Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Plan would pump another $242 million in construction cash into Fort Carson

By Jakob Rodgers Published: May 19, 2013

In a massive haul for the post, the White House has proposed making Fort Carson's combat aviation brigade a focal point of the Army's construction plans in the coming months, pumping more money into the installation than any other post.

The move signifies a major commitment by the Army for the brigade at a time when the Pentagon faces mounting pressure to slim down its budget, observers said.

Time will tell whether that plan becomes reality, said Andy Merritt, chief defense industry officer with the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

"The thing we need to focus on as a community, what we will focus on as an organization . is trying to protect that money through the MILCON (military construction) appropriations process," he said.

"We're going to have to fight to protect that money."

The proposal comes as the brigade transitions into phase two of its creation, having already broken ground on nearly $100 million in construction projects while fielding its first battalion.

That figure could double with the resolution of a contract dispute over a $100 million barracks project that has been held up since last fall.

Taken together, the projects served as a down payment of sorts on the Army's commitment to the unit, which was awarded to the post shortly before the Pentagon began a massive slate of budget cuts potentially topping $1 trillion over a decade.

In spring 2011, the Defense Department announced $487 billion in cuts over 10 years - a nod to the end of the Iraq War and the pending withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

In addition, the automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, could carve another $500 billion from the Pentagon's coffers over the next decade, should Congress not intervene. The effects of those automatic cuts have begun to mount - in April, 125 maintenance contractors at Fort Carson were laid off.

The specter of sequestration led lawmakers to voice concerns last fall about the brigade's future. All the while, construction raged near Butts Army Airfield.

A second windfall of construction funding is encouraging, said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.

"This is a tremendous vote of confidence for the new brigade," Lamborn said. "And it shows that the Army is committed to having infantry troops being able to train with airborne troops."

The projects in fiscal year 2014 include a fire station, two maintenance hangars, headquarters and flight simulator buildings, as well as an energy plant. Runway improvements were also included in the proposal.

While saying that officials should remain "vigilant" to keep the money flowing to Fort Carson, Lamborn voiced optimism that the funding wouldn't get diverted to another post before Oct. 1.

"The main thing is that the Army seems to be committed to following through on this project, and that's huge," Lamborn said. "So with the Army's support, it should be hard for anyone to change priorities away from Fort Carson."

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

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No other Army post stands to benefit so much come Oct. 1. Just check the price tag.

On that day, Fort Carson officials expect to begin construction on the second phase of the post's new combat aviation unit. The proposed cost: $242 million. It represents a quarter of the Army's entire budget for construction projects in the next fiscal year.

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