discuss political developments – both local and regional; to strategize on political organizing within Horsham Township; and to update the Committee on issues of Party management.

To be honest, the meetings can be a bit dry, and that’s even if you’re a bit of a political junkie.  It’s not often that we get into REAL political discussions that provide interesting insights into the issues of the day.

This past Wednesday was different with a small but animated gathering of committee representatives (who represent township Republicans in matters of Party interest), local Republican pols, and the local Party leadership.

My keenest interest is always with the progress – or lack thereof – in Horsham Township’s redevelopment plan for the NAS-JRB Willow Grove property.  At present the Horsham Local Redevelopment Authority (HLRA) is awaiting the approval of its redevelopment plan, which was submitted in the Spring of 2012.

It’s been a year-and-a-half, and no decision as yet from the U.S. Navy.  The Federal Government, which must review and approve the plan before fully vesting the HLRA with redevelopment authority, indeed takes its time when mulling over any decision.  In this case, the Navy, charged with the responsibility of conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has met delays in completing their evaluation.  The plan – due this Fall – will not be ready until Winter at the earliest.

Which means, look for it in the Spring or Summer.

The Navy blames the effects of sequestration.  But frankly, as a federal employee, I can speak confidently that, if it wasn’t the effects of sequestration, it would have been something else that would delay such a huge and complex evaluation.  No, not unexpected at all …

Several other issues were also touched on briefly as updates from Harrisburg.

  • Movement on Pennsylvania’s transportation bill, which is seeing progress in the State House after the Senate passed their version earlier in the year.  The biggest hurdle would be in reconciling the two versions as passed, particularly to the level of funding.  There are roughly $5 billion in infrastructure improvements that have been underfunded for decades and well overdue for remedial action.
  • Pension reform at the State level is getting much discussion.  With the State’s two pension plans (state employees, public school employees) underfunded by $47 billion (!) and projected to grow to $65 billion without action, Governor Corbett has moved pension reform to the top of his list of priorities.  Currently, the biggest reform under consideration is moving new employees in both categories into 401(k)-type programs that are similar to those found in the private sector.
  • A brief discussion on the national Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) revealed one persistent problem in Pennsylvania’s rural health services … Finding doctors to work in the less income-lucrative areas of rural Pennsylvania.  This has long been a problem nationwide, not just in PA.  One solution, proposed by the Corbett Administration in its recent proposal for expanding Medicaid as part of its ACA compliance, is a student loan forgiveness program for any doctors who agree to spend a specified amount of time in Pennsylvania’s more doctor-needy areas.
PA Governor Tom Corbett

PA Governor Tom Corbett

The discussion I found most interesting this night dealt with the recent Corbett Administration proposal for expanding Medicaid.  Some of the facts and issues covered …

  • All state-run Medicaid programs vary in benefits and costs from state-to-state.  The terms of Medicaid coverage are negotiated by each state individually.  Passage of the ACA effectively “locked in” every state’s specific Medicare program in whatever form it existed at the time.
  • After eight years of Ed Rendell’s Democrat Administration in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s current Medicaid program is one of the most generous – if not THE most generous – state program in the U.S.  This goes a long way towards explaining why some states, such as New Jersey and Arizona are more willing and able to accept the ACA-mandated expansions required for full state participation in federal-run healthcare exchanges.
  • Currently the State and Federal governments combine to spend about $19 billion a year to cover 2.2 million Pennsylvanians on Medicaid!  $19 billion …!!
  • The federal government’s ACA Medicaid expansion financial contribution maxes out at 90% after three years of fully funded coverage. That 10% unfunded liability equals an additional estimated  $200 million – as a minimum – that will have to be covered by the Pennsylvania state budget!
  • Even before any ACA-mandated Medicaid expansion, Pennsylvania estimates Medicaid costs will grow by $400 million in fiscal year 2013-2014.
  • A Rand Corporation study showed that Pennsylvania would save roughly $154 million a year by not expanding Medicaid coverage.

So it’s pretty easy to see why the Corbett Administration is not all that anxious to get on board an ACA-mandated Medicaid expansion.

As with the Philadelphia School District’s annual funding crisis, the Corbett Administration has taken a very responsible approach to any expansion of the financial commitment falling to Pennsylvania’s tax payers.  The Governor realizes that without reforms accompanying this constantly growing financial responsibility, the economic health of the State will be threatened.

images-3In the Philly school crisis, by which you can calibrate your calendar each year, additional funding was offered to the City through negotiations with Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration.  The catch was that the settlement required reforms that call for concessions by the Philadelphia teacher’s unions.

Concessions are necessary on the cost-side of the Philadelphia school issue, if the cycle of funding crisis followed by funding crisis is ever to be broken.  You should not be surprised in realizing that funding solution never really had a chance to succeed.

As for the Medicaid expansion, the facts are that without serious reforms in the way the Pennsylvania program is managed, the state’s’s tax payers and businesses will be on the hook for that rather significant $200 million hole in the Pennsylvania budget … on top of the projected $400 million shortfall for FY13-14 … plus all other projected increases.  Cost reform is essential to Pennsylvania’s future fiscal sanity.

There’s also the very real possibility that the Federal government may not be able to uphold even its 90% Medicaid expansion funding as promised.  And what happens then? 

For these reasons, the Corbett Administration’s approach to the ACA federal exchange and Medicaid expansion proposal should be lauded as the kind of fiscal sanity one should expect from their Governor.

Horsham’s Big Wait

Horsham LRA Redevelopment Plan - Plan D

Horsham LRA Redevelopment Plan – Land Use Plan, Option D

Over a year has passed since the Horsham Local Redevelopment Authority (HLRA) completed its first major tasking in deciding the future of the 862-acre question mark formerly known as the Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove (located entirely within Horsham Township, Montgomery County, PA).

As someone who took a rather vocal interest in the potential future of the airbase – particularly its runway and the possibility of an airport – I decided it’s time to see where we are in the process and to take a gander at the base’s admittedly murky future.

The HLRA effort resulted in the submission of a redevelopment plan intended to demonstrate to the Federal Government the recognized Local Redevelopment Authority‘s ability to take charge and execute a plan for the base’s property that would address the needs of the surrounding community.  It’s important to note that any local government entity or planning organization could have applied for LRA status during the initial stages of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.  Horsham residents should be mindful that smart local leadership jumped at the opportunity to form the Horsham LRA organization and preserved local control over those decisions that will shape the property’s future.

Where are we now?

For the year that has passed since the HLRA submitted its redevelopment plan all meaningful action has been in the hands of the U.S. Navy as it gathers data; analyzes the work of the HLRA; and prepares an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  The EIS is intended to promote informed decision-making on the part of the Federal Government when it comes to actions that will affect local communities.  The EIS is intended to set forth the positive and negative effects of any redevelopment decision through the detailed analysis of several scenarios.

imagesFor this reason the EIS – in the case of NAS-JRB Willow Grove – will look at four potential versions for redevelopment of the property.  In addition to the 1) HLRA-approved version, it will also evaluate 2) a denser version of the HLRA plan; 3) the pros and cons of doing absolutely nothing with the property; and 4) the locally unpopular potential of employing the runway and former base as an airport.

For those like me, who oppose an active private/commercial airport in the middle of Horsham, that last alternative might sound a bit alarming.  However, the EIS is intended to address all reasonable versions of redevelopment in one comprehensive evaluation.  Therefore, the EIS will have to address the broadest range of redevelopment options, including its use as an airport.  This does nothing to change the official HLRA position that an airport is out of the question.

Do not mistake an Environmental Impact Study as one limited to the impact of hazardous waste dumping on the ecological environment.  An EIS will certainly deal with those ecological issues.  More importantly, it will also address the social and economic impacts on the community of future business and residential development, the addition of roads through the airbase property, and any potential impacts to threatened species or historical sites (if applicable).

What does all this mean (Part 1)

First and foremost it means that this EIS process will take a very long time to complete.  As anyone who has dealt with or worked for the Federal Government knows, EVERYTHING takes a long time; and naturally, the timeline gets longer in direct relation to the complexity of the task.

Back in December 2012 the BRAC Program Management Office Northeast held a public presentation on the EIS process, where community comments and questions were solicited.  At that meeting the BRAC PMO estimated that it would take 12-18 months to complete the study.  Translation: Maybe they will complete it in 18-24 months … if we are lucky.  My expectation is not to see the EIS completed until sometime in 2015.

That’s not intended as a knock on the BRAC PMO’s office.  It’s more a recognition of just how complex and necessarily time-consuming a study of this magnitude is.  It’s also an acknowledgement that a study of such importance really should be as complete, as thorough, and as well-documented as possible.

What does all this mean (Part 2)?

The Government’s timeline – of course – directly impacts the HLRA’s ability to move forward on development of the base property, since no action can be taken until such time as the Navy officially disposes of the property.  The Navy has the option – once the EIS is completed – to negotiate grants of the conveyances included in the HLRA redevelopment plan or to attempt to dispose of the property themselves.

More on that later, but suffice it to say, that this will also take a good bit of time to complete.  And in the meantime, no one will be allowed access to the base who are not there with the express approval of the U.S. Navy.

You can't get any more Horsham than this!

You can’t get any more Horsham than this! (Photo by Geoff Patton for Montgomery Media)

The point here is that you can expect to continue to see the airbase property deteriorate … grass growing high; buildings falling apart; roads and fences in disrepair; etc.  These conditions would exist regardless of whether or not Horsham wants to redevelop the base; whether it was allowed to become an airport; or even whether Ed Rendell’s Federal Emergency Management/Homeland Security plan had successfully preempted the HLRA redevelopment.  Applicable BRAC law prevents any non-federal access to the property until such time as the BRAC process plays out completely.

This will not be a pleasant time for the Township or its citizens.  But the issue – insofar as it relates to the physical conditions at the base – are outside the control of Horsham Township or the HLRA.

That’s important to remember if anyone suggests this situation would be different if only Horsham had agreed to turn the base into an airport!  It’s simply not true.  The base would look exactly the same as it does today even if Horsham had fallen for the shortcomings of The Airport Promise!

Those who consider this timeline unacceptable should keep in mind the delays in redevelopment progress caused by then-Governor Ed Rendell’s FEMA/HSA initiative.  Though admirable in the opinion of this Horsham resident, the end effect of that attempt was a significant delay in the BRAC process.

How will all this play out for Horsham?

This is crystal ball time!  There are many, many possibilities and a multitude of permutations resulting from those possibilities.  The quick, dirty answer is that – like most sophisticated, comprehensive plans – if and when the U.S. Navy agrees to convey the property to the HLRA, that detailed HLRA redevelopment plan could very well end up in the trash.

No development can take place without interested developers and the funding to make it happen.  And unfortunately, in its current condition the base has little-to-no value to the Township.  Between the necessary investment in infrastructure (roads, sewage and water, utilities, etc.); the limitations on usage imposed by its status as an EPA Superfund site; the need to raze buildings; and the question of what to do with the runway and tarmac areas, the costs of redevelopment to the Township would be exorbitant.

892 acres of Yet-to-be-Determined

892 acres of Yet-to-be-Determined (BRAC PMO photo)

The HLRA hopes to win approval to subdivide the NAS-JRB property into known-clean vs. known-contaminated sites in order to make those clean parcels more attractive to potential developers by removing the stigma of the Superfund label.

These same issues also restrict the Navy’s ability to sell it directly should they decide to dispose of the land themselves.  This is a common problem with BRAC-designated disposal properties of this type.  In the past, attempts by the military services to dispose of excess lands outside the conveyance to an LRA have met with little – if any – success.

Regardless of all the difficulties and challenges presented by the redevelopment,  Horsham made the correct decision in getting out in front of the NAS-JRB Willow Grove BRAC process.  By doing so, they ensured local community control over the future of a significant portion of Township acreage in a central location with the potential for a huge impact on the community’s future.

No one ever said it was going to be easy or cheap; and certainly no one suggested that it would be quick.  And with a little patience and an appreciation for the complexity of the task, Horsham Township will control the future of the NAS-JRB Willow Grove property and how that future impacts the people of Horsham!

Airport paranoia … THE destroyer

Cranky Man likes to keep an eye on the maneuvering surrounding the City of Philadelphia’s efforts to expand the Philadelphia International Airport.  Why?  Because I’m a suspicious, semi-paranoid type who’s convinced a nefarious plot will surface to bring back the issue of an airport at the recently abandoned Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove. 

The Kinks would claim “Paranoia, the Destroyer”.  But it does keep you on your toes!

And so it was with my Paranoia Radar in full operational mode that I read not one … but two articles in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer on UPS, U.S. Airways and the Philadelphia International Airport expansion kerfuffle.

The first article was found in The Inqy’s Business Section, and was quite informative on the size, complexity, depth and breadth of the UPS operation at PHL.  UPS employs 3100 people at PHL, housed on 212 acres and in a 681,000 square-foot processing center.  The center also includes a 50-acre airplane ramp. 

The hub processes approximately 70,000 parcels a day, which can rise to 95,000 per day during the Christmas season.  Eighty to 100 tractor trailers a day move parcels to ground hubs within a 150-mile radius, including its ground delivery hub on Blair Mill Road in Horsham.  There were no specific figures provided for flights-per-day; but in 2007 available information showed 20 flights every 24 hours.  I would expect more flights now 4-5 years later than that 2007 data.  Due to airway congestion and the UPS sorting process schedule, these flights arrive primarily at night.

UPS recently bought Dutch package and freight service TNT Express for $6.7 billion!     

The second article described the confab held Monday, March 26 between the City of Philadelphia in the person of Mayor Michael Nutter and U.S. Airways in the person of Chief Executive Doug Barker over the future of the airlines operations at PHL and the planned expansion of the airport.  The expansion calls for the construction of a new runway that – among other things – would REQUIRE that UPS accept a move from their current location to a less desirable site – according to UPS – in Tinicum.

The cost of this project is a big concern to both the City and to U.S. Airways.  The City estimates the project’s cost to be $6.4 BILLION over a 13-year period!  But members of airlines industry suggest the costs will run closer to $10.5 BILLION!  That’s a pretty big gap.

The City, prior to yesterday’s meeting with U.S. Air, planned to pay for the project in part by charging the airlines fees based on activity.  Needless to say the airlines aren’t particularly thrilled with the prospect, especially when they insist a new runway will not solve the problem it’s intended to address … more timely flights and lessened airspace congestion.  The airlines insist that overcrowding and more efficient airport operations would be resolved by working to re-route or re-organize the airspace between Boston and Washington D.C.

Why is this important to watch?  Paranoia runs deep!

U.S. Airways has suggested that it might shift air operations away from PHL if it could not agree to a new 15-year lease with The City and those prohibitive charges for the new runway.  If a “use fee” is charged by The City to pay for the runway, U.S. Air can avoid those charges by simply reducing the number of flights out of Philadelphia or – in a more drastic scenario – move its Philadelphia hub operations somewhere else.

This is the same approach UPS may take when it comes to moving its facility from the east side of the airport to the west side, bordering on Tinicum.  UPS does not like the proposed Tinicum site since it affords no buffer area from surrounding homes; the plan to appropriate 72 homes via forced sales under provisions of eminent domain puts UPS in the position of being “the bad neighbor”; and the fact that the proposed site provides no additional space for expansion of the PHL UPS hub if necessary. 

UPS has said if forced to move from its current site, it will entertain “all other options”, including the potential of moving its Philadelphia hub out of The City.

And there sits that 8000-foot runway … with 890 acres of land … 1/2 mile from my front door …

And now the Horsham Land Reuse Authority plan will soon be in Washington … in the hands of the Navy … with all those politicians standing around … looking for their next Sugar Daddy donation …

We all knew it would take YEARS for this redevelopment effort to bear fruit.  But it only takes a few days for fruit to turn into garbage. 

Paranoia?!?  BIG destroyer …

Nesbitt-McCouch for Horsham Council!

As a 14-year resident of Horsham Township (Montgomery County, PA), I cannot really make claim to the full history of Horsham’s success or affluence.  However, for the years my family has lived here, I can unequivocally state that we have been very happy and extremely comfortable with our life in one of America’s Best Places to Live!

I wouldn’t change a thing about how the Township is planned, managed or operated!  And that MUST include those who have served to keep Horsham Township on the best possible path, both in the past and for the future!

Greg Nesbitt and Mark McCouch are two of the Leaders responsible for the current success and publicly recognized attractiveness and livability of Horsham Township!  Both men have been instrumental – as HLRA-backing Council members – in working towards a feasible, attractive, community-oriented solution for the now vacant JRB Willow Grove property.  And MOST IMPORTANTLY, making sure that future DOES NOT include an airport that indubitably would prove a greater drain on Township resources and community atmosphere than it would benefit.

Even their Democrat opponents admit that there are no “particular issues or problems with the current council” that might require a change in Township Leadership.  The opposition also openly AGREES with the premise and direction that both the HLRA and Township Council has taken on the future look of the JRB Willow Grove property.

So, you have to ask yourself … Why would you change what is so obviously working for the community in which you live?!?  What would possess one to think we could improve on one of the Best Places to Live in America?!?

It’s obvious that you shouldn’t and wouldn’t think seriously about either!

VOTE GREG NESBITT AND MARK McCOUCH on Tuesday, November 8!

Airport danger still lurks for Horsham in overcrowded skies at PHL!

A recent article in The Philadelphia Inquirer on the progress – or lack thereof – on the Philadelphia International Airport expansion project indicates several potential complications that could swing attention back towards the former JRB Willow Grove property as an alternative for relieving overcrowded airspace at PHL:

  • The overall cost of the project has already increased by over $1 billion dollars, supposedly due to escalation of costs for the project that was originally priced in 2005 dollars.
  • Local authorities, Delaware County and airport representatives have been discussing how to minimize – if not completely remove – the need for eminent domain claims on Tinicum homes and businesses.  This effort entails a tradeoff between the size of the footprint needed for a new UPS and what land is currently available to meet those needs.
  • UPS – on the other hand – has not yet agreed to move.  They naturally need to ensure that whatever land is offered to them will meet their operational needs.  UPS currently holds 212 acres at PHL.

But the real eye-opener is U.S. Airways view, expressed by V.P. of corporate real estate, Michael Minerva in a July 2010 letter to PHL CEO, Mark Gale stating that the new runway alone would not greatly alleviate delays “until there is a solution to local airspace congestion.” 

I bring this up as a warning to avoid complacency now that development plans for the JRB Willow Grove property are moving forward.  As a community we must approach the development process with flexibility and a willingness to compromise on our personal preferences for the future of the airbase.    

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the town center concept, if it should include high-density housing and retail space that would exacerbate the traffic problems on Rts. 611 and 463.  But my complete satisfaction with the final redevelopment plan is – and should be – secondary to developing a plan that allows Horsham to move forward and eliminate the possibility of intrusion from outside forces looking to resurrect the airport issue.

My bet is that we have not heard the last from airport proponents – both private advocacy groups and public agencies – who view the former airbase as an attractive regional aviation asset.  The next challenge will probably come from Washington, D.C. when the redevelopment plan is presented to the U.S. Navy for its approval.            

The danger for Horsham is to become wrapped around its proverbial axle in arguments and intractability on how the property is developed.  Threats could come our way from regional and national authorities looking for a quick fix to alleviate airspace congestion in the skies around PHL.  An abandoned runway within 20 miles  of Philadelphia – and 8000 feet long at that! – will be hard for them to resist.

The next meeting of the HLRA is this Wednesday, October 19.  

The HLRA Board, Horsham Township Council, Horsham Township Planning Commission and the HLRA sub-committees will be discussing the three Base Reuse Alternatives and providing information to RKG Associates, the consultant, on how to move forward towards the goal of creating the Preferred Redevelopment Plan.

It is crucial that Horsham residents stay connected and involved with the HLRA process.   

Our work is nowhere near done!  

Welcome to Horsham International Airport!

Bravo, Horsham!!

The official verdict is in … NO AIRPORT in Horsham!!

There was a palpable sense of relief throughout the audience, finally obtaining assurance that the Horsham Land Reuse Authority (HLRA) Board was in – almost unanimous – agreement with the overwhelming local sentiment that a functioning private/commercial airport was not in the best interests of Horsham Township’s future.

The crowd in attendance was – from my perspective – 95% opposed to the acceptance of any plan (NOI) to maintain an airport operation at the JRB Willow Grove site or to the suggestion – by the incomprehensible Montgomery County Commissioners’ submittal – that the runway be stashed in a coat closet for a few decades, just in case the need for a runway arises in 2040!

But that wasn’t the only laugher provided by the events of last night’s HLRA session to approve/disapprove Notices of Interest (NOI) from parties interested in utilizing space and facilities to be made available by the Navy’s abandonment of the JRB Willow Grove site.

The biggest laugh was reserved for the Bucks County Aviation Authority (BCAA) proposal to operate an airport. Citing Horsham’s loss of $650,000 in property tax offset (impact fees) from the U.S. Government and the township’s desire to maximize tax revenues from the site, the BCAA’s offer of a $5000-per-year stipend was met with a roomful of hearty guffaws. 

That’s not a misprint!  $5000.00-a-year!

Yet another entertaining moment came when David Pitcairn, a descendant of the original owners of the JRB property in the 1940s, attempted to make a case for accepting an airport operation there.  Humor could be found on several levels.

  1. He lives in Delaware County.  So the biggest effect an airport in Horsham would have on him is the 20 – 30 minutes he might spend on the tarmac waiting for his turn to rotate off into the wild blue! 
  2. His family SOLD the land to the U.S. Navy 70 years ago!
  3. Someone actually harbored the thought that his opinion would somehow hold sway over the skeptical local crowd.  It did not have the desired “Gee, if a Pitcairn wants an airport, what are we waiting for?” effect.

It was a long, drawn-out, tiring night.  (I lasted only until 9:30 with only nine NOI decisions out of 17 having been finalized.) And the tortuous travails endured by the HLRA board in listening patiently; calming the more jumpy cattle in the herd; and enduring some the more inane commentary from a few citizens who displayed but a fleeting grasp of the meeting’s objectives was enough to discourage any civic-minded citizen from ever considering public service.  The members of the HLRA Board, including Bill Donnelly who is currently running for the office of Montgomery County Prothonotary, are to be commended!

Before I left, the Board had approved every other non-airport NOI, including decisions to consider further local plans for open space, new roads, a future school and an additional firehouse should they become necessary, and a potential retirement/nursing home development.  And although I hope the Board approved the NOI application for a homeless veterans rehabilitation center, I could not hold out long enough to witness that result.  

But back to the action …

One of my favorite activities last night was watching HLRA Board Chairman, Bill Whiteside turning eight shades of red at the nitpicky, bordering-on-petty attempts by Board Member Steve Nelson to pull off a Houdini of a maneuver and throw the No Airport Movement off the tracks.  Nelson should have attended the meeting wearing his Jim Matthews mask and barn-storming pilot garb with matching leather jacket and helmet and a jaunty pair of goggles.  Rumors circulated that he and Young Pitcairn car-pooled to the meeting.  At one point, Mr. Whiteside’s half-turn-with-an-eyeroll to yet another Nelson foray was classic Seinfeld (the episode where Jerry deals with noisy movie-goers).

Nelson’s unbelievable attempts to claim that the HLRA was “rushing” into an airport decision, after ONLY six years of contemplating what to do with an 8000-ft, meters thick ribbon of concrete, was perhaps the height of hubris.  This presented the only time that board members pointedly criticized the position of a fellow member.  

When the final vote was taken on the only viable airport NOI proposal and the 8-1 vote recorded in favor of turning down the BCAA proposal, there was much rejoicing throughout the land.  Personally, I was a bit surprised by the nearly unanimous board vote.       

I only wish that I could convince myself that this is truly the end of Airport Road.  I remain suspicious that further legal and political maneuvering will continue by Regional Authorities reluctant to Kevorkian their Horsham airport visions. 

With that unsettling thought now out there, Horsham residents should celebrate this development and the progress towards more difficult and equally challenging decisions on the Township’s future.  This daunting, critical task of planning Horsham’s future is only beginning.  There will be many more decisions to be made, worth millions in dollars of investment and millions of dollars in revenue.  That road stretches for years.  

And just in case, we should all be prepared to man the ramparts again … should my suspicions prove warranted!

Horsham Land Reuse Authority meeting – Wednesday, July 27

The next step in Horsham’s LRA process for the soon-to-be-abandoned JRB Willow Grove site is this Wednesday at 7:00 PM at the Horsham Township Community Center.

The Board will review the Notices of Interest (NOI) submitted by homeless service providers and organizations qualifying for public benefit conveyances and provide guidance to the RKG Team on which applications should receive further review for possible inclusion in the reuse alternatives.

There will also be a period set aside for public comment, which – if nothing else – should be entertaining!

All kidding aside, this is another important step towards Horsham’s objective of local control over what kind of development becomes the future of a site that represents a huge area of Horsham Township.

An airport?  No airport?  Town center?  Corporate jets?  Corporate office space?  Open space?

The HLRA will consider the NOIs submitted and will narrow down those possibilities that could potentially become part of the end solution.

What do you think Horsham should look like in the future?!?  If you care, you should be there!

MontCo plan for airbase runway punted by Horsham LRA

Good article today in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Montgomery County’s poorly developed “plan” for preserving the runway at JRB Willow Grove.  The “plan” consisted of Montgomery Count expressing their desire to take possession of the runway as a “valuable future asset”.

That was it!  That’s the whole “plan”!! 

No financing, no maintenance, no discussion of feasibility …  certainly no responsibility either.  The County even went so far as to pointedly stress their lack of interest in running an airport.

Gee, what’s not to like?!? 

So the Horsham LRA punted that low-hanging fruit basket back at the County, and seemed to have a little fun doing it at Wednesday’s HLRA meeting.  

This development really changes nothing to the prospects for an airport, either for or against.  But it’s good to know that the “leadership” tenures of County Commissioners Jim Matthews and Joe Hoeffel will expire shortly!

Take the rest of the year off, guys …

Please.

And by the way, Bruce L Castor, Jr., who is running for re-election to the County Commission with Jenny Brown, has taken an anti-airport stance; backing local opposition to a commercial airport. 

Remember THAT in November’s election, Horsham!