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DALLAS-Faced with a $200-million economic loss, Bowie County is ready to due battle as it did once before to keep operations humming at two military installations near the Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma line. The East Texas facilities, overwhelmingly civilian jobs, are running 24/7 at three shifts per day.

The Red River Army Depot in New Boston and its privately operated, smaller neighbor, Lone Star Ammunitions Plant, made the federal hit list of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission–just as the 32,000-acre pair did in 1995. For the announcement, click here. But this time around, BRAC experts are saying there’s not much that can be changed about last week’s Department of Defense recommendations. Still, it won’t keep locals from fighting.

“I was shocked. All indications, all feedback that I was getting was the depot was in very, very good shape,” Duane Lavery, executive director for the Red River Redevelopment Authority, tells GlobeSt.com. “It’s not that I would have guaranteed anything, but I was shocked and I was wrong. We are going to put all our efforts into getting the Red River depot and Lone Star plant off that list.”

The same team that won the battle before is rolling up its shirtsleeves to go head-to-head over the facilities, which account for 2,650 direct jobs and 3,800 indirect positions for a county with a population of roughly 90,000. Lavery says the dual shutdowns translate into a $200-million economic loss for the Piney Woods region, where industries like the ammo facilities, paper mills and a tire factory are residents’ bread and butter. “I love opposition. I love challenges and I’m going for it,” he says of the uphill battle. “I’ve got my game face on.”

Lavery, like others coast to coast and border to border, believe the BRAC plan can be changed. It’s not too likely, says Bruce Donnelly, president of Global Direct Investment Solutions Inc. of Grove Park, IL. “This time around, it’s designed to skirt pork-barrel politics,” he emphasizes. “Barring an act of God, it’s going to happen.”

The BRAC commission is slated to hand down its final decision Sept. 8. Donnelly says the harsh reality is few changes will be scripted because it’s a “thumbs up, thumbs down” plan that doesn’t allow for much pruning. Legislators can shout, the president can opt not to sign and still the plan will take effect unless it’s rejected in its entirety, he says.

“People are misjudging it this time. There’s no vote needed to approve it,” Donnelly explains. “It was deliberately designed this way from the start. It’s what the military honestly believes it needs to deal with the threats we have today. …And, it was designed pretty well to not be a political vengeance.”

Ben Loughry, managing director in Fort Worth for New York City-based Integra Realty Resources, says 1940s-era ammo plants and depots are dispensable, like it or not. Integra, a General Services Administration contractor, will be working on the valuation process and redevelopment strategies when the plan takes effect, which should be by year’s end.

“I’d be surprised if they’d be able to keep them off the list because of the capacity that’s been shown on those type of facilities in the US,” Loughry says about the East Texas depot and factory. “They can move those facilities around much easier than they can a base.”

Lavery’s not prepared to talk about redevelopment promise, but Loughry says the Piney Woods land is a prime candidate for recreational redevelopment and retirement communities. He says the rise in Texas Hill Country prices is driving some retiring Baby Boomers and second-home buyers to scout East Texas, which has a lot of the same qualities without the high overhead.

Overall, Texas will end up with a net gain of 9,838 jobs although it loses or faces realignments at 15 installations. Brooks City Base in San Antonio and Ingleside Naval Station on the Corpus Christi Bay also were redlined, but both facilities sit on more valuable and more readily developable land than the East Texas properties, experts concur.

“It’s always a shock,” Loughry says. “In the long run, it turns out to be a stronger economy base without the specter of when and if the base will close.” His advice to East Texas is “if it’s still on the list in September, they need to be proactive in what they do. They can’t wait for next year or they’ll be a year behind the curve.”

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