City within a city: Beaufort wants partnership with air station

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City within a city: Beaufort wants partnership with air station

By ERIN MOODY
emoody@beaufortgazette.com
Published Saturday, February 25, 2012   |  607 Words  |  

Neighboring municipalities in Beaufort County frequently work together on projects and services, but potential partnerships are more complicated when one of those cities is surrounded by fences and security checkpoints.

That's not deterring city of Beaufort officials from pursuing closer relations with the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, which might save money and simplify public services.

Military bases tend to be self-sufficient, with their own housing, businesses, schools, banks and even houses of worship. In their own way, they are cities unto themselves, Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said.

"Now the question is, are they enough of a city that the city can partner with them?" he asked.

A formal joint-services agreement between the city and the air station is a ways off, he said, but some cooperation is ongoing. Whether more will follow is unclear.

MCAS Beaufort is aware the city is interested in partnerships, but Beaufort has offered no formal proposals, according to air station spokeswoman Lt. Sharon Hyland.

If and when it does, Headquarters Marine Corps would have to approve it before a partnership could be formalized, she said.

"As good stewards of the taxpayer dollar, we are always interested in learning of innovative and more efficient ways to defend our nation and serve our communities," Hyland said.

Keyserling said he has spoken with Col. Brian Murtha, the air station's commanding officer, about the city's research. City manager Scott Dadson and a MCAS Beaufort representative attended a conference last fall about the joint-services agreement between Monterey, Calif., and three nearby bases.

"I said we're learning and, obviously, because he sent Alice out there, he was interested in learning too," Keyserling said.

Alice Howard was MCAS Beaufort's community-plans and liaison director until her recent retirement. She continues to serve as the chairwoman of the city's Zoning Board of Appeals.

Some cooperative efforts are already in place. MCAS Beaufort provides the city with explosive ordinance disposal teams, emergency response management, military working dogs and destructive-weather response.

The county and base have cooperated for several years to purchase and preserve land as a buffer from noise and potential air accidents near the air station.

Keyserling suggested the entities could work together on trash removal or police and fire services. During a council work session Tuesday, Dadson spoke about emergency medical services, schools, community centers, airports, hospitals and housing -- all things the city and the air station provide separately.

"We're always looking to be a better partner with the military, to work on mutual shared interests, and the city and the county both have the a rep for being creative partners," Keyserling said.

Besides being a good neighbor, the city has social and financial incentives for helping the air station operate efficiently and less expensively. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission is set to convene in 2013, and military bases across the nation could be closed as the country cuts military spending.

During 2010, the base had a $806 million impact on the community, including jobs, construction and medical services, according to an MCAS Beaufort report. It employed 4,159 military members and 660 civilian workers.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeonBeaufort.

Related content:

City of Beaufort seeks ways to work with air station, Feb. 21, 2012


BRAC talk stirs local military base concerns, Feb. 4, 2012