Originally created 05/16/03

Business group urges survival of Army post



A Richmond County board tasked with attracting business to the area raised fresh concerns about efforts under way to make sure Fort Gordon survives the next round of military base cuts slated for 2005.

In a lively, impromptu discussion at the end of its monthly meeting, Charles Walker, the chairman of the Development Authority of Richmond County, asked what is being done to keep the fort issue "on the radar screen" of the business community.

"Everyone understands that this is a serious problem," the former state senator said. "We have to be diligent. This goes beyond crisis" and if left unchecked could become a "catastrophe," he said.

The upcoming round of base closures would be the fifth since Congress passed legislation in 1988 to scale back and consolidate military installations. None of Georgia's 13 bases have been touched so far, leading Mr. Walker to suspect the state won't be so lucky this time around.

Without a senior senator such as Sam Nunn to champion Georgia, Mr. Walker said, state bases are fair game. Mr. Nunn retired from public life in 1996, a year after the last base closures.

Ed Presnell, the president of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, also attended the meeting and was quick to quell concerns, saying that the newly created CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon, led by former SouthTrust banker Larry Demeyers, is hard at work defending the post.

The group is also getting help from retired Army Col. Thom Tuckey, he said. Mr. Tuckey, Fort Gordon's former garrison commander, is now a military consultant working for the chamber. Along with U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, a Republican from Augusta, the group is lobbying on the post's behalf in Washington.

The board needs to focus as much on maintaining its current businesses as on bringing in new ones, said member Loren Perry.

"I'm happy quite a bit is being done" to protect the post, said Mr. Perry, a Realtor at Sherman and Hemstreet GMAC Real Estate on Wheeler Road. "Losing the fort would be the worst thing that can happen to this area. It'd be devastating if we all woke up one morning and our neighbors and businesses were all gone."

Reach Matthew Mogul at (706) 823-3352 or matthew.mogul@augustachronicle.com.